7 Really Good Reasons to Visit Finland

by Rebecca A. Watson on August 4, 2015

in health, Recovery, travel

Oh my goodness, ladies and gents. I seriously have a public service announcement. Last week we headed off to Finland, and I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into. Adventure time!

What ended up happening was a lot of fun, foraging, exercise and relaxation. I write this post with a plea: Go to Finland. You will find something wonderful there.

And it will heal you. Here’s why:

1. Epic Food

To be fair, we were in Helsinki for part of our journey, which is a big city filled with delicious cuisine from around the world (I saw more than one Nepalese joint), but even on the side of the road there were plenty of things to enjoy.

mushrooms and blueberrie

I don’t need to go on too much about how amazing the gluten-free choices are here, because plenty of other bloggers have. And I’ve been told that most Finns are lactose intolerant, so there is lactose-free everything there.

It’s true. Even at a tiny shop along the road, where the water isn’t potable so they cart in by the bottle to make mediocre coffee, there was lactose-free cream for it. So yeah, basically paradise for me and Sante.

karl fazer budapest

OMG Karl Fazer, stop it!

Oh, and I ate reindeer. And moose is pretty common fare too, so if you’re into game, you’re in luck. Plus salmon is the price of chicken in the U.S. I think we ate salmon for almost every meal, including breakfast.

2. So Much Water

I am a firm believer in the healing properties of water. I have a bit of a phobia of dehydration and believe all of this comes from the fact that I’m a reincarnated mermaid.

Also, I grew up in Minnesota, where if you didn’t live on a lake, you had a family cabin on some body of water or at least a few friends with boats.

All I have to say is no wonder so many Finns settled in Minnesota. It’s pretty much identical. Well, actually I would say Finland looks like you smushed the rocky landscape of Wisconsin together with the water of Minnesota.

Seurasaarenselkä in Helsinki

Seurasaarenselkä in Helsinki

We biked over countless bridges, swam in the not-so-salty sea and kayaked among the 100s of rock islands that make up the Åland Island archipelago.

Sante biking over Bredviken

Sante biking over Bredviken

I dreamt of my youth while I was there, and when I left, I felt lighter than I ever have. The water helped me let go of shame I’ve carried for years.

The sea washed away the walls I’d built up as defenses after years of sexual abuse. I cried buckets of salty tears that found their home finally outside of me.

In the waters outside Kayaking in Pargas

In the waters outside Kayaking in Pargas

3. Finnish Hospitality

I’m not sure if it’s because there are so few people there or what, but no one seems annoyed at tourists in Finland. In fact, we almost seem a novelty.

We ran into one guy who was so curious how two Americans ended up in Finland. As we chatted, it was clear he was in the tourism industry, but he had serious pride in the country and wanted the world to know it.

Can you blame him?

Can you blame him?

We stayed with a friend for part of our adventure, and we laughed about how she knew everyone in town. When she saw another group of tourists on our way out of town she joked how they were there to replace us — the only tourists around.

As we stood in a parking lot trying to figure out how to find a store on the map, a girl approached us and helped us with directions. Never have I felt more welcome in a country.

Special thanks to Ina, our tour guide for many days :)

Special thanks to Ina, our tour guide for many days 🙂

4. English-Speakers Paradise

If you’re one of those people who is freaked out by the idea of going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, Finland is the place for you.

Everyone, and I do mean everyone, speaks English. I remember people saying this about Germany, but it’s not true. And that’s OK with me. I need the practice after all. I live here.

But in Finland I was on vacation. And when I approached a few different people with one of the few phrases I learned in Finnish — Do you speak English? — I got strange looks.

Like the lady here who didn't like Sante's interpretation of the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki

Like the lady here who didn’t like Sante’s interpretation of the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki

At first I thought it was my accent, that I was saying it wrong, but the hotel desk clerk assured me I was correct. Turns out it’s just a weird question because the answer is clear. Obvious. The question is silly.

The butcher, the hotel maids, the salon receptionist — it didn’t matter who I spoke with — they all spoke English. And it was nice.

Oh, and we saw Mad Max in English, which was a real treat. Piece of trivia for you: Finland has two official languages, Swedish and Finnish, so every thing is in both: road signs, menus and even subtitles in the movies.

5. One Word: Saunas

If you have never taken a sauna, it’s hard to explain how awesome it is. These aren’t the super steamy saunas where you can’t see anything. These are a drier heat, and because of that, they can get a LOT hotter.

As a kid, we would sit in the sauna until we couldn’t stand it anymore. Then we’d run and jump in the cold lake (sometimes through a hole in the ice) or roll in the snow depending on the season. Afterwards we’d head right back into the sauna to warm up.

It would appear Finns have similar ideas.

It would appear Finns have similar ideas.

I had no idea this was a Finnish thing until I learned that in a country of 5 million people, there are 1.5 million saunas.

There is something so rejuvenating and cleansing about thermo-therapy. You can read fun tales about it being part of the fountain of youth in one of my favorite novels, Jitterbug Perfume.

The fact is, saunas feel cleansing in a way that a shower rarely does. Maybe you’re sweating out toxins. Maybe it’s that you sit in the dark quiet before you start your day.

