Finland might be one of the best-worst known countries in the world: everyone knows OF it, but when it comes time to explain what they actually know ABOUT it, most people would just say: ‘Uh, I guess it’s cold?’

This little country has managed to retain its individual identity even pressed between much bigger and influential Russia and Sweden. Maybe this is because of the right conditions, or maybe because of the famous stubbornness of its population; in either case, Finland is a one-of-a-kind country inhabited by cool, unique people that will love to tell you all about the country – as long as you buy them a drink first.

Too many backpackers skip over Finland because it “doesn’t fit in their budget”. Sure, this northern nation is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, but once you learn the local secrets on how to stretch your budget as far as it can go, there really is no reason to avoid traveling to Finland.

While a dreamy Lappish holiday is on most travellers’ bucket lists, there is much, MUCH more to Finland than just snowy dreamscapes and powdery ski slopes. This Finland travel guide will be your fast pass to the best things to do, see, eat and experience in the land of a thousand lakes – and how to do it all on a budget in one of the most expensive regions in the world.

Why Go Backpacking in Finland?

First of all, Finland is one of the greenest countries in the world – both in terms of sustainability and nature. Known as the land of a thousand lakes, Finland actually has roughly 188,000 of them, and almost 3/4 of its area is covered in forest. You won’t find dramatic valleys and mountain ranges here – the tallest point at the Halti fell stands at a humble 1,365 m – but the beauty of Finland’s nature is more humble, less flashy, and none the less breathtaking.

Finland is well known for its platter of unique experiences that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Or how does sleeping in a glass igloo under the Northern Lights sound? Rushing through fresh snow on a husky sled? Throwing back beers in a riverside park with your new Finnish friends all night because the sun never sets? Yep, I’d say that’s worth seeing.

backpacking finland in winter

For more inexperienced backpackers, travel in Finland is an awesome addition to first-time itineraries: it’s extremely safe, clean, and friendly, and you’ll rarely feel unwelcome.

And for the backpackers who’ve been everywhere and seen everything: you could say Finland is actually an off-the-beaten-path destination. Even if it doesn’t seem like that at first glance, Finland receives relatively few tourists compared to many other European destinations, and you’ll be able to steer clear of annoying tourist crowds and experience Finland as it is – especially if you dare go outside of Helsinki and Rovaniemi.

Finns are also inventive folks: Nokia, Angry Birds, the SMS, heart rate monitor, Darude’s Sandstorm, the IRC chat protocol and Linux are all Finnish inventions that are used all over the world.

What does this have to do with a backpacking trip, you ask? Well, traveling to a country so on top of their technology is going to be effortless and comfortable to travel here – plus you’ll come away with plenty of fun experiences and memories that will stick with you for life…

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Finland

Now that you’re convinced that Finland truly is the best country in the world, it’s time to start planning your trip. Here are three itineraries to explore the best of Finland, depending on the time you have available. To make things easier, I’m assuming that you’re starting from Helsinki since it’s the easiest and most obvious point of entrance.

5 Days in Finland: The Southern Trio

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1. Helsinki 2. Turku 3. Tampere (CLICK TO SEE INTERACTIVE MAP OF FINLAND)

Helsinki -> Turku -> Tampere -> Helsinki

Spend the first two days of your trip in the capital Helsinki. Walk around the city centre admiring its neoclassical architecture, the iconic Helsinki Cathedral and the harbourfront. In the afternoon, hop on the short ferry ride to visit the Suomenlinna fort for a nice (and free!) stroll among one of the most important historical monuments in Finland. On a sunny day, have a picnic on the seashore rocks.

Dedicate your second day in Helsinki for gathering the most quintessential Finnish experiences. Sample some reindeer meat at the portside market, get to know Finnish art history at Art Museum Ateneum and rent a pair of ice skates for a lap at the rink by the railway station.

End the day with sauna: one of the most famous public saunas in Helsinki is called Löyly, and while it is pretty much catered to foreigners, it’s still a fun experience to plunge in the freezing Baltic waters afterward!

After Helsinki, head to Turku. The ex-capital offers one of the prettiest riverside walks along the Aura River and has an awesome old castle to explore. Top the experience by spending the night at Turku’s only backpacker hostel on a decommissioned river boat.

The next day, dash out to Tampere to complete the trip of Southern Finland’s biggest cities. The city of culture and theatre has lots to cover but you can cross off the most important points in one day – check out riverside factories, climb up the Pyynikki observation tower, and toast to the city on the top floor of its tallest hotel.

2 Weeks in Finland: Essential Lapland

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1. Rovaniemi 2. Levi 3. Inari 4. Saariselkä 5. Kuusamo (CLICK TO SEE INTERACTIVE MAP OF FINLAND)

Rovaniemi -> Levi -> Inari -> Saariselkä -> Kuusamo

What’s a trip to Finland without visiting Lapland? This itinerary works for both winter and summer months depending on what you prefer to do. This itinerary includes a lot of driving so take enough time for it – especially if you want to do some hikes.

Start the loop in Rovaniemi. The gateway to travel in Lapland is most famous as the place where Santa Claus lives, but whether or not you believe in the magical man with a sack full of presents, it’s a great place to get your first taste of the northernmost region of Finland. It’s also the tourist favourite so if you’re envisioning husky sledding and reindeer safaris, this is the place for that.

From there, head north to Levi. This tiny tourist town has awesome ski slopes in the winter and great hikes in the summer (that are possible in the snow too as long as you’re not scared of the below freezing temperatures!)

Your next stop is Inari where you can learn about the culture and traditions of the Sámi people, an indigenous group inhabiting Lapland, through a local cultural centre and the Sámi museum Siida. Inari is also a starting point for hikes in the Lemmenjoki National Park that is renowned for its historical role in the Finnish gold rush.

Travel southbound to stay in Saariselkä, your best access point to the Urho Kekkonen National Park which is one of the wildest areas in Finland. Travellers going from broke to bougie can stay in the Instagram-famous glass-domed igloos in the town of Kakslauttanen.

And so we come to the last stop of the tour: Kuusamo. In the winter, stay in the nearby town Ruka for some more skiing, and in the summer or autumn, you can start the legendary Karhunkierros trail (The Bear’s Trail) here. This 82-km route is the most popular – and perhaps the most beautiful – hiking trail in Finland.

Return to Rovaniemi to feast on some more reindeer meat before the end of your trip.

One Month in Finland: The Ultimate Finnish Backpacking Adventure

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1. Helsinki 2. Mariehamn 3. Turku 4. Rauma 5. Tampere 6a. Jyväskylä 6b. Vaasa 7. Oulu 8. Rovaniemi 9. Sodankylä 10. Kuusamo 11. Kuopio (CLICK TO SEE INTERACTIVE MAP OF FINLAND)

Helsinki -> Mariehamn -> Turku -> Rauma -> Tampere -> Jyväskylä/Vaasa -> Oulu -> Rovaniemi -> Sodankylä -> Kuusamo -> Kuopio -> Helsinki

If you’re adamant to see absolutely every part of Finland – respect. This itinerary covers the most important things to see but take into account that distances are quite big and constant driving can get exhausting. Feel free to adjust the route!

Spend some days exploring Helsinki and squeeze in a day trip to the UNESCO heritage town Porvoo or Estonian capital Tallinn. From Helsinki, catch a ferry to Mariehamn, the capital of the Åland Islands, and spend a few days riding a bicycle around its peaceful country roads.

From Mariehamn, ride the ferry to Turku where you can spend a day or two soaking in Finnish history. From there, travel up the coast to Rauma, the biggest wooden old town in the Nordics and one of the prettiest towns in Finland!

