The Must See’s of Finland

I mentioned before that I was asked about the must see’s in Finland. There is loads to see and to do in Finland but to mention THE must see’s actually was not that easy for me. Maybe it is because we do not have an Eiffel tower nor a London Bridge or maybe it is because the things I mostly enjoy when travelling rarely end up being any of THE must see’s. Maybe I just have a weird taste? But honestly, I enjoyed far more a picnic by Seine or one of the many amazing cafes in Paris than the Eiffel tower.

To me just seeing the Eiffel tower doesn’t really tell much of France, and I suppose I am more in to people, culture, nature, good atmosphere and fun. For example, even though Louvre is impressive, my fondest memory of it is getting in it 3 times for free – with permission. All those stories were so funny, real experiences. Or I have a much warmer spot in my heart for Le Havre than Paris: there are no famous sights, and I even ended up there by accident – I was going to Cherbourg but my boat apparently was not, shit happens 😉 – and met this random old lady who talked about all and everything, showed me around, told me about her family and the local traditions (which I would not be able to tell you because I do not speak French). A great day in great company.

In short, to me must see’s are more about personal must do’s – and you are allowed to disagree 🙂 I am no huge fan of museums in general, and I rarely take the guided tour anywhere. I just like to see and feel the atmosphere. Maybe experience something new. Lucky for me, as when I was putting this list together I realised that it even fitted pretty well the theme of not paying too much for your fun (however, getting around in Finland is another story: easy but not free. Look for my tips on cheap accommodation here )

What about you, what do you want to see or do when travelling?

But here it comes, my recommendations about Finland:

Turku (5)1. Turku Castle and Cathedral. Even better if you come during the Medieval Market, that is an experience. I am not a very keen museum goer but the open air Luostarinmäki Handicraft Museum is worth a visit, they often also have people doing the handicrafts in the old fashion way there (Tea, Books and Thoughts has nice pictures and offers her experience about the handicraft museum here). Entering the museum and the castle will cost you some but here are my top 5 free thing for Turku. (Another good museum in Finland is the maritime museum in Kotka, a lovely little city about 2 hrs east of Helsinki). 

2. From Turku there is only about 1-1,5hrs drive (bus ride) to the Old Town of Rauma, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s and a definitive must see with its wooden houses. Please find my post about old towns in Finland here

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3. In my mind the Islands, the archipelago, is a must see in one way of the other. There are a fewoptions: you can just make a quick pop over to e,g, Vepsä south of Turku or to Pihlajasaari or Mustasaari (the latter especially for families) in Helsinki. Or you can make a longer trip, maybe stay the night at e.g. the Bengtskär lighthouse. A good (long) weekend trip is to do the archipelago Ring Road and experience many of the islands, the ferries, see the viking graves, small harbours etc. The boat or ferries don’t typically cost a lot as many of them are part of the public road system or the public transport of a city.

4. I am not too sure if this counts as a must see in Finland but you should take a ferry over to Stockholm, Sweden. Not just because Stockholm is great but because the boats are epic. They used to be a bit fancier (I think?) but they are not anymore. 28-29.4 on the boat (6)But 28-29.4 on the boat (11)because they go via Åland islands (good way of seeing more islands too. Take a look at the pictures of My Life in Scandi to get an idea), which means tax free alcohol – but also other tax free shopping and a decent selection of restaurants.

Oh yeah, in order to have the real experience, remember to book a cabin below the car decks. Btw, we call them the fuck boats… so partyparty – but not classy.

IMG_1169

If you are travelling with kids you may get a completely different experience: the boats have good facilities for children (already the long corridors between the cabins are great to roam in), changing rooms, micros for passengers to use to heat up milk and kids food, you can ask for a cot (or two…) without no extra charge to your cabin, there are indoors playgrounds and activities, also, a great place to spot or even dance with Moomin and his friends.

If you do a Day in Stockholm cruise (go there over the night, spend the day in Stockholm and return the following night) a bunk in a cabin does not cost you much. Buying food etc on board will add considerably to the price.

3 year anniversary. Breakfast at cafe engel2

5. Suomenlinna fort in Helsinki (also on an island). I think maybe the Temppeliaukio Church (aka the Rock Church, built in a rock), the main Cathedral with its steps (on the right) and the Uspenski Cathedral would also be must see’s from a tourists point of view in Helsinki? Helsinki actually offers a lot to do depending on what ones enjoys, please find my list of free things here. Also, only 30 minutes drive away from picturesque Porvoo with another beautiful old town, which is a nice destination for a day trip.

