Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi

Just a two and a half hour ferry ride from Tallinn in Estonia is the Finnish capital city of Helsinki. From there it’s easy to access one of the world’s coldest and most isolated regions. I may have mentioned before that I really hate the cold. Why had I spent a couple of weeks heading north into Finland in the middle of winter then? Two words: Aurora Borealis. I’m a sucker for pretty lights. So began a new adventure; chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi.

I wasn’t confident in my camera’s ability to capture scenes very well, so I made a friend who is a photographer take the trip with me. On the off chance that I would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is the Aurora Borealis. We had gotten the 6 am ferry from Tallinn, which got us into Helsinki bright and early. Actually, not so bright really. It was still pretty dark by the time I got outside the terminal building at 8:30 am.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Port of Helsinki

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Wandering Helsinki

Not far from the port I got the first taste of what would be awaiting me in northern Finland. You know, that white stuff that covers the north for about half the year.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Snow in Helsinki

Luckily, that was all the snow I saw in Helsinki. In fact, the city seemed to be surprisingly free of it. I don’t know if this means that Helsinki doesn’t get as much snow as I had imagined. Or if they’re just really good at hiding it. Mind you, I’ve been in Canada in the winter and snow isn’t something that can easily be hidden. So I’m going to run with my first thought; Helsinki isn’t the winter wonderland I thought it would be.

Easy to Navigate City

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bloody cold! Almost too much for my warm weather body to handle. But my only choice was to suck it up and walk. Helsinki is an amazingly walkable city. There are wide footpaths and cycle paths everywhere. The signage is also pretty great. I think it would be a pretty difficult city to get lost in.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Informational Signs in Helsinki

One thing I noticed while wandering around Helsinki, was that the Finns seem to have quite a sense of humour. Whether it’s a sign at the entrance of a fast food joint

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Finnish Humour

Or sculptures like this one, called Naughty Boy

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland Part One - Helsinki to Kemi. Naughty Boy

Speaking of sculptures, there was no shortage of them around the city.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Square near Kampi Bus Station

I guess it was a sign of the season that I saw some temporary ice sculptures too. Or half sculptures. It looked like one of them could’ve been Snoopy, but someone made a mistake while sculpting it. I mean, there’s no way it could’ve melted in that weather!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Ice Sculptures Outside Oodi

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi. Oodi in Kansalaistori Square

A well-known building in Helsinki is its central library or Oodi as it’s known locally. It’s located in Kansalaistori Square, which is right near the city centre. Oodi bills itself as “A meeting place, a house of reading and a diverse urban experience”. It certainly is an experience. It also seemed like the place to be on a dull winter’s day. We thought we’d go there for the warmth and WiFi. Everyone in Helsinki had the same idea, it seemed. It’s the most crowded library I’ve ever seen.

The outside of the building is striking, with a three storey glass facade. Each of the three floors of the building had different areas. The third floor had all the books, along with a children’s play area. We found a terraced area with powerpoints on the second floor. There were loads of people just hanging out there. A wander around the second floor allowed me to watch a 3D printer in action. Oodi had several 3D printers for public use. The geek in me was happy. Yes, this was definitely no ordinary library.

WiFi Everywhere

Oodi also had sewing and embroidery machines, studios and editing rooms, games, music and meeting rooms as well as a restaurant and a cinema! Of course, there was also WiFi available, as there is everywhere in Helsinki. You see, Finland decided back in 2010 that internet access was a right and should, therefore, be available to everyone. That means free WiFi is everywhere. You don’t have to go far to get connected in the city.

Quirks in the City

Helsinki is a beautiful and clean city that’s easy to navigate, but it does have it’s quirks. Firstly, I’m not sure if they get to see the sky in Winter there. It seemed to be perpetually overcast. Or dark. I only managed to get a few photos while it was light. Not because I was wandering around late at night but because it got dark at around 3 pm!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Helsinki Street

As much as they believe internet is a right in Helsinki, they don’t believe that relieving yourself is a right. If you want to use the toilets in many establishments, you have to make a purchase. All the toilets have security codes which are printed on the receipt you get after you pay. You’d wanna hope that you don’t end up in a huge line when you really need to go.

Another interesting concept in Helsinki is night prices at fast food places. If you want to get something to eat after 9 pm, the menu prices increase and the specials disappear. Even if the place is due to close at 10 pm, they’ll switch to night menu prices for their last hour of trading. And those prices will possibly continue for their first hour of trading the next day, depending on their opening time.