Would you like to see more of the sea or the lake land? From here you can choose to either go to Jyväskylä, one of the biggest university cities in the country, or to Vaasa, a coastal town that’s the best place to explore Finland’s only natural UNESCO heritage site, the Kvarken Archipelago. Both cities have direct access to Oulu, your gateway to Northern Finland. Oulu is a lively market city and definitely worth checking out for a day or two.

Next travel up to Lapland. Spend a few days on the Arctic circle in Rovaniemi, then head up to Sodankylä. Time your visit to June when the midsummer sun doesn’t set at all and this little Lappish town hosts one of the biggest film festivals in Finland.

It’s time to start tripping back towards the south. Travel to Kuusamo, one of Finland’s best nature tourism sites, then drive down through the quiet rural landscapes of Eastern Finland. Stay in Kuopio for a couple of days before looping back to Helsinki.

Places to Visit in Finland

Sure, you’ve heard of Helsinki – but just like any capital city, it offers only a tiny look into what the country is really made of. Get the best out of travelling in Finland and extend the route to explore some of the other cities, national parks and coastlines around one of the best countries in the world. This list should help you decide where to go in Finland.

Visiting Helsinki

Helsinki is without a doubt the coolest city in Finland (and the most visited one). The capital is well known for architectural gems, unbeatable design, fine cuisine, culture and the best museums in Finland. It’s also the capital of street style: while Finns like to joke that they are a nation of windbreaker-wearers, the people of Helsinki are chic, cool and trendy. Remember to wear black and grey if you want to blend in!

Take a short ferry trip to the Suomenlinna fort. This 18th century sea fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that now hosts a small village with shops, cafés, a school and even a backpacker hostel. Other than the ferry trip, visiting is free! The boat ride also gives you a chance to glimpse the skyline of Helsinki.

Helsinki Cathedral

The city centre is easy to take on by foot, and that’s where the most famous sights in Helsinki are located. Visit the Helsinki Cathedral, nibble at fried vendace at the port-site market, stroll in the Kaisaniemi botanical garden, peek at the famous Rock Church that’s, well, built into a rock, and take your pick from the plethora of museums: some of the best ones include Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), contemporary art museum Kiasma and Art Museum Ateneum that is home to some of the most important works of Finnish art.

Want to get your adrenaline rush on? Visit Linnanmäki, the oldest amusement park in Finland whose wooden rollercoaster has been in operation since the 1950s.

Helsinki has a pretty cool hostel scene as well.

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Porvoo | Source: LUM3N (Pixabay)
  • Porvoo: Just an hour from Helsinki, Porvoo’s Old Town is a gorgeous glimpse into Finnish history. Its cobbled streets hide many treats including craft ice cream, coffee and candies and the house where Finland’s national poet Runeberg once lived, but its most iconic attraction is the row of wooden red storehouses by the river.
  • Nuuksio National Park: Nature is never too far in Finland, even in the capital region. Nuuksio National Park is easy to get to with public transportation and has a network of trails for daytrippers and trekkers alike. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the endangered flying squirrel.
  • Tallinn: The Estonian capital and one of the most beautiful cities in Europe is just a 2-hour ferry trip from Helsinki which makes it an easy day trip. Traditionally, Finns cross the Baltic Bay in pursuit of cheap alcohol, but Tallinn is so awesome that booze doesn’t come even close to the Top 10 list of the best things to see and do there.

Visiting Turku

The previous capital of Finland was founded in the 13th century and it’s the oldest city in the country – which means that any history geek will love this spot.

Even though a large part of the city was destroyed in fires, its history museums, castle and buildings still bring back a breeze from the past. Check out Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova; this museum combines an archaeological museum with modern art exhibitions.

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Wintery Turku | Source: JarkkoManty (Pixabay)

One of the best ways to get to know the city is to take a stroll by the Aura River where in the summer, students come to chill and in the winter, if the river freezes enough, it’s possible to ice skate on it. Basically most of the city’s most important sights, like the Turku Cathedral and the Market Square, are located along the river.

Follow the river all the way to the sea to find Turku Castle. With over 700 years worth of history in its halls, it has been turned into a museum with exhibitions and rooms decorated to show the life of back-when. Some say the castle is haunted – but I guess you’ll have to find that out for yourself.

In the summer, the outskirts of the city become stage to Ruisrock, the biggest and one of the best music festivals in Finland that draws in both Finnish and foreign performers across all genres.

Turku is also one of the biggest port cities in Finland and has the best ferry connections to the Åland Islands and Stockholm.

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Rauma’s wooden houses | Source: reijotelaranta (Pixabay)
  • Rauma: In this writer’s humble opinion, one of the most beautiful places in Finland: Old Town Rauma is filled with charming, colourful wooden houses that host cozy cafés, cute second-hand shops and traditional handicraft stores.
  • Naantali: The number one summer city in Finland is best known as the President’s summer residence and Moominworld, a theme park dedicated to the most famous Finnish children’s characters before Angry Birds took over. You’re probably not a child – no worries, Naantali’s old town is still plenty charming to explore, and it has a pleasant portside for people-watching on a nice sunny day.
  • Turku Archipelago: What would a visit to Finland’s favourite port town be without an expedition to its archipelago? The best way to get between the little islands is by taking a ferry.

Visiting Tampere

The cradle of Finnish rock music, theatre and culture is the second city of Finland and often voted as the most liveable city in the country. It gets often dubbed the “Manchester of Finland” and endearingly shortened by locals as “Manse”. Tampere was in the heart of Finnish industry and production, and the emblematic views of red-brick buildings along the Tammerkoski river still very much define the city’s image.

With its varied architecture, it might be the most charming city in Finland: the centre’s art noveau style buildings stand side by side with old churches and historical red-brick factories, and just on the outskirts of the centre, you’ll find the Pispala neighbourhood known for its idyllic wooden houses.

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Tampere Orthodox Church

Tampere is one of the best summer cities in Finland. During long, lazy summer days, the city centre is bustling with international food markets, craft beer events and music festivals. Summer theatre productions are popping up all over the place.

More Awesome Things to Do in Tampere

For the cultured traveller, Tampere offers some awesomely niche museums: there are museums dedicated to Moomins (Finland’s beloved hippo-like children’s book characters), espionage, Finnish police forces, Tampere’s workers’ history, Lenin and video games.

My favourite thing about Tampere is that it’s surrounded by nature: lakes on both sides and forests and countryside just outside the city borders. And there are multiple spots to spy on this beauty.

Try Näsinneula Tower with sweeping 360-degree views over the city and located in the Särkänniemi amusement park, or Hotel Torni, the tallest hotel in Tampere whose sky bar serves lovely craft beer from a local small brewery. The best spot, though, is the Pyynikki observation tower that also serves THE BEST sugared donuts in Finland – and perhaps the whole world.

Visiting Vaasa

Looking to make some new friends? With whopping three universities, Vaasa is a small city filled with students and one of the most international cities in Finland. It’s located on the West coast so there are ample opportunities to sit in portside cafés drinking coffee or beers or simply hang out on the beaches with your cool new pals.

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Kvarken Archipelago | Source: Ann-Britt (Shutterstock)

Get your fill on history and see the ruins of Old Vaasa and the historical Vaasa University campus. There are some cool small museums to check out too, including the Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa Car & Motor Museum and – since this is a seaside city – a Maritime Museum. The city is very walkable but you can also blend in with the Finns and rent a bicycle to cruise around in style.

The biggest reason to visit Vaasa, though, would be its unique nature – if you’re like us and get down on some impressive natural landscapes.

