Northern Finland is the northernmost part of Finland. Administratively it comprises Finnish Lapland and the provinces of Kainuu and Northern Ostrobothnia. This region is very sparsely populated even for Finland - while it covers almost half of the country it has a population slightly larger than the city of Helsinki.
|Finnish Lapland |
Lapland is geographically the largest province in Finland and the most popular destination outside the southern coast. Located mostly north of the Arctic Circle it offers midnight sun, polar nights, skiing, reindeers, Sami culture, really cold winters and of course Santa Claus.
|Kainuu and Eastern Oulu region |
The eastern part of the former Oulu province borders Russia and could be described as a mixture of Lapland and Karelia. If you've come to Finland to see bears and wolves, this region is a good choice.
|Southern Oulu region |
The southernmost part of Northern Finland is actually located in the center of Finland. A flat region with its many rivers, it's mostly overlooked by travellers, who often just pass through it. It gives you a good picture of the rural part of the country.
|Western Oulu region |
Bordering the Bay of Bothnia, the coastal part of Northern Finland comprises some notable cities and towns like Oulu and Raahe.
- 1 Oulu The biggest city in the region is a known university city and a technology hub. It is compact, yet offers a lot to see and do.
- 2 Rovaniemi The capital of Finnish Lapland has the famous Santa Claus Village and the arctic circle.
- 3 Kajaani a smaller city in the region of Kainuu, which is known for its forests and marshlands. The city itself has the ruins of an old castle.
- 4 Kemi The city of the snow castle and icebreaker cruises.
- 5 Tornio A border town and a dual city with the Swedish Haparanda across the nearly invisible border. Has a lot of shops on the both sides, and an easy way to be able to say you visited Sweden as well.
- 6 Ylivieska A smaller town. It is known for the old wooden church burned down by an arsonist in 2016. A new church is being built. It has the second-oldest concrete structure in the country.
- 1 "The arm of Finland" offers the highest hills and beautiful scenery.
- Finland's largest national parks and strict nature reserves are located in the northern parts of the country.
- Most major ski resorts are here, and Finns who want to ski down a "real" hill usually choose a ski resort in Lapland or Kainuu.
Northern Finland is mostly a destination for people who want to experience wild nature and various outdoor activities.
Most of the area is unilingually Finnish, but in northern Lapland Sami is also spoken. Most Finns under the age of 50 speak English reasonably well. Areas near the borders usually receive some day-tripping visitors so you can usually communicate in Swedish, Norwegian or Russian there. Establishments catering specifically to travelers usually offer service in at least Swedish, Russian and German, and in Rovaniemi, perhaps the most "touristy" destination outside Helsinki, some service and travel information is available even in Romance and Far Eastern languages.
There are several daily flights from Helsinki to Oulu and Rovaniemi around the year, and also flights to smaller airports like Kajaani, Kemi-Tornio, Kuusamo, Kittilä and Ivalo. While many people fly via Helsinki, there are also some international flights to Oulu and charter flights from Central Europe and the UK to major ski destinations in the winter.
If you prefer to travel overland (car, bus, train), allow for a whole day or night of travel between southern and northern Finland (the possible exception is the Pendolino bullet train from Helsinki and Tampere to Oulu). If you plan to take your car with you from the south but don't feel like driving around 600 km or more, you can take the overnight car train – a place for a car and a sleeping cabin for two persons from Helsinki to Rovaniemi will cost you €200–300 depending on season.
There are road crossings from the three countries Finland shares a land border with – Sweden, Norway and Russia – and a couple of international bus connections. Although the rail network extends to some borders, there are no international passenger trains in this region.
Generally the only flights are to Helsinki and further away. Trains take you to Oulu and further to Kemi from where the track is divided into one branch going straight north to Kolari and another to Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi. The train line up to Kajaani continues westwards to Oulu. For most places, bus or car is the most practical way of getting in and around. Don't expect buses to run every half hour, plan your trip well ahead and consider using taxis also for quite long distances unless you only visit towns.
If you're fit, have plenty of time and love being outdoors, hiking or biking between places is also an option (in the summer, that is). In the winter there are snowmobile routes and tracks spanning most of Northern Finland and stretching down to Central Finland and Northern Karelia (see Lapland for maps and rules), and cross-country skiing replaces hiking by foot. The Right to access allows you to pitch up your tent almost wherever you like outside populated areas and also open wilderness huts offer free shelter to hikers on some routes.
- The biggest snow castle in the world, built yearly in Kemi.
- Oulu waterfront.
- The wind power plant in Hailuoto.
- The central point of Finland in Siikalatva and the northernmost point of the whole European Union in Nuorgam.
- The ruins of Kajaani castle.
- Kukkola rapids near Tornio.
- Santa Claus in the Santa Claus village at the Arctic Circle.
- The oldest scuba gear in the world in Raahe
- Reindeers in Lapland and Kainuu
- Old town in Ii
- See maybe the most recognized mountain of Finland, Saana, in Kilpisjärvi
- Go hiking or skiing in one of the many national parks, hiking areas and wilderness areas.
- Hike from Kilpisjärvi to Halti, the highest point in Finland.
- Ski cross-contry or downhill in one of the many ski resorts in Finnish Lapland and Kainuu.
- Cruise the Bay of Bothnia on board an icebreaker from Kemi.
- Experience the midnight sun in the summer and the polar night as well as Northern Lights in the winter.
- If you're good at playing air guitar (Oulu), gold panning (Sodankylä), farting (Utajärvi) or playing soccer in mud or snow (Hyrynsalmi) you can compete in the yearly world championships of these sports.
- Go on a husky safari in Lapland.
- For golf players: make a border and time zone-crossing hole in one at the Green Zone golf course in Tornio.
- Enjoy folk music at a festival in Haapavesi and chamber music in Kuhmo.
The most prominent local specialties are sautéed reindeer served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam as well as other reindeer dishes, leipäjuusto (a kind of fresh cheese) served with cloudberry jam, dishes made from game (mostly moose) and salmon soup. The white flat bread rieska is also native to Northern Finland. Oulu region's own dish (and an opinion-divider) is called rössypottu which is a soup made of potatoes and blodpalt (or "blood puddding").
Oulu and Rovaniemi have plenty of bars and nightlife. State-owned alcohol stores become rarer the more North you go. If you want booze in the high north you often have to order it in advance and then get it from a shop acting as delivery point.
Violent crime against travellers is rare. When driving on highways, look out for reindeer on the roads and remember that roads might be covered by ice and slippery from October to May. If an accident happens on a more remote road you will likely have to wait long before anyone notices you. If you go hiking in the wilderness be sure that you carry appropriate clothing and other equipment. Remember that in Lapland cell phone coverage isn't as good as in southern Finland (don't be fooled by the mostly good coverage on major roads).
If going off the road outside main towns – which you should do – make sure you note the direction. A road or river should be easy to find if you go in the right general direction, but if you panic and go farther instead, you might not find any trace of humans for tens of kilometres. If you loose your company, stay where you are and shout for them, or use a whistle, instead of getting lost in unknown terrain. A map and compass should of course be carried on any longer hike or sidetrip.