So, you’ve got one week in Finland? Great. Get ready to explore one of the true jewels of Scandinavia. Rolling from the cold Baltic Sea in the south to the snow-plumed trees of Lapland up north, this country is a whirlwind of culture, history, thrill-seeking adventures, foodie enjoyments, and more…
Our 7-day guide will take deal with the highlights of Finland one by one. First, you’ll delve into the design-mad capital of Helsinki, to see 1800s palaces and taste roastery coffee in cool cafes. Then, you’ll move onto the wooded Finnish lakes, the wild Baltic coast, and – eventually – to the shiver-inducing deep north.
In just one week in Finland, you can look forward to all manner of bucket-list-experiences. On this trip, you’ll get a chance to meet a certain Santa Claus in the Arctic, spot the Northern Lights dancing on the sky, and sample a traditional Scandinavian sauna. And that’s just scratching the surface…
Day 1: Arrive in Helsinki and explore
There are a few main ports of entry to Finland but Helsinki is the most popular. It could be more expensive to fly into than other airports in smaller Finnish towns, but it is the best connected and starting your Finnish adventure in the capital is certainly the best idea. Alternatively, you could do this guide in reverse and finish in Helsinki (this one week in Finland itinerary works both ways).
Finnair, British Airways, EasyJet, and a host of other airlines fly into HEL airport. Once you have arrived, it is easy to catch public transport into the city center to check into your accommodation. Most of the action is concentrated in the commercial downtown of the city, which is located just east of Mannerheimintie, south of Pikasilta, and west of Unionkatu. That said, any of these neighborhoods are great places to stay.
(We can recommend staying at the Solo Sokos Hotel Helsinki ($$-$$$), a super-central stay with real style and noir, NYC-esque rooms, or the Bob W City Centre ($$-$$$), a spacious and more personal aparthotel that even has units with their very own sauna!).
You’ll be dedicating the whole of your first day to getting to know this open-air, fashionable, and friendly city at a slower pace. Helsinki comes alive with outdoor cafes in the summer and it is very walkable. The coffee culture is also super-important, so why not begin at one of the hip roasteries that pepper the town? Our favorite is the Deja Brew on Annankatu. Closer to the center is Cafe Succes, which also serves famous Finnish cinnamon rolls known as korvapuusti.
Caffeine ingested? Good. Now it’s time for the Senaatintori Square. A symphony of Neoclassical design, it’s the beating heart of the Finnish capital. Helsinki Cathedral looms large right above it. The bright facade and blue domes of that Lutheran church have helped earned Helsinki the name of The White City of the North. It was built between 1830-1850, to honor the then-Duke of Finland Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Behind, you’ll find the grand House of the Estates (the former Finnish Parliament building) and the large central docks.
Later on, you’ll be hitting the pumping Esplanadi district. It’s the most vibrant quarter of the town, coming replete with hipster drinking holes, music bars, and cocktail speakeasies. Those with cash to splash might want to sample the latest in Finnish New Nordic cooking at the exquisite Restaurant Savoy. We also love the more affordable Ravintola Emo that’s just down the street.
Day 2: Museums, culture, and culinary scene (still in Helsinki)
There’s plenty more to see in Helsinki, so kick-start your first full day in Finland by exploring the museum scene in the capital. Enjoy the frescoes of the Kalevala in the National Museum. Or hit the Kiasma Gallery and Amos Rex for contemporary art and strange futuristic exhibitions. Don’t forget the Designmuseo too. Located in Kaartinkaupunki, it celebrates the Finnish penchant for all things design. Inside are collections that showcase clothing, prints, and even furniture,
Next stop: Suomenlinna. Built over eight islands, around four kilometers southeast of the center, Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The landmark is a monument of military history and architecture, and a must-see in Helsinki. It takes about 15 minutes to get there on the public ferry. They leave all the time from morning until night.
The grounds of Suomenlinna comprise an extensive nature area that’s totally enclosed by centuries-old defensive walls. There are also plenty of walking trails, spanning two kilometers from the King’s Gate drawbridge to the Suomenlinna Museum. Be sure to check out the restored Submarine Vesikko, a 1930s vessel deployed in the Second World War and one of the most popular attractions on site.
