your guide to Europe off the beaten path

Category: Finland

5 Best Experiences in Oulanka National Park

Oulanka National Park is one of Finland’s many treasures. Ever since 1956, it has been a perfect destination for those who enjoy the nature and all the activities that bring…

Oulanka National Park is one of Finland’s many treasures. Ever since 1956, it has been a perfect destination for those who enjoy the nature and all the activities that bring us closer to it.

Whether you choose to visit Oulanka national park in the winter or in the summer, there’s plenty of things to do either way. Therefore, here are our top 5 picks and suggestions!

Hike the Bear’s Trail

oulanka national park

Oulanka National Park is most famous for its amazing hiking trails. There’s a wide variety of them, starting from 0,3 km up to 82 km for the more adventurous visitors. Hiking is the best way to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and, if you’re lucky, you might spot some animals along the way!

The most famous one is also Finland’s most popular hiking trail – Karhunkierros Trail. It’s also known as the Bear’s Trail or Bear’s Ring.

Physically, it’s very demanding, but, on the other hand, also very rewarding. Depending on your stamina and allowed time, it might take you up to 6 days to finish it. The circuit can be walked in whole or in parts since it’s split into 4 sections.

The trail has two main starting points: Hautajärvi and Ristikallio. Hautajärvi can be easily reached from the town of Kuusamo. The trail is well marked (watch out for the orange paint markings on trees!) and the wildlife is abundant, to say the least.

Keep in mind that, despite being called the Bear’s Ring, the trail is not circular, so you may want to plan your transportation for the way back in advance.

When it comes to accommodation, you have a choice of spending the night in one of the cabins that are free of charge for visitors or you can bring your tent. If you pick the cabin, keep in mind that there are no reservations, which means that who gets there first gets the cabin! Booking also has some properties in Kuusamo listed on their site.

However, if you don’t have a lot of time, you can explore the Pieni Karhunkierros Trail, which is one of the most iconic trails in Finland.

The Small Bear Round, how it’s commonly called, is 12 km long. This circle route can be finished in a day, but the views are still spectacular. Other than that, there are other options suitable for every type of hiker.

Explore by canoe

oulanka national park

A great way to get to know Oulanka National Park from a different perspective is from the water. Actually, the Oulanka river is ideal for canoeing and other activities on the water. It’s suitable for beginners and even children, so if you’re looking for a relaxing trip through the untouched nature of the region, you must try this.

You will probably see all kinds of wildlife, such as reindeer, eagles, or, less likely, the bears. Also, if you’re into fishing, there are areas where you can do that as well. You can get the fishing permit and all necessary information in the Oulanka Visitor Centre.

However, our recommendation is making your canoeing-trip a two-day experience at least. For a complete stress-free getaway, consider spending the night and waking up to another day of paddling.

Some of the most stunning things to see from the canoe are the Oulanka Canyon, Myllykoski and the Jyrävä falls in the Kitka River, the hanging bridges etc. Some tours offer a ride all the way to the Russian border.

Also, part of the Karhunkierros Trail can be travelled by canoe. 

Try Rafting

For an adrenaline-filled ride, you should consider rafting. Unlike canoeing, this activity is set in Oulanka’s rapids, from class I to class IV wild ones. The best time to get involved in this activity is at the beginning of summer.

The Wild Route is one of the most difficult ones.


oulanka national park

Even though this isn’t an activity or a place you must visit, it’s definitely part of an overall unforgettable experience. Oulanka Park is special since it’s the most valuable conservation area in all of Finland. Dozens of plant and animal species you see here are those you won’t be able to see anywhere else in the world.

Notable among the wildlife are the 7,000 insect species (for example, wood ants, which build nests that are around three feet tall), eagles, bears, wolves, wolverines and many others.

You can pick berries and mushrooms freely, walk through the pine forests, observe the eagles and the semi-domesticated reindeer, and smell the orchids along the way. Yes, you can experience all of this in one place. 🙂

Northern Lights

Finally, the Oulanka National Park is great for witnessing one of nature’s greatest phenomena: the northern lights. You have a great chance of seeing them very early or late in the season. Ideally, you should visit in October and November or in March or April. Combined with the stunning nature everywhere around, this is a perfect location for Aurora Borealis hunting.


