Best things to do in Finland
Find out more about those top places in Finland
50 kilometers east of the Finnish capital, Porvoo is amongst Finland’s oldest and most captivating towns. Predating the grand classical architecture of Helsinki, Porvoo is traditional Finland at its best: brightly colored clapboard house line the waterfront; cobbled streets crisscross the old town; and the half-timbered cathedral dominates the skyline. Although the city was founded in 1380, the town reached its cultural and historical apogee in 1852, when it was home to the renowned poet Johan Runeberg who penned the Finnish national anthem. Today, the town’s burgeoning food and drink scene and arts movement complements the picture-perfect streetscape.
As one of Finland’s oldest towns, Porvoo has a captivating old town waiting to be explored. The narrow cobbled streets are lined with port side markets, colorful clapperboard houses and rust-red medieval warehouses, which are the town’s de facto emblem. For the best experience, tour this historic gem in the company of a knowledgeable local guide.
Perched on a hill above the old town, the 13th century Porvoo Cathedral, known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, is one of Finland’s most historic locations. Having been destroyed during wars with the Danes and Russians in the 16th and 18th centuries, the cathedral saw its worst damage in 2006 after a local arsonist set fire to the structure’s timber roof. Fortunately, painstaking reconstruction has returned it to its former glory. If visiting Porvoo in summer, make sure to catch a fascinating guided tour of the cathedral.
Now immortalized as the city’s de facto emblem, the red warehouses that line the banks of the Porvoo River are an enchanting sight. Best seen from across the water or from any of the bridges that span the river, the delightfully rust-red clapperboard buildings were painted in the late-18th century to celebrate the arrival of the Swedish king Gustav III in town.
The former home of Finland’s national poet, Johan Runeberg, has been transformed into an insightful museum with displays on key moments in the bard’s life. Tours of the museum also include entry to the Walter Runeberg Sculpture Collection, which showcases the artistic creations of the poet’s son.
Located in the heart of the old town, Porvoo Museum details the town’s fascinating history from the Middle Ages to its emergence as one of modern Finland’s most important economic and cultural centers. Make sure to watch out for the striking sculptures by local artist Ville Vallgren.
For a unique look at Finnish culture through the ages, head for Porvoon Nukke – ja Lelamuseo – the country’s largest collection of childhood toys.
Nestled in the rolling tundra close to the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi’s claim to fame is as the ‘official’ residence of Santa Claus. However, beyond the main streets, which are lined with shops selling Christmas trinkets year round, Rovaniemi is Finland’s hidden gem and makes an ideal base for exploring the vast wilderness of Lapland. Despite its image as one of Europe’s most jovial places, Rovaniemi has had a difficult history with the town being completely destroyed by the retreating Germany army in World War Two. Fortunately, the town was rebuilt to plans made by the renowned modernist Alvar Aalto. Specifically, the flowing Lappia Hall and the sleek minimalism of the Central Library are famed by architectural buffs across the world. Beyond this, the town makes a great starting point for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or dog-sled trips into Lapland.
Likely Finland’s most visited tourist attraction, Santa Claus Village is built directly atop the Arctic Circle. Filled with a mixture of stalls selling kitsch Christmas related souvenirs and traditional Sami handcrafts, the village is buzzing year round. Especially exciting for younger visitors is the chance to pay a visit to Santa’s Grotto where you can meet Saint Nicholas himself.
Ounasvaara is the highest point in Rovaniemi and forms a focal point for the town during summer and winter months. In the former it transforms into a lush hillside park where locals retreat for picnics, forested walks and views of the surrounding lakes while in the winter the perfectly groomed piste of Finland’s premier ski resort unfurl down its slopes.
One of the most rewarding tours available in Rovaniemi is a trip to Ranua Zoo – the only zoo above the Arctic Circle in the world. Home to an astounding array of Arctic wildlife, including wolves, polar bears, reindeer and Arctic foxes, the zoo is a perfect day out for all ages.
