Planning a trip to Finland? Here's all you need to know for a dream vacation!

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Do you live in India and dream of a trip to the land of Northern Lights, Finland? Do you also think that the trip will be exorbitantly expensive and you won't ever be able to afford it in your lifetime? Well, if the answer to any of the above questions is a YES, you have come to just the right place. Here's a guide to help you plan a picture perfect trip to Finland, with the most reasonable budget. Not only that, I will also try and make sure that you can live a few typically Finnish moments while you are in the country and come back with a lifetime of cherished memories.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Northern Lights by Markus Kiili
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Morning in Lapland

Why visit Finland?

However, first thing first - why visit Finland at all? 

Located right at the top of Europe, Finland is not on the radar of too many Indians. And the only reason for that is the fact that we just don't know enough about it.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Oulanka National Park by Julia Kivela

Here are a TEN reasons why you must plan your next vacation in the dreamland called Finland!

1. Home to the oldest inhabitants of Europe - Sami
2. Home to Santa Claus - you can meet him and make a personal wish!
3. Land of midnight sun - the country where the sun literally doesn't set in summers
4. The most unique sauna experiences in the home of sauna!
5. Get up, close and personal with the reindeer (and eat one too)!
6. Get healthy with the largest variety of berries in the world!
7. Explore the design capital of the world - Helsinki!
8. Relax and rejuvenate
9. Get adventurous in winters - skiing, snow mobile, snow shoeing, kayaking and much much more!
10. Finally, witness the Northern Lights in winters!


If you still not convinced, listen to Lonely Planet then :) Finland has been called one among the TOP three countries to visit in 2017. Read more here.

Regions of Finland

Now that I have convinced you about making a trip to Finland, let's look a bit more closely at the regions of the country.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Oulanka National Park in winters by Hannes Becker

However, let's start with the shape first. The first time I saw the map of the country, I thought I was looking at an image of a dancing lady, and guess what I was bang on with my observation. The country is linear in shape with a distinct north and south. On the East it has border with Sweden, North is Norway and West is the biggest border with Russia.

Overall, the country is divided into four distinct regions - Lapland, Coast and Archipelago, Lakeland and Helsinki.


Region 1: Finnish Lapland

The northernmost part of the country is Lapland and is possibly also the best place to witness the Northern Lights in winters. The snow covered landscape is ethereal and I have personally never seen anything more enigmatic ever in my life. However, it's not just the lights which should bring you here, the region has much more to offer. If you do visit the region, don't miss out on trying cross-country skiing. Another strongly recommended activity is the snow mobile, the best mode of transportation in the mountains, apart from the Reindeer.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Morning sky
planning travel finland from India tips guide
A herd of reindeer
planning travel finland from India tips guide
A Sami woman by Arto Liiti

If you want to relax more, you can do the reindeer safari in the night. The husky safari is faster and a bit more adventurous.

Coming to the key interest now - Northern Lights. Northern Lights are typically visible in the winter months of November to March, though it's impossible to predict 100% in advance if you will actually get to see the lights on any particular day. Many consider January as the best month, and perhaps the best day within the month is the full-moon night when the clouds are generally not around. Though its impossible to plan in advance, do look for days when the days are cold and cloudless - both the perfect conditions to witness the Northern Lights.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Exploring Northern Lights
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Glorious night sky in Lapland
planning travel finland from India tips guide
The hut by Miikka Niemi

You will usually need to head out of the town to see the lights, but sometimes they can be seen even from your hotel window. It's best to take the reindeer safari in the night, go to the forest, make a small fire and wait for the lights to appear with a cup of hot coffee in hand.

During the summer months, the region changes completely and its literally a beautiful green land with flowers, berries, grass and pristine blue water bodies. Summers are usually not the most popular travel months, so many places are shut then, and the ones which are open are cheaper.

How to reach Lapland?
Saariselkä is connected by flights to Helsinki with the Ivalo airport. The flight is about 1.5 hours long and the road journey from Ivalo to Saariselkä is about half an hour.