Suomenlinna is even home to a brewery and several waterfront restaurants, so you can enjoy a relaxing mug of local beer and a light lunch. Then, it’s time to head back to the city. Your aim is the legendary Temppeliaukio Church (also known as the Rock Church). It’s the Töölö area of town and is famed for its cutting-edge architecture – the whole thing is carved straight into a plinth of granite! After that, get over to the Chapel of Silence, another of the city’s striking religious buildings. Finish off with a stroll down Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki’s main shopping street
For the evening, the upcoming Kallio neighborhood awaits. It’s Helsinki’s hipster center and has some edgy bars and art cafes. Alternatively, you can follow the food and get down to trendy Punavourit district. That’s home to Skiffer, which serves up traditional Finnish favorites and craft drinks.
Day 3: Finnish Lakeland
You can’t run your finger across a map of Finland without brushing like a billion lakes. Okay, maybe not a billion, but the country is home to a staggering 188,000 bodies of water. They all offer something different, too. Some are good for beaches and sunbathing, others for sledding and ice fishing.
The good news is that many of the lakes are easy to access on Finland’s efficient and cost-effective cross-country trains. They serve the so-called Finnish Lakeland from the capital in just a few hours. However, we would recommend getting your own wheels for this part of the journey. Not only will that mean you’ll be able to travel out to any like that stokes your wanderlust, but the drive in itself is also sure to be a gorgeous one! Plus, you’re going to need to drive even further north in the coming days, so why not hire right away?
Reachable in four hours by train or car from the capital, Savonlinna is a stepping stone between islands and is punctuated with great lakes like Saimaa, Mikkeli, and Vuokalanjarvi. The village is right in the center of Europe’s largest lake district and is home to a 15-century castle (stick around for the July opera festival if you happen to be in town in the early summer).
Alternatively, you could head slightly further north to Kuopio. Summer still boasts some pleasant temperatures and blissful sunshine. It trickles through the spruce forests onto wooded trails and hidden swimming spots. The world’s biggest wood-smoke sauna is also located in Kuopio. It’s a must for anyone hitting this corner of Scandinavia and perfect for evening’s relaxation after a day on the lake.
Aim to spend your night in the city of Tampere. It’s a fun place that thrums with the energy of a big student population. It also has whitewater rapids ripping through the center of town – something you don’t see every day. Get down to the rejuvenated Koskipuisto Park area for the evening to share beers in the open-air cafes (weather permitting). Oh, and true fans will surely want to drop into the Moomin Museum. For hotels, we especially like the Kotimaailma Apartments Tampere ($$). They are clean, bright, and super-close to the center.
Day 4: Turku and the Turku Archipelago
No trip to Finland could possibly miss out on the second-city: Turku. The onetime capital of the country, it has a history that would make Helsinki blush. You’ll notice that right away, as the center of the town is a maze of winding cobbled streets fringed by crooked homes. There’s evidence to show that the spot was first inhabited in the Stone Age. But the venerable buildings seen today mostly date from the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries.
Before you begin, though: Coffee. Turku is famed for its student vibes and liberal leanings. There are cafes of all shapes and sizes to match that rep. Our all-time favorite has to be Bokachá, a bubble-tea outlet that does tasty chocolate cakes and all sorts of hot beverages. Then it’s onto a walking tour of the old core of the town, which should include all the following sights:
- Pharmacy Museum – A charming little red-painted house that contains a pharmacy museum with exhibits dating to 1700.
- Turun linna (Turku Castle) – This is the historic highlight of Turku. It was once the most important fortress in the country. Later, it became a palace. If you have time, there’s a great local museum inside.
- Forum Marinum – An historic shipyard with vintage sailing vessels on show.
- Turun Tuomiokirkko – The oldest basilica in Finland, and the only one dating from the Middle Ages, this redbrick church rises above Old Great Square. Notice the handsome Lutheran design and soaring main spire.
The old center of Turku is really just half the story here. There is a whole other side to this city, awaiting out in the fragmented isles of the Turku archipelago. That’s where you’ll head in the afternoon. We actually recommend a guided tour for that, since you can hop on a private boat and see loads more islands. What awaits is a world of salt-washed coves filled with seabirds and islets covered in beech forests.
Day 5: Lapland
There are few places in the world with a reputation like Lapland. The Arctic Region in Finland is something out of a frozen fantasy; somewhere you really have to see to believe – think fells that rise and fall from icy lakes and ice-blasted forests and tundra that roll away towards the Nort Pole.
After exploring Turku, you’re certainly best off flying direct to Rovaniemi. That’s the transport hub of the region and home to the largest airport in the Finnish Arctic. You can also reach by train from Helsinki if you have more time but expect it to be a long ride. That said, the cross-country rail network offers unbeatable scenery, and it’s not too expensive, either.
