Our roadtrip in Finland
Finland, this Scandinavian country seems far and wild. Indeed, in autumn, conditions are harsh, it’s cold and the weather is always changing. A lot of cloud, rain and snow, the snow tires are essential. But that didn’t stop us from discovering a part of this beautiful and huge country.
Our Finnish itinerary
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10 must do in Finland
1. Rent a Finnish cottage
The 1st year, the Finn built in sauna, the 2cd year, he built his home around it.
Finnish proverb that sounds totally true when you know that there is 1 sauna every 3 to 4 person in Finland!
Ok, for once, we are not talking about hiking through the woods, abseiling or whatever. No. This time it was cold and for Romain’s birthday I decided to offer him (us) a long weekend in a Finnish cottage, an institution in the country.
Super typical (although sometimes very modern), almost all Finns have in addition to their home, a holiday cottage that they rent the rest of the year. Red color wood, near a lake, sauna (even 2 saunas in our cottage, an electric in the house and a traditional wood fire near the lake). Lake on which we could fish thanks to a small boat provided for this purpose …
In brief, we love our van, Dandelion, but after 3 days here, watching the snowfall from the comfort on our sofa, we didn’t want to leave our Ala-Perkkiö cottage in Kajaani.
2. Spot the northern animals at the Ranua Zoo
Yes, the local fauna is wonderful and exotic too. Especially for us, little people from La Reunion, a tropical island! We had the chance to see some crazy animals in the wild, but hey it’s not comparable.
Arctic foxe, reindeer, elk, gray wolf, lynx, brown bear, otter … And even a polar bear mother playing giant ball with her baby ...
In short, we took a good big slap of soft hairs and we just wanted to go make them big hugs …. Who loves me follow me, or not! At Ranua Zoo, 1 hour from Rovaniemi.
3. Cross the Arctic Circle at the Santa Claus Village
With or without children, once in Rovaniemi, it’s hard not to go to the Santa Claus Village in Napapijri, Santa’s real village.
First, we cross the great imaginary border that delimits the entrance to the Arctic Circle. And yes, that’s it, we are getting closer to the North Pole … and the change of temperature is real (even in mid-October). Even if we had pretty worse weather later.
Entering the village is free, even visiting Santa’s crazy workshop. The rest is not (take a picture with him, memories, activities is charged, and not cheap …). We loved Santa’s post office and its thousands of letters from around the world. Plus, we can send letters from “Santa Claus”, stamped by the official office and send them either as soon as possible, or for the Christmas period. We made some shipments and got some nice smiles as a reward!
4. Hunt the Northern Lights
Of course, when we think of Scandinavia, we also think of Lapland and aurora borealis. A wonderful natural show that we dreamed of having the chance to observe. Yellow, green, violet or blue waves dancing in the sky. 5 minutes or the all night … in short a moment of pure emotion that we could see after more than 1 week staring at the sky!
To learn more about the Northern Lights and what you need to know to increase your chances of observing them, do not hesitate to read our article about Northern Lights Hunting in Lapland.
5. Walk in Helsinki, the Finnish capital
We had parked our van close to the nice Hietaranta beach just west of Helsinki. A small free parking a 35-minute walk from Senate Square. Like Stockholm, Helsinki is a city where water is everywhere and you can discover several small islands around the city center.
Near the historic center, we liked the Temppeliaukion kirkko (above). A round church built inside a stone dune. An original way to start the discovery of Helsinki. A little further north is the Finlandia house, a concert hall designed by Alvar Aalto, a renowned Finnish architect. That’s not our favorite about him, but if you go around…
Heading towards the historic center, you will surely pass in front of Helsinki Station and its large statues. And once at the famous Senate Square, the center of the heart of Helsinki, you can’t miss the Tuomiokirkko (bellow), a beautiful Neo-Classical Lutheran cathedral.