Where to stay in Finnish Lapland?
Lapland is a big region and the biggest city here is called Rovaniemi. However, I would recommend going further up north to a town called Saariselkä . 

I stayed at the Holiday Club resort at Saariselkä which is now a part of the Club Mahindra. The resort has everything you need - well heated rooms, its own waterworld, sauna, restaurant (Rakka) and some very helpful staff.

How to book safaris?
I worked with a group called Joiku Kotsamo Safaris. here are all the details, and you can reach out to them in advance to make bookings. Timo is a friendly guy who loves to give hugs, and is ever willing to tell more about the Sami culture of Lapland as well.

Timo Palonoja
Master of Experiences
+358 400 398 935

Joiku Kotsamo Safaris
Saariselantie 7
FIN - 99830 SAARISELKA
email: joikukotsamo@saariselka.fi
Safari booking: +358 400 138 911


Region 2: Lakeland

Lakeland is the largest lake district of Europe, and the largest lake of Finland, Lake Saimaa, is also located here. Spread over hundreds of kilometers, the lakes can be navigated for as far as 400 km on a boat in the summers. However, in winters, the lakes are completely frozen and the face of the region changes completely.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
A woman at Lake Saimaa by Eeva Making
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Ice skating on the frozen lake by Mikko Nikkinen
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Lakeland by Asko Kuittinen
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Some more winter fun on the lake :)

The lake is great for kayaking and swimming in summers, and for cross-country skiing and ice-lake-fishing in winters.

Here's a short video of my time there :)



How to reach Lakeland?
The best way to reach Saimaa lake coast is by road from Helsinki. It takes about 4-5 hours in a car/ bus and the journey is simply beautiful. Stop by at the historical medieval town of Porvoo and have a cup of coffee before starting out once again towards the lake.

Where to stay in Lakeland?
I stayed at the Holiday Club resort on the banks of Lake Saimaa, and I must admit that I was completely bowled over by the property. It's huge and spread over such a large area that you can keep exploring it for at least half a day. The forests are right next to the property, and I had such a great time walking there and getting lost for a short while.


Region 3: Helsinki and around

Often known as the design capital of the world, Helsinki is a modern and fairly recent capital city by European standards. Known to much of the world as the home of iconic Finnish brand, Nokia, the city is now a hub for design and architecture. Full of lovely cafes and restaurants serving world cuisine, the city exemplifies Scandinavian life.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Helsinki Cathedral 
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Helsinki Technical College 

A trip to Helsinki would be incomplete to some of the most iconic buildings here like the Helsinki Cathedral at the Senate square, the Orthodox church and the Rock church. The only city in the Finland to have trams, the city is extremely well connected, though it's best to explore it on foot.

If you plan to shop in Finland, Helsinki is the city to do it in. From all the major European fashion brands, to the local Finnish brands, the city has them all. A word of caution though - things are usually more expensive here than many other parts of Europe, so if you plan to travel elsewhere, you can shop later as well.

There are numerous Indian restaurants in the city like Samrat, Maharaja, India House and Gandi. I had lunch at Maharaja, and the food was fairly decent - less of spice, and good on taste!

Where to stay?
Helsinki is full of hotels, and you can easily find one for your own budget too. Airbnb is big here and I would recommend staying with a local to get the true vibe of the city.


Region 4: Coast and Archipelago

This is perhaps the least explored and the most beautiful part of the country. Unfortunately, I could not visit it on my trip to Finland, but it's certainly going to be a part of my itinerary whenever I visit the country next.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Boats by Ann-Britt Pada
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Archipelago by Jaakko Salo

The region is filled with historical sites, harbor towns, lighthouses and maritime culture for about 1000 kilometers of coastline.

Be a Finn in Finland!