If you want to experience a true winter paradise with snow-covered polar nights, Lapland is best visited between late-November and mid-February. Then, opportunities for ice activities are at their peak and temperatures dive below zero, draping the Arctic north in a cloak of darkness. Still, summer brings its own unique beauty in the form of the Midnight Sun, when you can partake in wild salmon fishing in the fast-flowing rivers and enjoy great hiking in the national parks.
Lapland covers a third of Finland and there’s so much to see, but choose your base wisely. Rovaniemi is your best bet if you’re pressed for time and don’t want to be too remote, but there’s also Levi for skiing and nightlife.
Getting to Lapland is sure to be an adventure in itself, but your accommodation can be a real highlight when do arrive. Camp out under the Northern Lights in glass pods, rent an alpine lodge, or even spend the night in an ice hotel if you dare, Lapland is the place for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Here are just a few of the most amazing hotels in the region:
- Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos ($$$) – One of the most legendary experiences in the north of Finland, an ice hotel is made and remade every year. They do have year-round rooms, though, in the form of glass-dome igloos with stunning views of the Northern Lights if they happen to make an appearance.
- Hotel Levi Panorama & Levi Chalets ($$) – One for the skiers, Hotel Levi Panorama & Levi Chalets sits right at the base of the slopes in the resort of Levi.
- Korvala log cabins ($$) – Get away from it all with a stay in one of these pioneer-style wood lodges deep in the forests of the north.
Day 6 and 7: Snow adventures and Northern Lights
Two whole days in Lapland is the perfect way to end your trip to Finland. If you’re staying in Rovaniemi, be sure to get your dose of culture before adventuring into the snow. That means checking out the Arktikum, where visitors can traverse long glass-tunnel shelters exhibiting the remote Sámi culture and their crafts. You can also go and see Santa for free in his village home, a perfect Christmas excursion for families. Then, it’s onto the ice…
On the fringes of town you can do everything from husky sledding, snowmobiling, and reindeer-driven sleighing. For more wilderness, it doesn’t get much more remote than Utsjoki, at the furthest northern corner of the country. The village of Utsjoki is where the Sámi people of Finland reside, living in harmony with nature. A fifth of this region is covered in water and national parks, bordering Norway with ancient trails that cross the fells. Research well and never venture off into the wilderness without a guide. Luckily there are plenty of tours you can book in Utsjoki and even a number of different accommodation options despite the small, isolated population.
The Northern Lights are also an undoubted pull to Lapland and if you’re lucky, they might come out to play on your trip. The Aurora Borealis is unpredictable. Winter brings the best long nights and clear skies for viewing them, while in autumn and spring, you are more likely to experience more solar flares. Book a midnight husky sledding experience or hike out to Rovaniemi’s best viewing locations with your experienced Lapland guide to huddle under the stars with flasks of hot chocolate and wait for the displays to show.
One week in Finland – our conclusion
Your one week in Finland will have whisked you from the salty bays of the south coast around Turku, through the amazing cultural sights of Helsinki, through the amazing Finnish lake lands, and up north to the incredible region of Lapland. In that way, it checks off all the major highlights of the country. We will say this, though – a week will be tight. If you can spread this trip out anymore, it’s certainly worth doing, if only to add in the unforgettable train ride from the south to the north. Once you’re finished, you can either fly south from Lapland to Helsinki or carry on your travels over into Arctic Norway.
When is the best time to visit Finland?
The best weather for exploring Finland’s capital and southern coast can be found in the summer months of June, July, and August, when highs reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the days are longest. However, school-holiday crowds hike the prices. Winter can be dark and bleak in the south but is a much cheaper time to visit, and equally magical around the festive period. However, November until February is the most exciting season in the north, when Lapland becomes a winter wonderland and the ski season is in full swing.
How many days do you need in Finland?
Finland is a vast country with a whole host of different regions and towns to explore and a host of different holidays on offer. If you want to get the most out of every region, at least two weeks is the perfect amount of time to see south and north with enough days in the capital and still time to experience the best of Lapland. Still, if you’re short on time, four to six days in one region, either within the Arctic Circle or Helsinki, will suffice.
Is Finland safe?
Not only is Finland one of the happiest places in the world, but it’s also one of the safest both for travel and daily life. Violent crime rates across the nation are among the lowest globally and effective policing, a fair justice system, a neutral political position, and very abiding citizens help keep it that way. The biggest concern of visiting Finland is the extreme weather, especially in the north. Blizzards and landslides are common in the height of winter in remote areas and it can be easy to get cut off from civilization. Still, tornados, typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic activity are virtually non-existent in Finland.