(Photo by Gaute Bruvik)
Caption: The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon you simply have to see!
Lapland vs. Helsinki: Which Finland is Right for You?
Finland tourism is on the rise, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit! Few places on the earth remain as unspoiled yet as cosmopolitan as Finland. Most of Finland is covered with stunning natural beauty. In fact, there are 37 national parks designated to protect its land. Head to one of Finland’s major cities, however, and you’ll find a modern hub that rivals many larger U.S. and European municipalities. Your idea of the perfect Finnish vacation will decide which part of Finland is right for you. Those looking for outdoor adventure should head north to Finland’s Lapland region; those wanting the amenities of a modern city should head south to Helsinki.
Lapland is in the northernmost part of Finland. In fact, Lapland is so far north that it sits above the Arctic Circle and it is rumored to be Santa Claus’ home. That’s right, kids, Santa does exist, and he lives in Lapland! Because of its northern location, Lapland offers its visitors sites that are truly one of a kind. You’ll be hard-pressed to see the things that you can see in Lapland anywhere else. Visitors to Lapland, Finland, will experience:
- Polar Night/Midnight Sun – Lapland is one of the few places where the sun does not rise in the winter and does not set in the summer. Polar night is when the sun never rises; the midnight sun is when the sun never sets. How long polar night and midnight sun lasts depends on many factors, but Lapland has been known to remain “in the dark” or “seeing the light” for months at a time.
- The Northern Lights – From January through April, Lapland’s night sky erupts in a florescent natural light show that modern technology cannot replicate. What causes the Aurora Borealis? Scientists say it happens when solar wind and “magnetospheric charged particles” collide with the earth’s thermosphere. I just say it’s amazing and you have to see it at least once!
- Meeting Santa - All right, I’ll spill, but you had better not tell Santa that I’m the elf who told you where he lives! Santa lives almost 5 miles north of Rovaniemi in Santa Claus Village. Santa’s pretty busy, so you’ll have to go to his office to visit him. We elves work at Santa Park, where you can ride some rides and eat a home-cooked meal from Mrs. Claus!
- Meeting Dasher and Dancer and Prancer, etc. - Santa’s reindeer live on a farm in Levin Lapinkyla. When you visit Levin Lapinkyla, you’ll not only see the reindeer but you can go on a reindeer ride (this keeps them in shape for Christmas Eve). You’ll also interact with other animals, including alpacas, bunnies, guinea pigs, goats, and sheep.
- Getting REALLY Cold – Lapland’s Lainio Snow Village is 12 miles above the Arctic Circle. It’s REALLY cold up there – so cold that the entire village is made of ice. I’m not kidding! You can stay at an ice hotel, eat at an ice restaurant, and warm your insides by doing shots at the ice bar. What are the kiddies going to do while you’re at the ice bar? Slide down snow slides, of course!
- Getting REALLY Warm – So how does a country so far north keep warm? The Finns take their saunas seriously, and I would, too, when it’s cold enough to build an entire village out of ice! The best Finnish sauna is found in Lapland by riding the Yllas’ sauna gondola. For two hours, you warm up in a sauna while riding a gondola through the Lapland Mountains. Sign me up!
Helsinki is Finland’s capital and largest city. If you prefer to spend your vacation in a city filled with modern amenities and a ton of architecture, arts, and culture, then Helsinki is the place for you. There is a wonderful transit system to take you throughout Helsinki, including bus, rail, and sea, and you’ll have plenty of restaurants in which to enjoy some serious Finnish sustenance. Visitors to Helsinki, Finland, will experience:
- Architecture – Helsinki was named 2012′s World Design Capital, and it has the buildings to prove it. The Finns love design, and it shows in their architecture. You’ll find classic architecture when visiting the Helsinki Cathedral and the Finnish National Theatre, intermixed with the modern design of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and Kamppi Central.
- Art Museums – You’ll find classical Finnish art at the Ateneum Art Museum. Those preferring classical European art will enjoy browsing through Sinebrychoff Art Museum‘s collection. Modern art enthusiasts will be pacified at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also the Design Museum dedicated to fashion, graphic, and industrial design.
- Historical Museums – The National Museum of Finland is the country’s premiere historical museum. On display in the neo-medieval castle is the history of Finland from prehistoric times to the present. The city of Helsinki itself has a 500-year history, and you’ll find that on display at the Helsinki City Museum. The University of Finland is home to the Natural History Museum.
- Music – Helsinki has an impressive music scene. Those preferring to sit and enjoy their music should head over to the Helsinki Music Centre for a concert from either the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra or the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Prefer to rock out a little? No worries. Helsinki is filled with nightlife that includes bars and clubs featuring live music.
- Sports – There’s plenty of sporting activity in Helsinki. Football (soccer) and ice hockey are huge in Helsinki, and the city is home to several professional clubs. If you want a piece of the action, visit Helsinki Central Park and enjoy some recreation with the locals. Boating and fishing are also big in Helsinki, where 34,595 acres of fishing waters contain about 60 different species of fish.
- Theater – The Finnish National Theatre boasts the Main Stage, Small Stage, Willensauna Stage, and Omapohja Studio. Performances on these stages range from professional to school presentations. The Helsinki City Theatre is a repertory theater and home to the Helsinki Dance Company where dramatic, comedic, and musical theater is performed.
As you can see, Finland will accommodate you whether you prefer the great outdoors or a night at the symphony. Those looking for outdoor adventure and breathtaking natural phenomena should plan their vacation in Lapland. Those looking for an arts and cultural experience in a charming Arctic city should plan their vacation in Helsinki. I personally wouldn’t want to choose! It seems to me that both Lapland and Helsinki have a tremendous amount to offer any visitor. So what are you waiting for?