6. Lapland: the Arctic Circle and Santa, the landscape, the 24 hrs sunlight or darkness, with good luck the northern lights and reindeers. I also recommend getting to know the Saami culture, *to do a hike* and drink from one of the mountain rivers. Karhunkierros in Kuusamo is a pretty safe and easy hike for somebody not used to the Finnish nature. Backpacking North has great pics, ideas and experiences to share about hiking in the north

7. Sauna. Preferably combined with a swim in a lake, even if it is frozen. If there is no lake, at the very least you need to roll in the snow.

8. Barbeque on real fire. I recommend flamed salmon but sausage, meat or veggies will give you the right atmosphere as well.

9. One of the markets, try some funny food, kalakukko or muikku (fish and another fish 😉 differently made) and inhale the atmosphere.

10. If you like outdoor activities, I would recommend to do a canoe trip down one of the rivers in Eastern Finland, why not camp at the same time?

11. For the ones who enjoy art: visit Ateneum in Helsinki and Retretti in the east.

A tourist may also enjoy

  • watching ski jumping or ice hockey?
  • pick berries or mushrooms in the forests? (I hate the mossies there!!!)
  • All my German visitors have gone elk spotting at dawn, typically unsuccessfully though :).

PS You haven’t been to Finland if you haven’t seen forest… even though there is nothing amazing, it is a must – but also very difficult to miss.

I’d be quite interested to find out what would you put on the must see list of Finland? Or take a way? Or more in general, what do you want to see or do when you travel?

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15 comments

  1. […] last year), various events, restaurant and overall good facilities. Another obvious choice is the Suomenlinna fort, also reached by ferry. A picnic there is a tradition we definitively will pick up again this […]

  2. […] Here are quite a few things we did when travelling around Finland. But we all also like simple and inexpensive things like spending the evening cooking together, playing mölkky or having a refreshing morning swim in a lake. Others wish to dine fine or to go to theater every night. Or to visit every museum and always have the guided tour there. All good things but I think it makes travelling together easier if you don’t have to compromise all the time. […]

  3. […] … and as many of the other blogs who’ve done a similar retrospective look have a lot of travels in them, I’ll mention the 6th one too: The Must See’s of Finland. […]

  4. […] you are into beautiful churches you may also want to take a look at the main Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral in […]

  5. My favorite animal is…. the reindeer. So I would probably be OK in Finland. But seriously, I also love the Moomins. OK more seriously…
    I think once you have confidence in yourself, in your taste, in your likes and dislikes, you realize that you are travelling for yourself. You have nothing to proof to others. You can admit without blushing that you did not go up the Eiffel tower or you did not stand in a line for 3 hours just to see the Mona Lisa for 3 seconds.
    I personally like museums but if a trip is all about eating and walking and maybe some shopping I am good with that also.
    xoxo
    http://kukolina.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/zoard-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-his-name/

    1. I actually did get up the Eiffel tower and have seen Mona Lisa, they were just not the things I mostly would recommend others about France after my own experiences. After thinking on all of this though, what really is a must see, in my opinion, it would be quite a shame to go to Paris and not to see them too 🙂

      But I agree in the way that every trip should look like the person doing it, and the activities and sights to be chosen according to the own taste.

      And if you’d be happy with Moomins, reindeer and museum, this country would be heaven for you 🙂

      (…and I do like going to some museums too, just not plenty in one day, not always my first pick in a new destination, and I guess I am a bit picky with what I like ;). One of the best museums I’ve been to – or maybe most horrible but insightful and well done – was btw the House of Terror in Budapest. Definitively a must go over there).

  6. Now you really get me hook to Finland. I hope one of these days I can go there with my family. We went to Sweden 2 years back and visited Stockholm and stayed in Karskrona. It was wonderful. We went skiing too with the kids too. Reading your discussion with B, I would really look forward to B’s version of must-see in Singapore. I shall seriously think about writing the must-sees in Singapore from a Singaporean viewpoint.

    1. I look forward to reading your must see list! And nice if some of the things that appeal to me in Finland are interesting to you too! 🙂

  7. Thanks for the article, fun to read that, and even more fun to imagine what I would be characterised as :). I agree with you on the blogs as “travel guides” though. In my backpacking days I often just stopped other backpackers to ask them for tips, it is fun to be able to gather the tips already before going to a destination!

  8. Must sees of Singapore and Queensland… You know Queensland is harder -I’m like you I don’t know what to pick! And my Singapore version will be skewed. Everyone’s will and should be, I guess.