To me a visit to a new country with completely different culture is a bit of a waste if you don't experience the local culture, and Finland is no exception. There are so many things which are so curiously Finnish, that you can't come back without trying them out. Here are some :)

Visit a Sauna
The concept of sauna was invented by the Finns and they are very proud of it as well. Many homes and apartment buildings have their own sauna, and this is true for most hotels as well. Saunas are places where people visit not just to clean up, but also to catch up with each other, share stories, relax and meditate. However, there is something which some of us might not be very comfortable with - a typical Finnish sauna is also a nude sauna, which means not even a shred of clothing is allowed. However, I recommend that you get over this bit quickly on your trip to Finland and then you will be able to enjoy the most Finnish thing to do in Finland! If I can do it, so can anyone else :)

planning travel finland from India tips guide
A Finnish Sauna
planning travel finland from India tips guide
Inside a sauna by Matti Koutonen

Oh, and be prepared to jump into icy cold water right after a hot sauna. After all, this is what Finns do :)

Eat like a Finn
The food is unique in the country, and it's absolutely worth going out of your comfort zone to try it out. As a vegetarian my options were limited, but if you do eat meat, try out the Reindeer meat, both in Helsinki and Lapland.

Finland is also the country of berries, with cloud-berry an integral part of it's cuisine. If you like drinking, try the Lapponia cloud-berry liqueur as well as the local beer. Even winters are full of berries, though not the fresh ones. Berries are used in main course, desserts and even as medicines by the Sami. Some berries have also shown great healing powers for patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Finnish berries by Riitta Weijola/ Vestavalo


Dress like a Finn
Now this is essential, and you can't possibly survive the winters if you are not dressed like one. With temperatures plunging to -30 degree Celsius in the winters, it's essential to be prepared. Check out this link (How to dress in Finland) to know more about how to dress for different temperatures in winters. The key to survival is a rather simple concept of layering - wear as many layers as you can, preferable in the order suggested above. Here's another popular video which I used to know more about the winter essentials. The page is in Finnish, but the video has no words and is easy to understand.

Summers are much warmer, and even Lapland can see pleasant temperatures like 30 degree Celsius. Actually for Finns, that's way too warm :)

Love nature!
Finland is a country for lovers of nature, and with most of the country covered in forests, the best way to explore it would be through hikes and treks in it's forests. It would be great to take a Finn along who knows the area well, so that you can't get lost all alone!

There are numerous national parks, and the most popular ones being Oulanka National Park, Pallas-Yllästunturi, Koli and Urho Kekkonen National Park. The good news is that access to all national parks is free to people of all nationalities, though it might be restricted in some areas in specific seasons, for instance during the nesting season.

Read more: National Parks of Finland 

Budget for Finland

Here's an approximate idea of what a day could be like in Finland during the travel season, i.e. winters. Please do bear in mind that Finland is an expensive country and usually it's tough to backpack during winters. Having said that, it's not impossible either.

From my experience of spending time in Finland, for mid-level travel, the costs could look like this:
Stay: € 75-100
Food & drinks: € 50
Activities: € 75 (depends on what you do though - in Helsinki it would be much less)
Souvenirs: € 25 in each region (though it's up to you)

As per Lonely Planet, this is what your budget could look like:

Budget travel: € 120
Midrange travel: € 120 to 250
Top-end travel: € 250 upwards

If you travel in the cities, you can off-set a part of your accommodation cost by Couchsurfing (I do it often, especially when I travel alone), and by eating food from supermarkets. 

How to travel to Finland?

The best way to reach Finland would be through it's capital city Helsinki. Finnair has a direct flight to Helsinki from Delhi and within 7 hours you can be in Finland. The city is also well connected from all major European cities. If you are coming from Estonia or Sweden, you can also come by a ferry ride.

If you are planning to fly into Europe later, you can also take a long layover without any additional costs. The StopOver can be anywhere between 5 hours to 5 days, which is usually enough to explore the highlights of Finland. Read more here - StopOver.