Easily reached from Rovaniemi via organized tours, the jaw dropping beautiful Phyä-Luosto National Park gives you a taste of the true Arctic wilderness. What is more, tours offer the unique opportunity to explore the area’s rich amethyst mines and dig for the precious stones yourself.
No visit to the Arctic Circle would be complete without a reindeer sleigh ride. Tours from Rovaniemi allow you to immerse yourself in this traditional form of Lappish transport.
With long starry nights, the weather in Rovaniemi is perfect for seeing nature’s greatest light show: the Aurora Borealis. For an unforgettable experience, tours from Lapland’s capital take you to icy lagoons where you can don special thermal wet suits and float in the water while watching the light show unfold above.
Head into the Arctic wilderness on snowmobile tours departing from Rovaniemi where you will learn about traditional Lappish culture and catch glimpses of elusive northern mammals.
For an authentic Nordic experience, take an ice fishing tour of the plethora of lakes surrounding Rovaniemi. Expert guides will help you master the art of ice fishing and cook a delicious Lappish meal using the fish you caught.
Helsinki is unlike anywhere else in Scandinavia. For centuries, the city was under the influence of the Russian Empire, which bestowed upon the city a geometric axial grandeur only rivaled by St Petersburg. Unsurprisingly, many of the city’s most dazzling attractions come from its time as one of the Tsar’s favored cities. The exquisite Senate Square, dominated by the neoclassical Lutheran cathedral, the imposing Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral and the offshore Suomenlinna, known as ‘Fortress Finland’, offer revealing glimpses into Russian rule. However, in the 20th century Helsinki became the proud capital of an independent Finland with the capital developing an iconic streamlined style of modernist design, pioneered by Alvar and Aino Aalto, which continues until now.
Built by the Swedes in the mid-1700s and later used by Tsarist Russia until the eve of the Russian Revolution, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Suomenlinna, known as ‘Fortress Finland’, is Helsinki’s premier attraction. Regular boat tours from the capital take visitors to this fortified island where you can marvel at ornate Russian Orthodox churches, crumbling bunkers designed to repel attacks and other imposing fortifications.
As Helsinki’s most iconic building, a visit to the cathedral, known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, is a must during any trip to the city. Sitting atop a monumental staircase, the chalk white cathedral was designed by the neoclassical architect CL Engel during the 19th century and is a highlight of any city tour.
Linnanmäki, a collection of roller coasters, fun fair rides and carnival stalls set amongst lush parkland, will bring out any visitor’s inner-child. What is even better, many of the rides are free of charge and the profits of those that aren't are donated fully to various children’s charities that operate in the city.
Built in a romantic style popular throughout the Nordic countries in the 19th century, the National Museum of Finland is one of Helsinki’s greatest joys. With a vast collection ranging from prehistory to Finland’s post-World War Two reinvention as Europe’s design capital there really is something for everyone. To better navigate the sprawling museum, guided tours are available.
30 kilometers north of Helsinki, Nuuksio National Park lets you immerse yourself in Nordic wilderness. Various trails take you through cragged glacier carved valleys while the peaceful forests are the perfect escape from the big city. Make sure to watch out for the park’s star studded wildlife, which includes lynx and elk.
For those who want to explore as much of Finnish culture as possible without leaving Helsinki then the open-air museum of Seurasaaren Ulkomuseo is a must visit. Historic buildings under threat across the country have been transferred to the museum and rebuilt amongst the tranquil pine forest. Guides in traditional Finnish dress are on hand to showcase the country’s rich folk culture.
For aficionados of Finland’s rich design culture Helsinki’s Design Museum is a must-visit. With a permanent collection ranging from traditional Sami handcrafts to the pioneering modernism of Alvar Aalto, there are exhibits to suit anyone’s tastes.
Perfect for a summer stroll (or cross-country skiing in winter), Kajsaniemi is Helsinki’s most picturesque park. Moreover, the park’s vast botanical gardens showcase the most spectacular flora indigenous to Scandinavia.