Category Archives: Finland

What to do in Finland.

10 Places to Visit in Finland

Finland is a fascinating part of Europe with a large variety of activities depending on whether it’s summer or winter – because there are certainly seasonal extremes here! It’s a country full of lakes and islands and incredible nature, as well as modern technology (hello, Nokia!) and indigenous culture, too. Here are ten travel tips for things to do in Finland, outside of the capital Helsinki.

Rovaniemi

My favourite part of Finland outside of Helsinki is Rovaniemi, largely because I had such a wonderful white Christmas experience there. It has a lot of tourist infrastructure (but without feeling over-touristy) and an exceptional museum in the Arktikum.

10 Places to Visit in Finland

Snowmobiles in Rovaniemi by Amanda Kendle

Click here for the lowest prices on Rovaniemi hotels

Lappeenranta

Being close to the Russian border has given Lappeenranta quite an interesting history but as far as tourism goes its biggest attraction is actually a sandcastle! Artists build an enormous (and impressively decorated) sandcastle every summer at the harbour and there is family entertainment to go with it.

things to do Finland

Sandcastle in Lappeenranta by Antti M

Click here for lowest prices on Lappeeranta hotels
Continue reading

Tips for Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland

I’m a big fan of all things Finnish and its pretty capital, Helsinki, is a destination I consider to be underrated and under-visited – in other words, book your Helsinki holiday now! It’s a great city to explore in either summer or winter, and I say that as someone who spent time there during the coldest part of the year and still found it a heap of fun. Here are some of Helsinki’s main attractions to help convince you further.

What to do HelsinkiHelsinki Harbour by Simon Goldenberg

Museums in Helsinki

The Helsinki City Museum is a good way to understand the various iterations of Helsinki, under the influence of the Swedes, the Russians and as independent Finland. As well as being interesting, it’s free to enter so it’s a great way to get an introduction to Helsinki’s history.

What to do Helsinki Helsinki City Museum by dalbera

To understand Finland beyond just Helsinki, then the National Museum of Finland (or Kansallismuseo) is also worth a visit. It has been renovated recently and its exhibitions reach back to prehistoric history from the area, through the Middle Ages and to the present. It’s housed in a lovely old building, too, with a tower you can spot easily from a distance.

For art lovers, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is a great place to see. The main exhibits show contemporary artworks from Finnish artists as well as artists from Finland’s neighbours and the modern building which houses it is also worth seeing.

What to do HelsinkiKiasma Museum of Contemporary Art by Karen Chan 16

Churches in Helsinki

As Marcus summed up in his post on Helsinki, there are several particularly beautiful churches in Helsinki. The first, and arguably the most famous, is the Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square. It is free to enter although you don’t need to go in to enjoy it, as just the impressive architecture in its imposing position on the square is marvel enough.

What to do HelsinkiLutheran Cathedral in Helsinki by Amanda Kendle

The Church in the Rock (or Temppeliaukion kirkko) is particularly unique because it was actually dug out of solid rock, and covered with a copper roof. Because it has great acoustics it’s often a venue for concerts, not just church services. You can look around for free but trying to time your visit to hear a concert would be ideal.

There is also the nineteenth century Uspenski Cathedral which emphasises the close relationship and intermingled history of Finland and Russia. It’s the largest Orthodox church in western Europe (assuming western Europe is anything west of the old Cold War border, I suppose) and is very photogenic.

What to do HelsinkiUspenski Cathedral in Helsinki by Amanda Kendle

Getting outdoors in Helsinki

Suomenlinna is a must-see attraction in Helsinki. An island easily reached by ferry, it is referred to as the “Gibraltar of the North”, once being an imposing sea fortress. There are numerous historical relics left on Sueomenlinna along with museums, restaurants and cafes. And it’s on the World Heritage List.