    Actually that’s why I like these blogs. The glossy tourist mags don’t always do it for me but a like-minded explorer is a great resource.

    Don’t worry I get what you mean about the must-sees.

    Now that French tourism link:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10130456/The-Paris-guide-to-tourists-Britons-informal-Italians-impatient-Brazilians-tactile.html

  9. I guess the “must sees” are also interesting because they often say a lot about what the country aspires to… what it wants to promote and what it feels proud of, how it sees itself.

    1. True. Even though I am surely also influenced by the countries aspirations, I actually haven’t put a lot of thought on this regarding Finland before. I have thought a lot about what I want to see elsewhere though 🙂

      Maybe you will one time offer your must see’s of Queensland and Singapore?

  10. Well, we made it to Finland once, for a whole day, and for us it was the Suomenlinna Fort (and there were some markets on that day as well by the water front) – so I suppose that was my one pick for my one day! (We were holidaying in Estonia and took a day trip, so I suppose you could say a day trip by ferry as well, except we did it to and not from, and it wasn’t Sweden.) (As a side note, Finnish-style saunas were a highlight of our trip to Estonia, so to me that is spot on as well!)

    I defer to your greater expertise overall, though. Like you, I also appreciate just soaking up the atmosphere, having coffees and meals at relaxed restaurants, people watching, just thinking about how a place is put together and what moments in history led it there. And taking trains and other forms of transport.

    But I also think it would be a shame to go to some places and not at least glance at things like the Eiffel Tower. If everyone is saying it’s a “must see” there’s usually a reason, even if it doesn’t sustain your interest in the same way as everyone else. Whether that means spending half your trip on it, well, no. Maybe it’s a bit meta, but it’s interesting to try and think about why other people find these things interesting, to observe the tourist culture as part of the overall culture, as it were.

    (So, to clarify what I mean… demographers know that tourists from certain places tend (in general) to have preferences for one experience or another. The French government had that recent campaign where it gave French tourist industry workers a “how to” guide on certain nationalities of tourists (unfortunately not Australians, I was intrigued). So I think people go looking for different things according to the stereotypes about a place prevalent in their home countries – so that sort of thing, the interaction between the place and tourists from separate places, and what that says about how the place has projected itself/been received in different parts of the globe, is interesting to me.)

    I’ve noticed more of a civil engineering focus to our journeys in the past couple of years. All of a sudden it seems like a good idea to go out of our way to visit the longest suspension bridge or under sea rail tunnel or the most northerly rail turntable in Malaysia or something. I always found them a bit interesting before, but only if they were on my way! Same for observing marine life. So I guess we are exploring different facets of places now that we have little people with their own interests in our party!

    But anyway, wow… I’ve gone on. Thanks for your great suggestions for Finland! It all sounds good to me, but it’d be interesting to hear feedback from other Finnish experts.

    1. Thanks B, now when I read your comment I realised that I may have sounded a bit negative towards “the official must see’s” in countries, like the Eiffel tower (just an example), which was definitively not my aim! Of course one should see them!!! (Maybe Suomenlinna would be one of those in Finland? I don’t know if we otherwise have such a clear “must see”?). I have also wanted always to visit a number of those places, the tower of Pisa and Colosseum still being on my to travel list.

      What I tried to say, was, that when I am composing a must see list of my own, it is very subjective and based on my own experiences, and that I have noticed that what I remember best, is typically not what most people seem to remember most, so, maybe my list is not such a typical one and maybe not the best one for others? And, as you B point out, points of views from other ones from Finland, Finns, expats and travellers, are very welcome to broaden my subjective view (therefore I also linked to some other blogs).

      As always, you raise very enriching points of views as well, B. I have not been thinking about this from the tourism industries point of view at all. Would be quite interesting to read about the survey you mentioned about how to guide different nationalities to different places. Please, go on, when you have lot’s of good things to say! 🙂

    2. Oh, and Tallinn is great, isn’t it? One of the things I would recommend one that comes to this region, is to pop over to Estonia (but the ferries to/from Tallinn are not as epic as the ones to/from Stockholm. Maybe it is because of the length of the trip as the boats themselves are similar. Btw, a tragicomic activity on the boats from Tallinn to Finland is to count the amount of alcohol Finns bother to carry home… No wonder Estonians call us “crazy reindeer” 🙂 ), Stockholm (also the city, not just the boat) and St Petersburg. To me a visit to Vyborg was also interesting, it is/was one of the oldest cities of Finland, one of the main points of trade and culture, but was lost to Russia in the 40’s. You can still see a lot of the history there but unfortunately it is pretty ran down nowadays.

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