Skiing and saunas, sleigh rides under the Northern Lights through forests softened by snow – no wonder winter in Finland is a season to celebrate and perhaps the reason Santa chose to make his home here. Most travellers set forth to make the most of the sparkling snowy months, but summer in this part of Scandinavia is sensational too.
A beloved winter destination
The typical vision of Finland sees it swathed in snow, and there’s no denying that winter is fabulous here, not just for the scenery, but for the multitude of fabulous forging forth activities, from skiing to snowmobiling to ice-diving to saunas before icy plunges into spectacular lakes. Winter has snowy treats in abundance, not least cosy nights under glass igloos watching what the Finns call the ‘fires of the fox’ or the Northern Lights shimmering under the skies.
Why you should visit Finland in summer
Despite sitting so far north, Finland is more temperate than expected, thanks to the warming Gulf Stream along the coast and all those lakes. It never gets hot-hot-hot, but a Finnish summer is fantastic – the sun never sets, the landscape bursts into colour (this is slightly bettered in autumn, with reds and russets turning those forests into an arboreal bonfire) and swimming in clear waters an almost spiritual, always invigorating experience.
In the summer, you'll sink into long, almost endless days where the sun doesn’t set, a peaceful yet resolutely party atmosphere takes over and Finnish fun goes on and on. When nights are almost as light as day, there’s twice as much time for fun, in a warm bright light, sort of sunset, sort of sunrise, always there in summertime, soft and gold. This is when festivals unleash a high feel-good factor, rock, jazz, folk, chamber music, opera… all wave out and resonate over the gorgeous coastal islands, the watchful wakeful forests, the myriad lakes.
And here, the lakes really are myriad. There are close to 200,000 of them, more lakes than any other country in the world, all shining pristine in the summer sunshine for swimming, all mirror-iced in the winter for skating. The largest of them all is Saimaa, a vast glittering watery expanse laced with forests and dotted with the sweetest of small villages and a town or two too, perfect for cruising or strolling through and for island-hopping.
Olavinlinna fortress, Savonlinna
Savonlinna, sprawling over three islands, is delightful, something of a Scandinavian Venice, and fittingly, one of its islands has a medieval castle that hosts an opera festival each summer – a glorious setting for glorious sounds. The forests around the lake, like so many in Finland, are fabulous foraging ground for berries and fresh ingredients, in part the inspiration behind so many of the restaurants that have become destinations in their own right, inventive in their approach, tempting all year round. Try our summer holiday to Finnish Lakeland to envelop yourself in this country idyll.
Along the long border with Russia are other exceptional draws – this is as wild as Europe gets, remote, rather beautiful and home to lynx, wolves and bears – all of which can be spotted on our back-to-nature wildlife-watching holiday. In total and perfect contrast, Helsinki is culturally streets ahead of many in cities in Europe, all cutting-edge design shops, fabulous architecture, intriguing museums, convivial cafes, a perfect city break destination throughout the year.
Finland is something of a secret, so far north and unspoilt, but bursting with culture, from the ways of the Sami and the city streets, the extreme wilderness and endless summer light to winter bright. It really is a land for all seasons, as described in the Finland-inspired Comet in Moominland: ‘He thought about the sea, the rain, the wind, the sunshine, the grass and the moss… and how it would be impossible to live without them.’