What to do Helsinki Suomenlinna by archer10

One of my favourite spots in Helsinki is the Seurasaari Open Air Museum, part of a large park on an island just north of the city. There are numerous walking paths which pass various old Finnish wooden homes which have been gathered up from various parts of Finland and relocated to Seurasaari. While most guide books will suggest this place is at its best in summer, I enjoyed a sunny day there in the middle of winter with smaller crowds than usual.

What to do HelsinkiSeurasaari Open Air Museum by Amanda Kendle

Not far from the central train station, Keskuspuisto (Central Park) is a beautiful place for a stroll and is a good spot to get views over the city. The Olympic Stadium forms one of its boundaries.

What to do Helsinki A wooden instrument in Keskuspuisto by hfb

Day trips from Helsinki

Andy wrote up some great ideas for day trips from Helsinki and my favourite of these is the suggestion to visit the Nuuksio National Forest Park. It is only a short bus ride away from the centre of Helsinki but you’ll feel just about as far away from a capital city as you can imagine.

What to do Helsinki Nuuksio Forest by hsivonen

If you’re curious about Estonia, it’s actually quite practical to take a day trip from Helsinki to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. The fastest ferries take less than two hours to make the crossing.

What to do HelsinkiFerries in Helsinki Harbour by Amanda Kendle

Your tips for Helsinki

Have you spent time in Helsinki too, or heard a great tip from someone who has? We always welcome further suggestions so please add your tips on what to do in Helsinki in the comments below.

Click here for the lowest prices on Helsinki hotels

Turku: European Capital of Culture 2011

I always love reading about the new European Culture Capitals every year, because typically those cities get lots of cash to put on a good show and upgrade their tourism infrastructure.  This year is no different, with two great nominees in the line up.  Today I’d like to highlight Turku, Finland’s former capital city.  I’ve mentioned it before as a great daytrip from Helsinki, and by the looks of it, Turku is planning on a wizz bang party for most of 2011.

turku

River Aura inTurku by Joni-Pekka Luomala

Turku is one of the larger cities in Finland, so you’ll find a lot of great restaurants and bars/pubs.  There’s a lot of old world architecture as well – a great balance between an urban area and a quiet town.

What’s on for the culture capital?  Well, here are some things that caught my eye:

  • A special event for Easter at the Museum of Agriculture.  Something about Easter eggs perhaps?
  • Live jazz nights all spring and summer
  • A “modern electronic” music festival – Turku has a thriving club scene so I suspect this will attract some good European talent
  • The Tall Ships regatta, which I’ve seen in Amsterdam and loved, will be in Turku in August
  • “Pitch Black” gallery nights, where you’ll be led around a guided tour of an art gallery…in the dark.
  • Comics Rule: over the summer, some of the road signage will be turned into comics.  (It looks like they might be in Finnish, or Swedish – the city is bilingual – so they might be more funny if you ask a local for the explanation.)

So looks like Turku should be on your travel itinerary for 2011.

Click here for the lowest prices on Turku hotels

Åland Islands – Finland but they speak Swedish

The Ã…land Islands are about as close as you can be in Finland without being there.  You see, these islands – an archipelago, technically speaking – are an autonomous region of Finland. The islands have their own police force, parliamentary representation, national airline, postage stamps, and other things that make it a different place than Finland.  Oh, and did I mention they speak Swedish?  It’s terribly confusing, so you might want to stick to English.

But beyond the novelty of saying that you’ve been, why else go to Ã…land?

  • Eat.  The island has its own creamery and makes a delicious bread as well, a sweet blackbread.  You also have to try an Aland pancake, which is made with rice.  The texture reminds me of super-healthy pancakes, but these are tasty too.
  • Drink.  You won’t go thirsty even though you’re on an island!  Aland has a brewery, Stallhagen, as well as Tjudo,a winery that makes apple vodka.
  • Relax.  This is probably the best reason to go to Alan.  It’s an idyllic place, where time slows.  Sit on the rocks and watch the ocean go by – or jump in for a swim.  Get a ferry to one of the uninhabited islands and go for a hike – truly alone.   Or site on a terrace in a cafe and watch the world go by.  You’ll realise it doesn’t spin nearly as fast as you thought it did.

