A Guide to Help You Plan a Trip to Finland

From the snow-covered Lapland forests to frozen lakes, from reindeer to huskies, and from the Northern Lights to the Midnight Sun, Finland is truly a land of wonders. Here's how you can plan your trip to this mesmerizing Nordic paradise.
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Tip to visit Finland to view Aurora Borealis
During summer, the pristine Finnish scenery can be best seen by means of lake cruises that operate on a seasonal basis. However, most cruise ships do not have a capacity of more than 200 passengers at a time, and so, it is vital to book ahead if you intend to take one of them.
One of the sparsely populated lands of Nordic Europe, Finland is located in the deep north, and shares its boundaries with Russia to the east, Norway to the north, and Sweden to the west. Famous for the awe-inspiring sights of the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun that can be seen in the country's northernmost region in winter and summer respectively, Finland is just one of the Nordic gems, wherein human intervention in the region's natural environment has been restricted to the minimum.

With immense expanses of moss-floored forests and pristine lakes spread as far as the human eye can catch, it is a great country to travel to all through the year―all the seasons have their own, unique charms and an attractive set of activities to offer to the tourists. Plus, the loyal and warm attitude of the Finns is truly inspirational, especially in a country where there are not many people.

Planning a Finnish Vacation

Despite the numerous mesmerizing attractions that the country offers, Finland continues to be relatively less-explored, perhaps because of its location in the far north and/or the forbidding cost of spending a lavish vacation there. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that Finland never ever ceases to seduce, albeit overwhelm its visitors, both with its urban glory as well as rural charm. While getting to Finland may not be very difficult, it is extremely essential to do some neat planning before boarding a flight. Here's Buzzle's brief guide to help you plan your trip to the Republic of Finland.

The Finnish Seasons

As mentioned above, Finland can be visited all through the year, depending on the kind of experience you expect to achieve from your holiday. However, tourists come to encounter an all-together different Finland in each of its seasons.

Winter is the longest season in Finland that lasts roughly from December to March; however, in the northern regions, such as the Finnish Lapland, it might begin to snow from October and last up to about late May. Temperatures are known to drop much below freezing point at this time, and by December, the days grow shorter and shorter with some of the northernmost parts of the country receiving less than four hours of daylight.

The months of April and May comprise the spring season in Finland, when the temperatures start to rise, and it begins to get a bit warmer. The snow starts melting, especially in the southern part, and the days start getting longer and fresher. You can expect to see some beautiful floral blossoms on the trees during this time.

Summer, the season of the Midnight Sun, in Finland lasts roughly from June to August, and is characterized by warm, pleasant days and bright evenings. In the Finnish Lapland, the sun does not set in the months of June and July, and even in the south, the sun tends to disappear only for a couple of hours.

The period from September to November comprises the Finnish autumn, and this is the time when the temperatures begin to drop. It is the wet season in Finland, when the days again start to get shorter; however, the landscape is almost entirely blanketed with beautiful hues of red and gold, known locally as ruska.

Best Time to Visit

The peak tourist season in southern Finland and the Lapland is from early June to late August. This is the summer season, when the weather in the country is most favorable. All the sights, attractions, and services are in their full swing during this time, but it is also the busiest period, with airfares at their peak, but several lodging facilities at this time tend to slash their prices.

Helsinki, the Finnish capital, which is situated in southern Finland, is a year-round destination. However, if you want to visit during summer, ensure that you book well in advance, and avail the best possible bargains on airfares and hotel rates.

On the other hand, if you intend to spend your vacation in the northern part of the country (which includes the Finnish Lapland), the months of September, October, December, February, and March are ideal.

Those willing to savor the beautiful hues of autumn, the ruska, may visit during the month of September. Some of the most enchanting views of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) can be seen in the months of October, February, and March. Moreover, Lapland is the alleged 'official' home of Santa Claus, and is hence, busy during Christmas time.

The busiest time in Finland is the Finnish vacation season that falls between late June to July-end. It is very difficult to find cheap deals at this time, owing to the large number of domestic and international tourists who opt to travel. If you are on a budget and/or want to escape heavy crowds, it is advisable to avoid traveling during this time; however, if you choose to, please ensure that you book well in advance, and seek advice, if necessary, from a reputed tour operator.

Budget travelers may also visit Finland during the so-called off-season, you may find some really affordable deals; however, the weather can be hostile at this time. So, make sure that you are well-equipped against the ruthlessness of Finnish weather.

Entry Requirements

If you are a national of the United States, Australia, or New Zealand, you will not need a visa, but only a valid passport to travel to Finland for a total stay of not more than three months.

Similarly, if you are a citizen of any of the member states of the EU (except Greece), Switzerland, San Marino, or Liechtenstein, you will not require a visa to enter Finland, and can stay in the country for a period of up to three months. Only a valid passport and/or a valid identity card issued by your home country will suffice.

Nationals of the Schengen member countries and those of South Africa need to have a valid Schengen visa to enter Finland.

All other nationals do require a valid Finnish visa to enter Finland, which they need to acquire before boarding their flight. Contact the Finnish embassy in your home country or visit the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, for further details.

Money Matters

It is a known fact, and let's face it―Finland isn't cheap, however, it is not as pricey as it may seem. That is to say, if you plan well and wisely, your Finnish holiday can prove to be good value for money.

A good tip to avoid burning a hole into your pocket while in Finland is not to travel there alone. Travel only if there is at least one person to accompany you. This will enable you to share your expenses, and will thus, help you save a good amount of money.

The major share of your overall expenses will be spend on accommodation. Finland does have budget and mid-range accommodation options, but there aren't many options. Even backpacker accommodations, like hostels, may seem a bit pricey; however, most lodging facilities in Finland offer a couple of extra beds in a single room by charging just a little more. So, if you are with a group or your family, a single or double room with an extra bed(s), may turn out to be an affordable deal.