The Kvarken Archipelago is located right outside of Vaasa. Fun fact: this group of islands is Finland’s only natural UNESCO site, and it is home to tons of unique fauna and flora and offers fantastic hiking, canoeing and boat trip opportunities. Another fun fact: Finland’s longest bridge, the Raippaluoto Bridge, is found in the area.

Visiting Jyväskylä

Often known as the “Athens of Finland”, Jyväskylä is one of the biggest student towns in the country and allegedly the place where the most pure form of Finnish is spoken (don’t sweat it – you’re still not going to understand a word of it).

I’m going to be honest: there isn’t much to see in Jyväskylä. However, it constantly ranks as one of the most liveable cities in Finland. That’s where its charm lies: Jyväskylä is a place to experience, to relax.

This doesn’t mean you’ll get bored. Visit the Alvar Aalto Museum, dedicated to Finland’s best-known architect, and find buildings designed by him in the city. Climb up the Vesilinna observation tower to see the town from above. Shop for handicrafts at cute little artisan shops at the Toivola Old Courtyard (especially great around Christmas time!)

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Jyväskylä all glittery and glimmering | Source: Ilari Nackel (Shutterstock)

At dark, a stroll in Jyväskylä’s harbour and its beautiful city scape, dominated by an illuminated bridge, are worth braving the cold for. Jyväskylä is not known as “the city of light” for nothing – it has over 100 illuminated monuments.

One of my favorite things to do on the way to or from Jyväskylä is to stop at the Vaajakoski district. Seven kilometers from the center is a short way to go to visit the Panda factory. Specialized in sweets, chocolates, and licorice, Panda is a lesser-known and equally as delicious option to the famous Fazer sweets products.

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Visiting Kuopio and Eastern Finland

The Eastern part of Finland is often overlooked by international visitors. Why? While you might not find many world-class attractions here, what you’ll encounter instead is natural peace, quirky events and a whole side of Finland you never thought possible: chatty Finns.

Eastern regions actually have a bit of a small-talk culture, and the people there are known for their unique sense of humor and the inability to ever get straight to the point. Single cities in the area might not keep you entertained for too long: that’s why Eastern Finland is my favorite road trip area in Finland.

Kuopio is the capital of the Northern Savo region. Make sure to try kalakukko (literally: “fish rooster”), a delicious, traditional rye bread that can be filled with both sweet or savory filling.

Climb the Puijontorni Tower for a fantastic view over the town and the surrounding nature. Kuopio is also relatively close to Sonkajärvi where every summer the Wife-Carrying World Championships take place (trust me, it’s a real thing).

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Kuopio | Source: JaniSnellman (Pixabay)

Koli National Park is possibly the most iconic natural landscape in Finland and accessible all year round. The forested hills are perfect for even inexperienced hikers!

Another great nature site is the Saimaa Lake, Finland’s biggest lake and home to the endangered Saimaa seal that’s only found here.

Eastern Finland is in the heart of the Finnish Lake Land which makes it an awesome place to experience your best cottage life. Finns are extremely fond of their summer holidays in cottages by the lake; rent one out for the weekend and see what all the fuss is about.

Visiting Rovaniemi

Gateway to Lapland, Rovaniemi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Finland, only second to Helsinki. It offers a chance to visit all the quintessential Lapland experiences without having to venture too far into the wilderness.

Did you know that Santa Claus lives in Finland? After a Finnish radio announcer had already made this bold claim in the 1920s, Rovaniemi decided to capitalise on the idea and turn a cabin where Eleanor Roosevelt had once stayed into Santa’s house.

Now the Santa Claus Village is the most popular attraction in Rovaniemi. I’ll admit, the theme park is very much geared towards children but aren’t you a little bit curious to snap a pic with Santa anyway?

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Have you been naughty or nice? | Source: xat-ch (Pixabay)

Santa’s not the only famous resident of the town. Rovaniemi is also home to Rovio, the game studio that’s best known for Angry Birds, as well as the birthplace of the lead singer of Lordi, the heavy metal band that’s snatched Finland’s only win in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Attractions dedicated to both are kind of underwhelming: the Angry Birds Park is mostly a play ground for children, and Lordi’s Square is well, just a city square. Better attractions to check out are Arktikum, a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the north, and the Ounasvaara fell that’s a cool place to watch the sunset.

You can book dog sledding and reindeer safaris here (even though the hefty price tag makes both experiences pretty unattainable for the brokest backpackers, they’re often on the top of most travellers’ wish lists). And no fear – animal welfare laws in Finland are very strict so you can rest assured that Rudolph and his friends are treated well.

Visiting Lapland

I’ve separated Lapland as its own point on this list because let’s be honest, Rovaniemi represents Lapland as well as Paris represents France: it still counts, but it’s a very light-weight introduction to the wilderness beyond.

Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland, spanning also into Sweden, Norway and Russia, and the least inhabited, most remote part of the country. Marked by vast wilderness areas, arctic tundras and low, rolling fells, it is one of the most beautiful places in Finland and a must for any outdoor adventurer.

The best time to visit is the winter when the region turns into a postcard perfect winter wonderland with pine trees heavy with snow and air so cold your breath becomes visible. It’s the best place to try to see the Northern lights in the winter and experience the midnight sun – 24-hour daylight – in the summer.

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Lapland is just one of those place you gotta go… Photo Tony Buttitta

In the winter, towns like Kemi, Ruka and Levi are packed with ski tourists and winter hikers; in the summer, the vast national parks of the north become excellent stages for multi-day treks.

More Places to Visit in Lapland

Try your hand at gold mining in the Lemmenjoki National Park, wander the wilderness of the Urho Kekkonen National Park or tackle Finland’s most beloved hike, Karhunkierros (the Bear’s Trail). If 82 km sounds like a lot of walking or you simply don’t have the 3-7 days to complete it, opt for the Small Bear’s Trail that’s only 12 km and can be done in a day.

Travelling Lapland is all about its nature so it’s not very popular with city trippers, although there are a few special towns to see too: Inari is the centre of Sámi culture in Finland, Sodankylä hosts an internationally acclaimed film festival, Kittilä builds an ice hotel complete with ice sculptures and an ice bar every winter, and Nuorgam is the northernmost town in Finland.

Visiting Oulu

If you’re on your way to Rovaniemi anyway, might as well make a stop in Oulu: a small but friendly and quirky town in the North of Finland. Most of the Old Town’s wooden buildings burned down centuries ago, but the remaining old houses stand peacefully side by side with the 19th century architecture. Oulu is a great summer city, and definitely pretty.

The best place to spot old wooden houses is in the Pikisaari area where you can also check out the old Wool Mill, home to art galleries and artist’s studios, and the Seafarer’s Home Museum.

Shake hands with the most famous resident in the city: Toripoliisi (The Market Square Police) is a jovial fellow who guards the Market Square and the Old Market Hall. The area around the market also has some charismatic wooden houses and popular pubs.

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Oulu | Source: 12019 (Pixabay)

Despite its small size, Oulu is a lively little spot and hosts a few epic events throughout the year. In February, admire snow sculptures at the international Nallikari Snow Festival; in July, dance away at the QStock music festival, and in August, practice your headbanging at the Air Guitar World Championships. Oh – and don’t miss the World’s most northern Irish festival in October.

Take a day trip to the Hailuoto Island. A car ferry makes sure you can drive yourself or use public transportation. Hailuoto is a cool little spot with white-sand beaches, a historical lighthouse and idyllic fisher villages, and it has long been the hideaway for artists and entrepreneurs of all sorts who come there to create in peace.

