Travel Finland in Helsinki, Rovaniemi, Lapland & Northern Lights

Finland is a fascinating destination in many ways. It is the land of the Northern Lights, Midnight Sun, Santa Claus, saunas and a thousand lakes. Although more than ten years ago, I visited the Finnish Lapland it is a trip that I keep a very gratifying memory since it allowed me to enjoy that wonderful show that is the aurora borealis at 23 degrees below zero. Helsinki was the only one of the four Scandinavian capitals that I had yet to meet.


Although it is true that it is reputed to be much less attractive than Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen, in the end, it seemed an ideal city for a weekend getaway, since in a couple of days you see it to spare. We leave punctually at 7:45 am to Helsinki. After arriving at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport at dawn we are surprised by the silence that reigns in the terminal!


In some areas, the piped music emits relaxing music with the sounds of nature. Before arriving at the luggage belt we stop at the playroom (the first of many game spaces that we will see in Finland). The Helsinki terminal is small but well organized.


After getting our luggage, we decided to stay overnight in the airport of the Finnish capital to get up early and take advantage of the day. Our experience sleeping there was very good. We had no problem and there were many people like us. At night we slept luxuriously. If you take into account that on those dates in Scandinavia it is sunset after eleven o'clock at night and the Finns, so in need of Sun, do not know that wonderful invention called blinds.


For very little money we were able to store our bags in the airport lockers to avoid baggage burdens and thus see the city quietly. As we only had a few hours we could not see the whole city, but we spread out and thoroughly enjoyed one of the cities with the most architecture and culture in Europe. From the airport the connection to Helsinki is exceptional. So in about half an hour and for about 6 euros, we arrived in the Finnish capital without problems by bus.


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Discovering Helsinki


Our journey begins with the Lonely Planet guide of this magnificent country. Upon arrival, we were struck by the Rautatieasema railway station. It is considered the most significant creation in the national romantic style and the most visited building in all of Finland! The design is very original, with two large statues on each side of the main door that hold spherical lamps that illuminate at night. The clock tower is also considered the hallmark of a station through which more than 200,000 people pass each day!


In addition to shops, restaurants and the typical things of the stations, in the interior of Rautatieasema, you can almost certainly find a free exhibition. Very close to the station we find the Rautatientori square which houses two symbols of traditional Finnish culture. The national theater of Finland and the statue of Aleksis Kivi, Finnish national writer, preside over a square that we enjoyed with lots of snow!


Before continuing our journey against the clock and after going through a lot of pastry shops we treated ourselves to a very sweet treat. Helsinki stands out among other things for its sweets and cakes. Since we did not want to leave without trying something typical, we bought a cake in one of the bakeries that we saw. Fruit, butter, fillings and all forms and flavors that you can imagine.


Undoubtedly one of the things that struck me most about the city was the Senate Square, Senaatintori in Finnish. It was not only because of its extension but also because it is the setting for concerts, exhibitions, and varied events. Everywhere we look, the square is full of buildings and significant monuments such as the library, the statue of Alexander II or the University of Helsinki. Although undoubtedly, what stands out most is the Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral, Tuomiokirkko, at the northern end of the square.


Impressive both inside and outside, 47 steps separate the Helsinki Cathedral from the square. This cathedral is a symbol of the city, and it is worth seeing its large columns and its immaculate white color that impresses from far and near.


After visiting this architectural wonder we headed towards the port of Helsinki, which looked like a giant ice rink of how frozen it was. The port stretches over a large part of the city. The boats appeared on the ice giving us images that seemed like a fairytale. We toured the area and took the opportunity to walk along the promenade with typical restaurants of marine cut (with large anchors and propellers on its walls) and a bridge full of locks in the purest Roman style.


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City of cathedrals, Helsinki also has an Orthodox cathedral, Uspensky, located very close to the port. This is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe and its architecture reminded me of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Here I did not have the opportunity to enter, but on the outside it is impressive and it is worth stopping to see it.


Precisely in front of this cathedral and on the other side of the harbor is one of my favorite places in the city, the Market Square, Kauppatori. In this square is one of the most varied that I have seen in my travels. Many of the things you can try because the owners of the positions offer them to you. We buy there several souvenirs and apart from being very cheap, it is all handmade.


Next to the market square is the City Hall building, neoclassical style and very peculiar by the color of its facade in pastel blue. Located in Esplanadi, the main street of the historic center of the city, the town hall building presides over the port area. After this journey through the city, we ate something quick on the way to the station. At about 5 in the afternoon, we returned to the airport to pick up our bags and rent a car to go to another Finnish city.


We leave Helsinki to explore the parks in the north of Finland and to witness the wonderful spectacle of the Northern Lights in the wilderness. Here the glaciers, melting more slowly than most of the planet, have given rise to a multitude of lakes.


Finland wallpaper images Northern Lights


The colored houses of ancient Porvoo


Along the way to the north, our first stop is near Helsinki, in Porvoo, one of Finland's oldest cities. We walk along the riverside in the old part of this small port town. Here we can admire the enchanting little red ocher wooden houses that were once used to cram the goods. We walk through the well-kept streets of the village and in front of its shops.


