East meets west with spectacular views over Helsinki. Russian and Finnish are the most widely heard languages in this exotic venue which served as the Russian headquarters during the latter part of the Second World War. As the tallest building in Helsinki from 1931-1976 it has been the scene of intrigue that shaped the recent history and politics of northeastern Europe. An unforgettable and atmospheric location.
This is your last chance to see Helsinki, the 2012 World Design Capital, before the snow arrives. Explore the fascinating Design District (www.designdistrict.fi), including the Design Museum’s new ‘The Home – A space and a state of mind’ exhibition (www.designmuseum.fi). Visit Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art (www.kiasma.fi), to see Kaija Papu’s life-size knitted police car. Rest your legs in Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall cafe or spend a quiet moment in the stunning wooden award-winning Kamppi Chapel of Silence. If you fancy seeing some older Finnish architecture while enjoying the trees in their autumn colours, the Seurasaari open-air museum (www.visithelsinki.fi/en/see-and-experience/sights-and-attractions/seurasaari-open-air-museum) is the perfect place to spend a bright autumn afternoon. For evening entertainment, take advantage of the Finnish National Opera’s low prices (as little as 14 euros) and enjoy The Magic Flute, Don Carlos or Tosca (www.opera.fi).
This is a small seafood restaurant on the western side of Helsinki. It has plenty of seafaring memorabilia on the walls.
Head along Bulevarden and at the end of the road it is to the right facing the water.
The pricing was decent and the food was delicious.
This record shop is on the same road as the Rock Church and has a good selection of vinyl and CDs, including a metal section. The staff were helpful in pointing out Finnish bands and there is a section of the shop where you can listen to records or CDs to see if you like them, complete with a comfy chair.
A viking-themed restaurant tucked away in a small shopping corridor opposite Stockmann, Harald is a bit pricey but worth the money. (Most restaurants in Helsinki tend to be a bit more expensive.)
The staff were nice and the atmosphere combined with the lovely food (I had bear) made a great evening.
Citykäytävä 2. krs, Aleksanterinkatu 21, 00100 Helsinki
Europe's northernmost resort, Saariselka is found within the arctic circle and when we visited in February it felt like a frontier to a winter wilderness. It's a great place for beginners and intermediates as the downhill slopes are wide and amazingly quiet - no queues to be seen - although the fells are more limited for advanced skiers. We were hooked on cross-country skiing and snow shoeing - miles and miles of starkly beautiful woods which you have almost to yourself. Come prepared for the cold (it was down to minus 20 during the day, at which point our eyelashes froze), but you'll be rewarded with views across to Russia, glimpses of the Northern Lights, and a 1km free sledge run down from the lift station. Pack balaklavas and then thaw out in the saunas, or the teepees warmed by log fires at the bottom of the slopes.
Levi is north of the arctic circle so good snow is pretty much guaranteed but it's only 20 minutes drive from the airport. Due to the long nights the slopes don't open until 10.00 am so there's no rush in the morning and almost no queues for the lifts. It's easy to be the first down a pristine slope or you can take advantage of flood-lit slopes after dark. At the bottom of each slope there is a wooden tipi with a roaring log fire where you can warm-up as the temperatures are usually below zero or barbeque your lunch. There are also plenty of mountain bars and cafes. The slopes probably won't be testing enough for advanced skiers but there are plenty of red runs for intermediates and also opportunities for other activities such as cross country skiing and snowmobiling. Try the Hotel Hullu Poro - it means Crazy Reindeer - not only for the name. You can get a room with an en-suite sauna, the food is good and they have their own night club.
All I can say is just go there. You may be cold but will not be disappointed. Yllas, in Finnish Lapland, far into the Arctic Circle, is the place I love.
Temperatures plummet to minus 25 degrees C – and that’s in the day, but don’t be put off by this. Dress for the weather and you will fall in love with the place. The lack of daylight hours in winter, with daytime sunrise and sunset, just adds to the beauty.
If its fun you are after, you have a choice. Downhill ski, cross country ski, husky dog sledding, ice fishing, reindeer sleighs, snowmobiles – you need a week here to do it all. Meet the local Sami people, who will invite you into their huts and make tea over an open fire in a blackened kettle.You cannot possibly get bored.