No Comments on 5 Best Experiences in Oulanka National Park

Five Underrated Ski Resorts in Europe

Winter is slowly approaching so if you’re looking for a snowy holiday and a chance to do some skiing on a budget read on! Travelers usually rely on travel agents…

Winter is slowly approaching so if you’re looking for a snowy holiday and a chance to do some skiing on a budget read on!

Travelers usually rely on travel agents when looking for a perfect winter getaway. However, with threats facing travel agencies less and less travelers approach an agency for helping them organize a trip.

With so many low-cost carriers in Europe and the rise of sharing economy, especially AirBnb, it’s so easy to plan and organize your trip from the comfort of your home.

And considering there are so many choices on the market, I’ve compiled this list of five underrated ski resorts in Europe.

Bansko, Bulgaria

Pirin Mountains

Photo: Pirin Mountains by Moise Nicu on Flickr under CC

Situated at the foot of Pirin mountain, this ski resort offers fantastic ski and snowboard conditions. The ski season lasts from 15th of December to 15th of May. There are numerous bars, traditional restaurants and accommodation options. Bansko is developing at a high speed and it even offers conditions for night skiing. It’s ideal for beginners and experts. The best way to reach Bansko is by flying to Sofia and then catching a bus. The distance between Sofia and Bansko is 3 hours. If you’re looking for an affordable winter holiday destination with great slopes, good food and fantastic scenery, consider Bansko. Borovets and Pamporovo in Bulgaria are also worth the mention.

Arcalis, Andorra

saliendo del pas

Photo: saliendo del pas by VICTOR VIC on Flickr under CC

With 30 km of slopes available, Arcalis is another great place for beginners and advanced skiers. The season here lasts from late November until mid April. Andorra has 303 km of skiable areas, 109 ski lifts and 6 snowparks. For such a tiny country, Andorra has 32,500 beds at cheaper price than in France for example.

Ischgl, Austria


Photo by Per Olesen on Flickr under CC

Ischgl is located in the Austrian state of Tyrol. The village is connected to the ski area by three ropeways: the Pardatschgratbahn, the Fimbabahn and the Silvrettabahn. Getting to Ischgl is easiest accomplished with a direct flight from Innsbruck, while Friedrichshafen (Germany) and Zurich (Switzerland) offer alternative routes via the Arlberg tunnel.

The season starts from 24th of November till the 1st of May. The skiing conditions are superb at its 238km pistes (served by 45 state-of-the-art lifts) that range from wide ski pistes perfect for beginners to more challenging and adrenaline pumping steep slopes. One unique thing that they offer is a cross border run or as they call it “Smuggler’s Run”. It’s a joint ski pass from Ischgl in Austria and the Swiss duty-free region of Samnaun – so don’t forget your credit card! Together that ski area belongs to the largest skiing resort in the Alps.

Although it offers everything you can imagine when it comes to winter activities, the village night life is not lacking behind. Ischgl is notorious for its party scene and music events that attract some of the biggest names in industry.

Saariselkä, Lapland, Finland

Green lights

Photo: Green lights by Chris on Flickr under CC

Saariselkä is a mythical gem hidden in the deep north of Finland. You might’ve expected that the route to the deep north of Finland is somewhat complicated and tiresome – in the end it is 250km north from the Arctic Circle. Well fortunately it’s actually fairly easy to get there. The most popular way is to board a Finnair flight from Helsinki to Ivalo airport, and afterwards catch a short bus ride to Saariselkä. The cheapest way is a direct bus ride from the south, that is if you don’t mind the strenuous 15 hour long journey.

Saariselkä’s ski season starts in late November and end in the early days of May. The ski resort has 11 pistes which are served by 6 lifts. It has a small downhill route perfect for beginners and early intermediate skiers. If you don’t find the pistes challenging enough you can always have a go at snowboarding. Finland’s largest terrain park offers half pipes and a number of jumps that justify the boarder’s loyalty to Saariselkä. It’s a dream destination for travelers such as I. It offers quiet, views of infinite landscapes and an abundance of outdoor activities such as snowshoeing, reindeer and husky sled rides, cross country skiing, snowmobile safaris, boating/canoeing and hoping to catch a glimpse of the dreamlike Aurora Borealis phenomenon.

