A Solo Traveller's Guide to Finland

Discover the best of Finland – including effortlessly cool Helsinki – when you take a solo trip around the country
Discover the best of Finland – including effortlessly cool Helsinki – when you take a solo trip around the country | Courtesy of Hotel Kämp / Booking.com
Joel Rabinowitz

Illuminated by endless daylight in summer and shrouded in darkness throughout winter, Finland is a country of stark extremes. It’s mostly covered in swathes of coniferous forest dotted with thousands of lakes, while its urban hubs are full of character. Whether you’re plotting a city break, a nature escape or a combination, Finland offers a bounty of possibilities for solo travellers.

What’s the vibe?

Finland’s greatest appeal may be its wild, hauntingly beautiful landscapes – but its towns and cities deserve your time. Spend mornings wandering between elegant cathedrals, chic art galleries and cosy cafes; at night, venture out to fabulous restaurants, atmospheric pubs and cool cocktail bars. Finnish people are some of the happiest in the world, and you’ll be welcomed warmly wherever you go.

Don’t miss a trip to Helsinki Cathedral when you visit the Finnish capital

A Finland trip overview

Helsinki is your natural starting point, with its art scene, spectrum of architectural styles and proximity to nearby beaches and islands – so spend a few days exploring. Turku, the former capital, is a hive of culture and the gateway to an archipelago of 20,000 islands, while Tampere, sandwiched between two lakes, is a vibrant, post-industrial dynamo. Both are two hours from Helsinki by car or train.

Lappeenranta is a lively university town close to the Russian border with plenty to see and do, while Koli National Park has some of the most spectacular hiking trails in Finland. Lapland is the place to go hiking and camping in summer, and for Northern Lights chasing, husky sledding and snowmobiling adventures in winter. Fly to Rovaniemi, Kittilä or Ivalo, or take a train from Helsinki.

Admire the architecture along Pohjoisranta embankment in Helsinki

Accommodation in Finland

Expect the works, from glitzy resorts and glass igloos to secluded log cabins and free-to-use wilderness huts. In Helsinki, the many affordable hostels include the Yard and Eurohostel – ideal for meeting fellow travellers. There’s no shortage of luxury places, such as Hotel Kämp, Hotel Haven and GLO Hotel Art.

For a unique Lapland experience, consider staying in the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort or Apukka Resort. Fancy staying on a private island? You can do so at Hotel Vartiosaari on Culture Trip’s exclusive five-day Finnish Lapland adventure. We’ve gathered together the best hotels in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Lapland to point you in the right direction.

Book into Hotel Kämp for a stylish stay in Helsinki

What to see and do in Finland

There’s far more to do than you could cram into a single trip – and some activities are only possible at certain times of the year. So we’ve picked out three of the must-trys.

Explore the great outdoors

Much of Finland is blanketed in snow between late November and early April – prime conditions for snowmobiling and husky sledding. If skies are clear, you may catch the Northern Lights illuminating the night sky with ethereal green swirls. In summer and autumn, Finland is one of the best places in Europe for hiking, cycling and wild swimming.

On Culture Trip’s specially curated Finnish Lapland trip, you’ll have the chance to go husky sledding and ski trekking through the Arctic wilderness, and potentially catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Husky sledding through Lapland is a bucket-list experience you can’t miss

Enjoy urban delights

Helsinki, often overshadowed by other Nordic cities, is effortlessly cool – you’ll be drawn back from the first short visit. Sleek, modernist architecture sits alongside masterpieces such as the gleaming white Helsinki Cathedral and Temppeliaukio Church. Trendy bars, hip cafes and innovative restaurants contribute to a thriving culinary scene. Beyond the capital, urban highlights include Turku’s medieval castle and River Aura promenade, Tampere’s superb museums, and Arktikum science centre in Rovaniemi – visit for a fascinating insight into Arctic life.

Visit Arktikum in Rovaniemi to learn all about life in the Arctic

Embrace saunas

Saunas are core to Finland’s national culture, and you’ll be spoilt for choice – it’s said there are two million. Health benefits include muscle relaxation and improved circulation. Feeling daring? Try alternating between sauna and plunges into ice-cold lake water.

Eat and drink in Finland

Finnish cuisine is heavily based around meat and fish from lakes and forests. Classics include lohikeitto (creamy salmon soup), poronkäristys (sautéed reindeer with lingonberries and potatoes) and fried perch. Rye bread, mushrooms and leipäjuusto (a creamy baked cheese) are also staples. Sweet tooth? You’ll love mustikkapiirakka (Finnish blueberry pie) and runebergintorttu (an almond-flavoured cake topped with raspberry jam). In Karelia, southeast Finland, karjalanpiirakka (rye pastry stuffed with rice porridge) is a speciality.

Lonkero is a refreshing gin and grapefruit cocktail, usually drunk from the can – have it ice cold on a summer’s day. Sima, a low-alcohol fermented lemonade, is another national favourite.

For a flavour of where to eat, check out our guide to the best restaurants in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Rovaniemi.

Head to Kanavaranta in Helsinki for a prime selection of places to eat and drink

Stay safe, stay happy

Here in winter? Ensure you have the necessary cold-weather gear – temperatures can drop below -10C (14F) even in the far south, and below -20C (-4F) in Lapland. When hiking in remote areas, take a map and a compass in case you lose your way. Let someone know roughly where you’re heading before you go.

Getting around

Rail is the most time-efficient, stress-free option. Operated by VR Group, trains are comfortable, reliable and travel as far north as Kolari. Bus services are excellent: check the Matkahuolto and OnniBus websites for prices and timetables. Locally, cycling is a solution.

Roads are extensive and well-paved, so consider car rental, particularly if visiting more remote areas – note that conditions can be challenging in winter.

Cultural need-to-knows

Most people do saunas naked, but it’s fine to wear a towel if you’d prefer. Generally, tipping in restaurants isn’t expected as a service charge is normally included on the bill.

Link up with a small group of like-minded travellers and a Local Insider on Culture Trip’s five-day Finnish Lapland adventure, which includes husky sledding, ski trekking and hiking past frozen waterfalls. You’ll also sample traditional Lappish cuisine by an open fire, and experience sauna and ice-fishing culture.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Jessica Wood.

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