Scandinavian countries are my favorite countries to visit. I like their stands on socio-economic issues and policies. Which includes a combination of free market capitalism with a comprehensive welfare state and collective bargaining at the national level.
Last year I traveled to Denmark and Sweden, and I had a great time. This year I decided to visit Finland and Norway to end my 2017 travels. I’m going to give you guys a little breakdown on the trip and a few fundamental tips that will come in handy if you decide to plan a trip to Finland and/ or Norway! When people hear ‘Finland’, most of them would think ‘Helsinki’, which is the capital of Finland. However, there’s definitely more to Finland than just Helsinki. My girlfriend and I certainly thought so. We decided to visit not only Helsinki, but also Rovaniemi, a small town in the most northern part of Finland. Also known as the “official” home town of Santa Claus. It’s a magical town that so many people don’t even know of.
If you want that “Christmas atmosphere”, there’s no better place. From reindeer sledding, to meeting Santa, to writing a niece or nephew a Christmas card in the name of Santa, Rovaniemi offers all of this and so much more. Truly an astonishing place.
Getting to Rovaniemi is quite simple really. The easiest way would be to fly into Rovaniemi Airport (airport code: RVN). 3 flights a day fly into RVN all from Helsinki. So, if you are flying into Finland from out of the county, you’d have a layover in Helsinki before flying into Rovaniemi. You can also take a train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, which takes about 9 hours. After spending 15 hours on an airplane however, my girlfriend and I decided that we would be better off flying. I rather take a 1-hour flight over a 9-hour train ride any day.
Now that you have the whole ‘getting there’ situation figured out, the next question that you need to answer is “where to stay”? Hotels in Rovaniemi are pretty expensive, therefor I would encourage you to use Airbnb. We found a great place in central Rovaniemi for a good price. The airport is about 6 miles north of Rovaniemi city center. There are airport taxi shuttles that take you from the airport to the city center and back to the airport.
I would recommend you stay close to the city center and then just use the shuttle service to and from the airport. Once in Rovaniemi the best way to get around is by foot (yeah, I know what you must think: God forbid you actually have to walk around a little). However, everything is in close proximity, and Rovaniemi is a pretty small city.
Now when you make your way to the Santa Claus Village, there’s a city bus that will take you directly there and back. Line 8.
As you can see, transportation is not an issue in Rovaniemi.
For things to do, check out www.laplandsafaries.com Here you can book reindeer sledding safaris, Northern light expeditions, snowmobiling sessions, Ice Fishing, and so much more. They’re great!
Also, if you want to visit some huskies, pet them, and go husky sledding, go visit www.huskypark.fi/en and plan your activities there.
If you have general questions about Rovaniemi, go on www.visitrovaniemi.fi and inform yourself on there.
Around Rovaniemi, you can find some good places to eat.
For a nice breakfast/ brunch, visit Cafe & Bar 21. There’s also a restaurant called Ravintola Monte Rosa, which would be an excellent choice for a romantic dinner. And there is Amarillo, a Mexican restaurant that has delicious beef Quesadillas.
All these places are within walking distance if you decide to stay close to the city center. Visiting Rovaniemi around Christmas is a wonderful idea in my opinion. Plenty of things to do, everyone is very friendly and it’s something a little different.
Overall 3-4 days is probably all you need for a visit to Rovaniemi.
Now after we spent 3 days in Rovaniemi, we flew back down to Helsinki and spent 3 days there. Again, we used Airbnb for our method of accommodation. Now as far as transportation is concerned, don’t bother checking Uber. It is so God damn expensive, and rarely ever used in Helsinki. Public transportation is going to be your best friend. Now my lovely girlfriend, insisted that we would take a taxi from the airport to our Airbnb. A decision that costed us almost €50. Take my advice and use take the bus that takes you from the airport to the city. Once you exit the airport, there are plenty of buses that indicate their destination. Just make sure you have some cash on hand when you arrive. Euros to be more specific.
Once you get settled into your Airbnb or hotel, make sure to open this link on your phone and save it; https://www.hsl.fi/en
It’s the best way to find your way around Helsinki. Trust me, it’s amazing. You can let it pinpoint your exact location, and then you enter your destination, and it’ll generate the best routes for you. If you need help finding things to do/see or eat in Helsinki, then you what to go on www.myhelsinki.fl
There you can get the scoop on trendy restaurants, bars, attractions, and so much more. Helsinki is a beautiful city. But one thing you should be mindful of before visiting is that it is incredibly expensive.
A single meal for one person will easily cost you about €20 and up. So, if you’re on a budget, a trip to Finland may not be the best idea. Other than that, Finnish people are extremely welcoming and helpful, Helsinki is a very clean and structured city. I urge everyone to visit Scandinavian at least once in their life. You’ll notice how far behind some other countries really are.
3 days in Helsinki is certainly enough to see a good amount of the city. Try visiting the cathedral, ‘Temppeliaukio Church’ or Cafe Regatta while you’re in Helsinki.
Now after Helsinki, we flew to my 20th country; Norway. Oslo to be more specific. Before I got to Oslo, I didn’t know that Norway was actually ranked the 6th most expensive country in the world. Didn’t take me long to figure that out though. Luckily, we only spent 2 days in Norway. Outrageously expensive I’ll tell you.
But beautiful it was. The architect was something else. Oslo is known for its culture and museums. Now Oslo’s international airport is about 40 minutes outside of the city. Like I mentioned earlier, forget Uber in Oslo as well. Public transportation will be your best friend.
There are two types of trains that run from the airport to Oslo central and back.
- Flytoget is a company that provides transportation between the two locations. Costs you about $20 each way and takes less than 30 minutes.
- Local trains do run to and from the airport for about half that price and only takes about 5 minutes longer. You can buy your ticket at the airport. Also, be mindful that Norway does not use the Euro, they’re not even part of the E.U. The Norwegian Krone is the official currency of Norway.
Once you arrive at Oslo central, you can take local buses and trains to your destinations.
If you buy a regular one-way ticket from the airport to Oslo central ($10), you can continue to use that same ticket for another hour or two once you arrive at Oslo central on local buses and trains.
Download the app ‘RuterReise’. It’ll help you plan how to get around the city.
You can buy a day pass for around $10 or so, it’s easy to buy the pass is valid for 24 hours. You can take buses and trains to anywhere around the city.
When eating out in Oslo, expect to pay a lot, tipping is not required, just like with all Scandinavian countries.
After two days in Oslo, we flew to Paris, had a day long layover, and headed back to the states.
Overall, it was a fantastic trip, expensive, but worth it. If you’re interested in traveling to Finland or Norway, I would encourage you to visit both countries during the same trip, they’re in close proximity. You can even see more than just Finland and Norway in one trip.
If you want to add Denmark or Sweden to that itinerary, you could easily do so as well.
Just be mindful that all Scandinavian countries are very expensive, therefor, planning ahead is imperative.