Also, it seems that a lot of things are Lactose and Gluten free. I even saw Lactose free sausages!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Laktisiton/Lactose Free Product K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Gluteeniton/Gluten Free Product

Crazy Prices

Some Northern European countries are well-known for their exorbitant prices for everyday items. While I was expecting Finland to be more expensive than the Baltic countries I had just come from, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the prices did jump. Some things were more than twice the price! It was just as well that I’d run under budget in the Baltic countries.

The only other country I’ve come across in my travels that is more expensive is Norway. I figured that prices might get worse the further I headed into the north. With that in mind, I stocked up all the cheap(ish) non-perishable stuff I could get my hands on at the Kamppi Centre.

Interestingly, the Kamppi Centre was one of the biggest redevelopment projects and the largest construction site in Finnish history. It took four years to transform the area in downtown Helsinki into the hub that it is now. It has almost anything you could need, like a huge shopping centre with nightclubs, offices and residences as well as local and long-distance bus terminals.

Overnight Bus to Kemi from Kamppi

The buses that I took in the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), especially in Vilnius were quite luxurious and had complimentary hot drinks. This was not so with the Finnish overnight bus that we were taking to Kemi in Finnish Lapland. It was the least comfortable of all coaches taken thus far, despite being comparatively more expensive. I had mistakenly assumed that things would get more luxurious in Finland. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

I stared out the window of the mostly empty bus as we made our way out of the city. For the first hour there was no snow to be seen. Then I watched the amount of snow slowly increase on the road, until about 2 hours out of Helsinki where everything as far as the eye could see was covered in several centimetres of snow. Including the road! I thought the bus driver might slow down at that point but he did not. As terrifying as it sounds to me, driving on snow is the only way you get anywhere in the winter in Finland.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland, Helsinki to Kemi. Snow Covered Road on the Way to Kemi

Arriving in Lapland

I had actually managed to sleep a bit on the way, as the ride had been pretty smooth. We pulled into Oulu, the biggest city in Northern Finland at about 7 am. But that wasn’t the end of the journey. There we had to wait a short while for the bus that would take us onto Kemi in Lapland. That two hour journey continued on snowed over roads until we were finally in Kemi.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Chasing the Aurora Borealis-Helsinki to Kemi. Abandoned bike in Kemi

Follow the continuing adventure in Kemi where we visit a famous seasonal site.

Check out all the destinations visited on this trip –
Vilnius
Riga
Tallinn
Helsinki
Kemi
Oulu

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63 Replies to “Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finland – Helsinki to Kemi”

  1. What an awesome trip! I love that they had such fun senses of humor. Nearby Scandinavia is one of my favorite places to travel, and I have been to Norway, Sweden and Denmark more than any other country outside of the USA. Unfortunately, I have only been to Finland once though, and this is inspiring me to go back there and so a lot more exploring!

    1. I love the Scandinavian countries too! I’ve been to Sweden and Denmark several times over the years and really want to get back to Norway one day!

  2. Here’s another amazing travel journey and adventure from you! The Aurora Borealis is something that I’d love to witness someday.

    1. Well, there’s that chance, but it doesn’t take away from the experience of seeing a new country and finding out local quirks. If you miss then, you just plan to try another time :o)

    1. Yes! It’s certainly not somewhere I could handle long term. The shortened amount of daylight hours is just weird.

  3. Sounds like you had a lovely trip through Finland. I have never been there but I have traveled to other Scandinavian countries and I know how expensive they are. Crazy, right?

    1. I’ve been to the other Scandinavian countries too and Finland is more expensive than all of them, with the exception of Norway. But they’re all beautiful countries.

  4. This sounds like such an adventure!! I was meant to be visiting this winter but I don’t think that’s happening anymore. I too was worried I wouldn’t be able to capture the beauty!

    1. I’m lucky that I managed to get there before the craziness kicked in.
      I also thought I wouldn’t be able to capture the beauty!

  5. Finland looks like such a fun place to visit. I love the sculptures everywhere. We have a sculpture park here and I really enjoy walking through it and checking out all the incredible art.
    I also love the decision they made about the internet being available to everyone. That’s SO important. We live in a society that is SO internet-based. From online education to job searches and online shopping, it opens the door to a lot of options.

    1. I love art. Temporary sculptures are even more interesting, because people do all that work knowing that it will only be available for others to view for a short time.

      There is a lot of progressive thinking in the Nordic countries. I wish more places thought of it like that. I’ve been to some places where it’s been .ear impossible to connect to the internet.