I stop in a bakery where I taste a specialty of this area, the Runeberg cake, born from a recipe of the wife of the Finnish poet to whom it is dedicated. His wife, to satisfy his appetite for desserts, has assembled the Christmas gifts of gingerbread reusing them to create this cake based on biscuits, chocolate and raspberry jam. She used the taste of bitter almonds to try to make her husband eat less.


In fact, it is the bitter almond aftertaste that makes this cake so good and made it so popular. I finish my gluttonous purchases by making a supply of salmiakki, the salty licorice typical of the north of which I am greedy. Porvoo looks fabulous. Even though it is so close to Helsinki, I already feel that we are about to venture into a completely different landscape from the one we saw in the capital.


Finland wallpaper images Reindeers Lapland


Discovering Karelia, the border region


We continue our journey by bus to reach the shores of Lake Saimaa starting to travel the roads of the Karelian region. It is a geographical territory divided between Russia and Finland and which was long disputed by Sweden. This territory was the last to be reunited with Finland after the Winter War and the end of the Second World War. Here the Finnish and the Russian traditions have coexisted mutually influencing each other to merge with perfect balance. The Carelian language is shared and is spoken both in Finland and in Russia.


From the window we see the pines, birches, and cypresses parading before us, in this lush territory covered for the most part by forests. Here in Finland have established the jokamiehenoikeus. It allows everyone to enjoy nature by paying attention to its full respect, being able to freely collect the fruits, such as blueberries and mushrooms for example, or being able to fish without whirlpool and swim anywhere, and allowing the possibility to camp in any place within a limited period.


Finland wallpaper images Lapland


Olavinlinna Castle and Lake Saimaa


Here the sun rises at 5 and sets at 10 pm even if full darkness is not reached. When we arrive at Savonlinna on the shores of the Saima, the evening lights have not yet fallen. We take a stroll through its historic center, admiring the 15th-century castle of Olavinlinna where an important opera festival takes place in summer. But it is Lake Saimaa, the fourth largest in Europe, to give true magic to this place.


In its waters lives an endangered species of freshwater seal that takes its name from the lake and even if you are trying to repopulate the area, for now, there are only 260 specimens. The hope of seeing one near a town is almost nothing, but I hope to be more fortunate later on our journey. We walk on the banks of the Saimaa with the birches that redraw the horizon.


Here the birch tree, as well as for perfuming the sauna, is used in all its forms. Its dense bark was once used to build fishing nets, baskets and even shoes. In spring the sap is extracted for the multiple healing properties. Thanks to the presence of acetylsalicylic acid it is used in these areas and also in the herbal field as a natural substitute for aspirin.


Finland wallpaper images aurora Lapland


The weather is not the best at 13 degrees and it rains at times. But we are not made of sugar and the journey continues! We decide to visit Joensuu, the capital of Karelia and an important university city. Once in Joensuu we pick up the rental car and head towards the mokki, one of the characteristic wooden lakeside cottages.


Mokki is the typical cottage that the Finns use to spend their summer vacation in nature. In earlier times it was used by the Finnish peasants as a sort of alpine pasture to cultivate fields and raise livestock. In Finland, the cottages or bungalows are an institution. They are located near lakes or rivers and allow us to live an authentic face to face experience with nature.


It is an escape from reality in which to watch the sunset on the lake, sitting on the pier with your feet in the water, savoring the silence. It's time for dinner! We are waiting for an exquisite salmon (the best of my life). And other local delicacies, including piirakka, a savory pie made of rye flour and filled with rice, over which butter is spread mixed with hard-boiled eggs.


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The next stop of our trip includes a stop at Ilomantsi, a town with strong Carelian and Orthodox influences. It is famous for having given birth to the artist Jaakko Parppei, poet, and kantele player, a traditional stringed instrument.


The hill of Parppeinvaara (where he lived) takes its name from it and now houses a reproduction of a typical Karelian village and an animal museum. We visit the museum where there are stuffed animals including a 200 kg bear, reindeer and birds and attend a performance of kantele.


Outside the village, there is a small wooden house for children, with games and books. At the restaurant next to the museum, however, we taste typical Carelian dishes: salmon, braised, piirakka and craft beer. After lunch, we head towards the Orthodox Church of Sant'Elia, the largest wooden Orthodox sanctuary in Finland.


Finland wallpaper images Northern Lights


Inside, in one of the side aisles, there is a large table with baskets of games. Even going to church for the Finns is a moment to share with your family. Therefore they think about the time their children will spend in this place and activities to entertain them. Naturally, everything is ordered. We return to the mokki.


We are ready to admire another spectacular sunset. We take a short walk along the main streets to the market. Here stalls sell mushrooms, wild strawberries, blueberries and peas and other fruits. These are not sold only per kilo, but per liter, using a carafe as a unit of measurement!