Whatever it is, I’m a fan, and pretty much wherever you stay, even the crappy airport hotel, has saunas in Finland.

6. Wide Open Spaces

OK, maybe that’s an over-statement. I saw a LOT of forest actually. I guess I mean this more metaphorically. When you read about traveling to a lot of places in Europe during high season, you read about the crowds.

And I’ve been there. I was in Venice during Carnival when there was literally pedestrian rush-hour  — you’d have to stop and stand and wait for the mass of people to start moving again.

While I am all for seeing the celebrated spots of the world, I am certainly not a fan of crowds. In fact, I don’t know a ton of people who are. We tolerate them to see something — a band, a cathedral, a restaurant — we think is worthwhile.

The church's in Finland were quite different than other European ones.

The churches in Finland were quite different than other European ones.

We traveled to Finland during high season, and there were certainly people around. But not a lot. We waited in a few lines, but mostly during the typical times — lunch at a celebrated cafe, dinner in the spot for reindeer or to get groceries in a touristy spot on a Saturday afternoon.

Nagu reminded me of my home town, Grand Rapids.

Nagu reminded me of my home town, Grand Rapids.

It’s a country with a population less than that of Berlin. Or NYC. And it’s a big place. My therapist hiked in the Lapland area (where they have thousands of lakes), and she didn’t meet a single person for three days. Not one.

This to me sounds like paradise. Probably because I am not a city person. Neither is Sante. Growing up in towns of 7,000 will do that to you.

7. The Light (and the Darkness)

Visiting Finland a month after the Summer Solstice means there is a LOT of light. Every place we stayed (except our tent) had black-out curtains. Even so, our sleep masks were essential.

Yep, that clock's right. It's 10 p.m. in Helsinki.

Yep, that clock’s right. It’s 10 p.m. in Helsinki.

While we were camping I got up to pee at probably 3 a.m. The sun was rising. When I woke up later, it felt like it was past 11. The tent was sticky hot, and the sun parked right above us. It was 7:30 a.m.

Our camping spot, Retais Sund

Our camping spot, Retais Sund

While this can be disorienting, it’s also an amazing reminder of the rock we live on and the star we count on for light. I imagine the winter would bring even more clarity. Now that solstice must be such a celebration.

I want to go back to Finland during the cold months to experience the darkness and also see the Northern Lights in all their glory. For me, this isn’t a one-and-done visit to a country. It’s only the beginning, strangely enough.

Or maybe it’s not strange at all. I’m drawn to Norse gods. I understand a fair amount of Swedish. And well, some of my favorite people I grew up with had Finnish ancestors.

Some of them probably hung out in Kaisaniemi Park, with the oldest memorial, the Freemason's Grave, in Finland.

They probably hung out in Kaisaniemi Park, with the Freemason’s Grave, the oldest memorial in Finland.

Have you been to Finland? What did you like about it? Or have a suggestion of where I should travel? Tell me in the comments!

Photo Credits: Ina, Lynn D. Rosentrater

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Joana Dougherty McGee August 4, 2015 at 6:00 pm

I have enjoyed my time in Finland (husband is a Finnish Swede) and your impressions are the same as mine. The WATER…everywhere, and the beautiful countryside. The people, the food…

Have spent time on Åland where Leif spent his summers, and loved it there. in Finland, I was in and around Turku.

Gorgeous, enchanting country! We are planning to retire to Sweden…but will spend time with family in Finland for sure. heck…perhaps we should start looking in Finland!

May you continue to write about your life and travels! Warm regards, Joana


Rebecca A. Watson August 18, 2015 at 11:39 am

Oh fun Joana! I think you’ve seen a lot of that area. And if you’re retiring in Sweden you can always visit Finland. It seems like my friends from Finland are visiting Sweden every other weekend 😉


thirstystill August 4, 2015 at 9:05 pm

I would love to visit Finland. Looks like you had a fantastic time! Camping, cycling, great food, great landscape, great people! It’s a bit far for me for now, but does it ever look like fun! And it’s good to see you looking so well, too. xo


Rebecca A. Watson August 18, 2015 at 11:38 am

Thanks TS 🙂 I appreciate it. I DID have fun. It was such a mellow time despite the many activities. I love that about good vacations.


furtheron August 5, 2015 at 11:24 am

Terrific post – never been to Finland, have done some of the Scandinavian countries, esp Denmark and really enjoyed them most notably the people who are really friendly and great fun.


Rebecca A. Watson August 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

I would love to visit Denmark. And Sweden. Both on the list 🙂


Susan July 30, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Dear Rebecca,
So happy I stumbled across your blog! I’m meeting my sober son (5 yrs +) in Denmark in September, ending our trip in Stockholm. I’ve been wondering whether to squeeze Helsinki in, since my family are Swedish Finns (or is that Finnish Swedes) and ancestor curiosity, etc., plus I have a Tove Jansson obsession. Your lovely observations have convinced me to take the plunge. All I know about Finns comes from my pen pal, my great-uncle Swen (Michigan UP), who assured me that Finns can drink Swedes under the table. Since we are a Recovery family, that wasn’t ringing my bells. Now I know there’s more…Thanks again, Susan


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