Photo: c/o Visit Finland
It’s true: According to a recent United Nations report, Finland is officially the happiest country on Earth. It knocked Norway out of the top spot, ranking highest for both locals and immigrants. Mark our words, it’s also about to become the next hot travel destination, think what Iceland was a few years ago (before your entire IG feed was filled with pics of people at the Blue Lagoon). Need more motivation to book your trip? These standout sights and activities will no doubt make you want to travel to Finland, stat.
Get there in style
Finnair flies to Helsinki from 24 different US cities, including non-stop service from New York year-round and seasonal non-stops during the summer and winter from Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami. It consistently pulls in top safety marks – recently ranking ninth out of 409 airlines, according to airlineratings.com – and has a stellar reliability record, too. You can also expect nice touches that you won’t find on most U.S. airlines. Think two free checked bags, a bottle of water as you board, and surprisingly delicious Nordic food. (Don’t miss the blueberry juice, which is a fave among the locals.)
Sauna like a local
Regular trips to the sauna are a given for the Finnish, most of whom do so at least once or twice per week (maybe that’s why they’re so happy). There are public saunas, private sauna clubs, communal saunas in residential buildings, and even small saunas in homes and apartments. Case in point: There are about three million saunas in the country, compared to just over five million people.
Traditionally, the experience involves sitting in the hot sauna, then taking a dip in an icy lake or the Baltic Sea (though cold pools and showers are common substitutes). Sounds intense – and it is – but somehow the end result leaves you feeling both totally relaxed and yet completely energized. Visit Tampere, an easy 90-minute train ride from Helsinki, the sauna capital of the country, where there are 20 public saunas that anyone can utilize, most for a nominal fee. In Helsinki, don’t miss Löyly, one of the newest saunas in the city. Perched on the edge of the Baltic, it features a super chic and modern design, a restaurant, and two saunas.
Photo: Helsinki c/o Visit Finland
Check out the design scene
We’re talking both interiors and fashion, as you’ll find chic, Scandinavian design sensibility everywhere. Helsinki’s design district is home to the Design Museum, as well as numerous local shops and galleries. Check out the famed Ittala & Arabia Design Centre for stunning homewares, and stop at the Marimekko headquarters, just outside of the city, where you can set up a tour of the factory – and do some serious shopping damage.
Eat (and caffeinate) a lot
Whether you want to fine dine or go fast casual, there’s no shortage of delicious restaurant options. Local staples include mixed grain porridge for breakfast, loads of fresh seafood, and berries galore. Also nice: Restaurants are extremely accommodating about any and every dietary restriction, and finding vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free/insert your diet of choice options is never an issue.
Coffee culture is also a big deal if that’s more your scene. As opposed to the espresso favored throughout much of Europe, a full cup of coffee reigns supreme here, which locals sip all day long. And with lots of local Finnish coffee roasters, a bag of beans makes the perfect souvenir.
Experience the great outdoors
Love the snow? Head to Lapland in northern Finland during the winter months for every possible winter activity imaginable: Downhill and cross country skiing, ice skating, dog sledding, snow shoeing — you name it, you can do it. Throughout the country, you’ll find tons of lakes and parks, ideal for enjoying no matter what time of the year you visit.
Photo: Northern Lights c/o Visit Finland
See the Northern Lights
Talk about a bucket list experience. In the northern part of the country, the Northern Lights can usually be seen every other (clear) night from about September through March. In southern Finland, visibility is limited to around 10-20 nights per year. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has a helpful website where you can sign up for free email alerts whenever conditions make Aurora Borealis spotting more likely.