Updated: May 7, 2020
Like any 21st-century travel journalist would, I dutifully shared my busy January visit to Finland in real time on social media. And, like clockwork, I awoke each morning to a slew of messages.
A few folks sheepishly admitted to mistaking reindeer as fictional characters a la Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and, most famously, red-nosed Rudolph. Others were aghast that I had voluntarily stepped into a freezing (literally) lake. But all of them, in one way or another, expressed admiration of Finland’s spectacular beauty, along with awe that I had even traveled to this faraway place at all — much less floated in its icy rivers, skied its fabulously uncrowded slopes, drove a snowmobile by its Russian border or took an Arctic dip following a steamy sauna session.
Evidently, Finland is a destination not quite on the radar. That is, not yet: The Nordic nation is rapidly gaining in-the-know travelers. In 2018, it earned the title of “happiest country” from World Happiness Report, a triumph quantified by factors including life expectancy, social support, generosity, freedom and corruption. (Most Finns, however, will tell you that they owe their happiness to their proximity to nature.) Finland also ranks No. 8 in top countries for adventure travel and No. 3 in safest developed countries, according to the 2018 Adventure Tourism Development Index, produced by the Adventure Travel Trade Association and The George Washington University.
"Traditionally, Finland has been a part of a Nordic tour for U.S. travelers, and an interest for that entire region has grown. But we’re also seeing more visitors do mono-destination holidays in Finland. And we are a country of only 5.5 million with a lot of space — so none of our destinations are crowded." - Heli Mende
Furthermore, as hot spots such as Iceland groan under an unprecedented influx of tourists, headlines shout to visit Finland instead — a lesser-known destination that also presents the opportunity to spot the elusive dance of the aurora borealis, among numerous other draws.
Finland is attracting an increasing number of U.S. travelers. Heli Mende, head of Visit Finland for North America, says that U.S. inbound tourism to the country is steadily rising: 2016 saw a year-over-year jump of 16 percent in overnights, followed by a more modest 6 percent in 2017, and then 7.4 percent in 2018 (not including cruises that briefly stop in Helsinki).
The capital of Finland, Helsinki is renowned for its innovative design.
The epitome of cool, Helsinki flourishes as Finland’s modern capital city and a prominent hub for innovation in design, technology and the like. Densely populated by Finnish standards — clocking in at more than 1.4 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area — it’s where devoted urbanites will find the most excitement.
Since receiving the honor of World Design Capital in 2012, the city continues to uphold its forward-thinking excellence. A recent noteworthy addition is the 185,677-square-foot Helsinki Central Library Oodi. Built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia, the architecturally striking establishment feels like an ode to the future, offering not only some 100,000 book and magazine titles, but also robot technology, 3D printers and a cinema. During my visit — a month after the library’s Dec. 5 opening — a guide explained, “the basis of Finnish democracy lies in the fact that we are well-educated; that’s why education is free here.”