Do you live in England and dream of a trip to the land of Northern Lights, Finland? Do you also think that the trip will be exorbitantly expensive and you won’t ever be able to afford it in your lifetime? Well, if the answer to any of the above questions is a YES, you have come to just the right place. Here’s a guide to help you plan a picture perfect trip to Finland, with the most reasonable budget. Not only that, I will also try and make sure that you can live a few typically Finnish moments while you are in the country and come back with a lifetime of cherished memories.
|Northern Lights by Markus Kiili|
|Morning in Lapland|
Why visit Finland?
Located right at the top of Europe, Finland is not on the radar of too many people. And the only reason for that is the fact that we just don’t know enough about it.
|Oulanka National Park by Julia Kivela|
Here are a TEN reasons why you must plan your next vacation in the dreamland called Finland!
10. Finally, witness the Northern Lights in winters!
If you still not convinced, listen to Lonely Planet then 🙂 Finland has been called one among the TOP three countries to visit in 2017. Read more here.
Regions of Finland
Now that I have convinced you about making a trip to Finland, let’s look a bit more closely at the regions of the country.
|Oulanka National Park in winters by Hannes Becker|
Overall, the country is divided into four distinct regions – Lapland, Coast and Archipelago, Lakeland and Helsinki.
The northernmost part of the country is Lapland and is possibly also the best place to witness the Northern Lights in winters. The snow covered landscape is ethereal and I have personally never seen anything more enigmatic ever in my life. However, it’s not just the lights which should bring you here, the region has much more to offer. If you do visit the region, don’t miss out on trying cross-country skiing. Another strongly recommended activity is the snow mobile, the best mode of transportation in the mountains, apart from the Reindeer.
|A herd of reindeer|
|A Sami woman by Arto Liiti|
Coming to the key interest now – Northern Lights. Northern Lights are typically visible in the winter months of November to March, though it’s impossible to predict 100% in advance if you will actually get to see the lights on any particular day. Many consider January as the best month, and perhaps the best day within the month is the full-moon night when the clouds are generally not around. Though its impossible to plan in advance, do look for days when the days are cold and cloudless – both the perfect conditions to witness the Northern Lights.
|Exploring Northern Lights|
|Glorious night sky in Lapland|
|The hut by Miikka Niemi|
During the summer months, the region changes completely and its literally a beautiful green land with flowers, berries, grass and pristine blue water bodies. Summers are usually not the most popular travel months, so many places are shut then, and the ones which are open are cheaper.
How to reach Lapland?
Saariselkä is connected by flights to Helsinki with the Ivalo airport. The flight is about 1.5 hours long and the road journey from Ivalo to Saariselkä is about half an hour.
I stayed at the Holiday Club resort at Saariselkä which is now a part of the Club Mahindra. The resort has everything you need – well heated rooms, its own waterworld, sauna, restaurant (Rakka) and some very helpful staff.
How to book safaris?
I worked with a group called Joiku Kotsamo Safaris. here are all the details, and you can reach out to them in advance to make bookings. Timo is a friendly guy who loves to give hugs, and is ever willing to tell more about the Sami culture of Lapland as well.
Master of Experiences
+358 400 398 935
Joiku Kotsamo Safaris
FIN – 99830 SAARISELKA
Safari booking: +358 400 138 911
Lakeland is the largest lake district of Europe, and the largest lake of Finland, Lake Saimaa, is also located here. Spread over hundreds of kilometers, the lakes can be navigated for as far as 400 km on a boat in the summers. However, in winters, the lakes are completely frozen and the face of the region changes completely.
|A woman at Lake Saimaa by Eeva Making|
|Ice skating on the frozen lake by Mikko Nikkinen|
|Lakeland by Asko Kuittinen|
|Some more winter fun on the lake 🙂|
The lake is great for kayaking and swimming in summers, and for cross-country skiing and ice-lake-fishing in winters.
The best way to reach Saimaa lake coast is by road from Helsinki. It takes about 4-5 hours in a car/ bus and the journey is simply beautiful. Stop by at the historical medieval town of Porvoo and have a cup of coffee before starting out once again towards the lake.
Often known as the design capital of the world, Helsinki is a modern and fairly recent capital city by European standards. Known to much of the world as the home of iconic Finnish brand, Nokia, the city is now a hub for design and architecture. Full of lovely cafes and restaurants serving world cuisine, the city exemplifies Scandinavian life.
|Helsinki Technical College|
If you plan to shop in Finland, Helsinki is the city to do it in. From all the major European fashion brands, to the local Finnish brands, the city has them all. A word of caution though – things are usually more expensive here than many other parts of Europe, so if you plan to travel elsewhere, you can shop later as well.
Where to stay?
Helsinki is full of hotels, and you can easily find one for your own budget too. Airbnb is big here and I would recommend staying with a local to get the true vibe of the city.
This is perhaps the least explored and the most beautiful part of the country. Unfortunately, I could not visit it on my trip to Finland, but it’s certainly going to be a part of my itinerary whenever I visit the country next.
|Boats by Ann-Britt Pada|
|Archipelago by Jaakko Salo|
Be a Finn in Finland!
The concept of sauna was invented by the Finns and they are very proud of it as well. Many homes and apartment buildings have their own sauna, and this is true for most hotels as well. Saunas are places where people visit not just to clean up, but also to catch up with each other, share stories, relax and meditate. However, there is something which some of us might not be very comfortable with – a typical Finnish sauna is also a nude sauna, which means not even a shred of clothing is allowed. However, I recommend that you get over this bit quickly on your trip to Finland and then you will be able to enjoy the most Finnish thing to do in Finland! If I can do it, so can anyone else 🙂
|A Finnish Sauna|
|Inside a sauna by Matti Koutonen|
The food is unique in the country, and it’s absolutely worth going out of your comfort zone to try it out. As a vegetarian my options were limited, but if you do eat meat, try out the Reindeer meat, both in Helsinki and Lapland.Finland is also the country of berries, with cloud-berry an integral part of it’s cuisine. If you like drinking, try the Lapponia cloud-berry liqueur as well as the local beer. Even winters are full of berries, though not the fresh ones. Berries are used in main course, desserts and even as medicines by the Sami. Some berries have also shown great healing powers for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.
|Finnish berries by Riitta Weijola/ Vestavalo|
Now this is essential, and you can’t possibly survive the winters if you are not dressed like one. With temperatures plunging to -30 degree Celsius in the winters, it’s essential to be prepared. Check out this link (How to dress in Finland) to know more about how to dress for different temperatures in winters. The key to survival is a rather simple concept of layering – wear as many layers as you can, preferable in the order suggested above. Here’s another popular video which I used to know more about the winter essentials. The page is in Finnish, but the video has no words and is easy to understand.Summers are much warmer, and even Lapland can see pleasant temperatures like 30 degree Celsius. Actually for Finns, that’s way too warm 🙂
Finland is a country for lovers of nature, and with most of the country covered in forests, the best way to explore it would be through hikes and treks in it’s forests. It would be great to take a Finn along who knows the area well, so that you can’t get lost all alone!There are numerous national parks, and the most popular ones being Oulanka National Park, Pallas-Yllästunturi, Koli and Urho Kekkonen National Park. The good news is that access to all national parks is free to people of all nationalities, though it might be restricted in some areas in specific seasons, for instance during the nesting season.Read more: National Parks of Finland
Budget for Finland
Here’s an approximate idea of what a day could be like in Finland during the travel season, i.e. winters. Please do bear in mind that Finland is an expensive country and usually it’s tough to backpack during winters. Having said that, it’s not impossible either.
From my experience of spending time in Finland, for mid-level travel, the costs could look like this: