In summer, Finland is an idyllic rural retreat with the longest summer days and the endless shorelines of its picture-perfect Lakeland region. In winter the snow comes early to this country, when Finnish Lapland becomes a legendary white wonderland. There really are so many more reasons to visit Finland than you could ever imagine. These are just some of my top picks.
The longest days of summer
With 24 hours of sunshine a day in Lapland, and up to 19 hours of it in southern Finland, this country deserves its romantic title of The Land Of The Midnight Sun. In the south, summer kicks off in May and closes mid-September. In the north, in Lapland, for example, it starts a month later and ends a month earlier.
Follow the Finns if you want to make the best of those endless, lazy, summer days and head for Lakeland. With 187,888 lakes in Finland, you need to head for the best of them. Lake Saimaa, in the southeast, is the country's largest freshwater lake and fourth largest in Europe. The town of the same name nestles on its shores, as do several beautiful villages, meaning that visitors here can enjoy exploring on both water and land.
The labyrinth of waterways and islands on Lake Saimaa make for an enchanting waterworld to be explored on an organised boat trip, or in your own rented rowing boat, canoe or kayak. Pack a picnic and find your own deserted Lakeland beach on which to laze away a never-ending day. Keep your eyes open for a sighting of the rare Saimaa Ringed Seal, identified by the distinctive round patterns on its skin.
The town itself is a picture, with its coloured cottages and pretty terraces where you can sit and listen to the waters lapping onto the lake's shores while watching the locals arrive by boat to take coffee with friends in the market square.
If you are keen on fishing, then you are in the right place. Fishing locations are too numerous to list, but with all that daylight and the peaceful serenity of the lakes, your holding nets will be full by the time you head off back to your lodge or apartment to gently grill your very own catch of the day over the glowing embers of your barbecue.
The exquisite city of Savonlinna is the jewel in the crown of Lake Saimaa. Home to 35,000 people, the city is a buzzing cultural hub, and yet it is fringed by the waters of the mighty lake, benefits from the scenic backdrop of pine forests and is close to the rugged majesty of the Kovolesi National Park, as well as the open waters and many islands of Linnansaari National Park.
Savonlinna is comprised of several islands. It is a romantic destination and the picturesque location of the internationally-renowned Savonlinna Summer Opera Festival which attracts world-class performers. The venue is the spectacular Olavinlinna Castle and it takes place between 4 July and 3 August this year. Built in 1475, its mighty stone walls are not only the ideal setting for an event as grand as the opera; within them you will uncover the story of life in medieval times, from the roar of battle and the tragedy of forbidden romance, to the way everyday folk went about their simple daily chores. Tours of the castle are available, even if you don't get to go to the opera.
Summer is a time when it seems this whole country comes alive to the sound of music, as towns everywhere host festivals where music of all genres is celebrated and becomes the accompaniment to the delicious local cuisine. The summer festivals range from the Finland Rockfest in Hyvinkää, and the Sideways Festival, a cosy boutique indie rock event in Helsinki, to the internationally acclaimed Pori Jazz Festival in Pori, Suomi, one of the longest running jazz events in the world attracting 400,000 visitors each year. It is worth checking out Finland's calendar of festivals when planning your holiday.
Surrounding Finland's intricate and expansive waterways and lakes are the open fells, forests and peaks of the country's famed national parks, There are as many as 40 national parks in Finland and visitor centres will supply you with maps, guides and advice to get you off on your way. The parklands offer gentle walks for those who want to wander through the countryside without putting too much effort in while taking in the scenery, through to the many different levels of hiking and trekking. You can plan your own great outdoors adventure, at your own pace.
Wild, beautiful and rugged as they may be, visitors will find that all Finnish national parks have well sign-posted nature trails, marked hiking routes and picnic areas - many with camp fire areas too. Do your research to find a national park that ticks your boxes, or that is close to your resort.
Koli National Park in southeast Finland is very popular because of the wonderful views to be enjoyed over Lake Pielinen from the top of Ukko-Koli Hill. It is a view that has inspired many of Finland's great artists. For those who want to be sure they see this landscape from the best viewing points, there are guided tours available, some of them on horseback.
Repovesi National Park, in the southeast, presents some challenging climbing up steep cliffs for the thrill seekers, while families can enjoy a gentle amble over the pretty hanging bridge and have some fun on the hand-operated Fox's Ferry. In the same region, Teijo National Park offers a gentler landscape with peaceful lakes and historic villages where traditional local crafts, such as ironwork, thrive and where visitors will be welcome to look on and learn.
The Northern Lights will illuminate the skies in winter, while the Midnight Sun will light the way for summer trekkers. The incredible sensation of being out in the wilderness and at one with nature at its best will be a feeling you will remember forever, wherever you are under this country's big skies.
For more holiday inspiration on Finland's Lakelands, visit our Lakeland page.
Winter in the wilderness
Snow is Finland's crowning glory in winter and the best of it falls in the north of the country, which is why Santa Claus made Rovaniemi in Lapland his home. It is also a region where deep gorges cut through the rugged peaks and wild landscape that make up the winter wonderland that is the Pyhä-Luosto National Park. Snow lovers flock to this region for the skiing, which provides some spectacular cross-country runs. However, there are lots of other fun ways of exploring this magnificent parkland in the snow. Many trekkers pull on their snowshoes, having many different routes to choose from - from easy treks over frozen lakes under the open skies, to the more demanding paths through ancient forests which take the adventurer up onto the tops of the fells.
