Finland’s history has been marked by turbulence, having been occupied by both the Swedes and the Russians. However, the nation’s struggle for independence bore fruit in 1917. Today, traces of this colorful past can be found scattered across the country in the form of captivating ruins, meandering cobblestone streets, and imposing fortresses.
Yet, Finland’s true fame lies in its incredible natural beauty. From the crystal-clear lakes to the breathtaking island archipelagos and the pristine winter wonderlands in the northern regions, the landscape is a sight to behold. Modern cities and towns perfectly blend tradition with contemporary life, offering world-class dining and accommodation options for visitors to enjoy. Now, let’s delve into the top tourist attractions in Finland:
1. Northern Lights in Lapland
Witnessing the mesmerizing spectacle of the blazing curtains of light dancing across the sky is a rare and unforgettable experience for most. Among the best places on Earth to catch the northern lights, Finland holds a prominent position. While occasionally the lights may grace even the southernmost regions of the nation, the region close to or north of the Arctic Circle offers the most remarkable views.
From September to March, visitors to this region are almost guaranteed a breathtaking show, provided the sky is clear. Numerous hotels in the northern areas are specifically geared towards accommodating those seeking to witness the auroras. Additionally, the Finnish Meteorological Institute offers a free service of signing up for Northern Lights email alerts, ensuring you don’t miss the magical display when it occurs.
2. Suomenlinna Fortress
During the Swedish reign in Finland, the Suomenlinna Fortress was constructed across six islands. Originally designed as a military stronghold, its strategic location at the entrance of Helsinki Harbor added to its significance. Construction commenced in the 18th century, and over time, the fortress came under the rule of the Swedes, Russians, and eventually the Finnish.
Following Finland’s attainment of independence in 1917, the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna, meaning the Fortress of Finland. Presently, Suomenlinna is home to more than 800 inhabitants, primarily engaged in the tourism industry, as the fortress has evolved into a major tourist attraction.
Established in 1779 as an industrial settlement, Tampere stands as Finland’s third-largest town, yet it exudes a distinctive charm that sets it apart from typical urban centers. Embraced by the serene beauty of two lakes, Näsijärvi to the north and Pyhäjärvi to the south, Tampere is united by the mesmerizing Tammerkoski, a nearly kilometer-long stretch of rapids.
Beyond its industrial heritage, Tampere boasts a vibrant cultural scene, featuring an open-air theater and hosting numerous festivals. Among these is the renowned Tampere Jazz Happening in November, a beloved tradition for over 35 years, attracting world-class jazz musicians to perform in intimate concert venues and clubs throughout the city.
Visitors can explore the intriguing Vapriikki Museum, which houses the Natural History Museum and various engaging exhibitions. Noteworthy churches include the Tampere Cathedral, renowned for its unusual paintings and frescoes depicting skeletons in black hooded capes, crafted by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg in the early 1900s.
The Kaleva Church, a striking concrete edifice built in the 1960s, features a floor plan in the shape of a fish, an ancient Christian symbol. Additionally, the Orthodox Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky and Saint Nicholas captivates with its opulently decorated interior and green-domed brick exterior.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tampere: Best Areas & Hotels
4. Lake Saimaa
Finland’s largest lake, Lake Saimaa, boasts a remarkable charm with its abundance of over ten thousand islands, aptly earning the nickname “Lakeland.” The region is a captivating tapestry of meandering waterways, lush green islands, and dense forests, making it a beloved destination for Finnish cottagers and visiting tourists alike. Kayaking and trekking stand as the most popular activities in this picturesque area.
Lake Saimaa holds a rich history, particularly with its association with steamboats, which were once the primary mode of transport before cars became widespread. However, in contemporary times, the essence of the region lies in slowing down and reveling in the sheer beauty of the pristine landscapes that encompass Lake Saimaa. Embracing a leisurely pace, visitors can fully immerse themselves in the tranquil and enchanting ambiance of this remarkable Finnish destination.
5. Lemmenjoki National Park
For those in search of an Arctic wilderness experience, Lemmenjoki National Park is an absolute treasure. This expansive boreal forest stretches over 2,589 square kilometers, making it the largest park in Finland and one of Europe’s most extensive wildlands. Adventurers and nature enthusiasts will find themselves in paradise, as the park offers hundreds of kilometers of marked trails for trekking, complemented by free and open wilderness huts, as well as more luxurious rental huts with sauna and campfire facilities.
The park’s namesake, the Lemmenjoki River, presents a breathtaking sight as it cascades down from the fells, surrounded by majestic towering pines. Visitors can opt to rent a boat or take a guided tour to appreciate this stunning scenery. Lemmenjoki National Park also serves as a habitat for diverse wildlife, including brown bears, wolves, wild golden eagles, moose, and reindeer, making it a prime location for encountering these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
6. Turku Castle
This magnificent castle has proudly stood since the late 13th century. Together with Turku Cathedral, which shares the same historical roots, it holds the distinction of being the oldest inhabited building in Finland. Majestically overlooking the Aura River, this impressive structure has become Turku’s iconic symbol. Originally erected as a military fortress, it witnessed numerous changes of ownership throughout the medieval era. Today, Turku Castle stands as one of Finland’s most popular museums, celebrated for its grandeur and historical significance.
