From the snow-blanketed fells to the magical Northern Lights to the Santa grottos, it is no surprise that Finland boasts a reputation for being a winter wonderland. With charming scenery and even better activities like dog sledding, snowmobiling, and Arctic swimming, visiting Finland in the festive season is a no-brainer.
However, seeing as it’s over three times the size of South Korea, settling on which places to visit can be a bit challenging. Fear not, we’ve curated this list with all of the best Finnish winter getaway spots to help you the most out of your visit.
We’ll cover everything from the untouched wilderness, to cosmopolitan cities with endless charm. After all, if you’re like us, you’ll want your Scandinavian winter escape to be as unforgettable as possible, and with all that Finland has to offer, it won’t be hard. Let’s get into it.
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Kicking off our list, we have the bustling capital city of Helsinki, undoubtedly one of the most popular to visit in Finland. From the gorgeous UNESCO-inscribed Suomenlinna fortress to the colorful craft stalls of Market Square, this city offers a host of unique experiences, even better experienced during the frosty magic of winter.
The renowned sea fortress is a great place to start. You’ll find everything from bunkers, to fortress walls, picturesque nature trails, and a WWII-era submarine to explore. The saunas dotted all over the city are also a great place to be when temperatures drop, but you could push the boat out and do anything from taking a helicopter ride over the frozen city, to feeding reindeer at Sea & Mountain Adventures.
Another magical activity is to ice skate at Helsinki Ice park, which operates from December until March and is set up in the heart of the capital opposite the Ateneum Museum. Skates, helmets, and sleds are easy to rent, and you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and festive snacks after the Ice Park cafe, boasting panoramic amazing city views of the twinkling Christmas lights.
If you want a taste of the traditional culture, consider taking a visit to the Senate Square, which houses some of Helsinki’s most recognizable monuments, and makes up the oldest part of central Helsinki.
There are also many walking tours in Helsinki, as long as you’ve bought the appropriate covering some of the most memorable sights from the white facade of Helsinki Cathedral to the Government Palace. Don’t forget to savor the Finnish culinary scene in one of several exceptional restaurants surrounding the square for some unbeatable comfort food.
Besides boasting a slew of mid-century architecture dating back to the Second World War, Rovaniemi is a place for Santa-themed experiences, being the official hometown of Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Pick up stamps from the Santa Claus Post Office and even visit a Santa-themed underground amusement park, you can’t get much more festive than that.
Still, there’s a wide selection of other activities to choose from if you aren’t quite feeling the Christmas spirit. An increasingly popular activity with tourists during the winter months is ice fishing, which involves drilling a hole into a frozen lake or river, and then using specialized fishing equipment to catch fish.
Other attractions in Rovaniemi include the artsy Korundi House of Culture, and the immersive Pilke Science Center, where you can learn about the impact our actions have on nature. We recommended booking a husky sled for a snowy adventure while you’re there too and you could even undertake a Northern Lights safari.
Most safari companies offer these tours seasonally from September to April. Another option is staying at an Arctic Snow Igloo, where you can sleep underneath the stars in your glass-roofed cottage and potentially spot the Northern Lights from your bed.
At the northern end of the Gulf of Bothnia, you’ll find Kemi, frequently described as the pearl of Finland’s northernmost region and home to the world’s biggest snow castle. Located less than a mile away from downtown Kemi, this icy treat is constructed entirely from ice and snow and offers year-round tours through its snowy halls. It’s home to a first-rate restaurant, and lodge as well, should you want to make the castle a bigger part of your trip.
Seeing as Kemi is located close to the Arctic Circle, it’s also a gateway to one of the last great, untouched wildernesses of Europe. You won’t find any shortage of luxury accommodation, historic buildings, or magnificent landscapes to explore here. As a bonus, it’s easy to get around, since there are many options for public transport, taxis, and private car rentals, despite the remote location.
Don’t miss out on Kemi’s incredible four-hour arctic icebreaker boat cruise that travels in search of breathtaking icebergs. You’ll be supplied with a bright red thermal suit that allows you to bathe in the freezing water, and have the incredible experience of floating with blocks of ice. You could even undertake a snowmobile safari over unbroken ice.
Strangely often compared to Chicago, Lahti has a history as a major hub wood and meat hub, much like the US city. It’s a vibrant industrial mecca with over 100,000 inhabitants, but that hasn’t stopped Lahti from winning the prestigious European Green Capital Award in 2021 and it is a great winter destination.
There’s really no shortage of things to do or see, and just 20-minutes from the city center, you’ll find incredible ski resorts and sports stadiums, with dense forest offering recreational trails. The city also hosts several skiing competitions a year and exploring Lahti’s well-regarded berry wine scene, luxurious resorts, and captivating sculpture parks, come highly recommended too.
