1. The Northern Lights
The famed lights have always been a top draw for tourists, but now, you can gaze in awe at them without freezing in the cold. These recently opened hotels allow travellers to view the lights from a warm room and comfortable bed. Arctic TreeHouse Hotel in Rovaniemi features suites with a wooden interior and panoramic windows; Aurora Dome (below) in Muonio offers round, insulated igloo-shaped tents with a transparent wall that faces north; and the standalone Seaside Glass Villas in Kemi have glass roofs and front walls that open to an incredible view of the Bay of Bothnia.
2. The Finnish sauna
Sauna (below) is a big part of Finnish culture – for centuries, it has been a sanctuary for physical and spiritual cleansing. While most saunas are private, and can be found at swimming pools, hotels and gyms, there are a few public ones in the larger cities. Ponder on the meaning of life while opening your pores at Sauna Arla or Sauna Hermanni, two of three remaining public saunas in Helsinki.
3. The local delicacies
With its long coastline and more than 150,000 lakes, all kinds of fish are eaten across the country, so do try unfamiliar ones such as the vendace or Arctic char. A staple of the Finnish diet is ruisleipa (rye bread), while other iconic food items include reindeer meat; karjalanpiirakka, a traditional crusty pie filled with potatoes or carrots; and dishes with wild berries (below) such as bilberries, cloudberries and lingonberries.
4. The verdant national parks
There are 39 national parks in Finland, and aside from being havens of biodiversity, they are ideal for recreational pursuits such as hiking, canoeing and climbing. In celebration of its centennial, the country inaugurated its 40th park on June 17, 2017. The 11,000ha Hossa (below is situated in north-eastern Finland, and features spruce-pine esker forests, the rugged canyon lake Julma-Ölkky and rock paintings that date back 4,000 years.
5. The whitewashed landscape
Heed the call of the wild and go dog sledding (below) or reindeer riding. Learn to handle a team of enthusiastic huskies and mush your way through the breathtaking Finnish wilderness, or follow in the footsteps of the Sami people and hitch a more peaceful ride through the magical forests in a sleigh pulled by reindeers.
6. The world’s only Moomin museum
The white, hippo-like Moomins were created by Finnish novelist and illustrator Tove Jansson in the 1940s, and are recognised around the world today as a Finnish icon. The new Moomin Museum opened its doors at Tampere Hall on June 17, 2017. Look out for exhibitions of original Moomin illustrations and paintings by Jansson, more than 30 three-dimensional tableaux (below) built by her good friend Tuulikki Pietilä, a Finnish graphic artist, and a library filled with Moomin literature.
7. Finnish brands to shop for
Design enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice when shopping in the country, regardless of whether they are into fashion, homeware, textiles or glassware. Be sure to take home some tasteful, high-quality and distinctive products from world-renowned local brands such as fashion and homeware label Marimekko (below), glass specialists Iittala, kitchenware and tableware specialist Arabia, and furniture company Artek.
8. Quiet island escapes
Hop onto a boat and head out of the city to one of Helsinki’s surrounding islands – there are more than 300 for you to explore. Suomenlinna (below), a UNESCO-listed sea fortress built on six islands, is one of the more popular attractions and is open year-round. Other islands to visit for day trips include Harakka, which offers nature trails popular with birdwatchers; Korkeasaari, home to the Helsinki zoo; Pihlajasaari, for sun worshippers; and Sirpalesaari, a small island with a restaurant serving up delicious Finnish delicacies.
9. Local culture
Themed ‘Together’, a country-wide civic festival – comprising 2,600 projects and counting – is held throughout the whole of 2017. Expect a diverse list of activities, such as a food market emphasising local wild food, an ice-skating campaign held in 70 locations, musicals, performances (below), film screenings and art exhibitions. Check out the official site for more information.
– TEXT BY RACHEL AJ LEE
PHOTOS: MARIMEKKO FACEBOOK, FINLAND 100, VISIT FINLAND/HARRI TARVAINEN, VISIT FINLAND/ELINA MANNINEN/KEKSIT, VISIT FINLAND/GEORGE TURNER, VISIT FINLAND/JUSSI HELLSTÉN, VISIT FINLAND/RAFA PÉREZ
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.