Finland. The land of a thousand lakes. Santa Claus, sauna and the Northern Lights. Nokia, Angry Birds and Marimekko. Wife carrying and mobile phone throwing competitions. Those are just some of the things that this small and cold northern country is known of.
Finland has four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. Summer is the most popular time to visit here. In winter, nobody comes. It’s cold, dark and the image of charming Lapland with beautiful snow covered trees that you see on Google is usually far from the reality, at least here in the south where I live.
Sunset in winter / Sunset in Summer
I have to admit, that I always tell people to come here in summer. Summer’s the best. No snow (if we are lucky), weather is sunny (unless we have a very rainy year) and temperatures are rising (at least to +25 celcius). People leave cities and head out to the countryside. But winter is not actually that bad. Even though the weather might suck a lot, we still have plenty of stuff to do here! I personally think winter is the best time of the year to do all kind of indoor activities (like sitting in a pub and having a beer). In the end, I think Finland is a great place to visit – year around. Here are my tips for visiting Suomi:
1. Try Avantouinti (ice swimming).
Many Finns are crazy about it and think that it has some kind of healing effects. The point is that you first enter the sauna and then dip to the icy cold water and then run back to the sauna to prevent yourself from freezing to death. Contact the local avantouinti society after your arrival, they’ll tell you where you can try this extreme sport.
2. Taste the Finnish food – and have a drink
In Gordon Ramsay’s opinion Finnish food is terrible. I dare to think different! There are some food such as mämmi which I personally don’t like at all (I don’t understand why anyone would like it, it looks and tastes like.. well, you know) but we do have a lot of great food around here. Eat fish. Eat potatoes (especially in the summer). Taste the different varieties of rye bread. Our food is not as fancy as some french cuisine, but we have delicious stuff too. Try the traditional Karelian stew. Also don’t forget to taste reindeer meat!
Finnish Koskenkorva vodka is a legend. At least here in Finland. Served best as pocket warm and straight from the bottle. Cheap beer in the grocery stores is pretty much similar as anywhere else in the world, but we do have some breweries/microbreweries here and if you are really into beers, you should attend this event in Helsinki called “Suuret Oluet – Pienet Panimot” (literally: Big beers – small breweries). It’s held in summer annually.
3. Attend the festivals
We have a large variety of music festivals here – especially in the summer. There is something for everyone and every weekend something is happening. Some people might know Finland from Savonlinna Opera festival but festivals that I would recommend are Tuska Open Air (Finland’s biggest metal festival, held in Helsinki) and Ilosaarirock (held in Joensuu with large variety of different kind of bands and music styles).
Just remember that festivals tend to have a strict policy on alcohol consuming – which basically means, that BYOB is not allowed on the festival site. Alcohol is usually quite expensive and has to be consumed in designated drinking areas. Bringing your own drinks and enjoying them at the camping site though is possible – and advisable!
Chili eating competition / People floating in Kaljakellunta
But other than music, we do have all kind of events and festivals around the year. My personal favourites are the Chili festival that is held in Tampere (usually around August) and Kaljakellunta in Vantaa. Kaljakellunta – literally “beer floating” started years and years ago when someone with a hangover decided to relieve the awful feelings after heavy drinking night by floating around in Vantaa river. Now it’s grown into a big event and is usually held at some point of the summer. It is not an official event, so the time of arrange might vary – and it’s not arranged in Vantaa only, but in other cities as well.
4. Make friends with a local
Finns are quiet, shy and like to keep it to themselves (except when under the influence of alcohol, I have to admit). But when you make friends with a Finn and earn their trust, you have a friend for a lifetime. The most honourable thing for a guest is to get invited to sauna. Grab that opportunity, because saying “no thanks” might be considered unpolite.
Finns are known from their rally english but most of us can speak english pretty well even though we might have a funny accent. Don’t be afraid to learn few phrases in finnish, for emergencies (no english speakers around) or just to make an impression. We do like our strange language and it is impressive, if someone has taken time to learn it even a little! Kiitos! Perkele!
5. Go out and explore
Capital area is great and everything, but there is plenty to see outside of it too. Public transportation in Finland is good, although in wintertime the trains might run a little late sometimes. Visit Tampere, city famous of musta makkara (blood sausage), Tuuri (known of having the second biggest deparment store in Finland, Veljekset Keskinen), see Mikkeli (gateway to the thousand lakes) or just take a wild card and visit some small village in Ostrobothnia. Here are just few to name, but Finland has 7 UNESCO world heritage sites, national parks, elfs and reindeers in Lapland and as there are polar bears strolling around Helsinki streets, it is safer to leave the city and head somewhere else.
You can make yourself familiar with Finland by reading this blog before travelling to our beautiful yet strange country.