During the summer months, daily tours of the castle are available for visitors to enjoy. For those exploring on their own, dedicating at least half a day is highly recommended to fully immerse in the wonders of this remarkable place. The castle’s twisting passages, adorned with period furniture, offer a glimpse into history, while it is multiple exhibits and outdoor courtyards further enrich the experience of this captivating site.
7. Ranua Wildlife Park
This park serves as a unique combination of zoo and wildlife preserve, providing a natural habitat for over 50 species of arctic animals. Among its most celebrated residents are Venus and Manse, the only polar bears residing in Finland. The park is also home to numerous reindeer, including the smaller wild forest reindeer and various deer species.
Large mammals like moose and brown bears, as well as canines such as the Arctic fox, grey wolf, and dhole, are among the other fascinating inhabitants of the park. Additionally, visitors can observe smaller creatures like mink, otters, and stoats. The park’s avian population is equally diverse, with a variety of owls, geese, eagles, and other birds.
Guests have the option to explore the park at their own pace with a self-guided tour or embark on an “arctic safari” to gain deeper insights into the animals and their natural habitat. This exceptional park offers a captivating glimpse into the world of arctic wildlife and serves as a valuable platform for education and conservation.
8. Old Porvoo
Porvoo, a delightful riverside town, holds the distinction of being Finland’s second-oldest settlement. The town has gained iconic status for its charming ruby-red wooden houses that gracefully line the banks of the Porvoonjoki River on the town’s outskirts. This river meanders its way to the Gulf of Finland, establishing a scenic connection between Porvoo and Helsinki, and during the summer, visitors can enjoy a delightful steamboat ride between the two places.
Wandering through the cobblestone streets, one encounters a picturesque scene of quaint wooden houses, complemented by trendy shops and restaurants with inviting open-air patios. Porvoo’s appeal extends to idyllic parks, a vibrant open market square, and noteworthy landmark buildings. Whether seeking a weekend getaway, a day trip from the capital, or a leisurely extended holiday, this enchanting town beckons visitors with its alluring charm and inviting ambiance.
9. Olavinlinna Castle
Perched on an island with commanding views of Lake Saimaa, Olavinlinna Castle stands as a truly magnificent structure. Originally constructed as a strategic defense for the Savo Region, it played a vital role in safeguarding against Russian attacks from the east.
Since 1912, the castle has been hosting its Annual Opera Festival, drawing visitors from all corners of the globe. Open to the public daily, the castle offers an impressive, guided tour that unveils the hidden secrets concealed within its ancient walls. A visit to Olavinlinna Castle promises an enchanting journey through history and an opportunity to immerse oneself in the grandeur of this exceptional Finnish landmark.
10. Skiing in Levi
Levi attracts visitors with its incredible skiing opportunities. The world-class slopes remain relatively uncrowded throughout most of the year, and chair lift lines are virtually non-existent, while the region enjoys regular snowfall. Levi boasts modern and well-maintained facilities, ensuring a comfortable experience for all.
For skiers at Levi Resort, numerous dining and nightlife options await, catering to various tastes. Even if skiing isn’t your preference, the area offers a plethora of other snow-related activities to enjoy, such as snowmobiling, husky and reindeer safaris, and snowshoeing. While visiting the region, a must-see is the Levin Iglut Resort, renowned for its glass-roofed igloos, providing a unique and unforgettable accommodation experience.
11. Old Rauma
Founded in the 1300s, the small city of Rauma stands as one of the oldest towns in Finland, boasting a rich historical heritage. The old section of the township exudes charm with its vibrant, colorful historical buildings and meandering cobblestone streets. Recently restored, the Market Square in the old town is now adorned with numerous cafes and restaurants, adding to the lively ambiance.
Rauma is renowned for its traditional bobbin lace-making trade, and the annual Lace Week is a delightful celebration of this treasured local skill. Beyond this unique craft, the city also boasts a number of churches adorned with celebrated frescoes dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond, making them well worth a leisurely exploration during your visit.
12. Helsinki Cathedral
In the capital city of Helsinki stands a magnificent architectural marvel: the Helsinki Cathedral. This church breaks away from the traditional design and boasts a unique neo-classical style. Construction of the cathedral commenced in 1830, and it was eventually inaugurated in 1852 as a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church.
The cathedral’s exterior is adorned with twelve statues representing Jesus’ apostles, standing guard on the rooftop, offering a commanding view of the city and its harbor. After exploring the cathedral, many tourists make their way to Market Square, an inviting area lined with a variety of food stalls and restaurants, each featuring heated patios. This makes it the perfect spot to savor a delicious meal and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of Helsinki’s bustling heart.