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In the hot-hot-heat of a Qatar summer, life above the Arctic Circle has never seemed more appealing. Of all the Nordic countries, Finland has long been underrated as a tourist destination, with its Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Norway usurping its spotlight. But not anymore! As the country celebrates its Centenary this year, here are 5 reasons why a trip to this land of the midnight sun is a must:
1. Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is consistently voted best in the world
From the moment the wheels hit the ground, Finland’s international airport,Helsinki-Vantaa, delivers. From best lounge, most sleep-friendly, and top-of-the-list for transit connections, it’s consistently voted among the best in the worldand in Northern Europe by IATA, Skytrax, Condé Nast, and more. The airport is simple to navigate, immigration is a breeze, luggage queues are fast and streamlined and, as soon as you grab your bags, the elevator to the metro station is right there. A 20-minute train ride will bring you smack-dab into the Helsinki city centre. Job done.
2. A cultural capital bound by nature
With a population of just under 630,000, Helsinki is a city with no skyscrapers and packed instead with green spaces and waterfront rambles – but don’t mistake it by any means for a sleepy capital. For starters – art abounds. Tommi Toija’s ‘Bad Bad Boy’ statue by the city’s West Harbour will have you doing a double-take, while a visit to the National Museum of Finland as the nation marks its Centenary anniversary is a must.
With a melange of architecture spanning from Neoclassical and Art Nouveau, to Byzantine-Russian and Modernist, a walk around the capital is probably one of the highlights of a visit to Helsinki. Be sure to take in the Ateneum Art Museum, hit up the city’s vibrant Design Destrict, wander through the greenbelt ofEsplanade Park as you make your way down to the waterfront Market Square, grab the ferry over to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress island, or take in the splendour of the iconic Temppeliaukio Church – or the ‘Rock’ Church, Helsinki’s number one tourist attraction.
3. You will be humbled by its nature
Finland has some of the freshest, most unpolluted air in the world. Considered one of Europe’s last true wildernesses, breathe deep and fill your lungs with the scent of the wild. From beautiful lakes districts, pristine national parks, the Northern Lights of Lapland, and thousands of islands that surround its archipelago, you’ll be overwhelmed by the beauty of its landscape. If you travel in the summer season (namely June) you can experience one of the nation’s biggest holiday celebrations – Midsummer. The longest day of the year above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set and its a time for festivals, family, and friends. Many Finns have outdoor barbecues and gatherings that last well into the wee hours – and why not? It’s still daylight! Want to learn more and plan an outdoor Finnish excursion? Click here.
4. Saunas and summer cottages
There’s not a home or building in Finland that doesn’t have a sauna. A uniquely Nordic tradition, the sauna is an ingrained part of Finnish life and culture – and you’d be remiss not to try it out while you’re there! A place to relax and cleanse the body and mind, it’s said that in Finland more important decisions have been made while in the sauna than in any business meeting – and being invited to share a sauna is considered an honour.
Birch wood is traditionally used to stoke the oven in the sauna, and dippers of water splashed over the hot stones create waves of cleansing steam that help release toxins from the body. Finns also use ‘Vastas’ or bundles of birch leaves to slap themselves with. Sounds painful but leaves your skin feeling amazing afterwards!
And there’s no better feeling that having a long, steaming soak in the sauna at the family summer cottage and then running outside for a cold, shocking splash in the lake! Most Finnish families escape the urban areas each weekend during the summer to stay in their summer cottages. These rustic retreats have usually been in the family for generations and they’re the perfect getaway to get back to the land, bond with family and friends, barbecue some Grillimakkara sausages, go foraging for mushrooms, and enjoy the outdoors and the sounds of nature.
Want to know more about the traditions of the Finnish sauna and some tips for etiquette? Click here.
5. Its food is from the land and you’ll fall in love with its freshness
Nordic cuisine is rustic, and Finnish food is wholesome and simplistic, its ingredients fresh from the source – the plentiful nature that abounds. In traditional Finnish households there are a few staples you should embrace:
Mornings aren’t complete without a hunk of dark, dense rye-bread topped with ‘house’ cheese (a white cheese that’s slightly sharper than mozzarella), or slathered with full-fat butter and a generous dollop of jam made from lingonberries – the iconic bush-berries found throughout the Nordic countries.
Another staple that you’ll find in any Finnish household is ‘silli’ – or Baltic herring. Often served pickled in a variety of different brines, you’ll find jars of the stuff in every grocery store – but more often than not the best is often home-made with lemon and shallots, but the dill and mustard sauce version is our favourite!
It’s also not uncommon to eat reindeer in Finland. In fact, reindeer meat is considered some of the most nutritious, high in healthy Omegas and incredibly lean. Reindeer shavings served over a buttery bed of mashed potatoes and a side of lingonberries is a common sight on many a Finnish supper-table.
And, no trip to Finland would be complete without sampling the national candy of Finland – salmiakki! This salty black licorice is addictive believe it or not – so don’t be surprised if you find yourself tucking a few bags into your luggage for the return trip!
If you’re in Helsinki and find yourself peckish while out exploring, there’s no shortage of restaurants serving up diverse global cuisines to tempt you in the cosmopolitan capital. For gastro-pub delicacies and a view that can’t be beat, a stop by one of Helsinki’s best new gems, Löyly. Sit on their sprawling patio overlooking the water and indulge your senses while breathing in the fresh air! They also have a massive sauna for guests to use – and it’s not uncommon to see patrons running out in their skivvies to jump in the water as you watch from the terrace, sipping your drink leisurely.
Finland is a country of stark beauty; where a people and their culture are forged by its landscape and enveloped by nature. To learn more about Finland as it celebrates 100 years of independence, click here. Or, to explore what Helsinki has to offer, go here. Qatar Airways flies daily to the Finnish capital.
Want more Finnish fun? Check out our recent Extreme Finnish Food episode of the ILQ Test Drive!
Have you traveled to Finland? Drop us a line in the comments below and tell us which country you’d like to see ILQ Globetrotter visit next. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!
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