Finland is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Fact. Winter Holidaymakers have a tendency to flock to the Alps, New York or the Southern hemisphere for a winter break, but Finland as all the allure and charm of the above destinations combined. Notoriously famous for: Lapland (home of Father Christmas), Saunas, Arctic berries and er Moomins? That’s right folks Finland’s claim to fame is the popular children’s cartoon character that dominated many TV screens in the 90’s, but there is more to Finland than just that. Being bordered by three other countries (Norway, Sweden and Russia), a deep political history only adds to Finland’s cultural melting pot, making it a truly unique destination by any stretch.
Many budding travellers are under the impression that Lapland is actually a country, in fact it is Finland’s northernmost region situated in the Arctic Circle. In the summer, 24 hours of daylight reign supreme, but in the winter the sun doesn’t rise at all, instead the sky is full of colours, purple and pink hues occupy the horizon, just before darkness descends.
Despite this life carries on, with one of the most popular ways to get around being cross country skiing. The sport itself requires plenty of physical effort to ski across flat surfaces, and can prove to be highly embarrassing when five year olds whizz past a group of amateur twenty something’s (but let’s keep that between you and me). There are many ski paths and routes to follow in this region with quaint little coffee shops dotted along the way. If you find yourself in one be sure to try a classic Finnish drink, Minttukaakao, which literally means mint chocolate in English. It’s a winter warmer if there ever was one (be warned it’s a combination of hot chocolate and mint vodka). Fire pits are also found on the way, with many locals roasting sausages and marshmallows, before donning their skis once more and moving on. The likely story is that they are heading home to heat up the sauna and sit back and relax. Most homes in Finland’s northern regions have built in saunas. The large majority start at about 70 degrees and just keep going up, Sauna’s give an instant fresh feeling whilst sweating all of the toxins. So after a long hard day skiing could you possibly think of a better way to relax?
By this point in the afternoon the Northern Lights are the high in the sky. Remember that the best time to go and see the Northern Lights is in January and February and so seeing them is not a 100% guaranteed in any package deal! But, it’s a wonderful site to behold and on everyone’s bucket lists. The golden green swirls will dominate the skyline. The Arctic Circle is a wondrous place to take in the Earth’s most famous natural phenomenon. Ice Hotels are a classic and chic way to take in the night’s sky. Can’t afford the extortionate prices that Ice hotels offer? Then don’t worry for a small fee of just 12 euros you gain access the hotel as a visitor and look at the ice carvings inside a large majority of the bed rooms and other guest areas.
Not one for the beyond freezing temperatures that is the Arctic Circle in the winter, then head south to Finland’s Capital Helsinki. Helsinki sits on the gulf’s peninsula with some of the city’s top sights like: the national museum, Suomenlinna fortress, Helsinki’s cathedrals and other churches.
During the winter months some of Helsinki’s top attractions either aren’t open to tourists or are undergoing renovations. But, still makes for an exceptional and different city break nonetheless. Arguably Helsinki’s top attraction is Finland’s only sea fortress, Suomenlinna. The fortress is just off the coast of Helsinki, and sits amongst some of Finland’s 300 islands. Ferries head to the sea fortress regularly (roughly every twenty minutes). The fortress is a great amalgamation of both Swedish and Russian history. Finland’s history is rife with wars and historical disputes being fought over by both Sweden and Russia. The fortress has four museums and each of which explain a different aspect about the fortress’s history, and in turn Helsinki’s history. It’s not just the museums that are impressive on the island, but the reach of the quaint Scandinavia culture. Colourful wooden houses are dotted about, these are home to some of the islands 800 inhabitants. Feel free to have a wonder, guided tours in a mixture of languages encourage tourists to roam around and stop for a coffee in the traditional tea shop (be warned filter coffee is everywhere).
Another museum which may be of interest to the history buffs out there is the National museum. The area surrounding the national museum is full of cultural landmarks, with Helsinki’s famous Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral possibly being the most famous of these. The cathedral stands impressively over the Helsinki skyline, entry is free and is a great place to warm up your fingers and toes. The cathedral itself is very minimalistic in comparison to other cathedrals across Europe. But, it’s a reminder of the Art Nouveau architecture that Finland is famous for.
After all the sightseeing be sure to stop for a bite to eat and sample some of the classic Finnish cuisine. In the Lapland that delicacy is Reindeer, which can be brought at the supermarkets and meat counters and leaves a rather salty taste on the tongue. If you do fancy braving the supermarkets be sure to take google translate with you, Finnish is very different to English. Luckily the large majority of restaurant menus give an English translation. Seafood is another Finnish delicacy, with a few varieties of fish on every menu. Salmon soup is considered a Finnish must, different restaurants add a twist every time, so no matter how many times you’ll have it, you’ll always want more. Even the traditional Finnish markets found in the Helsinki’s docklands will tempt you into buying freshly fried fish complete with a garlic mayonnaise sauce to boot Savoury not your thing? Any pastry with an arctic berry in is worth a try, the most notorious berry is the blueberry. It’s both naughty and nice.
So if you’re thinking of booking a last minute winter break for reading week and beyond, why not consider Finland the next time skyscanner appears in your browser.