A little further, discover the Kauppatori Market Square and the docks where many ferries leave. And discover local products in the Kauppahalli indoor market. Forbidden to the animals, we had to visit it in turn and except the building itself, we did not have a particular crush.
On our way to Katajanokka Island and Uspenskin Orthodox Cathedral (Russian-style onion roof), we left our engraved padlock on the Rakkauden Silta, the Helsinki’s bridge of love, which crosses the Vantaa River. A little memory of our passage in Finland!
15 minutes from the center by ferry, the Suomenlinna island (impressive view from above) includes a fortress, many museums, a submarine vestige of the Second World War … On sunny days it must be super nice to visit and to get a picnic, it’s a little less festive in November!
On top of that, there are of course a plethora of museums, art galleries, design and shops in Helsinki! And saunas of course, like the famous traditional Kotiharjun sauna further north. But as we tried several before the capital, we preferred spending our time walking into Helsinki’s streets.
6. Succumb for a Marttiini knife
Usually, we do not talk much about shopping and this is simply because we do not go shopping often. But here we had a nice crush. Reading things about Rovaniemi, we saw that there was the best Finnish cutler in town. Something turned on in Romain’s little heart.
So we went to this famous shop and indeed, it makes you want to buy the whole knives’ store. Hunting, fishing, traditional Finnish knives. They are beautiful, well worked, honed … we left with a traditional knife for Romain and gifts for the family. And all this with a little word engraved on the blade.
7. Walk to the Hepokongas waterfall
Finally, a bit of nature … and yet this is not what is missing in Finland. There is plenty to do. But being in an intermediate season, we went less outside for walks, hikes than in other countries.
However, here is a walk that we loved, close to the Hepokongas waterfall. The largest in the country of its 27 meters, yes OK it is a little ironic. This waterfall is nevertheless very pretty and the corner very pleasant to walk or even bivouac.
There has been recent construction in wood, shelters to put your sleeping bag and even a BBQ, wood storage area … A small walk leads in front of the waterfall and another one, longer, runs along the river and returns to the parking by small logs in the savannah.
8. Discover the Arctic Pole at the Arktikum
You want to become an expert about North Pole, its history, animals, traditions, population … There is everything you want to know at the Arktikum museum in Rovaniemi. In our opinion it takes at least 3 hours to visit.
The museum is divided into 2 parts, on the left is the history of Lapland in general. And on the right, the evolution of the way of life of the northern populations (Sami). The patio is very pretty and ended with a large corridor under a greenhouse overlooking a lake. A “must” for photography lovers.
Small damper, the museum is ageing and many animations no longer work (broken buttons etc …). So some parts looks a little cheap while the museum is really interesting.
9. Alvar Aalto, the finnish architecture
On the way to Helsinki, we stop at Jyväskylä, the home of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Personally, we don’t like everything we did, but we liked the spirit of Mr. Aalto. Indeed, architect but also designer and urban planner, he is nicknamed the “founding father of organic architecture“.
He likes curves, soft shapes and materials close to nature, like wood and brick. And try to integrate its buildings in their environment to renew the link between man and nature.
Some of his creations are considered as the new design of the Nordic countries. And it’s true that in many Scandinavian shops, there are objects that look like the Savoy vase or the Paimio chair.
10. Moomins are among us!
Do you remember the Moomins’ cartoon? Weird hippos hanging out with a scary little girl and a robin who plays pipo … well, it’s Finnish. Classy! I thought this cartoon passed to oblivion for a long time, and not at all. Not in the heart, the cities, the decor, the dishes … Finnish.
Indeed, you will see everywhere, restaurants, school bags, clothes. There is even a park dedicated to these small animals full of love and existential problems.
In short, if you are nostalgic or a former fan frustrated by the disappearance of the Moomins in your country, do not hesitate and run in Finland in search of lost Moomins.
Some more outdoor…
Of course, Finland is also famous for its lakes region (lakes cover about 25% of the eastern part of the country). In the season we went there (October-November), we made other choices, but this region must be superb in summer.
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