Visa for Finland

Finland is part of the Schengen countries, and as an Indian you would need to apply for visa. The visa would then be valid for all the other 26 countries which are a part of it.

The visa application is simple and you can see all the details here - Finland Visa for Indians.

planning travel finland from India tips guide
Snowstorm 

Practical tips:

SIM card: I took a local SIM immediately after reaching Finland for data. The card was only 7.50 Euros and had unlimited data for a week. The easiest way to buy it would be from R Kioski, something like the 7/11 of Finland.
Public Transport: Public transport is excellent in Helsinki, but not in other cities. You might have to rent a car or travel with an agency. Unfortunately there is no Uber in Finland.
Food: Vegetarian food is available easily everywhere, but be open to live on salad meals sometimes. Coffee shops are also all over the place. All the tap water (unless indicated) is potable, so carry a bottle with you and refill it when you travel. DON'T buy bottled water.
Tipping: You usually don't have to tip in Finland, but its good etiquette to round off a bill in a restaurant or for your taxi.
Safety: Finland is extremely safe, both in the cities as well as the countryside. Your enemy could be weather, though. Be prepared for the worst.
Driving: Indian driving licence should work in Finland, but drive only if you are comfortable with it. Renting a car is easy though.
Electrical outlets: Only chargers with two round prongs will work. My charger didn't work and I had to use an adaptor. Check this link to know if your charger will work.
Language: There are three official languages in Finland - Finnish, Swedish and Sami. However, almost everyone will speak basic English. The younger generations are especially good at it.

Finland with Club Mahindra

Mahindra Holidays is the largest leisure family vacations player in India, providing holidays primarily through vacation ownership memberships. The company aims to create unique and magical experiences for its members that help them bond with each other and create lifelong memories. Not only are these experiences available to the 211000 members when they visit a wide network of 77 resorts (46 Club Mahindra and 31 Holiday Club Resorts in Finland, Sweden and Spain), but also in cities of their residence through interesting member engagement programmes called ‘Heart 2 Heart’ and Experience Zone.

Taking this philosophy forward, the company acquired Holiday Club Resorts Oy, Finland, and opened up yet another beautiful and exotic destination for Indian tourists, this time in the international arena. With this acquisition, Mahindra Holidays is now the world’s largest vacation ownership company, outside of US. While the Europe as a travel destination has been well travelled by tourists from across the country, Finland remains a mystical destination that has intrigued many travelers. Given its picturesque locales and unique attractions, the destination offers Indian travelers a distinguished experience.

All Club Mahindra members now have access to this magical land through their membership. They can book their holiday at any of the Holiday Club Resorts by either calling on the reservation numbers or by sending an email to the registered email id. Members have the assurance of exceptional standards in hospitality that has come to be synonymous with the Club Mahindra brand.

But how does it work out cost-wise if you travel with or without Club Mahindra?

For Club Mahindra members travelling to Finland the accommodation cost per day per person in low season is anywhere between 28 euros to 90 Euros depending on the size of accommodation booked (Spa Hotels or Villas). This includes accommodation and breakfast for an individual. During peak season this cost ranges from 38 to 130 euros.

For non-members this cost ranges from 40 euros to 150 euros per person for various accommodations sizes in low season and starts from 60 euros per person in peak seasons.

Read more here: Finland with Club Mahindra 

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Disclaimers:
1. I was in Finland on invitation of Club Mahindra. All views expressed are my own and based on my personal experiences/ conversations in the the country.
2. All the images used have been provided by Visit Finland and have been used with permission. Wherever available, the name of the photographer is also mentioned. 
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30 comments:

  1. Such a detailed post. Its a helpful post for everyone planning a trip to Finland.

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  2. A very informative post, we want to finally visit Scandinavia this year and tour Norway, Sweden and Finland. Very helpful, thanks Mel and Marcus

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    Replies
    1. Thanks guys! Wish you great Scandinavian adventures :)

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  3. Excellent article! Your pictures are amazing! The Northern lights are definitely a must! We're still new to winter travel and we surprisingly enjoy it!