The choice of pristine snow and the silence that comes with it is another option, with miles of walking trails that cannot be beaten for peace and solitude.
There is of course the option to be a big kid and travel to Santa’s post office in Rovaniemi, Santa’s official home, where you can meet him any day of the year. Here you can arrange for the ‘real’ Santa’s letters to be delivered to the kids!
Add to this the wide range of first class hotels, romantic log cabins, blazing log fires and you have it all – well nearly. I stayed at the Hotel Akas, a very friendly and atmospheric hotel in the traditional unspoilt Lappish community of Akaslompolo, near Yllas.
The Aurora Borealis (or Northern Lights) are a spectacle not to be missed. Normally appearing in the night, my hotel agreed to give me a wakeup call when they appeared. Believe me; it’s worth missing some sleep for.
To me Lapland conjures up many memories – the beauty of the sky, the sparkle of the snow, and the magic of the silence. I will return.
My favourite winter wonderland in the Arctic Circle is a stay at Kakslauttanen Holiday Village deep in the Finnish countryside. Staying in a traditional log cabin it has a romantic open fire place, private sauna room and outside hot tub. You can also chose to spend a night or two in a heated glass igloo where you can see the Northern Lights from the bed when looking up through the glass on a clear night.
It's a perfect winter location for a Siberian husky sledding experience, snow mobile excursion close to see views across to the forests of the Russian border where you stop for soup around a camp fire, ice fishing with the local Sami people in their traditional costumes or a Reindeer safari in a snow-cloaked forest, all efficiently arranged through Discover the World.
The snow laden pine trees is a perfect location for Christmas, a great romantic break or adventure with your family.
I first visited Arvidsjaur when I was a young teen. My auntie and I went just after Christmas for our annual holiday together. On our first night we witness the Aurora Borealis from just outside our spa hotel - Laponia. Over the course of three days, we went husky sledging, travelled across frozen lakes on skidoos and ate fantastic local food. For those of you not interested in the Christmas side of things and just want a snowy holiday away somewhere peaceful and beautiful, Arvidsjaur is the perfect destination.
The Moomin Valley of the Tampere Art Museum is a museum devoted to original works by writer and artist Tove Jansson and can be found in the centre of the city of Tampere. A heaven for those who love Moomins!
This is how a guide book should be written. It won't tell you where to catch a bus in Helsinki, but it will give you a very sharp insight into the mind of the guy who drives it.
I judged the book from two perspectives: firstly as a keen traveller and secondly as a published writer. Firstly, as a traveller, I have shelves creaking under the weight of numerous guide books and this one has to be one of, if not the absolute best. It tells me things I want to know about the people who live in the country; things which other guide books avoid mentioning. That alone makes it a worthwhile read.
Secondly, as a published writer I enjoyed immersing myself in Ms Moles' brilliant text and wonderful sense of humour. This is about as far as you can get from a dry, dusty old guide book. It is refreshing and honest and a wonderful read. If you buy no other book about the Finns, buy this one. The first time I read it was to learn about the Finns. The second time was simply to enjoy again the brilliantly funny prose.
I stayed at Basecamp Oulanka for a week on a trip organised by Exodus. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an active trip with a difference. And don't worry about the cold, you are given plenty of layers - it was between -15C and -32C and I never really felt chilly. But what was really magical was dog sledding - riding your own sledge through a pristine snowscape, only the crunch of the snow under the runners and the panting huskies as a soundtrack. I'm planning to go back to spend a full week sledding - it still won't be enough.
Myllykoskentie 30, 93999 Kuusamo, Finland
+358 40 0509741
Google map: bit.ly/pT0sl4
Just off the coast of the new European 'capital of culture' of Turku in south-west Finland, the island of Ruissalo is not to be missed if you are visiting that part of the country. A small but lush, green island in the Gulf of Finland, one of its main attractions is the spacious campsite at Saaronniemi, the farthest end of the island.
