Finland is one of the Nordic Countries in Europe and technically not a Scandinavian country (they will correct you if you do call it a Scandinavian country). Finland is a very stunning and picturesque country that everyone should visit if they get the chance. While Norway is dominated by unending mountains and dramatic fjords, Finland is covered with unending boreal forests. Finland is very flat but still, it is brimming with all sorts of landscapes and things to see and do.
One of the fun things to do is to drive from Helsinki in the far south on the coast all the way up to Lapland and the Norwegian border. This is one of the dramatic European nature drives you can do and one that is very easy to do.
Finland: The Facts
- Population: 5.5 Million
- Independence: 1917 (From The Collapsing Russian Empire)
- Capital And Largest City: Helsinki
- Official Languages: Finnish And Swedish (English Is Widely Understood)
With a drive from Helsinki to Lapland, if you have time you can start much further south in say Poland and drive up through the Baltics and take the ferry to Helsinki. But no matter where you start, once you are in Helsinki be sure to spend a couple of days here. It is a very beautiful city with a lot to see and do.
When To Go: High Summer Is Best If You Want To Spend Time In The Green Outdoors
Visas: Finland Is Part Of The European Schengen Zone, So Visa Free
Heading North From Helsinki
Once you are ready, you can start heading north. There will be cities along the way but the landscapes are dominated by forests and thousands upon thousands of lakes. If you are traveling in the summer, be sure to bring some effective bug spray, and remember as you move north the days will be getting longer and longer. Conversely, if you go in the winter the days will get shorter and shorter. If you are going in the summer, the weather may be chilly but generally, it's pleasant.
The roads in Finland are all well maintained and the towns along the way will have everything you would hope to find. Finland is a fully developed country. "Sauna" is perhaps the only loan word from Finnish in English. And it's a testament to how important saunas are to the Fins. Be sure to try them along the way.
Did You Know: The Finnish Call Their Country "Suomi"
- Tip: Come In The Winter If You Want To See The Northern Lights
Driving To Santa Claus Village And The Arctic Circle
Some of the major cities you will pass through on the way are Jyvaskyla, Oulu, and Rovaniemi. Rovaniemi is important as it sits on the Arctic Circle and from here things start to change. If you arrive in the height of summer there will be little if any darkness. Just a short drive out of Rovaniemi is the Santa Claus Village resort.
If you come in the winter this tourist village will be bursting with people come to see the Northern Lights and to see Santa Claus's fabled home (different countries claim their own Santa homes). In the summer, the snow is gone, the sun is always up and Santa is clearly not there.
Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis): Seen Around 150 Nights A Year From Santa Claus Village
- When To See The Lights: Mid-August To early April
There are plenty of more settlements but no cities north of Rovaniemi. While Rovaniemi is ostensibly part of Lapland, real Lapland according to the locals can be said to start north of here.
- Tip: Laps In Finland Are Called Sami
From here things are feeling more and more northern. Forests persist, but the trees are shorter and more spread out, in the summer the sun never disappears. And then reindeer start to appear. It is common to see tourists get very excited and start taking lots of pics of the first reindeer they see. But reindeer are soon to become a very common sight just walking everywhere by the side of the road or wherever they want. They are owned and mostly belong to the Sami people.
- Time To Drive Finland: 14.30 Hours (nonstop)
- Distance: Helskini To Norwegian Border: 1,270 Km or 790 Miles
In the summer this region is mild and utterly breathtaking. But in the winter the climate is very harsh. Also, remember you are very high in the Arctic now but in Europe, the Gulf Stream warms the Svandinvain Peninsula and so it is much warmer than the same latitude in Canada and Alaska. In Finland you will be hard-pressed to find any tundra, there is a little bit of tundra just north of Finland in neighboring Norway and Russia, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
When you arrive at the border with Norway, there are no border checks. The last settlement in Finland is Utsjoki. Only here at the very end will you start to see mountains in Finland. You can continue your adventure into the fiords of Norway if you would like!
In summary, Finland is a stunning country and just waiting to be discovered. It is a very simple drive and a stark contrast to the other side of the peninsula in Norway.