And if you’re still unsure, check out these reasons to visit Lapland even if you hate winter.

Tatras, Slovakia

Morskie Oko

Photo: Morskie oko by Kamil Porembiński on Flickr under CC

Slovakia, usually a very popular destination among the Hungarians, Poles and Russians, has had a somewhat recent influx of British tourists, which is attributed to Wizz Air’s new London-Poprad route. Wizz Air also offers flights from Riga and Warsaw to Poprad. There are also train rides from Prague, buses departing from Krakow to Zakopane and from there, transfer to another bus ride to Poprad or Stary Smokovec.

Slovakia has a couple of ski resorts, located in the Low Tatras and High Tatras. The High Tatras are the tallest range in the Carpathian Mountains, smugly towering over most of Eastern Europe. Despite the high altitudes, the skiing in the High Tatras is mostly recommended for beginners. The skiing seasons starts at the 26th of November and lasts to the 23rd of May. The biggest and arguably the best ski resort is Jasna. It’s located in the Low Tatras and is also a part of the national park Napant. It has 29 pistes, ski area is between elevations of 943m – 2004m, 44.5 km of slopes and 4.5km of ski routes available. There are 27 modern lifts available.

It’s not just a skiing heaven – the resort also features a snow park. If you get tired of winter activities you can always go into town of Liptovsky Mikulas, where you can choose from go-karting, bowling, a trip to the cinema – to visiting some of the local bars/restaurants to have a drink or two to warm yourself up. You’ll also be very pleasantly surprised when you realize that the prices are steeper than the Slovakian slopes!

No Comments on Five Underrated Ski Resorts in Europe

7 Reasons To Visit Lapland Even If You Hate Winter

This guest post is by Tihana, a blogger behind the Wandering Polka Dot, a personal travel/lifestyle blog where she shares her love for travel and all other endeavours. You might…

This guest post is by Tihana, a blogger behind the Wandering Polka Dot, a personal travel/lifestyle blog where she shares her love for travel and all other endeavours. You might stop by to check out her advice for travel on a budget, city guides and experiences living abroad. Oh, there are also packing tips as you’re bound to have them after dragging the literal burden across a country in three weeks. 


If you had unlimited funds to travel, and a decent slot of time, and a person or two you could travel with (if solo travel is not your thing) – where would you go?

Let me guess. OK, I won’t really be guessing your exact destination, but it will probably be something that (in perspective) sparks joy. If you like summer, chances are it will be a seaside country. If you’re a city type, a bustling metropolis might be your choice. If you’re into active vacation, skiing, paddling, paragliding? You get it.

Yet I once made a choice totally unexpected for me. It was back when I lived in Finland and I booked a trip to Lapland in December. Honestly? It scared me a bit. Now let me back this up: I hate winter. I hate snow in the city, I hate how unsafe I feel walking in the iced streets, I hate the cold, the short days – everything.

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

At least that’s what I thought before the trip. Why I booked it then? For the sake of travel, of course. And as an organized traveler that I am, I was quite informed in advance. The Lapland trip did sound interesting. What I didn’t know is that it is also one of the most magical trips you can ever take. Yep – coming from a person who up to that moment hated winter. So you know you could trust me on this!

Finnish Lapland is the largest and the northernmost region of the country. Why do I emphasize Finnish Lapland? There’s also Swedish Lapland, no need to tell you where. It’s the least densely populated area of the country. And if you’re bothered by the cold or the short days just like I was, read on. I might just trick you into adding this trip to your bucket list.

First of all, a trip to Lapland is not all about snow. I mean, you can go to a winter resort anywhere in Europe, right? But other places, like mountains of France or Switzerland, cannot offer you the ultimate cultural experience of the indigenous people, nor its unique perks of having daylight only 2 hours a day. Did I just say perks? I guess I did; I wouldn’t have believed it had I not experienced it firsthand, but it really adds to the overall charm and magic.


