There is only one Finland, although it can seem like two different countries, depending on the time of year you visit. In winter, the sun never quite rises so a perpetual twilight is cast over the country and people hunker down for the cold. In summer, the sun never quite sets, and the active Finns never seem to rest during the midnight sun.
Finland’s Outdoor Winter Adventure
Seasons aside, you’ll find a plethora of outdoor activities year-round in Finland and the country will appeal to visitors who enjoy the outdoors also. Finns enjoy a concept known as Everyman’s Right, which allows a free right of access to the land and waterways, no matter who is the owner. Anyone can ski, hike, camp, and pick wild berries on any land but are expected to clean up after themselves.
In winter, cross-country skiing is excellent throughout the country. While downhill skiing is less extreme than in other places – the mountains are really glorified hills – you’ll find a wide variety with consistent conditions.
Trips to the Arctic Circle can include reindeer safaris, snowmobiling, and dog sledding. You can take a cruise on an icebreaker, complete with a dip in the sea (you must wear a survival suit), or take reindeer driving lessons. Of course, the long nights of winter and northern latitudes create the perfect setting to see the aurora borealis, or northern lights dance across the sky in an ethereal swirl.
Summer Outdoor Adventure in Finland
In summer, the depths of the eastern forests offer a pure, untouchable beauty that is hard to find outside a tropical rain forest. Wilderness hiking, trekking, and camping are favorite summertime outdoor activities in the forests and wide-open spaces.
Beautiful lakes call for canoeing and sailing while burbling rivers are perfect for white-water rafting. If panning for gold is on your bucket list, you might attend the Finnish Gold Panning Championship in late July.
Be sure to pick wild berries and mushrooms (with someone who knows which are safe to eat) in late summer. In the fall, as the leaves start to turn, hiking on well-marked trails or a drive through the forest is very popular.
The farther north you go, the longer the midnight sun lasts. The best times to see daylong sunlight are mid-May to late July in the far north and early June to early July in areas just south of the Arctic Circle.
One cherished ritual Finns partake of all year long – usually once a week – is steam in a sauna. Most residents have a cottage with a lakeside sauna where they retreat on weekends. Finnish saunas have more humidity and air movement than the ones you may have experienced elsewhere. Another difference is that Finns don’t usually wear clothes, so be prepared if invited. Afterward, they typically jump into a shower, pool, lake or even a hole in the ice!
Besides saunas, Finland offers good music and plenty of cultural festivals. Be sure to attend a concert – live music, dance and art festivals are everywhere in the summertime. The Finns also attend galleries and museums much more than most other countries’ residents. There is not, however, much nightlife outside Helsinki.
Finns love their bikes and use them as their main transportation. An excellent network of paved bike paths even includes bike underpasses in cities with auto traffic, so you may never have to cross a street on a bike.
The people of Finland take their culture and traditions seriously. Finns are famously stoic to the point of being silent, but when they decide to chat, they are honest and refreshingly direct. In Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, the Sami people still wear traditional clothing in some of the smaller villages. Reindeer meat is a food staple and the animals are an important part of the Sami mythology and rituals.
Finns have invented a variety of odd sports. You can attend World Championships in swamp soccer, wife carrying, mobile phone throwing, ice swimming, and even air guitar in Finland. Two unusual sports played in Finland include bandy, a cross between ice hockey and soccer, and pesapallo, a game unique to Finland that vaguely resembles baseball, but is usually confusing to visitors.
And then, of course, the real Santa Claus lives in Finland just on the Arctic Circle. Letters sent to Santa, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland are answered by members of the Santa Claus Land Association. There is also a school that officially accredits Elves.
Should you visit Finland?
If you can’t abide cool or cold temperatures, Finland might not be for you. If you prefer to stay inside and don’t want to wear hiking shoes, you may want to reconsider. But if you enjoy outside activities, love wide-open spaces and pristine wilderness, Finland should be on your travel list.
To plan your trip, contact the expert vacation advisors at Covington Travel.