I can’t even tell you how many times I hear American travelers go on about Spain, Italy, France and England. You’ll hear about culture, history, museums and food (a little less so with England on that last one!). But I can’t say I’ve ever heard an American traveler all wound up about the idea of a trip toÂ Finland.
And I just don’t get it.
Finland – and also Iceland and Norway – have a certain sense of community spirit that’s hard to define. But that spirit makes Finland an incredibly fun place to travel. And then you have the scenery, the events, the food, the public transit and the shopping. I’m not ordinarily a big shopper. But IÂ always look outÂ for things that will interest others, and I can tell you that any fashionista with an eye for one-of-a-kind items from small, independent designers will love Finland.
Let me share some information that gives you an idea of why you should go to Finland.
We arrived in HelsinkiÂ after a flight from TromsÃ¶, Norway via Oslo aboard Norwegian Air Shuttle. I sat across the aisle from a young female rock band, one member of which got startled when my wife accidentally launched a gob of sanitizer directly onto her lap (pressurization, yo). Sharing a plane with young rockersÂ reinforced my notionÂ that Finland is a paradise for good, loud rock music; part of our reason for visiting was to go to the Ruisrock festival in TurkuÂ (the Ruisrock link includes a story about having several people convinced that I’m a rock star who performed at the festival).
I was a little surprised that the rail line from the airport to the city center was still under construction during our visit (it may be ready now, though). The bus ride was still pleasant, and I thought more than a few times of Minnesota as we cruised along through rolling plains and evergreen trees.
Downtown Helsinki, though, was all cool Old World architecture alongside sleek but welcoming new architecture. It’s a blend Finland wears well, just like so many other countries in the region.
First example of the community spirit I mentioned earlier – we asked a young Finnish woman for directions, and she walked us to within a few steps of our hotel and told us all about herself as we walked.
What’s So Cool About Finland?
If American travelers knew what I do about Finland, it would be a huge, up-and-coming destination. It’s just that awesome. Let me break it down:
Absolutely Vibrant During Summer – Finland comes alive in the summer, with music festivals spanning nearly every genre practically every weekend somewhere in the country. Also, there’s a nightly tradition in the cities -- people fill up a cooler, grab a blanket, head to the nearest park and hang out with their friends and neighbors in the post-dinner hours. I imagine winter is a little less social, but I’d bet it’s still a picture-perfect scene of a holiday season.
Getting Around is Super Easy – Whether you walk, bicycle or take a train, the transit options are affordable and easy to navigate. Our two-hour trip on the VR train to Turku was a marvel of comfort and efficiency. We also used a combination of train and bus travel to enjoy a day hiking at the Nuuksion Koulu. Every leg of the trip went off without a hitch. And cyclists – be prepared for an astounding bicycle infrastructure.
History and Fun – We also took a quick boat trip out to Suomenlinna, where we spent a day enjoying the island’s history and sites -- be prepared for some gusty Baltic winds, though. I also got to try some bear sausage. Back in Helsinki, we took an evening trip out to the LinnanmakiÂ amusement park.
Things to Know
- You might be tempted to call Finland a Scandinavian country. Resist the urge. Refer to it as a Nordic country instead.
- Also, Finland uses the Euro. That’s part of the reason its prices aren’t quite as high as Norway.
- Try sahti. It’s a traditional Finnish beer that’s hard to find … and slightly hard to pronounce. Here’s everything you need to know about sahti.
- If you’re a beer connoisseur, let’s just say Finland hasn’t quite hopped into the craft-beer movement just yet. There are a few places to get good brews, but you’ll mostly see fizzy, watery, pale-yellow lagers.
Finland in a Word: Liveable
I could very easily see living in Finland, even with its winters. There seems to be a work-life balance that allows the country to prosper, but it exudes a "work to live, not live to work" outlook. That’s healthy. The country’s fixation on sauna (pronounce it “sah-oo-nah”) is another healthy element, along with well-marked hiking trails serves by huts. Finland is the place to be for backpackers and cross-country skiers.
My total time in Finland was about nine days – enough to convince me that you should go to Finland – split between Turku and Helsinki. Turku is built around a river, and it is so incredibly relaxed and pleasant that you might never realize that many of the world’s behemoth cruise ships are built there. As for Helsinki -- I could easily use a few weeks to dive into all that it offers. I’d love a chance to learn more about its heavy metal scene and to get out into the surrounding natural areas.