So here are the seven reasons to visit Lapland even if you hate winter

The snow is different. You might already know this if you’ve been to the winter resorts before; what made me hate snow is actually the snow in the city. Being in a city is not the right context to enjoy snow, and I might be discovering America here, but it’s so much nicer and more beautiful in the nature. If you visit the Ranua Wildlife Park, you can even get to see polar bears in their natural surroundings – well, sort of – without going to the North Pole. This park, better known as the Ranua Zoo, is the northenmost zoo in the world. Its animals consist of approximately 50 wild animal species and 200 individuals. I liked it better than most of the zoos, because the areas animals live in are really large so it doesn’t look as sad as it does in most of the zoos.

You Get to See Santa

If you’re into Christmas, you should visit Santa Claus Village on the Arctic Circle – which is just outside Rovaniemi. To tell you the truth, the village is highly touristic, full of souvenir shops, and Santa is also making profit by charging people for taking photos with him. On the other hand, the place looks really magical. My inner child was super excited to see the ‘real’ Santa – even though I wasn’t really convinced his beard was real. Anyway, you don’t need to go crazy and leave them your pennies – many other people will do that – but you can always have a hot chocolate. On your way up north, it’s a necessity, so to speak.

Santa Claus Village Lapland

…And His Reindeer

Unfortunately, Santa’s reindeer won’t be in the Village with him, but you can visit them elsewhere. There is a number of reindeer farms all over Lapland, and the animals are scattered there in the winter – as opposed to summer, when they roam free across the land. Trivia: there are no wild reindeer in Finland! Every animal has an owner. Owners are usually Sami people – indigenous people of Lapland – who have been living with reindeer for centuries. If you pay a visit to one of these farms, you’ll hear facts and figures, but also enjoy a ride in a reindeer sleigh, and pet and feed the animals with moss. Oh, in case you wonder – reindeer are the small ones; moose are much bigger. Aaand yes, you can eat both. In fact, at least one of your meals in Lapland will offer some sort of reindeer meat. It might sound gross, but, you know, the circle of life.

Lapland Reindeer

You’ll Pet a Hundred Dogs

Any dog lover like myself will be delighted to visit a husky farm. Yes, there is such a thing! The Levi Husky Park, near the fell of Levi, has around one hundred dogs, huskies and Japanese spitzes, and even semi-huskies semi-wolves. Oh, and a real wolf. Mr. Reijo Jääskeläinen, the owner of the park, has been racing and breeding these arctic dogs over 30 years. He has trained his animals for several movies and projects, so I could say I pet and took photos of some celebrities. That wasn’t the only thing I did there, as I also enjoyed a ride in a sleigh pulled by huskies, real northern style! I left the park wanting to take all the dogs with me because they were just adorable. (Mental note: get a dog.)

Lapland Huskies

You’ll See the Northern Lights

Yet one Lapland experience tops them all. The downside is that you can never really tell it will happen, so you have to rely on luck and good karma. I must had been really nice before the trip, because it greeted me in all its glory. Of course, I’m talking about Aurora Borealis, or the northern lights. They had always seemed to me like something you want to see in life, but aren’t sure it would ever happen. It did. The aurora forecasts were foreseeing a good night: we went outside of the resort, out into the woods, as artificial street lighting won’t do you much good in spotting auroras. (Strong auroras remain visible in a city, but they’re much more beautiful out in the darkness.) We put snowshoes on and went hunting for auroras. The wind was just scary! But it was all worth it when a tiny green stripe across the sky emerged. It wasn’t really what I had expected, but soon enough it rose. I wish I were skilled with words enough to describe the wonderful dance of the aurora, its changing of the color, turning white and then back to green; its behavior, similar to what would be a very slow moving fire; and how everything becomes so insignificant in that moment, even the cold that threatens to eat you up; how you feel so very humble and small and so grateful for witnessing this. But I’m not, so I’ll skip even the part where I teared up a little and wish you an opportunity to experience it yourself.

Lapland Aurora

You’ll Enjoy Winter Sports

If you’re staying in a resort, you might want to do regular winter stuff like downhill or cross-country skiing or driving a snowmobile. I had never skied before and wanted to devote it a couple of days sometime in the future instead of one afternoon in Lapland, so I skipped. But I did slide downhill on my behind. Apparently, I reached speed of around 40 km/h. It felt super dangerous, but was also so much fun.