For people looking for really cheap accommodations, couch surfing/homestay is a good option. You will not only get to save a lot, but also get to stay with a local Finnish host and indulge in their day-to-day activities.

If you are looking for an even cheaper accommodation option, take advantage of what the Finns call jokamiehenoikeus (every man's right). Often misinterpreted by overseas tourists, this is a facility that allows free camping on any uncultivated land (it is a good idea to inquire about the same to avoid landing up in an embarrassing situation); however, things like lighting a campfire may require the landowner's prior permission.

Finland has a large population of immigrants and so, finding cheap food in the country is not difficult. While there are upscale restaurants that serve lavish meals for quite an amount, you can also find some good value meals in budget eateries.

Most restaurants offer cheaper lunches than dinners, and there are numerous affordable daily specials, which you can opt for. Choose to take a heavy lunch, and opt for a light dinner, in order to manage your expenses on food. Buffets also tend to be less pricey.

Unlike most other countries of the world, public transport in Finland is on the expensive side. Especially, long-distance travel by bus and trains tends to be pricey, despite their extremely good network.

On the flip side, private car rental may turn out to be a more cost-effective option, more so, if you are traveling in a group. Plus, with a private vehicle, you can customize your trip.

Souvenir shopping in Finland is not exactly inexpensive; however, it is fine to splurge a little on items such as Lapish handicrafts. What needs to be noted, nonetheless, is that you should avoid buying items (such as alcohol), which might really break your budget.

Other Important Tips

Before traveling to Finland, make sure that you are up-to-date on all the vaccinations that travelers may be required to take, apart from the routine shots, which have been recommended by the WHO. For further information regarding this, please visit CDC's official website. Carry a documented proof of your vaccinations, as you may have to produce it before the immigration officer.

Buying an appropriate travel insurance is extremely vital. See to it that your insurance covers all kinds of emergencies, including health-related ones. Ensure that you carry your insurance papers along, as you might need them in contingent situations.

Make sure that you pack enough warm clothes (and rainy gear, if necessary). Clothing, in general, is expensive in the country.

Going vegetarian has increasingly become popular in the country, and it is not very difficult to find vegetarian menus. However, kosher and halal foods can be found in very limited shops and restaurants. So, it is a good idea to inquire about this before ordering your meal.

It is safe to drink tap water in Finland, and packaged water may be charged heftily. Do not buy bottled water, if you have access to tap water; it is not only safe, but also free.

Health risks in Finland are relatively low. However, you might catch a cold during winter (particularly in the Lapland), or may have trouble with vision (snow blindness) in certain regions in spring. Make sure that you are dressed and geared up appropriately. Wear layered clothing in winter, and a pair of sunglasses to prevent snow blindness.

Insects can be a real menace in Finland, especially during summer. A major nuisance, especially during summer, are mosquitoes and deer keds, and the only way to deter these insects is to use a good insect-repellent, and to make sure that your tent is equipped with a proper mosquito net.

As far as the crime rate is concerned, Finland is amongst the safest countries to travel. However, it is a good idea to use a little common sense, especially while traveling/strolling alone at night.

While pickpockets are not unheard of in the country, these are extremely rare. However, beware of bicycle thieves, especially in public places.

If you happen to have a run-in with the law, you will need to remind yourself that you are in one of the world's least corrupt countries. You will never be able to buy yourself out of trouble. So, behave in a rational and sober manner.

Furthermore, it is essential to respect Finnish mannerisms and etiquette, and also know a few basic phrases in Finnish. Try to be punctual, remember to remove your shoes if you are invited to a Finnish home, and do not expect words like "thanks" and "you are welcome" at all times.

What to See/Do

For first-timers, here's a short glimpse into some of the numerous attractions and activities that Finland offers.

Suomenlinna

History buffs should make it a point to visit the Suomenlinna, an inhabited sea fortress that has been constructed on six islands, now a part of Helsinki. It was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991.

Sibelius Monument

Helsinki presents the wonderful Sibelius Monument for the fans of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, as well as lovers of abstract art. According to its designer, Eila Hiltunen, its wavy design attempts to capture the essence of Sibelius' music.

Helsinki Cathedral

The famous Helsinki Cathedral, a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, the Grand Duke of Finland, is also worth a visit. A major landmark of the Finnish capital, it is a classic example of Neoclassical architecture.

Olavinlinna

Also worth visiting is the 15th century medieval castle located in the Finnish town of Savonlinna. Known as the Olavinlinna, it is the best surviving northernmost stone fortress belonging to the Middle Ages.

National Museum of Finland

The building of the National Museum of Finland is a great example of National Romantic architecture in Helsinki, and the museum features artifacts pertaining to Finnish history right from the Stone Age to the present day.

Santa Claus Village

If you are in the Lapland region, which is considered to be the home of Santa Claus, do not miss the famous Santa Claus Village, an amusement park near Rovaniemi, which features interesting attractions like Santa Claus Post Office and Santa Claus's Office.

Skiing

Skiing and snowboarding in Lapland amidst the enchanting scenery of frozen lakes and ice-sculpted forests is a truly amazing experience.

Dog sledding

The Finnish Lapland is also home to the most enticing husky safaris in Scandinavia. Indulge in a dog sledding adventure, and we bet that you'll beg for more.

Northern lights

The world's most spectacular light show happens in the Finnish Lapland. Don't miss the aurora borealis (northern lights)―a one-of-its-kind experience.

So, pack your stuff, and head to the country where summer means perpetual light and winter, perpetual darkness. Finland will surely overwhelm you.
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Published: February 14, 2014
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