Visiting the Åland Islands

Visiting the Åland Islands is like stepping into a mini-Sweden: these Swedish speaking islands in the Gulf of Finland are an awesome peaceful destination for a mini-detour on your Finnish holiday. Easily accessible on a boat from Turku or Helsinki, Åland Islands can also be a pit stop on your way from Finland to Sweden or vice versa.

With a population of less than 3,000 and just one town to speak of, there aren’t many big attractions but nature is everywhere. From incredible sunsets to chilling by a quiet lake and travelling through rural sites dotted with little red houses, Åland gives you time to just enjoy being present. It’s like a mental detox.

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Sea views in Åland | Source: standardlamp (Pixabay)

Not that you would get bored: the capital Mariehamn is a tiny city marked by colourful wooden buildings oozing Nordic charm and jam-packed with marine history. Visit the museum boat Pommern or take a trip to the heart of the island to explore the 16th century Holmenkollen Castle.

The best way to explore around is to rent a bike. Distances are short – the island only measures about 50 km both ways -, the roads are great and flat, and there’s nothing more idyllic than biking through green fields and beautiful forests. All the roads in Åland have a distinct red hue since they’ve been built using a special rock found on the islands. Follow the red-brick road!

Getting Off the Beaten Path in Finland

Let’s be honest here – if you travel anywhere outside of Helsinki or Lapland, you’re already off the beaten path. Travelling to Finland is way more fun when you go a little astray.

Finland is popular as a domestic travel destination but large international crowds have yet to discover most of this beautiful land. And as a backpacker, you’ll be even more of a rarity: the high travel costs in Finland have long scared shoestring travelers away.

Sure, travel there might be more expensive than in most other European countries: but in return, you get to enjoy quiet cities, authentic encounters with Finns, and sights free of tourist hordes.

The best way to explore Finland is not through attractions but through experiences. If you manage to do the impossible and make friends with a Finn (they’re very introverted!), see if they could introduce you to their home region, take you to their summer cottage for the weekend, or just grab a few drinks at the neighborhood bar; there are hardly better ways to get to know the culture and its people.

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Top Things to Do in Finland

Where do I even start? It should be illegal for a country as small as Finland to pack this much fun up its sleeves but these experiences are exactly what have been drawing in tourists for years. Here are some of the best things to do in Finland that you won’t find anywhere else.

1. Fill your belly at Restaurant Day

Restaurant Day is a pop-up street food festival that allows anyone to put up a café, restaurant or a bar for a day. Arranged four times a year, it’s your best chance to sample as much affordable, delicious street food as your stomach can take. The festival started in Helsinki in 2011 and has since spread to several other Finnish and European cities.

2. Sauna like a pro

Did you know that “sauna” is the only etymologically Finnish word used in English? Going to the sauna must be the most iconic Finnish activity. Pretty much every Finnish house has one, and there are over 3 million saunas in Finland – that’s almost 2 saunas per person! Do it like a Finn and go in naked, followed by a skinny-dip in the lake or a roll in the snow.

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In summer, Finns take birch branches to sauna and swat themselves with them | Source: mikkooja1977 (Pixabay)

3. Meet Santa Claus.

While Santa Claus might not be a purely Finnish character, his official house is located in Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. It’s mostly a kids’ thing but the theme park is also teeming with (mostly foreign) tourists who’ve come re-live their childhood magic. Fun fact: Coca-Cola advertisements were the ones to popularise Santa dressed in red, and the designer responsible for these images was of Finnish descent.

4. See the Northern lights in Lapland

There was no way this list would be complete without adding the one thing that’s on every visitor’s wish list: the magical aurora borealis. Northern lights are visible everywhere in Finland but your best chance of catching them are in the north and on cold, clear nights. They’re surprisingly rare so don’t let it get you down if you don’t spot any; if you’d like to up your chances, you can subscribe to the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s aurora alerts.

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Those Northern Lights, though. Source: Tony Buttitta

5. Booze it up on an overnight cruise

Want to have a REAL Finnish experience? Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. The cruise ships on the Baltic Sea are the easiest way to navigate between Finland and Sweden, but the tax-free alcohol and night clubs on board attract a lot of drunken sailors that come on the boat only to get boozed up. The ticket to a 23-hour cruise doesn’t let you disembark on the other end, though, but takes you right back to the port where you started from.

6. Camp to your heart’s content.

Thanks to the everyman’s rights (jokamiehenoikeus), you’re allowed to camp anywhere in Finland without a special permission, as well as pick berries and mushrooms. Finns are extremely proud of their forests, though, so make sure you take all your trash with you and leave the places as you found them!

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Lingonberries in the wild | Source: LuidmilaKot (Pixabay)

7. Shop for Finnish Produced Goods

If your measly budget allows a little splurge, shop for famous Finnish brands for souvenirs. Marimekko specializes in clothes and textiles with an emblematic poppy design, Iittala has a range of well-known tableware designs, and Tom of Finland products present highly masculine homo-erotic art that has broken free from the subculture and become popular all over Finland.

8. Do ALL the winter sports.

Finnish kids learn to ski and skate as soon as they can stand, and there is no better opportunity to see what it’s all about. Try downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice skating or cross-country skiing – or simply borrow a toboggan and speed down snowy slopes. And the biggest hats off to you if you dare to try the most extreme activity of them all: a plunge in a lake at winter through a hole drilled in the ice.

winter-finland
Dashing through the snow… | Source: adege (Pixabay)

9. Spend some time on the countryside.

For many Finns, ”mökki” is a dear holiday home. These lakeside cottages are one of the best experiences you can have in Finland. Imagine skinny-dipping straight from the sauna as the sun sets over a mirror-clear lake: now you’re starting to get the hang of the life in Finland.

10. See an ice hockey match.

It’s a not a big surprise that a winter wonderland like Finland is well-versed in winter sports. On top of the successful international teams, most big cities in Finland have their own teams as well, and cheering a team on among roaring Finns is a fun experience even if you’re not that into the game itself.

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Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle

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Read our full review of the GRAYL GEOPRESS!

Backpacker Accommodation in Finland

Here’s the thing – Finland is not ideal for backpackers. Not many travellers find their way up north which means that backpacker accommodation options are limited. Read: pretty much non-existent.

Helsinki – naturally being the most visited city in Finland – has some cool options for budget backpackers. It’s possible to base yourself there and explore some of Southern Finland on day trips but this can be inconvenient and expensive.

Best Hostels in Helsinki
Helsinki just waiting for you

Hostels in Finland are generally more expensive than you’re probably used to while backpacking Europe but they’re clean and comfortable, and usually include all the facilities you would hope to find in a hostel: laundry, free wifi, and tourist advice. And to true Finnish style, most of them also have saunas.

When there are no hostels in sight, your best bet is to find a mid-range hotel or a holiday apartment. AirBnB is also a thing; at the lower end of the scale, at $25-35 per night a private room through AirBnB is often a little cheaper than a hotel room.