Lapland Ski Resort

You’ll Relax and Unwind

After a day of all sorts of wintery activities, you absolutely need to do what Finns do. One word: sauna! Sauna is one of the best traits of Finnish culture and an absolute bliss. You should know, though, that it will probably be forbidden to enter a public one in a bathing suit. If you crave for a true Finnish experience, after some minutes in sauna get outside and jump into the snow. At first it feels like a thousand knives stabbing into your skin, but hey, it’s good for the circulation. And you get used to it after a couple of times. 😉

Finnish sauna II

You’ll Experience Something Crazy

If snow in -15 degrees didn’t feel as bad, you can go one step further. Finland doesn’t have a shore on the Arctic, but while you’re here, you can travel to Norway and test your endurance in the cold waters. I’m not even joking – I did this. If you’re trying to set your foot in all the oceans, or just want to have an interesting story when you get home, this is the experience for you. I now know the answer to the question ‘what was the craziest thing you’ve ever done’.

Lapland Arctic

How to Get There

The fact that Lapland is a part of a European country shouldn’t leave you all spontaneous when it comes to the travel part. Finland is a quite large country, geographically speaking, so you might want to consider flying into Rovaniemi or Kittilä, and you can do so from major Finnish cities. Traveling by bus or train might be scenic, but if you’re doing it in winter, remember that the sun rises really late and sets really early, and the trip from the south of country lasts for a whole day.

Where to Stay

Apart from the town of Rovaniemi, the capital of the region, you can opt for the resorts out in the nature, such as Levi, Saariselkä or Ylläs, all of which offer hotels, spas, restaurants, but also wooden cabins and even igloos.

What to Eat

Reindeer in all forms – smoked, dried, as a steak. Herring. Lots of smoked salmon. Salmon soup – delicious and filling. Berries, even if it’s winter, because locals picked tons of berries in the summer.

Things to Remember

There is no cold weather – only inappropriate clothes! According to Norwegians. Well, some could question the “no cold weather” argument, but make sure you wear lots of layers, a really good winter jacket and all the winter accessories. You don’t want to leave your room without gloves and a winter hat, no matter what it does to your hair. It’s survival of the fittest!

Watching northern lights from the Hotel Kakslauttanen has always been on my bucket list. What about you? Would you like to visit Lapland?

Photos: ©Wandering Polka Dot except Flickr
No Comments on 7 Reasons To Visit Lapland Even If You Hate Winter

7 Great European Tourism Videos

Videos represent a great tool for promoting the tourism of a country and increasing its attractiveness. It can enhance the destination’s image and result in significant increase of tourism number….

Videos represent a great tool for promoting the tourism of a country and increasing its attractiveness. It can enhance the destination’s image and result in significant increase of tourism number. Here are seven great examples of European tourism videos;

AUSTRIA – Moments of Bliss

The “Austria-Moments of Bliss”  campaign focuses on the individual traveler and the authentic travel experiences.


In short: Arrive and Revive

CROATIA – The New Tourism Star of the European Union

This video is an extension of ‘Ode to joy‘, which won a prestigious award at the International Tourism Film Festival at ITB Berlin. This video highlights very well the cultural, historical and natural heritage of Croatia.

FINLAND – The Northern Lights


LUXEMBOURG – Is It True What They Say?

The main idea is to counter widespread stereotypes about Luxembourg and present the country the way many inhabitants and visitors experience it today.


Cool music too!

HOLLAND – The Original Cool

This video screams “We’re so awesome and we’re much better than the rest of the world!”, but it’s very creative and enticing.  Oh, and definitely check the parody of this.

SERBIA – Soulfood

Yes, Belgrade is “Europe’s new capital of cool”, “Eastern Europe’s Berlin”, “The party capital” etc., but it’s so refreshing to see that Tourist Organization of Serbia opted for focusing on something different like gastronomy. The result was pretty good, wasn’t it? The winner of the 2012 FilmAT – Film, Art and Tourism Festival in Warsaw and various other festivals.


Gotta love Sweden! Gotta love Swedish humor!

No Comments on 7 Great European Tourism Videos

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search