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How to Spend a Weekend in Finland

A traditional smoke sauna in Finland
A traditional smoke sauna in Finland | © Saara Kostama / Visit Finland
Finland is a large country, the fifth largest in the European Union in fact, with a lot of history, culture, and natural beauty to explore. It would take at least several weeks to see and experience the entire country. But if a long weekend is all the time you have to spend in Finland, you can still see a lot of it with some forward planning.

Friday – A day in Helsinki

Landing in Helsinki Vantaa airport puts you right in the heart of Finland’s most popular tourist destination, the capital city of Helsinki. There is enough to see and do in and around Helsinki that you could easily spend a week or two there without getting bored, but there is also a lot that can be seen in only a day.

Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral at sunset © Giuseppe Milo / Flickr

For a general tour you can buy a day travel pass and take the number 3 or 4 tram, which circles the city and passes by some marvellous sites such as the pristine white Lutheran cathedral and the opulent Presidential Palace. If you’re interested in history and culture, you can take the ferry from the south harbour to the Suomenlinna military fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or hop between the museums in the city centre. If you want the best view of the city, take one of the ferry tours from the harbour to see the city and the surrounding Baltic Sea archipelago from the water. There are more than enough restaurants and cafes throughout the city to stop and eat, as well as hotels for any budget.

Architecture of Pitkänsillanranta, Helsinki. © Discovering Finland / Flickr

Saturday – A day in Rovaniemi

For your second day, head all the way up north to the city of Rovaniemi in Lapland. It is a long way from Helsinki at 700km, yet the flight from Helsinki Vantaa airport takes only one hour and 15 minutes and costs around 50€ if booked in advance. You’ll have to get up a little early to make the 7:40 am flight, but you’ll land in Rovaniemi by 9am.

View of a husky sledge heading over the ice in Rovaniemi. © arcticroute.com / Flickr

The main attraction in Rovaniemi is the Santa Claus Village, where you can meet and get a photo taken with Santa, ride in a reindeer sleigh, and send a Christmas card from the elves’ post office. There are also some quality Lappish restaurants and cafes in the resort.

Main building of the Santa Claus Village Public domain / WikiCommons

If this isn’t to your taste then there are plenty of Arctic activities around Rovaniemi, no matter the time of year. There is husky sledging, hiking, fat biking, ice waterfall climbing, and a lot more. The famous Arktikum Museum has exhibits on the natural and human history of the Arctic housed in a stunning tube-shaped glass building.

Northern Lights over the Arkitikum Museum. © Pekka Koski / WikiCommons

By staying overnight in Rovaniemi you can see either the Midnight Sun during the summer or hope for a glance of the Northern Lights during the winter. The best place to do this is in one of the glass igloos at the Arctic SnowHotel. These are private hotel rooms built into individual igloos with glass ceilings for falling asleep underneath the night sky. They cost a lot at between 400€ and 800€ per night, but are worth it for such a unique experience. If this is beyond your budget then there are plenty of cheaper hotel rooms or Airbnbs in Rovaniemi as well.

The igloo hotel 'village'. © Tarja Mitrovic / WikiCommons

Sunday – National Park

No trip to Finland is complete without delving into its amazing wilderness at one of the country’s 40 national parks. Many of these can be reached easily from Rovaniemi airport then either renting a car or taking a coach connection. By flying to Joensuu airport, for example, you can get a shuttle to Koli National Park to climb the cliffs and find one of Finland’s most amazing natural views. Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park can be reached from Rovaniemi by train or coach and has stunning Arctic scenery and some of the freshest air in Europe. Visit Nationalparks.fi for a full list of the national parks and wilderness areas and information on how to reach them.

View of Koli National Park from the cliff. © Tea Karvinen / Visit Finland

Alternatively, you can head into the wilderness for a day of wildlife spotting. Bear watching trips are becoming increasingly popular but you can also take trips to spot elk, wolverines, and rare birds and learn how to capture pictures of them.

A bear and wolf spotted in Finland © Staffan Widstrand / Visit Finland

After a long and exhausting weekend of exploring the best of Finland, unwind the classic Finnish way in the sauna. They aren’t difficult to find even when you are out in the wild since there are an estimated three million saunas in Finland. Makeshift saunas can even be transported and set up in remote areas. When relaxing after the sauna with a dip in a lake or a cold Finnish beer, you can take in the scenery, think back over your weekend in Finland, and decide where to visit on your next trip.

Relaxing by a lakeside after a sauna. © Visit Finland