The Best Places to Stay in Finland

Where to Stay in Finland
LocationAccommodationWhy Stay Here?
HelsinkiThe Yard HostelWhile a bit pricey, this boutique hostel is a cool space in the middle of all the action. As one recent guest stated: “Everything was perfect!”
TampereTampere Dream HostelSuper central and clean, close to the train and bus stations and offers all the comforts for a home away from home.
TurkuLaivahostel S/S BoreSurely one of the most unique hostels in Europe, Turku’s best backpacker place is located in a decommissioned boat. If that isn’t enough to convince you, how about free breakfast and morning sauna?
RovaniemiWherever Boutique HostelThis small, cozy boutique hostel located close to shops and transport hubs in Rovanimei is the perfect place to relax after a day of Lappish adventures.
Äkäslompolo7 Fells Hostel Small and comfortable hostel located in an old Lappish house can help all your Lapland adventure dreams come true – plus the room price includes access to a communal sauna.
OuluNordica with SaunaThe best budget accommodation in Oulu has comfortable shared and private rooms, satellite TV, shared kitchen, a lounge area and yes, you guessed it – a sauna.
KuopioHostelli MatkustajakotiDespite the name, this spot is more like a mid-range hotel offering comfortable single and double rooms in a super central location. Hostelli Matkustajakoti is especially favoured by solo travellers.
Gottby (Åland)Granlunda GårdshotellNice budget hotel just 6 km from Mariehamn with beautiful rooms and breakfast included in a great location.
SaariselkäWilderness Hotel Muotka & IgloosThis hotel is not for broke backpackers – but the hefty price is worth the chance of seeing the aurora through the glass dome of your heated wilderness cabin.

Wild camping in Finland

Now here’s a golden tip for the real broke backpacker: Finland’s nature is free and welcomes all. Thanks to “everyman’s right” (jokamiehenoikeus), anyone in Finland is free to hike and camp anywhere as well as pick berries and mushrooms in the forests (just leave the different mosses alone – most of them are protected and endangered.)

This means that camping in Finland is easy and legal. Stay out of city parks and private property, though – the best camping spots are in the national parks.

Many hiking trails are also equipped with different shelters where you can spend the night for free. Wilderness huts, Sami huts, and wooden lean-tos usually have a firepit to keep you warm during the chilly hours of the night.

Finland Backpacking Costs

Is Finland expensive? Hell yes. However, there are still sneaky little ways to make your trip there a little more affordable.

Eating out is expensive in Finland. Sorry! However, your grub in Finland doesn’t have to be just instant noodles. For the cheapest and most authentic meals, head to the central market squares. Many of the bigger cities have a permanent covered market that has small cafés and restaurants serving simple and delicious home-cooked meals for as little as $7. If you’re in a university town, you can eat at the student cafeterias for about $9 (including the main meal, salad and bread!).

In general, try to fill your belly at lunchtime since you’ll find much better offers then.

Download the ResQ Club app. It’s an app that aims to minimize food waste, so at the end of the day, restaurants put up drastically discounted meals.

Cooking for yourself is always the cheapest option, and Finland is no exception. If you’re really pinching pennies, visit S Market supermarkets after 9 p.m. when all of their expiring products are at 50% sale.

The absolute cheapest way to travel in Finland is by bus. If you plan your trip in advance, you can score early-bird discounts on Onnibus and Matkahuolto bus lines for as little as $2.5 per trip. Similarly, trains usually have some discounted tickets, too. If your plans include tripping from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and back, though, prepare to shell out a hundred bucks for a train or $50 on a cheap flight (one-way).

Alcohol in Finland is EXPENSIVE. But no fear: there is a way to party the night away without breaking the bank.

The solution, my dear traveler, is student bars. While you might often end up paying $9-12 for a pint in a normal bar, student bars offer shots for as little as $3 and beers for $3.5-5. Or, you know, pregame.

If you want to avoid hefty entrance fees, pick pubs and small bars over big nightclubs to avoid paying the entrance fee (about $5-10).

Look, if you came to Finland expecting to plow through powdery snow on a husky sled, you also need to be prepared to stack out some serious cash. The famous dog and reindeer safaris cost about $120 for a couple of hours of sledding. Having fun in Finland does not come for cheap. A daily ski rental in Helsinki can be about $25 (and a ski pass at a resort about $40-50), a museum ticket $30, and a day pass to an amusement park $50.

Luckily, there are plenty of cheap and free things to do as well. Hike and camp, walk around cities, take advantage of free events and exhibitions and relax on beaches and in parks.

A Daily Budget in Finland

A Daily Budget in Finland
ExpenseBroke BackpackerFrugal TravellerCreature of Comfort
Accommodation$21$60$80-100
Food$5-10$20$30+
Transport$5-10$30$80
Nightlife$10$20$50+
Activities$10$35$120
Total per day:$51-61$165$360-380

Money in Finland

Finland is a part of the EU and so uses euros.

Most places will accept card but it’s always a good idea to carry a little bit of cash with you. There are ATMs all over the place, and you can exchange money in banks or exchange offices.

The exchange rate for euros in February 2021 is $1 = 0.83 e.

Travel Tips – Finland on a Budget

Trying to stretch your euros as far as they go? Then try out these good-and-tried broke backpacker practices.

  • Cook your own food. A money-savvy explorer cooks their own food – especially in Finland. It’s a good idea to slip a portable camping stove into your backpack; it’s great for accommodations that don’t come with a kitchen, and perfect for hikes in the pretty Finnish forests.
  • Take a tent. All hail everyman’s right! In Finland, you’re allowed to camp on public land (excluding city parks), so if you want to save some cash, pack up a lightweight tent.
  • Try Couchsurfing. Finns might be introverted but they love sharing their culture with foreign travelers. Try Couchsurfing and make friends while sleeping totally for free. Best to try Couchsurfing after all of this Covid stuff is over though.
  • Shop second-hand. If you get to Finland and realise that it’s a little colder than you expected, find a second-hand shop. There are plenty of privately owned ones as well as charity chains like UFF, Salvation Army and Red Cross. You’ll easily find a warm coat for $10 or less!
  • Volunteer. Staying somewhere awesome for just a few hours of light work? Sign me the fuck up. If you are looking to stay in Finland for longer, check out Worldpackers. Worldpackers is an excellent platform connecting travellers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
  • Travel with a water bottle. The tap water in Finland is among the best in the world so there’s simply no excuse to keep buying bottles. Take a reusable bottle with you and save both money and nature.

Why Should You Travel to Finland with a Water Bottle?

Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to traveling responsibly, reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfill or in the ocean.

If you’d like some more tips on how to save the world, be sure to watch the video below.

Best Time to Travel to Finland

The absolute two best times to travel to Finland are the summer and the winter.

Finnish summer is lovely: the days are long and mellow (usually 20-25 degrees C, sometimes rising up to a stifling 30C), and Finns spend their time drinking in parks or restaurant patios. The amount of daylight can come as a shock: in Lapland, the sun never fully sets in the summer, and even in the south the darkness only lasts for a few hours. The peak season is June-July when schools are out; May and August still get nice weather without being quite as packed.

Similarly, days in the winter are short and dark. It’s a great time to visit if you’re not used to snow and coldness – a friend of mine was blown away when he realised he could walk on ice! The temperatures get way below freezing, anything between -10 and -40, but it’s all worth it to see the snowy paradise.

Finland Sunset

Snow has been falling later each year so while you might get your winter dreams fulfilled in November or December, play it safe and time your trip between January-March.

If you’re looking for some spectacular autumn colours, end of October is also a fantastic time to visit. Word of warning, though: the splendour lasts for about two weeks, then all the trees lose their leaves in bitter wind and rain storms, and the weather gets miserable and grey until the first snowfall.

Similarly, the springtime can be lovely with the nature in Finland coming back to life but it still rains a lot, and streets are wet and sloshy from melting snow – plus even timing your trip to May doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get caught in snow.

Festivals in Finland

There’s no better time to experience Finland than in the summer when every week is packed with weird and wonderful events all over the country.

shutterstock-finland
Finns celebrate midsummer with bonfires and skinny-dipping | Source: titur (Shutterstock)

Did you know that Finland is the country with the highest number of metal bands per capita? On top of likes of Nightwish and Children of Bodom, the Finnish music scene offers all genres from folk to pop, rock, jazz and electronic.

