The best time to visit Finland is generally 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. It’s also when tourist facilities and transport services operate at full steam. That said, visit Finland in winter and you can enjoy a snowy wonderland and all the outdoor activities that come with it, such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling and the magic of a reindeer ride, followed by that great Finnish institution – a steaming sauna. Of course, there’s also that spectacular aerial showstopper, the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), which are best seen dancing across the sky between August and April.
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, worth considering when deciding the best time to visit Finland. Snowfall is greater in the north and eastern regions, and usually under a blanket of snow in 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.
Although technically spring, March is still clinging on to winter. It remains cold and often snowy, but match this with the longer days, especially once April arrives, and it’s the best time to go to northern Finland for a snowsports holiday. In fact, it’s not unheard of to find snow hanging around nearly until the beginning of summer in Lapland.
In the south, spring usually begins around mid-April, though it can remain chilly in a number of places until May. However, at least winter has released its icy grip and you'll see the country slowly emerge out of hibernation. Events also start up again in spring: jazz lovers will enjoy the April Jazz Festival in Espoo, just a half-hour drive from the capital, Helsinki.
By May, spring is in full swing: temperatures average 50˚C, flowers are lighting up the countryside and everywhere is a lush green. If you’re in Finland on 1 May, you can’t fail to notice the celebrations taking place across the country. Vappu (also Labour Day) is a national holiday that marks the end of the long winter and the welcoming of spring – an excellent excuse to let loose with boisterous festivities. The party gets going the night before, with people filling the bars and restaurants in Finland’s towns and cities.
With the dark winters seemingly endless, Finns are ready to embrace the warm, sunny days of summer when it finally rolls in. The landscapes are at their best – a palette of vibrant greens and everything in full bloom. And in sharp contrast with the winter months, the summer days are long. So long, in fact, that the sun doesn’t even bother to set from the middle of May until late July in the north – from June in the south. The Midnight Sun is just cause for celebration, and Midsummer (Juhannus) is a national holiday. Finns typically take off to spend the weekend closest to the 25 June at country cottages, to hang out with friends and family, light bonfires, steam in a sauna, and relax or party until the small hours – after all, when it’s constantly light, who knows when it’s bedtime? If you’re in the city during Midsummer you may well find it more or less deserted.
The best month to visit Finland for warmest weather is, without doubt, July. Temperatures average 17°C (62°F), though highs of 26°C (32°F) are not unheard of, especially in the interior. This is summer proper, when everyone makes the most of the good weather and heads outdoors – for hiking and biking, swimming and boating, fishing and foraging for wild food. The only downside is getting bitten by mosquitoes – lots of them.
Vacation time for Finns is generally from Midsummer to early August, when they tend to head en masse to the countryside or the coast – though even then, only the most popular areas are uncomfortably crowded. By mid August it’s back to school time, which means a chance to enjoy a quieter (and cheaper) break.
If you’re asking when is the best time to visit Finland for its capital, Helsinki, choose May, early June or September, when it's at its liveliest – though you’ll find plenty going on throughout the year.
Summer offers plenty of fun and culture via its many festivals. Kicking off in June is the Midnight Sun Festival (Sodankylä Elokuvajuhlat), five days of screenings by national and international filmmakers in the city of Sodankylä, in northern Finland. In July, head west for the hugely popular Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, or Pori Jazz, one of the top jazz festivals in Europe. But one of the biggest events in July is the Tangomarkkinat (the Tango Festival) in Seinäjoki, where couples have been twirling each year since 1985. If you’re in Helsinki in August, get tickets for Flow, a contemporary music and arts festival, with international heavyweights taking to the stage.
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.
September to October is one of the best times to visit Finland for sightings of the Northern Lights, particularly if you’re in the north of the country. You can also expect the first whisperings of winter in October. This means temperatures drop – to below freezing at nighttime in the north – and the number of daylight hours shrinks. It’s also often rainy and windy. Travel in November and you’ll probably find Finland at its gloomiest: short days eking out just four hours of daylight near the Arctic Circle and only a couple more down south.
There’s no skirting around it: winter is dark and cold, February being the coldest month. But the snow is transformative. Landscapes are beautiful under the heavy layer of glistening, powdery white, and become a playground for anyone interested in the outdoors. From ice skating to snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and Nordic skiing, or just strapping on a pair of snowshoes and walking through the soft stuff – there are many ways to enjoy this time of year. And what could be better than spending the day outside in the cold and then having a glugg of hot glogg, Finland’s version of mulled wine, and thawing out in a wood-burning sauna – although you’ll probably want to skip the option of plunging into a freezing cold lake after.
Book this excellent winter woodland snowmobiling and ice fishing adventure to find out how the Finns enjoy the winter wilderness of Rovaniemi in Lapland.
Obviously December is the best month to travel to Finland for Christmas snowy magic, especially in Lapland, home of Father Christmas himself. If you go in early December, before school’s break for the holidays, or in January, you’ll find it less busy and easier on your wallet in terms of accommodation costs.
It’s worth mentioning that the Finns are well used to these conditions and don’t bat an eyelid when everything freezes over. This means everything runs smoothly and visitors are well catered for. Bear in mind, though, that towns and cities during the coldest months feel somewhat dormant. Also worth noting is that the Finns from the south tend to take their skiing holidays in February and March in the north, so you should book accommodation and outdoor activities in advance.
Firstly, the best place in Finland to see the Northern Lights is north of the Arctic Circle. And Lapland’s wilderness and sparsely populated region means little light pollution, which makes it ideal for catching sight of the heavenly display, assuming there are clear skies. The short days and long nights from autumn through winter and into spring give the best chance of sightings, with September-October and February-March being the optimum times.
There are numerous tours on offer to see the Northern Lights, and some ski resorts are set up to maximise sightings. For example, in Lapland, at the resort of Yllas they turn street lights off after 10pm if the Northern Lights put in an appearance, while many resorts, such as Levi, offer accommodation with panoramic views.
It’s one extreme to another: from mid-winter winter darkness to perpetual light. Due to the way the Earth tilts on its axis, regions above the Arctic Circle experience days of unbroken daylight, from mid May to late July. The best place to see the Midnight Sun is Lapland, as you’ll have around 70 days to witness this phenomenon. But even Helsinki, in the south, barely sees the sun dip below the horizon before popping back up again.
In a nutshell, the best time to visit Finland to see the Midnight Sun is between June and July in the south, mid May to late July in the northern regions.
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Top image: Lake in Finland in summer © ArCaLu/Shutterstock