If you plan to stay on the islands, you can find the best prices at hotels in  Mariehamn, the main town, using the HotelsCombined price comparison site.

If you’ve been there, what are your tips for things to do on the Aland Islands?

Photo by ezioman

Kajaani Castle: Europe’s Northernmost Castle

Once you’ve explored Finland’s top tourist attractions – such as the cathedrals of Helsinki, or daytrips from Helsinki, then I suggest you head further afield for some totally offbeat, random sightseeing.  There’s of course things like saying hello to Santa Claus, or snowshoe walking, but I’ve got a tip for your next pub night trivia: a tour of Kajaani Castle.  It’s not only Europe’s northernmost castle, but also Europe’s smallest stone castle.

Where Is It?

Kajaani isn’t in the wilds of the arctic circle, as you might expect – it’s actually in central Finland.  It’s an hour flight from Helsinki, but there’s also rail and bus service.  I suppose it goes without saying, but I’d suggest you combine a visit to Kajaani with other sightseeing around Finland.  And don’t forget your language guidebook, unless you speak some Finnish.

About the Castle

The Kajaani Castle was built in early 1600s, thus it predates the city of Kajaani by about 50 years.  It was, as most castles were in this time, an administrative centre and prison as well as a defensive structure for the growing city.  Kajaani was becoming well known as a producer of tar (the pine tree kind); unfortunately, though, the castle didn’t last very long.  It was blown up by the Russians during the Great Northern War in the middle of the 1700s.  The castle’s wooden bridge was once the only bridge across the river – obviously the one here today is slightly more modern.

Things To Do

Kajaani has a few other things to do, including an art museum and lots of cafes.  You can arrange for an inexpensive guided tour of the city via the official city visitor website (fairly sparse but it does cover the basics).

Photo by vihannes

Helsinki highlight: Uspenski Cathedral

Finland’s capital is such a pretty city – especially with a dusting of snow in winter – and its varied architecture impressed me no end. One of the loveliest buildings is the Uspenski Cathedral – apparently it’s the largest orthodox church in western Europe and is a clear reminder of how close Russia is and the influence Russia has had on Finnish history.

You won’t miss it as you’re strolling around Helsinki, and it’s free to enter (but closed on Mondays in winter). The history of the place is that it is based on an older church near Moscow, but the Uspenski Cathedral was built in the nineteenth century, being finished in 1868. Going inside is like visiting a little piece of Russia. And from its hilly position, you can get a great view over parts of Helsinki, too.

More Helsinki Tips

There are more tips in our What to do in Helsinki post.

Click here for the lowest prices on Helsinki hotels

Helsinki, Finland – Where the Streets Have Two Names

Finns speak Finnish. It makes sense then that the official language of Finland is Finnish. But it is also Swedish. Just about five and a half percent of the population speaks Swedish as their native language.

This is not a large amount of the population. Despite this, the street signs in Helsinki are written in both Swedish and Finnish. Luckily, there are more exciting things to look at while in Helsinki. Three churches of Helsinki really stand out.

Helsinki Cathedral is of course the most well-known. Situated in Senate Square, the cathedral boasts a large dome and enough columns to make you think you’re in Greece. The view from the steps of the Cathedral is amazing and on sunny days, the square below is bustling with locals and tourists alike. Depending on the time of year, and the fact that entrance is free, you might have to fight slight crowds.

On a little island in Helsinki, just off the main part of the city lies the Uspenski Cathedral, an impressive red brick structure. Opening hours are limited, but entrance is free. Even if you find yourself getting there after 4 in the afternoon, the exterior is beautiful and really shows off the Russian influence in Helsinki.

Finally, my favorite, simply because it is so different. Temppeliaukio Church. The church is literally built into a large rock quarry. I wasn’t sure what to expect and while trying to find the church, eventually realized that I was walking on top of it. When I finally made my way inside, I was amazed by the stone walls. Not because they were carved stone, but because they were actual rock walls. Temppeliaukio Church is also free, but has some very strange opening hours depending on the season and the day of the week so be sure to check ahead if you want to get inside.