Our Lonely Planet guide recommends a typical Karelian restaurant near the town hall. Here we have a buffet lunch and taste local dishes in an art deco atmosphere. Outside the restaurant, a magnificent terrace welcomes guests during the summer days overlooking the river. Here we will stop to sleep in a mokki. Tomorrow we will leave again to visit the Koli National Park.


Finland wallpaper images Lapland


The pristine nature of the parks of the north


In this land of lakes, the blue of the waters alternates with the intense green of its forests. Our morning begins with a boat ride on Lake Hoytiainen, from where we can admire unspoiled landscapes of birch and fir forests. We see piers leading to quiet cottages surrounded by greenery.


For lunch, we stop at a restaurant on the marina where we taste another typical dish of the area, the Pyttipannu. These are fried potatoes with wurstel, sauces, hamburgers and the fried egg. With a full stomach, we move to the next stage, Koli, about 50 km from Kontiolahti, where we stay.


The Koli National Park is one of the 35 parks on Finnish territory and is beautifully equipped to freely undertake any kind of route inside it. The most scenic point of the park is on the Ukko-Koli. It is the hill from which you can admire the breathtaking view of the underlying Pielinen lake, with its flat islets and the tall conifers that dance around it, shaken by the wind. Further on we see the rocky and rugged summit of Paha-Koli.


To enjoy at sunset the summer light that creeps between the branches reflecting in the lake is a sight that makes us feel small and insignificant in the midst of so much beauty. Spending the night among the sounds of the forest lulled by the distant and intermittent echo of the numerous peaks that live in the park makes us feel in direct contact with the wild nature of Finland.


Finland wallpaper images Northern Lights


Rafting and Rhine Farm


Our road trip in Finland continues to Lieksa, a few hundred kilometers from the Russian border. We enjoy a traditional wooden boat rafting experience along the Ruunaa rapids! The tour lasts about a couple of hours! It is possible to buy the package with "wild lunch" or the one with an overnight stay. As we sit in this boat and sail along the river, we can admire the surrounding nature between one another and greet the hikers and fishermen by boat.


Along the banks are moored small boats that allow the passage from one bank to another. The small cottages welcome the explorers on their journey with a backpack. The symbol of the nation is the reindeer, naturally associated with Santa Claus! On the Lonely Planet guide, we found this farm, which hosts 11 reindeer and husky puppies.


We admire the fields behind the farm where girls with their headscarves pick up the delicious wild strawberries. We take a souvenir photo with the wooden bear sculptures and then leave again!


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Among the reindeer and the green pine forests of Oulanka


We continue our journey by bus to discover the last two parks, that of Hossa and that of Oulanka. In Hossa, we have the opportunity to visit the reindeer farm. After getting acquainted with this beautiful semi-domestic animal, we did not really feel like sitting at the farm restaurant. Here obviously it is an integral part of the menu and we prefer to think of them busy pulling the Santa's sleigh.


We spend the night in Kuusamo, which in winter is one of the most popular ski destinations. We will leave tomorrow for our next destination Oulanka, in Lapland. Since we left Helsinki for this trip to the parks of the north, temperatures have dropped slightly naturally. But we are around 17 degrees in the day and, even if the temperature drops slightly in the evening, we cannot complain.


Finland wallpaper images aurora Lapland


The green of the pine woods here seems to swallow up any other element of the landscape. With the camera around the neck, we set off. The variety of routes to take is really wide and ranges from the most demanding routes to those for families. The most famous route is the so-called Ring of the Bear of the Karhunkierros. It is 80 kilometers long, but there is a reduced version of 12 kilometers.


The landscape, with large sandbanks lapped by the water and surrounded by giant firs, is one of the most beautiful seen in Finland so far. Despite its proximity to the Arctic Circle, the park area is populated by many animals such as reindeer, elk, bears and lynxes and also butterflies and insects.


On the sides of the paths, we can see the ants of the wood that meticulously build their nests with dry sticks that reach heights even one meter. Many other animal and plant species live in this area, often unfortunately threatened with extinction. There are also small and very rare orchids, the Calypso, which vaguely reminds me of cyclamens.


Finland wallpaper winter images


Rovaniemi and Santa Claus


We get back on the bus to go even further north, where perhaps we can be lucky and see even this season the magnificent phenomenon of the northern lights. We pass through the town of Nurmes where we see the house of Bomba and the nearby village, an example of Karelian architecture. This ancient rural wooden building, named after the farmer who erected it, looks like something out of a book of Russian fairy tales and the window decorations is delightful.

Tired but satisfied, we head into the small wooden chalet where we will spend our last night. Let's light the wood fire, more for the pleasure of doing it than to really warm up. I delude myself for a while to see from the tiny window the green lights of the northern lights wagging in the sky, but unfortunately, I have to give up.


I wear the providential mask for the eyes that on this trip was very useful for me to rest in these never completely dark nights. Goodnight Finland, we will go more to the north and I know that there I will get my Northern Lights!


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