The best part? The crowds in Finnish festivals are way smaller than anywhere else I’ve been to but they still draw world-class performers – meaning that you can well show up for a Muse gig ten minutes before it starts and still get a spot within twenty feet of the stage.

Here are some quintessentially Finnish events, festivals and celebrations to check out:

  • May Day. The biggest student celebration of the year is also a national bank holiday and an awesome experience marked by street markets, balloons, home-made slightly alcoholic lemonade (sima) and sugared donuts.
  • Midsummer (June): Midsummer is a big celebration in Finland. Usually Finns escape to the countryside to lakeside cottages during Midsummer but if you decide to stay in the city, there’s usually some sort of a small city festival going on as well as an evening bonfire. Places like Tahko and Himos arrange big parties for Midsummer.
  • Ruisrock (July): Finland’s biggest music festival is a three-day extravaganza just outside of Turku that brings together huge foreign acts and best Finnish artists across all genres.
  • Tuska festival (July): This three-day festival might be the biggest metal music festival in Finland and a must for metalheads. Even the name of the festival is metal as hell: it translates to “Agony”.
  • Air Guitar Wold Champonships (August): “Make air, not war”: this bizarre annual competition for the crown of the best air guitar player in the world aims to “promote world peace” and takes place in Oulu.
  • Wife-carrying championships (August): One of the funniest sporting events ever takes place in Eastern Finland in Sonkajärvi. Every August, dozens of couples race through an obstacle course with the man carrying his female race partner on his back to win the woman’s weight worth of beer.
  • Flow festival (August): THE indie music festival brings together dozens of Finnish and international acts to Helsinki.

What to Pack for Finland

No matter where I travel, I always pack a few things with me:

Product
Description
Somewhere to hide your cash
money belt compressed png
Somewhere to hide your cash

Active Roots Money Belt

This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.

A travel water bottle
Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle
A travel water bottle

GRAYL Geopress Filtered Bottle

Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink from just about any source. The GRAYL Geopress is hands-down the most effective one we’ve ever used as well!

For those unexpected messes
AR Towel
For those unexpected messes

Active Roots Microfiber Towel

Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

When the power goes out
Gifts for backpackers
When the power goes out

Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.

Sleep anywhere
Hammock for backpackers
Sleep anywhere

Active Roots Camping Hammock

Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks), and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere.

To stay a clean backpacker
best toiletry bag for one bag travel
To stay a clean backpacker

Hanging Toiletry Bag

I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organize your bathroom stuff. Well worth having as it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

Staying Safe in Finland

If you google “safety in Finland”, you’ll be faced with an insane-sounding list of great superlatives: Finland consistently ranks on the top of the list when it comes to safety, freedom of speech and press, personal freedom, lack of corruption and crime, social justice, political stability, trust in police forces… Need I say more?

So rest assured, Finland is probably one of the safest countries you will ever visit. Of course bad stuff can happen anytime, anywhere, so keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.

Finland gets very dark in the winter. The cheapest life insurance is buying a dangling reflector – sold in all supermarkets – that you can pin to your bag or jacket to stay visible in the dark.

The cold is also not to be fucked with. When the temperature can plummet down to -40C in the coldest months, make sure you’re snugly layered up to avoid frostbite.

backpacking scandinavia
A gentle herbivore or a beast ready to fight?

The biggest threats probably loom on the roads and you should be aware of them if you plan on driving yourself. Winter conditions can cause black ice, limited visibility and bad roads so make sure you know how to drive in the snow before setting off!

In addition, pay attention to the moose danger signs on the side of the road. Moose like to crossroads especially at dusk and dawn without checking both ways first, and every year there are thousands of collisions.

And hikers: as well-signed as Finnish trails usually are, never go hiking alone if you’re unsure of your wilderness survival skills. There are some remote trails where help is hard to come by if you get lost or hurt so make sure you know what to do in case of a wilderness emergency, pack your day pack well, and let someone know where you are and when to expect you back.

Keep an eye out for wildlife: you’re most likely to just come across some squirrels and hares but there are also wolves, bears, lynxes and wolverines in Finland. Surprisingly, the most dangerous animal might still be the moose. They’re gigantic and can be aggressive, especially around mating season.

packable travel medical kit

Be prepared for what life throws at you on the road. Pick up an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure.

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Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Finland

All drugs are illegal in Finland – yep, even weed. Still, there isn’t a large-scale “war on drugs” going on in Finland, and if you’re caught with a small bit of weed, you’re more likely to get a warning than a fine. Drug use has definitely been on the rise in recent years but it’s still not all that common in Finland.

Instead, Finns are definitely a drinking nation. Alcohol is (unfortunately) often an inseparable part of social events, and a lot of Finns might struggle to keep their wits about them.

Finns LOVE to introduce foreign visitors to their special liquors – and laugh at you as your face goes pale. The “holy trinity” of Finnish shots might get offered to you as a welcome gift: first Suomi-viina, a terrible Finnish vodka; then Salmiakkikoskenkorva or “salmari”, a liquorice-flavoured vodka; and lastly, Jaloviina, a strong brandy especially favored by students and old drunks.

When it comes to dating, Finland is often said to be one of the most liberal countries in the world, so download Tinder and swipe to your heart’s content.

Travel Insurance for Finland

Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.

I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional, and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.

If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

will in the wild

A Story on the Necessity of Travel Insurance

“Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle… 

I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.  

I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!

Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!

Getting into Finland

Located up in the north, Finland is not exactly en route to anywhere but it is still pretty well connected to the rest of the world so travelling to Finland is not difficult.

The easiest way to get there is by catching a plane to the Helsinki Vantaa International Airport that has lots of international and intercontinental flight connections from both big-scale and low-cost operators. There are also smaller airports around Finland, e.g. in Tampere, Rovaniemi and Kuopio but their international arrivals are usually limited to other European countries and Nordic countries.

Who Can Travel to Finland Right Now
Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Eastern Finland

You can also arrive by boat from ports in the Baltic Sea like Stockholm, Riga or Tallinn. The Tallinn route is especially popular with many low-cost ferries crossing the bay in about two hours, whereas the ferry from Stockholm is a overnight trip.

In the North, Finland borders Sweden and Norway. (And Russia, but we don’t really talk about that – things get a little more tricky that way.) Even though this route is rarer, it’s also possible to take a bus or drive from Sweden or Norway. Travel between the Nordic countries is not restricted so there are no border checks.

Entry Requirements for Finland

Finland is a member of the European Union and in the Schengen zone which is great news for most travellers: most nationalities can travel to Finland visa-free for up to 90 days in a period of 180 days. Yay! You still definitely need a valid passport or other travel document but from my experience, if you’re arriving from another EU country – even on a plane – you might not even get your passport checked.

If you’re a lucky holder of another EU passport or from another Nordic country, Switzerland or Liechtenstein, you can freely stay in Finland for up to three months – after this you need to apply for a residence permit.

Hiking in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

However, not everyone can just dash over to the Schengen area just like that. If your passport is on this list LINK, you need to apply for a visa before arriving in Finland. Apply for the visa at a Finnish embassy; in some countries, Finland might be represented in another country’s embassy.

Travelling to Finland During COVID Times

Travel restrictions for Finland have become stricter since the new corona variation emerged, and in February, entry into Finland is only possible for necessary reasons such as essential work or studying. Leaving the country has not been restricted.

These new entry restrictions have been in force since January 27, and currently the only people able to enter without restrictions are residents of Finland, Australia, South Korea, Rwanda, Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand.