More Helsinki Tips

There are more tips in our What to do in Helsinki post.

Click here for the lowest prices on Helsinki hotels

A dark New Year in northern Finland

This year I’ll be seeing in the New Year down in Australia, where we’ve just passed the longest day of the year and have streaming sunshine at five o’clock in the morning. It’s a far cry from my New Year celebrations a couple of years ago in Europe, when I welcomed the New Year in absolute darkness in Rovaniemi, just shy of the Arctic Circle in Finland.

Rovaniemi Winter solstice sun creeps around horizon

At that time, shortly after the winter solstice, the sun did appear in Rovaniemi, but only for short bursts in the middle of the day. Take a look at this sunrise picture: it looks like it should be early in the morning, but it was actually around half past eleven. Rather than actually rising, the sun crept around the horizon for a couple of hours and then sunk us into darkness again.

I’m just a couple of days early, but however dark it might be in your New Year destination, I’d like to wish all Europe A La Carte readers all the best for 2010. Happy New Year!

Rent a Cottage in Finland

Finland is a beautiful country known for having thousands and thousands of lakes. If you’re planning on traveling to Helsinki, be sure to find some time to leave the city to experience one of Finland’s many lakes.

My Aunt's cottage in Finland

Renting a cottage in Finland is the perfect way to find peace away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Neighbors are far and few which will make your travel experience much more private.

There are many cottages to rent on various lakes in Finland. You might choose a cottage located somewhere near activities that interest you or your group. The cottages are quaint and sort of become a home-away-from-home for visitors. Most cottages can be rented year round and most of them are priced per week instead of per person.

During the summer, many families enjoy swimming, fishing, canoeing, biking, sailing and other outdoor activities during their stay. The summer days are long and bright and it seems as if the sun hardly sets. In the winter families enjoy ice swimming, trekking, skiing and snowboarding. Winter days seem short, with little light, but the snow adventures make it all worth while.

The backyard to my Aunt's cottage in Finland

Oh, and don’t forget the sauna. Most Finnish cottages are equipped with a sauna that are used daily by the Finns. You have not experienced Finland until you learn to use the sauna like a Finn.

I was lucky enough to stay at a cottage owned my my aunt somewhere outside of Helsinki. During my stay I discovered how to relax over and over again. I swam, went boating, ate crayfish, barbecued and found time to meditate while only listening to the sounds of nature. It was very obvious to me why the Finns are always looking for opportunities to leave the city on holiday and head to the lakes. In my opinion, no visit to Finland is complete without a much-needed stay at a cottage on a lake.

Places to See the Autumn Leaves in Europe

It seems autumn has fallen rapidly upon us, so I thought to celebrate the season of woolly jumpers and warm drinks with a few ideas of where to see the autumn leaves. Most recommendations are best seen with a car, given their location.

Lombardia, Italy

3188403900_a87c23900d

Escape the hustle and bustle of places like Milan and Lake Como and see the rural sights. Great outdoor exploration can be found in places like Stelvio National Park – one of the largest in the country – and Ticino Valley National Park.

Nuuksio, near Helsinki, Finland

2894997000_515af3a744

Helsinki isn’t terrible this time of year, although long nights and short days are rapidly approaching. However Nuuksio is just a short hop from the city and is a wonderful forest experience – hard to believe it’s so close to the bustling city. I’d enjoy a walk here any time of year, to be honest (yes even in hard winter).

Vienna Woods, Vienna, Austria

274160917_dfa56e22a6

The Wiener Wald (Vienna Woods) is absolutely stunning in all seasons, but as you can see from the photo above it takes on magical characteristics in the autumn. I find Vienna lovely in the fall, given that it can be so hot and muggy in the summer, so it’s a perfect place to check out the autumn leave.s

Any other great tips for fall leave watching?

photos by unhappy by design, Matti Mattilla, pokpok313