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, reindeer, 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 centre 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 fifth largest city in Finland and by far 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. The second busiest airport in Finland and an important transportation hub.
- 2 Rovaniemi – The capital of Finnish Lapland has the famous Santa Claus Village and the Arctic Circle. It is a university town, one of the most important tourist destinations and the hub for transport in Lapland, with the third busiest airport of Finland and the terminus for most trains to north.
- 3 Kemi – The city of the snow castle and icebreaker cruises.
- 4 Tornio – Border town and international dual city with the Swedish Haparanda across the nearly invisible border. There are lot of shops on both sides of the border. An easy way to be able to say you visited Sweden as well.
- 5 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.
- 6 Kuusamo – A ski resort town near the Russian border.
- 7 Kuhmo – A small wilderness town famous for its bears (not beers) and wolves. International chamber music event in July.
- 8 Ylivieska – A smaller town that got attention as the old wooden church was burned down by an arsonist in 2016. Today a new church is built. One of the Finnish railway hubs.
- 1 Enontekiö, "The arm of Finland", offers the highest hills and beautiful scenery.
- 2 Nuorgam – The northernmost village of the European Union.
Finland's largest national parks and nature reserves are located in the northern parts of the country. Experienced wilderness backpackers may also want to consider the designated wilderness areas of Lapland.
- 1 Urho Kekkonen National Park, – good services near the roads and large backcountry wilderness.
- 2 Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park – even better services, and somewhat closer to Rovaniemi.
- 3 Lemmenjoki National Park – vast backcountry. Together with the Øvre Anárjohka National Park in Norway Lemmenjoki forms the largest roadless wilderness area in Europe.
- 4 Pyhä-Luosto National Park – small but impressive national park with an amethyst mine
- 5 Oulanka National Park – hiking route Karhunkierros is the most popular hiking route in Finland
- 6 Riisitunturi National Park
- 7 Bothnian Bay National Park – maritime national park in the northernmost corner of the Baltic Sea
- 8 Syöte National Park
- 9 Hossa National Park – narrow canyon-like lakes and thousands of years old rock paintings
- 10 Rokua National Park – tiny national park with impressive post-glacial formations
- 3 Levi – huge winter sports resort and prominent hub of nightlife in Lapland
- 4 Ruka
- 5 Ylläs
- 6 Pyhä
- 7 Syöte
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 languages are also spoken. Most Finns born since 1965 speak English reasonably well. Near the Norwegian border you may have service in Norwegian due to importance of border trade. Swedish is not widely spoken even near the border, as the bordering areas of Sweden have been Finnish-speaking as well – but there are some pockets: Oulu has a small Swedish school.
Ostrobothnian and Laplandic Finnish dialects are famous for their extensive use of intervocalic h. You may find some humour based on it. Particularly recognisable is the Tornio river valley dialect, which is actually considered a separate language (meän kieli) in Sweden. Dialects in Kainuu and the Eastern Oulu regions belong to the Eastern Finnish group and resemble the speech in the Savo-Karjala area.
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 travellers 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 also in Romance languages, Chinese and Japanese.
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 Rovaniemi, and charter flights from Central Europe and the UK to major ski destinations (mainly Kittilä) in the winter.
If you prefer to travel overland (car, bus or 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/Rovaniemi). If you plan to take your car with you from the south but don't feel like driving around 600 km (or the double), 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. Alternatively you can take your time and visit places on way. The main roads from the south are national roads 4 (E75) and 8 (E8).
Cheapest bus tickets from Helsinki to Oulu are about €30 and to Rovaniemi about €40. These are 10+ hour overnight trips.
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. Especially, there is no train connection between Finland and Sweden. You can actually buy such a ticket (and it is covered by InterRail), but the "train connection" between Luleå and Kemi is by bus!
Generally the only flights are to Helsinki and further away.
VR trains take you to Oulu and further to Kemi from where the track is divided into one branch going straight north, via Kemi to Kolari, and another to Rovaniemi and Kemijärvi. The train line from the south up to Kajaani continues westwards joining the main line in Oulu. Generally, coach or car are the most practical ways of getting around.
