• Merrilee MacLean

Finland - An Alternative to the Crazy Crowds


Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Finland
Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna, Finland

Stunning but subtle, Finland is an excellent option for someone looking to escape from the craziness of this world, and revel in physical beauty and a population free of angst.


The Finnish people appear calm and content – they are comfortable with themselves and don’t seem terribly concerned with what others think of them. They are proud of their unique language, and don’t bother with signage in other languages. Still, they are warm and friendly to visitors and happy to share their good fortune. It is not just an impression: Finland has been identified as the most stable and safest country in the world (see Statistics Finland) and has ranked 1st in the U.N.’s World Happiness Report for the past two years. What a great place to live.


It is also a great place to visit. Helsinki, the capitol, is a modern city, easily reachable by air, ferry or cruise ship. It is a cosmopolitan city, known for the composer Sibelius, the Rock Church , and Iittala designer glass. Outdoor cafes, common throughout Europe, are made more cozy with blankets supplied on each chair. The city is remarkably clean, with no obvious homeless problem. Indeed, Helsinki has been recognized as being the only EU city to have actually reduced its homeless problem in recent years.

children's play area on a Finnish train
Children's play area on a Finnish train

The most remarkable feature of Finland, though, is the countryside. It isn’t flashy, but if you look at a map , you will see that a good part of the map is blue, reflecting the hundreds of lakes that make up the landscape. Venturing out from the city (at least in the summer) you will be surrounded by startlingly blue lakes rimmed by trees to the shore, particularly in the southeast half of the country. Farther north the forests continue, interspersed with well tended farms until you get to the Arctic Circle, where forests seem to continue forever. The pace is slow, and it seems as many people ride bicycles as cars. The best way to travel, though, is by rail. The Finnish trains are modern, with many creature comforts like power outlets at every seat, special seating areas for individuals or groups, an onboard café, vertical bike racks, and even a children’s play area, complete with bookcase, a slide and miniature train.


Savonlinna, Finland at train station
The view of Savonlinna upon arrival by train

A visit to Savonlinna, northeast of Helsinki, will do your soul good. A resort town best known for its annual Opera Festival and castle, Savonlinna combines all that makes Finland special – striking landscapes, culture, and history. The city is set on a series of islands within Lake Saimaa, connected by walking and bike paths, and even has a beach for hardy swimmers. The castle, Olavinlinna, set on its own island, was first constructed in 1475 on the border between Sweden and Russia and then spent the next 300+ years occupied by alternating armies as the two nations fought over who controlled the border. The border issue is now resolved, with Russia about 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the east. Tours of the castle are available, though be prepared to climb some narrow and very steep circular stone staircases. Your thighs may ache for days. During the summer Olavinlinna serves as the venue for the annual Opera Festival, which first began in 1912. Before that it hosted both a tsar and a king of Sweden, and in 2017 Vladimir Putin and the president of Finland met at Olavinlinna as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia.


While Finland may not be the obvious choice for a first trip to Europe, keep it in mind as you plan your travels. It could be a refreshing respite from the more popular, but overwhelming and often overtouristed, alternatives.



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