People arriving in Finland are recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days, although this time can be shortened if you take two negative Covid tests.

bus iconNeed to travel to Finland on the cheap? Use Bookaway to find the best deals on bus, plane, train, and ferry tickets. It’s easy to use and saves you time and money. Once you’ve arrived, why not use what you’ve saved to treat yourself to a cold beer and a bite to eat?

Book your transport on Bookaway now to guarantee your seat and for the right price.

How to Get Around Finland

Finland is a lanky lady – tall and thin, so the distances from travelling between then north and the south are pretty long. In the winter, bad road conditions and early darkness affect travel times as well. Luckily, the transportation infrastructure is well set up, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting from start to Finnish!

The cheapest way to get around Finland is usually by bus. In the recent years, the bus network has expanded hugely, and it’s pretty easy to find a ride to almost anywhere you need to go to.

You can book bus tickets online beforehand or buy them at the station. The advantage to buying in advance is that the tickets might be cheaper: most long-distance bus lines have a progressive price scale for tickets, meaning that the quickest travellers might be able to book a ticket for as cheaply as $2.5.

Buy bus tickets through Matkahuolto or Onnibus companies.

Trains in Finland are awesome: fast, clean and comfortable (although chronically late in the winter, at least by Finnish standards). They even have fast and free wifi! They often cost a little more than bus tickets but again, if you book early enough, you’ll usually be able to snatch a discounted ticket.

There is only one train company operating in Finland, VR. You can buy train tickets through their website or at the station from self-service automats.

Never try to board a train without a valid ticket since they’re always checked. If you’re travelling without a valid ticket, the fine is 80 e.

 

Note! Usually you would be able to buy a ticket onboard the train as well (only with card, not with cash), but because of corona, all tickets must be bought before boarding the train to make sure that safe distances can be followed.

As good as public transportation connections in Finland are, having your own car gives you more freedom to explore as much as you want. The roads are generally well-signed and in good condition. If you’re not used to driving in the winter, though, skip on the rental! When it snows, the roads can get very icy and dangerous even for Finns who’ve driven in these conditions their whole lives.

Finns are also extremely law-abiding folks so follow the speed limits: 120 km/h on motorways, 100 km/h on rural highways, and 60-40 km/h on urban areas in the summer, in the winter usually 20 km/h less.

Surprise – Finland is just swell for cyclists, at least when there’s no snow. Even though the country might not be as well-equipped as the Netherlands, Finns themselves are avid bikers, and many bigger cities have city bikes available for rent. Ideal if you want to get from place to place fast!

Note that in cities, if there is no designated bike lanes, bikers are required to paddle on the road – not the sidewalk – and even though it’s rare, you might actually get stopped by the police for not wearing a helmet.

Long-distance biking is not impossible either if you’re so inclined. Finland is a pretty flat country!

The population of Finland might not be big, but the land area is. If you’re in a time crunch and want to check out both Helsinki and Lapland, the quickest way to travel is by plane. There are domestic airports e.g. in Rovaniemi, Kittilä and Ivalo, and a plane ticket might cost half the price of a long-haul sleeper train. I’ve found the best flight deals through Norwegian that usually also has huge sales around Christmas.

Travelling in cities

The biggest cities have functional public bus networks which usually make having a car useless. The Helsinki Metropolitan Area has a metro as well as city trains. There are also trams in Helsinki, and soon in Tampere.

If you’re planning to spend time in smaller cities, though, public transportation is few and far in between, and especially travelling to and from national parks can be hard to time for day trips.

Hitchhiking in Finland

For a thrifty traveller, hitchhiking is an excellent way to save money. Whether Finland is an ideal place to do that, though – the votes are not yet in.

Theoretically, Finland would be great for hitchhikers. Long rural highways are dotted with bus stops, petrol stations and other excellent places to thumb a ride, and the country is extremely safe.

Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi
Would you hitch a ride with this guy? | Source: Andrei Kobylko (Shutterstock)

The biggest and most important problem you’ll run into are the Finns themselves. As introverted people, many Finns would be hesitant to pick up a stranger on the road side – they really don’t enjoy small talk! Hitchhiking is pretty rare so you will definitely get some funny looks but don’t lose hope: it never hurts to try.

Campervanning in Finland

Ready to live like a Finn? Campervanning is very popular in Finland, even so that there are pop songs dedicated to these “caravaners”. Especially in the summer you’ll see dozens of mobile homes headed north in orderly queues like a herd of buffalo on their seasonal migration.

The three main places to rent a campervan are Helsinki and Helsinki Airport, Turku and Rovaniemi.

Motorbiking in Finland

Strap on your helmet because Finland is great for motorcyclists! The long, flat highways are made for riders who enjoy a bit of scenery as they’re driving, although watch out for cracks and potholes – even though roads are generally well-maintained, the long, harsh winter is not easy on the asphalt. There are even a few motorcycle clubs, including a Harley Davidson club and a religious motorcycle club.

Onwards Travel from Finland

Usually, travelers to Finland want to also check out the rest of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries. In that case, the same applies as arriving: boats and planes are your best bet between countries.

A word of warning to those wanting to travel to Russia afterwards: there are buses and trains from Finland but the border is well monitored and you need to get a Russian visa before travelling.

If this seems like too much trouble, you can always take a cruise to St. Petersburg from Helsinki: even though the trip is quite expensive, it allows you to explore St. Petersburg for three days without a visa before returning to Helsinki.

Working and Staying Connected in Finland

So you want to live and work in Finland? For the citizens of EU and EEA countries it’s simple, just hop on the plane and move (although you do need to apply for a residence permit after three months).

Self-employed people can apply for a residence permit without needing to have a job in Finland. If you’re planning to move to Finland to work for a Finnish employer, though, you need to already have found work when you lodge your application. It’s not impossible to find a job in Finland but it can be hard since most places do require you to speak fluent Finnish (yikes!)

finland-winter
I bet you didn’t know that Finnish sunsets are epic | Source: kostiolavi (Pixabay)

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that Finland is not really popular with digital nomads. With the weather and high prices it’s pretty much the opposite of what most digital nomads are looking for, and there are not a lot of nomad-friendly cafés.

However, if you want to give it a go, you’ll find that the wifi is excellent almost everywhere, and English is widely spoken – in 2016, Helsinki’s population was about 12% foreigners. Besides, with the corona pandemic a lot of Finns have had their jobs go online, so in the next few years remote working might become more popular even in Finland.

It’s not hard to find free wifi in Finland but if you want to buy a SIM card, most (non-prepaid) phone plans come with unlimited data.

Make Money Online whilst Backpacking Finland

will laptopKeen to live the digital nomad dream while traveling the world? Who the hell doesn’t?

Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income on the road. Depending on your qualifications, you can work remotely from your laptop and make a positive impact on the world! It’s a win-win!

Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.

What to Eat in Finland

When people ask me what Finns eat, I’m often at loss for words. There isn’t one staple cuisine that defines the whole country, nor one ingredient that would be most popular. Instead, in Finland food is all about freshness, local produce and simplicity.

There’s a running joke that Finns only know two spices: salt and pepper. While there might be some truth to it, it doesn’t make Finnish home-cooking any less delicious: a Finnish plate is a balanced mixture of greens, potatoes and meat or fish. (No fear, vegans – Finland has a staggering amount of options for special diets.) Favouring domestic and organic produce have long been important values in the Finnish food industry.

shutterstock-finland-food
Sautéed reindeer, lingonberries and potatoes… Doesn’t get much more Finnish than this.
| Source: fujilovers (Shutterstock)

In addition to hearty, homely food, Scandinavian-style fine dining has started to gain more popularity especially in Helsinki.

