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:
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
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. But 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.
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.
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?