However, if you're just coming to the island for a day trip, there's lots more to do! The island has fantastic scenery, from beautiful plant life to the elegant Villa Saaro. This large late-19th century house is home to a quaint little cafe, perfect for snacks such as traditional pulla pastries and Finnish fish dishes, close to the island's pebbly beach and mild waters which, although Finland is not known for its beaches, beats many of the tropical beaches I have visited.
Overall, I think Ruissalo Island is a great off-the-beaten-track destination for all the family. I thoroughly recommend it to you and, if you do go there, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Saaronniemi, 20100 Turku
+358 (0)2 262 5100
Google map: bit.ly/poIWQa
Cafe Villa Saaro
Tel: +358 (0)2 262 5102
Bus number 8 goes to Ruissalo from the central marketplace in Turku.
Irish pub in the centre of Helsinki. Authentically Irish with Irish customers as well as bar staff.
As you'd expect for Helsinki, drink is not cheap - about €11 for two half litres of cider.
Old Market Hall, situated along the South Harbour and Market Square, has been selling Finnish delicacies to locals and tourists for over 120 years. It’s a well-known place for meeting up with friends over a cup of coffee and cinnamon buns before shopping for berries, wild mushrooms, game, sea food and freshwater fish. Try fried reindeer slices with potato mash and lingonberry sauce followed by oven cheese with Arctic cloudberries and cream. Alternatively, taste Karelian pasties, made from thin boat-shaped rye crusts filled with savoury rice pudding. Most importantly: don’t forget to buy those all important sausages and beer for the evening of sauna, skinny-dipping and barbecue!
Wanha Kauppahalli, Eteläranta, 00130 Helsinki
+358 9 636177
Open 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 8am-4pm Saturday
Google map: bit.ly/fvFoj7
Sauna near Tampere, Finland.
Only 30 minutes casual walk away from the centre of Tampere, Kaupinoja sauna will always be a fond memory. Every wood-burning sauna in Finland seems to claim it is "Finland's Best Sauna!", however the friendly atmosphere, beautiful surroundings and casual vibe (regardless of whether you're a local or not) make Kaupinoja my favourite place to spend the weekend, let alone an hour or two. Take trunks, a towel and be ready to get really hot, really cold, then just relax.
PL 17, 33501 Tampere
+358 (0)3 - 2614572
Independent four-star hotel about 10 minutes walk to the north of the city centre. It is part of a renovated former military hospital, but you would never realise that from the place today. Our room looked out over water. The decoration was contemporary Finnish, the rooms are spacious and the whole place had a vigorously healthy feel about it. Excellent buffet breakfast.
Kasarmintie 13, PO Box 404, 90101 Oulu
tel: +358 (0)20 757 4700
Google map: tinyurl.com/32gpkos
Way up in the far reaches of northern Finland, amid the snow cloaked forests of lapland, there lies an igloo village. I had travelled with my girlfriend to the home of Father Christmas for a winter break at the Kakslauttanen holiday village; a cluster of cosy log cabins and ice and glass igloos deep within the arctic circle.
We never did see Santa, though lying in bed beneath the glass roof of our igloo we were treated to a phantasmagoric light show like we’d never seen. Shimmering between stars that I never even knew existed was the spectacular aurora borealis, a sight more magical than seeing the old man himself!
Sightings of the Northern Lights can never be guaranteed, though in one week in winter we were treated to six nights of this spectacle.
Hotel and igloo village Kakslauttanen, 30 minute transfer from lvalo airport.
At this bar you can not only ski-in, but here you can also hit the dance floor still wearing your ski-shoes. Hotel Laanihovi, in the Finnish ski resort of Saariselka, lies 160 miles north of the Arctic Circle and is famous for its afternoon ski boot dancing. Most people here are Nordic skiers whose boots are somewhat more flexible than those of the downhill skiers, but I have also seen people sliding across the dance floor in their clunky slalom boots. This rather amusing event takes place every afternoon starting at 2pm and, during peak season from February to April, there is a live band to get everyone into the swing. A couple of encouraging local drinks before dancing might be in order in here though, as by dancing they don’t mean some half hearted disco movements on the dance floor but proper ballroom dancing with waltzes, tangos and fox-trots.
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com