Hunting is a pretty popular sport so meat from game animals is not a rare sight at the dinner table, although you’d rarely find elk stew or rabbit soup in restaurants. Reindeer is a true delicacy and definitely worth a try!

Oh, and you simply cannot visit Finland without indulging in the sweets. Finns are a population with a serious sweet tooth that doesn’t just end with the famous salty licorice: any Finnish supermarket has a packed aisle full of dozens of different varieties of sweets, bubble gums, chocolates, fudges, and hard candies.

Stock up on Fazer chocolate – I might be biased, but it might just be the best chocolate in the world.

The Best Food in Finland

  • Karelian pie – rice porridge in a rye bread crust, usually eaten with egg butter
  • Rye bread – delicious dark bread that Finland does better than any other country
  • Kalakukko – a baked rye bread filled with traditionally with fish and bacon, originating from the Savo region
  • Vispipuuro – whipped lingonberry porridge is a dessert usually served with milk and sugar
  • Karelian stew –filling meat stew
  • Reindeer – self-explanatory – it’s delicious
  • Bread cheese – soft, squeaky cheese best enjoyed with some cloudberry jam
  • Pea soup – Usually eaten with lingonberry sauce and with oven-baked pancakes for dessert
  • Fried vendace – the tastiest treat to pick up from a food market (look out for the text “muikut”)
  • Salty liquorice – a real opinion divider that Finns love and travellers hate
  • Christmas tart – “joulutorttu” is a yummy star-shaped Christmas pastry with plum jam filling

Finnish Culture

You might know the stereotype: Finns are tough, extremely introverted people who never talk to anyone. While it would be easy to judge Finns as closed-off and hostile, this is not true: the people of the land of snow and ice are friendly, open-minded and hospitable – although you might have to give them a couple of beers first to warm them up.

Or maybe a cup of coffee? Finns drink a crazy amount of coffee: at 5-8 cups on average every day, they’re the biggest coffee consumers in the world.

They say that it’s hard to get to know a Finn at a surface level but once you do get to know them better, you’ll have a friend for life.

Some of the disconnect might come from the sense of humour. Finnish jokes are often dark, wry, self-deprecating and extremely sarcastic. If you’re wondering if a Finn is being serious, they might not know the answer themselves.

No people to talk to.. Nature around… Perfection.

Finland is like the ultimate socialist utopia: affordable healthcare, a functioning social welfare system and education that’s not only free but students actually get paid to study in higher levels. Education is a highly respected value, as are the appreciation for nature and the love for the country itself.

Finns are mostly welcoming towards tourists. In fact, many Finns get really excited that anyone would want to visit their little country, so they’re very willing to introduce you to the fineries of the Finnish culture. If you’re a foreigner in Finland, you will definitely catch this iconic phrase: ‘In Finland we have this thing called…’

And if you’re having trouble figuring out what to talk about, just talk about weather.

Speaking Finnish – Useful Travel Phrases

Here’s my top tip if you want to learn Finnish: reconsider.

Finnish is often ranked as one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. Consider this: English has one grammatical case, Finnish has 16. And despite being a part of the Fenno-Ugric language group, it’s very different to the languages it’s related to and in fact unlike any other language in the world – only Estonian somewhat resembles the Finnish jumble.

Lucky you that Finns generally speak really good English. If you want to impress your new Finnish friends, a well-placed perkele will earn you some brownie points.

Here are some phrases that might or might not help you during your trip.

Kiitos – Thank you/Please (as in, Will you pass me that beer, please?)

Hei/Moi – Hello

Mitä kuuluu? – How are you?

Apua! – Help!

Olut/kalja – Beer

Kahvi – Coffee

Sisu – tenacity, persistence, determination (used to describe the Finnish character)

Joulupukki – Santa Claus

Mökki – summer cottage

Perkele – damn, hell (the most iconic Finnish swear word!)

Kalsarikännit – getting drunk in your underwear alone at home without any intention of going out later

Books to Read About Finland

  • How to Marry a Finnish GirlAmerican Phil Schwarzmann’s book is not only a humorous half-memoir about how he met his Finnish wife but also a look at some of the Finnish stereotypes and oddities that often baffle foreigners.
  • Unknown SoldiersVäinö Linna’s book is the most important Finnish historical novel. It takes place during the Winter War when Finland was up in arms against Russia. Its vivacious, region-specific language might be lost on a foreign reader but its colorful characters make this an interesting read even for modern audiences.
  • The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna is a master of the dry, dark Finnish humour, and it’s clearly visible in this book whose plotline takes a journalist and an injured rabbit on a whirlwind trip all over Finland.
  • The Summer Book – One of the most translated Finnish novels tells the story of a little girl, her father and her grandmother spending their summer on a sleepy island in the Gulf of Finland. The author Tove Jansson is also well known as the creator of the beloved Moomin characters.
  • Finnish Nightmares – This web comic quickly went viral and has now also been turned into physical books. The short comic strips depict Finnish people in various (social) predicaments like having to leave your apartment when there’s a neighbour in the hallway or having to sit next to a stranger on the bus.
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A Brief History of Finland

Finland is a small country marked by its continuous resistance to foreign influences against all odds. In any other country, being this proud of your nation might be a red flag, but if this pride is deserved anywhere, it’s Finland.

The Swedish monarchy reigned over Finland for over 1,000 years. In 1808, Finland was lost to Russia in war in which it became an autonomous part of the empire. When many other countries in Europe started to break free at the end of World War I, Finland also gained their independence in 1917.

During World War II, Finland was once again in cahoots with Russia. This period is incredibly remarkable in the Finnish history and still has an effect on the national character to this day. Mostly untrained guerrilla soldiers fought the Russian army in the three-month war known as Winter War, and it was seen as a fight to keep the independence.

Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their snow shoes… |Source: Ekaterina Kondratova (Shutterstock)

The war ended in a treaty that many Finns consider a victory; in reality, Finland lost huge areas of land to Russia and had to give them military bases in the country. During the war, Finns had been allied with Germans as many of the untrained soldiers had received training in Germany. After fighting with Russia ceased, the problem was how to get the German soldiers out of Lapland. Cue more fighting. The troops finally left but burned everything in their wake.

These days, Finland is the world leader in many statistics: in overall happiness, freedom of press and speech, quality of life, education, gender equality and safety. While relationships with Russia are still somewhat strained, Finland has got pretty good at doing its own thing and thriving at it.

Final Advice Before Visiting Finland

So you’ve made it to the end of the post – you could almost say that you have now Finnished reading this backpacking guide.

Finland is quirky, pretty, safely adventurous, and surprisingly off the beaten path, and the rest of the world can learn a lot from this little land that The World Happiness Report 2020 has ranked as THE happiest country in the world for the third year in a row.

Free education, affordable health care and providing social welfare for all citizens have always been important values in Finland. We regular backpackers are in an incredibly lucky position to be able to travel and see the world as freely as we do, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

winter-finland
Source: edvawa (Pixabay)

The Finnish system might seem like a utopia for many other countries but it’s not impossible to achieve – and the willingness to take care of your fellow humans is definitely something you can take with you on your travels.

Finland is also one of the greenest countries in the world, both with its nature and its efforts to be sustainable. Instead of beer bottle labels, postcards and fridge magnets, the Finnish fervour to recycle everything is a great souvenir to take back home.

Armed with this knowledge, enjoy your trip to Finland, make some great memories, and go easy on the Finnish vodka to make sure you get to keep those memories.

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