Mention the very word “Finland,” and most people will shiver at the very notion of the place, with images that involve frozen tundra and thickly iced lakes. Despite sitting fairly far north, Finland maintains a relatively mild climate, thanks to its many lakes and the warming Gulf Stream that flows in off the Norwegian coast – though the weather can change quite quickly, especially during the winter. Rainfall levels are moderate and more or less constant throughout the year, with an annual average of 65cm; the coast and the northern stretches tend to rain less than in the south and in the interior.
In the south, spring usually begins around mid-April, though it can remain chilly in a number of places until May, especially in Lapland, where it’s not unheard of to find snow hanging around nearly until the beginning of summer.
Definitively the best time to visit Finland is during the summer months of June, July and August, when the climate is warmest, the days are longest and the blossoming landscape at its prettiest, and when tourist facilities and transport services operate at full steam. Bear in mind though that August is vacation month for Finns, who tend to head en masse to the countryside or the coast just after midsummer – though even then, only the most popular areas are uncomfortably crowded. Summer is almost always sunny and clear, with temperatures rarely stifling: the warmest month is July, which averages 17°C (62°F), though highs of 26°C (32°F) are not unheard of, especially in the interior. The best times to visit Helsinki are May, early June and September – though you’ll find plenty going on throughout the year.
Visually speaking, autumn is a superb time to visit the country, especially in Lapland during ruska-aika (russeting): the lower fells become bathed in golds and oranges, bracken and beech glow bronze, poplars cloak the hills in yellow and the higher hills turn a deep crimson. Bear in mind though that the coastal waters can be fairly nippy as early as September, and that most sights and attractions have reduced hours outside of high season, from mid-September onwards.
Long, dark and cold, Finnish winters are nevertheless far from inordinately severe or intolerable. Although temperatures can drop as low as minus 7°C (19°F) – and at times colder – things generally tend to hover just below freezing. The best part about the chillier months is the amazing variety of outdoor activities, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice diving, jumping off an ice breaker into freezing cold waters and – of course – that most quintessentially Finnish of pastimes: broiling in a rural sauna before cooling off in the frigid waters of a nearby lake. During the darkest months, when daylight is in short supply, pints of beer and slugs of national drinks such as salmari and fisu – admittedly extremely acquired tastes – help to keep the cold at bay, and Finns muster up no small amount of charm and hospitality, especially if it involves passing on their quirky traditions and wry humour to the unsuspecting visitor.