Finland has rarely been seen as a first choice for a tourist destination, especially by those who prefer to spend their vacation time somewhere hot and sunny. Yet, in recent years, foreign tourism to Finland has been booming, despite (or perhaps because of) its rather unconventional attractions. These are some of the top reasons why Finland is the world’s newest undiscovered travel destination, and why tourists are heading there in huge numbers.
A visit to Santa
This is probably the largest draw to Finland, especially for families with young children. A chance to visit the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi to see Santa in his home, deliver a Christmas letter to the elves at the post office, and ride on a real reindeer sleigh is truly magical for children, and highly nostalgic for adults. This is why the Santa Claus Village receives nearly half a million visitors each year, around half of them from abroad.
Spotting amazing wildlife
Another increasingly popular trend in Finland is wildlife tourism. Finland is home to some of Europe’s rarest and most elusive wildlife including bears, moose, elk, wolverines, and wolves that are near impossible to spot in the wild under any other circumstances. These trips allow visitors to sit up in a specially converted shelter and wait for the animals to appear so that they can observe and take pictures safely. It has the added advantage of raising conservation awareness for wildlife that could soon be in danger of extinction.
A real-life winter wonderland
If you’re constantly finding yourself disappointed by the lack of a white Christmas, you can always head to Finland to see what a real Nordic winter looks like. It is amazing to see just how high the snowdrifts can get, how deep your snow boots can sink in, and how beautiful the landscape becomes when it is covered in a layer of white.
Extreme winter sports
The high snowfall also makes Finland one of the best countries in the world for winter sports. While the country isn’t as mountainous as some of its neighbours, there are still a number of credible ski resorts, especially north of the Arctic Circle. Other popular choices are cross country skiing, ice hockey, dog sledging, and Nordic skating. If you’re truly daring, you could even try ice swimming!
Clean and clear lakes
While Finland may be most popular with tourists during the winter, there is just as much to see and do in the summer as well. When the ice melts, Finland’s huge network of lakes becomes accessible for cruises, fishing, and swimming in some of the cleanest natural waters on the planet. Staying at one of Finland’s thousands of lakeside cabins is another popular option for a summer break.
The home of the Moomins
If you’re a fan of the Moomin franchise, you’ll feel right at home in their native Finland, where the fuzzy white creatures are massively popular and you can find their merchandise even in corner shops. The main destination for Moomin fans is Moomin World, a theme park where you can visit replicas of the main locations in the series and meet costumed characters. The newly opened Moomin museum in Tampere isn’t to be missed either, and there are specialist Moomin shops and cafes in central Helsinki.
Not many people realise this, but Finland is a paradise for art and culture lovers. The country has inspired many artists in all fields, and draws international acts and exhibits as well. The capitol city of Helsinki and Turku on the southwest coast are the country’s main cultural hubs, home to many museums, galleries, and artistic communities. But wherever you go in Finland, you can always find some cultural activities and local artists and the streets are packed with public art and sculptures.
Seeing the northern lights
The majesty of the northern lights is still difficult to spot in-person, since they generally only appear in extremely remote locations during the coldest part of the winter. However, it is becoming easier to make the trip for the rare chance to see the spectacle which has been inspiring people since the dawn of time. Many resorts even offer cabins or rooms with clear roofs for watching the lights while lying in bed.
The countryside may be the main draw, and what Finns are most proud of about their country, but Finland’s cities are equally beautiful and worth a visit. Helsinki is full of Art Nouveau architecture, the old towns of Rauma and Porvoo contain rare wooden buildings, and even the smaller towns have something interesting to see. History lovers can also find plenty of castles, fortresses, and historic buildings throughout Finland.
The world’s best Christmas markets
You don’t need to head all the way to Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street to find the best Christmas gifts; you can find them at the Christmas markets in Finland instead. Practically every town and city holds at least one market around the holidays, selling a huge number of items made by local artisans or chefs. Best of all, you can get all your Christmas shopping done in beautiful winter surroundings and warm up with a cup of gloggi (Finnish mulled wine) afterwards.
But it isn’t only Christmas time when you can find great shopping in Finland. Many are coming from abroad at other times of year to find high quality items at affordable prices. Electronics are particularly inexpensive in Finland, and its design brands are popular for their unique aesthetics. The best deals can typically be found just after Midsummer and after Christmas. Helsinki is definitely the best place in the country for a large shopping spree, as it has the widest range of shops and many high-end boutiques, particularly in the Design District. However, anywhere you go in Finland will turn up some unique and interesting souvenirs to take home.