One month traveling solo to savor the taste of Finland
Ever since I started traveling, the Scandinavian countries have been my dream. After visiting the north of Norway, I fell in love with the views and culture. So, when I decided to start traveling solo, and I wanted to get to know a new country, Finland was one of the first places on the list. I was hooked on the whole adventure, cold weather, and lots of snow. Moreover, I was eager to experience a white Christmas, which I never had in Portugal. So there I was, packed and ready to go!
On my first day in Helsinki, I walked around, taking it all in and finding the most random streets and little quirks everywhere. I loved how the city was always quiet, there were never big crowds, and everyone respected each other’s space. There are parks, gardens, and nature everywhere, even in the middle of the city. And if you are a lover of vintage and second-hand shops, like me, you’ll definitely have fun in Helsinki. There’s one in almost every corner.
The food markets were my go-to for great meals without breaking the bank. I could find almost every kind of food there, but they genuinely do love their salmon. It’s sold in every way, shape, and form, literally! Of course, the hot chocolates are also a must, or their typical hot drink, the Glögi, if you like hot wine.
I’m a fan of museums, so I already had a few I wanted to visit when I got there. My favorites were the Finnish Museum of Natural History and The Finnish National Gallery. The first one is great for everyone, even for kids, and the second one I would say is more for art lovers.
I decided to use my weekends for longer day trips and leave all the city’s must-see places to the weekdays when I wasn’t working. So my first-day trip was to Suomenlinna Archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress and nature area. It is spread across 6 linked islands with paths and walking trails to get lost. There are also small beaches, forests and old underground rooms to discover. Plus, I watched the sunset on my ferry trip (the only way to actually get there). Pretty amazing!
Another weekend, another fun day trip! This time I was heading to Porvoo, a small city with a unique old town, an hour from Helsinki. This is one of the six medieval towns of Finland, and I could genuinely feel those medieval vibes walking through the small, uneven streets of the old town and the riverside.
This was one of the first freezing days I experienced there, and everything was getting frozen, even the river. So the perfect day to do some Christmas shopping and visit all the handmade and vintage shops in the old town, two whole streets dedicated to this! And of course, the entire village is surrounded by forests and mountains with lots of hiking trails. It even has an old, abandoned train station to discover.
Another city’s highlight is the characteristic wooden red houses along the riverside. Some of them were even transformed into cafés!
Tallinn was another destination I had already planned to visit, and it absolutely lived up to my expectations! Even though this is a totally different country, it’s straightforward (and cheap!) to get to Tallinn, Estonia, from Helsinki. It’s just 2 hours away by boat, and there are trips all day long.
After arriving I went straight to the old town, these are usually the places I prefer to visit when I’m making short, one-day trips. And this one is quite unique. Its architecture has a magical medieval feeling to it, with lots of churches and old monuments to see and discover in the small, picturesque streets, along with restaurants, cafés, and small shops. So I had a lot to see and explore before going back to the boat while experiencing some severe snowfall the whole day, which was pretty fun.
For my last weekend in Finland, I planned to go to the most exciting place for me and the furthest from Helsinki. So I went on a weekend-long trip to Rovaniemi, in Lapland! I took a night train to get there and booked an Airbnb in the city to start this last adventure.
Rovaniemi is, at first glance, a small town. Still, there is actually a lot to do, especially for someone that enjoys being outdoors and nature walks. As in all places I visited in Finland, Rovaniemi is surrounded by nature, with forests to explore and mountains to ski.
But most importantly, it is known to be the home of Santa Claus, so obviously, I had to check it out. So I went to the Santa Claus Village. There I got to see the Santa Claus office post, where I was actually able to send a Christmas postcard to my family back in Portugal.
They also have a husky and a reindeer farms, where I had the most fun while petting all the animals. I also went on an aurora borealis tour to make this the perfect weekend. We went to a lake near the city. Everything was frozen. There were mountains of snow everywhere, and the temperature actually got to – 32°C, the coldest I have ever been in my life. But it was so worth it.
I got to see the incredible show of lights while drinking hot blueberry Juice with sausages made in the fire, delicious! It’s a true winter wonderland, something I had only seen in movies.
LAST DAYS IN FINLAND
Seeing the reindeer in Rovaniemi was a one-of-a-kind experience! But I was also able to see and feed them again near Helsinki, in the Nuuksio Reindeer Park. This park is located in one of the national parks of Finland. Another perfect day!
I was back in Helsinki and only had a few more days of my trip, so I decided to end it with one more mind-blowing experience, the sauna! But not just only “the sauna,” the authentic Finish experience. After being in the sauna for as long as I could handle it (not much), I went for a (super fast) dip in the icy cold waters of the baltic sea. It was amazing! The temperature shock wasn’t that bad, and afterward, I just felt incredibly relaxed. I definitely want to go back for more!
Visiting and living in Helsinki was definitely a surprise and super fun to see the differences in day-to-day life. I loved all the fantastic experiences I got to live, even experiencing the short amount of daylight. Rarely seeing the sun was indeed an interesting one, still not sure if I enjoyed this one, though, but I would for sure go back in a heartbeat.