When driving, notice that speed limits are often low and roads may be in surprisingly poor condition. The highway 21 (Tornio–Kilpisjärvi) has been notorious for its poor situation. Collisions with elks are rare but often fatal. Collisions with reindeer aren't fatal but common among unaccustomed drivers.
Matkahuolto has timetables for the coach lines covering most of the province. Don't expect buses to run every half hour; most villages have coach connection just once or twice a day. Plan your trip well ahead. Of course the taxis are an option, but a very expensive one due to the distances. Google Maps includes timetables of trains, coaches and local transport of many cities and towns. Other useful route planners are Opas.matka.fi for trains and local buses and Matkahuolto Reittiopas for regional buses.
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 open wilderness huts offer free shelter to hikers on some routes.
The prime reason to come to Northern Finland is to enjoy the nature. You could go hiking or fishing for a week or more, but there are also short trails and natural sights accessible by less outdoory people.
- 8 Kalajoki Beach – A sand beach of a few kilometres. A popular holiday destination near Kalajoki.
- 9 Kukkola rapids' near Tornio.
- Experience the midnight sun in the summer and the polar night as well as northern lights in the winter.
- See Reindeer in Lapland and Kainuu
- 10 Saana, one of the most famous mountain of Finland, in Kilpisjärvi
There are also related human-built attractions:
- Icebreaker cruise on the Bay of Bothnia, from Kemi.
- The biggest snow castle in the world, built yearly in Kemi.
- 11 Ranua Wildlife Park – The only polar bears in Finland. And many Finnish species. Ranua.
And several cultural attractions:
- The wind power plant in Hailuoto.
- 12 Kajaani Castle – ruins of a stone castle built in early 1600s, in Kajaani.
- Old towns in Ii and Kalajoki
- Oulu waterfront.
- Santa Claus in the Santa Claus village at the Arctic Circle.
- The oldest scuba gear in the world in Raahe
- 13 Sami museum Siida – The official Sami culture museum in Finland, in Inari.
- 14 The Centre of Finland – The official monument for the geographical centre of Finland is in Siikalatva, conveniently located right next to the highway E75 (the actual centre is close enough that we oughtn't worry). If you drive along highway E8, then include islands and take the mean of the extreme latitudes and longiutudes, and you get the centre to be in Liminka
- The northernmost point of the whole European Union in Nuorgam.
- Ski downhill in one of the many ski resorts in Finnish Lapland and Kainuu.
- Go hiking or cross-country skiing in one of the many national parks, hiking areas and wilderness areas, or by some of the ski resorts.
- 11 Three-Country Cairn – The only place where you can visit Finland, Sweden and Norway within a minute. Also the northernmost point of Sweden. Popular destination, reached by an 11-km hike or a boat cruise from Kilpisjärvi.
- Hike from Hetta through Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park to its visitor centre (55 km)
- Hike from Kilpisjärvi to Halti, the highest point in Finland, through the Käsivarsi Wilderness Area. This is 2×55 km, and mostly above the treeline – not for beginners.
- The Karhunkierros through Oulanka National Park (80 km) – one of the most popular long hikes in Finland
- 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.
- 12 Kallankarit – A small fishermen community that enjoys autonomous status given by king Adolf Frederick of Sweden in 1771. Off Kalajoki.
- 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.
Nearly iconic Lapland specialty is poronkäristys, the sautéed reindeer, served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. There are lots of other reindeer dishes as well.
Lapin puikula is an almond shaped variety of potato traditionally cultivated in Lapland. It has the European Union Protected Designation of Origin.
Leipäjuusto, a spotted squeaky cheese, is often served slightly heated and with cloudberry jam. Dishes made from game (mostly moose) and salmon soup are also common. Smoked lampreys are appreciated delicacy on the Tornio river banks. An unleavened white flat bread called rieska is also native to Northern Finland and readily available in most grocery stores. Oulu region's own dish (and an opinion-divider) is rössypottu which is a soup made of potatoes and veripalttu a sort of blood puddding. In Kainuu region rönttönen is a sweet rye pastry with berry filling, also protected by the European Union Protected Designation of Origin.
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 printed map and compass should of course be carried on any longer hike or a side trip. In extreme cases the Finnish Border Guard will seek and rescue the lost ones with a helicopter.
There is a university hospital in Oulu and regional hospitals in Kajaani, Kemi, and Rovaniemi.