Seeing as I’m going on holiday to my home country Finland today (yay!) I thought it would be fun to put together a little list of things you can expect to experience if you travel there.
Disclaimer: I’m from the capital so my views and experiences will reflect that, but I will try my best to be objective!
The long days in the summer and the short ones in the winter seem to be one of the biggest talking points when I mention where I’m from. In the summer the sun only sets for about five hours during the night in Helsinki (during midsummer the sky doesn’t really go fully black at all) and in Lapland it doesn’t set at all during the longest days of the year.
As you probably guessed, during winter it’s the opposite. If you’re like me, you’re going to need a lot of candles and other forms of light to fight it – dark days make me feel so tired and lethargic! It’s not much better here in the U.K. but those few extra hours of light we get here really makes a difference for me.
So, depending on what you want to experience, make sure to plan your holiday on the right side of the year!
Finnish is such a strange and difficult language. It’s not a part of the indo-European language group that most other European countries belong to, but instead has its own little language group with Estonia, Hungary and lots of other little languages living within (or near) the borders of these countries. This can feel intimidating for a traveller as there’s really no reference point to connect it to other languages. But don’t despair – most Finnish people (especially in customer service positions) speak pretty fluent English so you can always ask for guidance.
Something you might have not known either is that Finland actually has two official languages: the other one being Swedish. That said, not all people, even the ones in customer service positions, speak it (myself included) as even though it’s compulsory to learn it in school, it’s easily forgotten if you don’t use it. However, all street names and other official signs are always written in both languages – I thought that might be worth a mention as it might be pretty confusing other wise!
Finnish design is world renowned, and its worth checking out brands like Marimekko for quirky and colourful patterns, Iittala for beautiful crockery and glassware and Arabia for pretty tableware and those famous Moomin mugs. All of these companies also do so much more than the things I mentioned, so their shops and websites are well worth a rummage through. If you’re in Helsinki, make sure to check the Design District for lots of smaller independent shops too.
Another cultural thing Finland is well known is, of course, the Moomins. There’s lots of shops selling Moomin memorabilia (even a few shops dedicated just for them) and there’s also a Moominworld in Naantali, on the southwest coast. I went as a child and as far as I can remember, it was pretty magical…
I’m not sure if you realised, but geographically, Finland is pretty massive. It’s the 8th largest country in Europe and also the most sparsely populated country in the whole of the European Union with a population of only about 5 and a half million. This, of course, means that there’s a lot of space. Helsinki, being the capital, of course feels like a big-ish city, but even then, compared to cities like London or New York, it can often be really quiet too. There’s lots of places to escape to as well – you’ve got a lot islands you can take a short ferry ride to (or in some cases, just cross a bridge) and there’s a few forests and beaches around different parts of the city too.
If you want to escape even further, there’s lots to choose from. In the summer you can’t go wrong with renting a cottage by a lake (Finland has about 188 000 lakes!) and spending a few days swimming, going to the sauna and having BBQs. In the winter, if you’re into winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding, there’s lots of resorts all around Finland with amazing snowy hills and cosy cabins to stay in.
Finland might not have as famous a cuisine as the Italians or the Spanish, but we do have a few things we hold dear: fresh, local produce (especially all the berries in the summer – yum!), salty liquorice (yes, it’s a thing and it’s amazing – I dare you to try it) and my favourite – Karelian pies, which are little rice pies in a thin rye pastry. You’re meant to eat them with eggbutter (literally boiled egg and butter mixed together) so if you see them in a cafe, make sure to try them out – it’s a fantastic combination! They’re nice on their own too, and a great snack on the road if you’re going travelling.
There’s a few ‘Finnish’ restaurants in Helsinki, but I couldn’t recommend any of them as you can probably imagine that whilst living in Finland, I never had the need to go to a “Finnish” restaurant. But I have heard that some of them are very good, so with a bit of googling I’m sure you can find the right one for you. I imagine you can expect to find lots of Finnish meats (i.e. reindeer), potatoes and local greens on the menu. But let me know if you do go!
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