I had to do a great deal of research when I learned that I would be living in Finland.
Of course, I knew of the country, had heard of the capital of Helsinki, and knew it would be quite cold many months of the year since the northern half is located in the Arctic. But that was about the extent of my knowledge. The best way to start an adventure and learn about a new place is to just dive in, right?!
Luckily, Finland is an amazingly beautiful place with more lakes and trees than you can imagine. Here are 9 surprising things you might not know about Finland!
1. Finland’s location is unique
With at least 18 or more hours of daylight in the summer and only a few hours of daylight in the winter, depending where you’re located, it’s quite a unique location.
2. Shopping in Helsinki is amazing
Shoppers, rejoice! Helsinki has some very cool stores. Expect cutting-edge Scandanavian designs, modern home furnishing stores, and some really unique handicrafts from local vendors. Don’t miss the opportunity to wander through the Hietalahti “Hietsu” Flea Market — it happens every day in Hietalahti square.
3. Saunas are a big thing here
The Finnish are known for their saunas. And it’s definitely worth trying the Finnish sauna at least once, which is followed by a refreshing jump in a freezing cold lake! Many Finnish have saunas in their homes, but if you don’t get a private invitation, you can also choose to visit a local sauna, or bathhouse. It’s an interesting experience! Since most are mixed gender, you’ll probably be required to wear a bathing suit.
If you’re going to sauna with someone else and you aren’t sure about the rules of nudity, err on the side of caution and bring a two-piece bathing suit with you. If you find that everyone else is stripped down and you feel comfortable, well, at least you avoided a moment of embarrassment!
4. Finland is a happy country
No, seriously. Finland was rated the second happiest country in the world in April 2012, according to a World Happiness Report from the Earth Institute, as reported by the Huffington Post. Who wouldn’t want to visit Finland?
5. Learning the language takes some time
The language can present a challenge. With both Finnish and Swedish as the official languages of Finland, most items are printed in both. Unfortunately, Finnish has some of the longest words I’ve ever tried to pronounce, and don’t even get us started with Swedish!
In and around Helsinki, most people speak English. If not, well that’s part of the adventure! When you go to a restaurant, there are usually menus in multiple languages so at least you’ll eat well.
The more I learn, the more I want to explore this country. It’s well worth jumping off the beaten path to check out a new part of Europe.
6. Finland is the home of Angry Birds
Did you know Finland is the home of Angry Birds? Maybe I’m behind the times, but I had no idea!
7. Finland is where the reindeers live
These wild animals are all over the country and sometimes, even make their way onto your local menu. Reindeer are one of the most important parts of indigenous culture in Lapland, in the north of the country.
8. Santa Claus also lives in Finland
You can meet Santa Claus and cross the magical Arctic Circle every day at the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland. At least, that’s where his letters get delivered. Every year, a team of volunteers collects and responds to hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa received every year. Have you been a good traveler or a bad traveler?
9. You can take a ferry to Russia or Estonia
Always wanted to visit St. Petersburg but didn’t get a Russian visa? Take the ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg for 72 hours of visa-free travel to this epic Russian city! You can also take a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia. The options are endless — so long as you travel in the summer. In the winter months, the entire sea will freeze.