In recent years, the city has given way to a thriving coffee and culinary scene as well, but there’s a host of gorgeous national parks to explore too, and many offer scenic boat cruises. You’ll find a variety of first-rate restaurants and cafés scattered along the harbor, but its highlight has to be the architecturally impressive, Sibelius Hall, which frequently hosts concerts, and cultural events.
If you want to get closer to nature while you are here, the Päijänne National Park on Kelvenne island is one of the best places to visit, and a firm favorite among locals for hiking, skating, and cross-country skiing on activities on frozen lakes.
Located over 600 miles away from the electric Helsinki, Saariselka is a quaint village in the heart of the Finnish Lapland. Nestled in a valley with no shortage of esteemed hotels or luxury holiday cottages, it’s also one the best places to experience the great Finnish outdoors.
You’ll find a wealth of outdoor activities to keep you occupied, including snowmobiling, ice fishing, husky sledding, snowshoeing, and even Northern Light safaris. Typically, the staff at the hotels and lodges are more than happy to arrange these activities for you directly. Tobogganing is another increasingly popular activity here, which involves sliding down snow-covered slopes and on a runner-less sled called a toboggan. The charming Kaunispää hill is a great place to try it and slide down a perfectly groomed trail that will bring back your youth.
You should also pay a visit to Inari, situated a little further north. It’s sparsely populated, and a hub of the vibrant Sámi culture, which is known for its unique fishing technique, as well as sheep and reindeer crafts and herding skills. One of the best places to learn about their culture is in Siida, which houses the Sámi Museum and the Northern Lapland Nature Centre.
While most tourists understandably hone in on Helsinki, they often miss out on the gorgeous landscapes and unforgettable cities of places like Tampere in the process. Offering a completely different experience to the capital, one of the best things about Tampere is its compact layout, meaning you don’t have to travel far to enjoy all its attractions.
Tamper is located in southern Finland and is actually the most populous inland city of all the Nordic countries. The city definitely isn’t the only draw to this area either. The surrounding regions and gorgeous countryside are well worth exploring too, especially in the snow.
Tampere sits between Lake Pyhäjärvi and Lake Näsijärvi Lake. During winter when the Tammerkoski rapids freeze over, Tampere is an excellent location to enjoy cross-country skiing or ice fishing. There are also plenty of Lakeside saunas you could relax in to escape the winter chill.
Another must-visit attraction is the Näsinneula Observation Tower, the highest tower in the Nordic region standing at 560 feet tall. The tower serves as the unofficial symbol of the city. Besides the jawdropping panoramic views from the top, you’ll also find a revolving restaurant with highly rated food, a planetarium, an aquarium, and even an art museum on site.
If it’s a secluded retreat you’re after, look no further than Salla, the family-friendly, ecological travel destination in remote Finland. This breathtaking spot sits in the east of the country, close to the Russian border, and about 90 percent of it is uninhabited, which means a unique outdoor experience is guaranteed.
It’s one of the oldest skiing hotspots in the world, and the oldest ski in existence was reportedly discovered here. Salla Ski Resort in Sallatunturi is one of the most popular places to do this, despite its isolation, and it boasts around 15 slopes and 6 ski lifts.
It’s a brilliant location for winter hiking as well, with the pastel-streaked skies and invigorating snowscapes making it particularly memorable. The Iso-Pyhätunturi trail offers an especially meditative experience, where you’ll have the opportunity to meander through forest vegetation, and rock-strewn heights. Wildlife is plentiful, and you might even catch a glimpse of a snow-white mountain hare, pale willow grouse, the capercaillie, or the elusive elk.
You could also visit the Salla Museum of War and Reconstruction, where you can learn about the region’s fascinating history from the beginning of the 1900s to the 1960s. It’s also a great place to learn about how the people in the remote part of Finland live, like their cultural practices and foraging methods. As a bonus, you’ll find plenty of local herbs, canned foods, herbal salts, and ointments made from local ingredients at their museum shop as well.
When is the best time to visit Tampere?
The peak tourist season in Tampere runs from May to September when temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit and summer flora are in full bloom. However, this is the busiest and most expensive time to visit, and the winter in Tampere is equally beautiful. Temperatures dip below freezing and snow covers the ground. Better yet, it is more peaceful and you can usually find better deals on accommodation.
What is Salla known for?
The remote region of Salla is known for being an ecological travel destination, nestled in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Lapland. Clean air, snow-covered landscapes, and pure nature are all synonymous with this region, but Salla is also known for being where the oldest ski was discovered, dating back 5,000 years. You can still ski here and Salla is surprisingly accessible despite its location.
Is Helsinki safe?
With low crime rates, an efficient police force, a stable government, and law-abiding citizens, Helsinki is one of the world’s most peaceful capital cities. It is also one of the happiest places on earth and Finland, on the whole, is very low risk in terms of human danger. Blizzards and extreme weather are your biggest concern in the north, but Helsinki faces little threat from natural disasters.