The ski season in the north of the country starts much earlier than it does in the major European ski resorts. Skiers will have some of the best cross-country runs, through some fairy tale landscapes. For those looking to speed down the slopes, head for Ruka, a lively alpine-like town where snow is virtually guaranteed from October to May. With 21 ski lifts and 34 slopes, skiers and snowboarders are going to have plenty of options to fill their holiday hours.
Believe it or not, safaris are a very popular pastime in Finland. You may be spotting wolverines, elks, golden eagles and snowy owls instead of the big game, but safaris through the snow are no less thrilling than those under the African sun.
Take a reindeer sleigh ride through the pine, beech and spruce forests, brushing past branches heavily laden with soft snow, and slide silently past the glistening frozen lakes. Not forgetting that you can always take time out to visit one of the many reindeer petting farms to get a little closer to these remarkable creatures. Most excursions include a visit to a farm where you can learn more about how these animals are cared for, as well as getting an insight into the ancient lifestyle of the indigenous Sámi people who depend on these creatures for their livelihood. You will be able to partake of the 'sooty pot' - a Lapp tradition of taking hot coffee during the sleigh rides.
Up the pace by letting a team of magnificent husky dogs pull you through the forests on a sledge. It gets even more exciting if you are brave enough to take the reins to become the 'musher', driving the huskies yourself. Again many excursions include visits to the communities where the dogs are kept so you can have a hug with a furry friend and meet their keepers.
Excursions often include time out to take a traditional Finnish meal with the Sámi people. You get to sit with them in their kotas - teepee-like huts, and very likely enjoy a tasty meal of grilled fish or reindeer while chatting to your welcoming hosts.
Speed and snow
Snow mobiles are everyday transport for the local people, but for the visitor they are an extraordinary way of experiencing the beauty of being out in the natural wild lands. They come with experienced guides, or you can take some training and venture out on your own. Snow mobiles are very simple to operate and most people master the controls in no time, being taught by experienced guides. There will be different routes to match your experience and all the safety equipment and kit needed will be supplied. Some excursions include refreshment stops by a campfire and, if you're lucky, a flash of nature's best light show - the Northern Lights.
In the winter months these adventures will be made all the more magical for taking place in the dark and twilight. Snow mobiles, sleighs, trails, trees, refreshment stops and more will all be illuminated with pretty lights transforming the landscape and putting you into a setting that might have come straight off a Christmas card!
A castle of snow
Coastal Kemi boasts an actual castle made of snow. SnowCastle is rebuilt every year from snow made of seawater. It has a footprint of up to 20,000 square metres and its towers rise as high as 20 metres into the sky. Within its snowy walls, dazzling white pathways take the visitor past ice sculptures, icy halls and rooms, and other frozen marvels in what is a unique experience. Day tickets can be purchased for a family of four at €29 and the experience is open between January and April. The SnowExperience365 is open year-round and offers refreshments in its ice bar, where you will drink from glasses made of... You've guessed, ice! A gallery of ice sculptures adorn the frozen complex, and there's even an ice slide that you can actually slide down. It goes without saying that you will need to have your winter layers of clothing on, although extra clothing to warm you on your way is provided free of charge at the SnowExperience365 during the winter months.
Close to Kemi, you can also take an Arctic cruise. Your vessel for the trip is Sampo, an Arctic icebreaker, which will power through the thick ice in the Gulf of Bothnia. The unreal sounds of 3,500 tons of ship's steel smashing into the icy barrier of ice blocks will thrill you, while you also get to tour the ship itself. Cruise guests are offered a survival suit if they wish to take the plunge and throw themselves into the icy waters... But that activity is not obligatory!
Getting about in Finland
Finland is one of the easiest and safest countries in the world to travel around. It is also relatively inexpensive, having good bus services to many destinations. The rail system covers all the main towns, with most lines running out of Helsinki. The fast Pendolino Intercity trains have family compartments and play areas for children on them, plus bicycle and ski lockers. Don't be nervous about driving. Finnish roads are good and very quiet, apart from around the cities. Petrol stations are everywhere, and most have coffee shops and small restaurants attached.
RCI member, Philip Hakim, took his family to Lapland on his first RCI Exchange Holiday in 2017. He said: "We drove to our resort from Oulu Airport, and what a pleasant surprise it was. Hire cars come with studded winter tyres and Sat Navs. Driving on the compact ice felt surprisingly stable and we motored past vast expanses of frosted woodlands and pretty towns along the way. The days seems somehow longer and the light brighter in the winter than we expected. It was a brilliant holiday for my family, not as cold as expected and, wherever you went, the Sámi people were delightful. We agreed that we would definitely return one day."
For more holiday inspiration on Lapland visit our Lapland page.
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If you are looking for something out of the ordinary in your next holiday, and like what you have learned here about Finland, then check out the amazing resorts where you could be staying. Many apartments at Finnish resorts come with your very own sauna as standard, so you can warm up at the end of a day's great outdoor adventure in your own steam room! Just click on the RCI Directory button below and start planning your next getaway...
For more holiday inspiration, visit our Holiday Ideas page.