Should you visit Finland in winter?
Won’t it will be cold and dark and expensive!
I began to wonder why I had decided to visit Finland in winter when my plane landed at Tampere and all that I could see through the swirling snowflakes was a flat, grey and white landscape.
I carefully negotiated the stairs from the plane with warnings to hold on tightly to the handrail due to the thick coating of ice on the steps and I walked out into the biting cold.
Finland in winter is cold. The Tampere winter time is cold, but I spent six days in and around Tampere in January. In this article I will tell you whether any of the warnings that I was given before I set off were true or not so read on.
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It’s always cold in Finland!
Of course it’s cold in Finland in winter, but people dress accordingly and buildings are well insulated and toasty-warm inside.
Go out for an evening in any city in Britain in the winter and you will see men dashing between bars and clubs dressed in short sleeved tee-shirts and girls teetering around on spikey heels. Nobody wears a jacket or a coat on a night out in the UK but in Finland there’s a no-nonsense approach to the cold. Layers, layers, hats, scarves and gloves and more layers are not only the sensible choice but the only choice if you want to avoid hypothermia or frostbite.
Don’t forget travel insurance before you set off either. You don’t want to slip on a patch of ice and end up in plaster do you. I use Alpha Travel Insurance who are very competitive – you can get a quote and buy at this link.
Shops and buildings are well heated and they often have a double-door porch entry system and polar strength double or triple glazing. Duvets are super-light but super-warm and showers are piping hot.
But the cold here is different to the cold in the UK and in many other parts of the world. It’s not loaded with damp which creeps into your bones and your chest. It’s sharp and crisp and freezing but invigorating and it makes your senses come alive. The snow prettys everything up like a layer of fresh white paint and it also dampens noise. My hostel thoughtfully had a large box of coats and wraps just inside the front door so if you ever needed to dash outside for anything you could easily throw on an extra layer.
So don’t let the cold put you off. Wear sensible boots or shoes, layer up and get outside. Walk in the forests among the pines where the snowflakes float gently down and birds are eating the jewel-red berries. Catch glimpses of the frozen lake between the trees, and then find a steamy, warm cafe and cup your hands around a hot mug of coffee and treat yourself to a tasty cake.
It’s always dark in Finland!
Of course, the further north that you go in the winter the hours of darkness are longer, but in Tampere in January we had daylight for at least six hours a day. Yes, often the daylight was a soft dove-grey as the falling snow curled over everything and at times it was like peering through fogged up glasses but snow also reflects, so once it was dark, everything had a cool glow about it.
I used to be scared of the dark and I would rarely venture out alone at night prior to travelling solo, but I have challenged my negative perceptions of what is dangerous and here in Finland in the winter I had little choice. Contact me if you would like some help dealing with phobias or negative beliefs that hold you back – as a Mindfulness Practitioner I have several tricks up my sleeve!
Street lights illuminate the paths and the shadows retreat deeper down alleys due to the whiteness of the snow. Buildings are brightly lit and peeping through the windows you can see rooms cosy and warm with crackling log fires and lots of pine or they are funky and bright in a Scandinavian Ikea type of a way.
After settling in at my hostel I checked out the map and needing to go out and find something to eat, as is my usual practice I asked at reception if there were any places that I should avoid walking around on my own after dark.
With a raised eyebrow the receptionist simply replied ‘It’s often dark in Finland’. As self-preservation is high on my list while travelling solo I then asked if there were any districts or areas of the city which I should be wary of wandering into. With a complete look of incomprehension the reply was ‘Of course not! This is Finland!’
The Finnish language makes no sense to anybody: unless they are Finnish!
Yep! I can’t argue with this one BUT despite always apologising for their bad English, the majority of Finns that I met spoke impeccable English. And Swedish. And sometimes Russian or another language or three. In my six days there I managed to learn two words – kiitos which is thank you and hei which is hello. And I have subsequently learnt that the Finns do not use all of the letters which are available to them in their alphabet.
If a sound is duplicated then they have dropped one of the letters and adopt the other – for example, in English the letter C sometimes makes the same sound as an S and sometimes makes the same sound as a K – the Finns don’t faff about with complications – they have all but dropped the C from their language.
So at least if you are learning Finnish the alphabet is shorter, but as I have said, the Finns are amazing at speaking other languages so don’t panic – you will easily get by.
Everything is expensive in Finland!
Costs are comparable to those in the UK with winners and losers across the board. Granted I stayed in a hostel during my Tampere visit BUT the price and the quality of accommodation was excellent. You can check the latest hostel prices and book at this link.
The hostel that I stayed in (The Dream Hostel) also had a hotel floor so that you don’t have to do the whole dorm experience if you would rather not, and I managed to get a return flight to Tampere for £49 with a budget airline!!!! That’s an insane price and there was also a realistically priced bus transfer from the airport to the city too.
Coffees, beers and food are similar prices to the UK (as I only had carry-on baggage I didn’t even glance at clothing or gifts) but I was pleasantly surprised as I had expected much much worse.
So get yourself a cheap flight and visit Finland and for budget priced but NOT budget style accommodation book in at the Dream Hostel, Tampere (a more detailed post on my time here will follow another time), grab yourself some Euros and go visit.
You can read more about staying in a hostel at this link to another of my articles here: Hostel tips and how not to behave in a hostel
If you still don’t fancy staying in a hostel (but please do check out the Dream Hostel first) then you can get the up to date prices for hotels at this link to Agoda
The Finns are a cold, silent people!
True – you will walk around the streets and people will not be smiley and enthusiastic to greet you, but whenever I stopped and looked a bit lost or I struggled over my map, somebody would usually check and ask if I needed any help.
I visited a church which was disappointingly closed, but Sari, the lady who was sweeping the snow off the path outside, offered to open the building up for me and to show me around.
I also visited a museum and I was helpfully told that if I were to return after 3pm I could get free entry because it was Friday. Later at the museum I learnt some more about the history of Finland and I also learnt that, while you cannot stereotype a nation, the Finns are a people of few words and are generally shy. This was written up on the walls under some of the exhibits and while it may be true, the people that I spoke to were warm, friendly, interesting and helpful.
Personally I think that people get this reputation because they don’t want to linger outside in the cold and they want to keep as much of their faces in their scarves as possible because once inside the cafes and coffee shops and once everyone had shed some of their layers of clothing, I invariably got warm smiles from people.
Getting around Tampere
I mostly navigated my way around the city of Tampere with the help of a free, self-guided walking tour on a map that I had got from the friendly people in the tourist information office. The city is small and compact and full of museums which are clustered around the river that runs through the middle of the town.
So, if you have a few days free and you can find yourself a convenient flight, do visit Tampere in Finland in winter.
A short walk from the city centre is a forest with paths through the trees that lead up to a tower from where you can look down over the town and see all of the snowy lakes.
I would love to return in the summertime and see the stunning landscape without its cloak of snow and ice. Finland in winter was spectacular with a monochrome beauty but it must be drop-dead gorgeous in the summer with the greens and blues of its many lakes and islands, and when the flowers add colour.
If you don’t want the challenge of travelling solo, Explore do some fabulous sounding tours to Finland too and you can even go on a brown bear watching weekend!… Check out their latest tours here
And because I am always asked, for the latest in flight offers I always use Skyscanner. Try searching with their monthly option for the best deals at the link below:
Save and pin this post so that you can refer to it later and do add a comment and let me know whether you think that the Finland in the wintertime should be avoided or embraced.