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  4. Wow, this is a great post, and very in depth. I love the Northern Lights, the photos are beautiful. I would love to visit Finland some day.

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  5. Very comprehensive post with all vital info covered. I need to save up a bit to plan a trip there soon.

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  6. Your choice of photographs were stunning. I also appreciated how much attention you paid to each area of the country. Thank you for a good and thorough guide.

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  7. Gorgeous photos! I've really been wanting to visit Finland lately, especially the Lapland region. The northern lights look amazing and we always love winter adventures! Thanks for sharing a budget breakdown!

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  8. Awesome Sid! Very informative as always!!

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  9. I'm dying to visit Finland, especially in winter. I live in France, so it's not as far away as India, so there's no reason not to. Your post is a great reminder to get to Finland in 2017. :-)

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  10. A very informative post with some beautiful photos! I think the main draw for me and my family would be Finnish Lapland - my kids would love to meet Santa and go husky sledding. Helsinki also looks very interesting. And if you see the Northern Lights, so much the better!

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  11. The blog or and best that is extremely useful to keep I can share the ideas of the future as this is really what I was looking for, I am very comfortable and pleased to come here. Thank you very much.
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  12. stunning imagery! Northern light seems to have become very popular among the travelers, lately!Lapland has always been the classic choice. Loved reading this post

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  13. I've heard incredible things about Lapland in the wintertime. Those Northern lights are just amazing, and I so want to see them one day. I've also recently discovered the joy of lingonberries from Finland, so I'll probably have to stock up on those if I visit :P

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  14. Such a nice post! I am a Finn and it was so nice how you had included so many nice things about my country! It's always great to read about familiar things, such as about your home country from the viewpoint of someone coming from the outside! You are welcome to Finland anytime! I'm glad you enjoyed :)

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  15. Nice blog and great photos. How was your experience with Club Mahindra stay? Do you have to travel to some place to see Northen lights? Thanks - Hemant

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  16. In response to your first question, I do not live in India and want to go to Finland, but I do live in Florida and I'm dying to go there. Your breakdown of the regions was very helpful--I think I'd have to choose finnish lapland to see the Northern Lights! The coastal area looks absolutely beautiful too though!

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  17. Finland is such a gorgeous and diverse country! I completely forgot it was home to Santa Claus. I would love to take in the stunning Northern Lights here one day soon.

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  18. Quite a comprehensive post about Finland. If there is one place I would love to visit against all other destinations across the world, It
    would be Finland. I m going to save this post for reference for my trip to Finland. I m quite glad to learn that Club Mahindra has their hotels in Finland.Any other indian hotel chains existing there?

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  19. Such a comprehensive guide for anyone traveling to Finland. I have always wanted to go to see Finnish Lapland and meeting Santa sounds like so much fun. If you have to survive in Finland, you definitely have to dress like a Finn too.

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  20. Love this! I have not been to Finland yet but would love to go this year and see the Northern lights! I live in London so it's not a long trip for me :)

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  21. This is a great guide for traveling to Finland. You don't really think of Finland when you think of the Northern lights, do you? However, Finland can be a great destination to search for them, especially that you can pop in and visit Santa Claus in Lapland in the same time.

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  22. What a great post, really interesting and informative :-) Finland is sucha an amazing country, I've been there twice and I've fell in love with this place. Great destination for wild nature lovers!

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  23. Aurora Borealis and reindeers... what more can one ask for in a holiday!
    But what I loved most was the colourful berries. Actually was not expecting them to grow in all that snow.

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  24. When visiting Finland -which happen from time to time - I usually go to the Åland Islands. First of all due to the fact that it is only a short ferry ride from Sweden. But mainly due to that my wife coming from the Islands. Those islands are actually quite interesting because it is a part of Finland that is having Swedish as the only official language. If you consider visiting the Archipelago around mainland Finland, do consider the Åland Islands instead. :)

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