  6. I didn’t realize Tallinn and Helsinki were that close by ferry! Here in the US we are so used to things being so far apart- I often don’t realize how far you can travel in Europe in just a few short hours! I would LOVE to see the Northern Lights in Scandinavia some day- how amazing!

    1. Yes, some European countries are so small and close together. I love how you can take an international bus between capital cities in 4 hours. That would be an overnight bus here in Asia!

  7. We are still planning to go to Sweden, Norway and Finland in summer of next year. Hoperfully that will happen. So, no chance for us to see the aurora, but I may be able to report to you if they can actually see the sky in Helsinki in summer. :)

    1. Take a lot of money with you! Norway is more expensive that Finland and Finland’s quite expensive too! Summer in Sweden means almost 24 hours of sunlight which makes it so easy to lose track of time!

  8. Never been to Finland, but your description of their humor will definitely take me there one day. Also hoping to see the northern lights. I know my parents have been to Iceland only for that reason and missed them. Hope I won’t be this lucky :))

  9. Ooph, I’m like you, so bad with cold weather! I’ve been wanting to go Iceland for years but haven’t been yet, mostly because of the anticipated cold, silly I know… I’d love to go on a ‘Scandi road trip’ but Finland never really appeals that much to be honest as it always looks so grim in photos and films ;-) But I bet the nature is stunning!

    1. I’ve also been wanting to go to I Iceland for many years, I haven’t been mostly because of the cost and flight length. Obviously I would only go in summer!

      The Scandinavian countries are awesome. I’ve been to both Sweden and Denmark several times. Both are full of lo ely people and scenery. I also love that their currencies are close in value to my home currency, so I don’t have to spend time trying to work out prices!

  10. Wait Kez, did you actually go inside the central library or Oodi Library in Helsinki, Finland? I just literally added this library to Darcee’s Literature & Libraries bucket list. I read that the library is really gorgeous inside with a beautiful modern feel and countless books. But what really is bucket list worthy about it is the 3 secret Robot Librarians they have inside rolling around delivering books either to their shelves or to readers waiting inside!
    On another note, sorry to hear about the cost of everything. It pains me to think of the costs of traveling about Scandinavia in general.

    1. Yes, I did. It’s amazing. We mainly stayed on the second floor terraced hangout area, but I got to see a 3D printer in action which made the nerd in me happy. It definitely has a modern feel!

      I was expecting Finland to be more expensive, but I guess coming from the Baltic countries, which are really cheap, made the jump on prices more pronounced. Scandinavia is rather expensive, but it’s also an amazing region. Norway is one of my favourite countries, despite being the most expensive one I’ve been to.

  11. I had no idea wifi was free in Helsinki – that’s amazing! But also a bus journey is not my idea of fun, even if there’re northern lights at the end of it. Fly to iceland and you’ll fly right through them!

    1. I don’t think bus journeys are anyone’s idea of fun, but they are generally the most economical way to do it.
      Flights to Iceland are bloody expensive from my side of the world!

  12. Aurora Borealis is one of the top things on my bucket list. Much like you the idea of sitting out in the cold to catch them is not my idea of fun (although I am used to it as I live in the north), I think catching the sight of these would be well worth it. Helsinki looks lovely, I would love to walk around and admire all of the statues and signs, so unique.

  13. Goodness it does sound pricey (especially if you need to buy something each time you need to use the loo!)

    But, I love that Helsinki seems like such a walkable city, and that it is full of sculptures. :)

    1. I’m pretty good at holding it when I need to because I don’t believe in paying for it, haha. We still managed to do it on a budget, it just takes a bit of effort!

      I like walkable cities. Walking is the main way I like to get around in new cities.

  14. Always stayed away from the Nordic countries as they are so expensive but really want to get a good view of the aurora! Torn… must make it there at some point just need to save a little 😄

    1. You could try spotting the Aurora Australis in New Zealand or the southernmost Australian state, but I have a feeling that would be even more expensive! The Nordic countries are beautiful and definitely worth a visit.

  15. I am sofond of these temporary sculptures because the artist knows that their work will be shown momentarily but they still put their heart and soul in creating it.
    Aurora Borealis is one the top bucketlist items that I want to experience. I hope that I am able to visit Finland someday in future.

  16. What an interesting journey! I would love to explore this part of the world someday but I have been traveling in relatively warm places for so long now that I think i would be pretty nervous about the cold! It’s good to know that there is a lot of quirky art in Finland, and thanks for the heads up about the prices!

    1. I always travel to warm places, so to say that I do not like the cold would be an understatement. But it was still an interesting trip. I’m definitely not rushing to visit a cold place any time soon though.

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