Finland & Sweden: Hot Saunas to Cold Swims, Wilderness Forests to Urban Fika (+ Reindeer Both Ways! ;) )

If you’ve ever had a hankering to visit a Scandinavian country, follow that feeling!

We so enjoyed our longer time in Norway (and our shorter time in Denmark), so it should have come as no surprise that we’d also enjoy Finland and Sweden.

FINLAND

From Tallinn, Estonia, we traveled via boat to Helsinski, Finland. (If you haven’t read about how much we enjoyed Tallinn, you’ll want to go see that one!)

There was SO much to do in Finland as far as hiking and exploring outdoors, which we love to do, but with the amount of driving (as well as balancing out relaxation and time with kids), we weren’t able to do EVERYTHING we wanted. (Isn’t it always that way on trips? It’s like the country ensuring you’ll have to come back. πŸ™‚ )

Here are our favorite things we did:

We rented a car and drove out of Helsinki through areas that were so green and wooded and peaceful-feeling.

These areas felt like lakes but are connected to the ocean.

We stopped to let the girls play at another “Playground of the World”…

Even on our first day, Finland just felt GOOD! It was super chill and peaceful.

One morning, we got a private tour of a reindeer park, which I thought our daughters would enjoy.

We spent several hours there feeding reindeer and chatting with the guy who gave us the tour. Again, it was super relaxed and chill…no rushing…he seemed happy to just let the girls play with the reindeer as long as they liked…

They had an albino reindeer there as well, which I can’t share a photo of without showing my daughter’s faces :), so you’ll just have to glance here if curious about the white reindeer. πŸ™‚ He even let the girls lead the white reindeer around on a leash, which they’ll probably never forget!

If you like woods, you’ll like Finland! Their wooded areas were so beautiful, that’s probably the reason I’d come back! (Well, that and the saunas next to the ocean, but that’s still to come.)

Another one of our favorite things we did was go into a traditional Finnish tent (if one of you knows if there’s a name for it, let me know as I don’t remember!) which was large and had an open fire in the center.

We drank tea and prepared the tikkupulla…

We had the tent all to ourselves, which felt perfectly cozy and relaxed! (And thankfully the Finnish man there helped explain everything about the tikkupulla to us!)

In short, it was a dough we learned how to stretch out and then wrap around a rough Finnish stick…

…then you’d cook it over the open fire until you’d cooked yours just right! It was lovely with our tea, butter and jam!

But my absolute favorite thing we did in Finland was find this supercool independently-run sauna on the edge of the water yet set back a little into the woods.

I’d just found the guy online who ran it, and he didn’t show spots open for our schedule but after calling and chatting with him, he moved some things around, opened it up for us and we had

THE GREATEST HOT-N-STEAMY SAUNA TIME! πŸ™‚ haha

(Well, our Norwegian sauna on the dock of the fjord was a tie for first. This was just different in another way.)

My quick little phone pics don’t do it justice…you don’t wanna keep a phone in a sauna for more than a few seconds anyway! πŸ™‚

After a few rounds of sauna, run to water and swim in the superclean (and cold) water for a glorious 10-15 minutes, then come back and do it all over…FEELS SO GOOD!

We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the city of Helsinki because we were out in the more “natural” parts of Finland 95% of our time, but it was still beautiful to drive through.

SWEDEN

There’s mainland Sweden, and then there’s the island of Visby/Gotland off the coast of Sweden.

We visited both, and we’re glad we did!

To give you a visual, just look south of Stockholm in the center of the map I screenshotted below (is that a word? sounds funny but it’s not spell-checking me so let’s go with it! πŸ™‚ )…

…and you’ll see a large island labeled “Gotland.”

Gotland is the largest island in Sweden, and a popular place (so we were told by a Gute/Gotlander πŸ™‚ ) for mainland Swedes to “escape” to for holidays.

We could quickly see why. Gotland felt secluded and — while still Swedish-esque (yes, I’m making up all kinds of words in this post) — a bit more “islandy” feeling in a quiet, remote way.

We enjoyed exploring the massively long medieval Visby Town Wall as well.

We walked along it for quite some time, stopping at outdoor playgrounds yet again before moving in towards the old interiors of the town.

In the above and below photos, can you spot the ocean in the distance? So close!

Matt and I especially enjoyed finding a unique experience — exploring what’s considered the best-preserved medieval city in Scandinavia!

It felt like we had this whole old residential area of Visby to ourselves, just wandering around the cobbled streets and checking out the picturesque cottages and interesting plants and gardens…

As you leave the residential areas and get into the larger city centre of Visby, the roads get so inclined that…

…you might have to carry your child whose legs are tired! (Or your partner. πŸ˜‰ )

We also hung out on one of the beaches out in a quieter area and enjoyed these faux rocks that were perfect for sitting.

Walking through the “Botaniska TrΓ€dgΓ₯rden” (botanical gardens)…

After the quiet of Visby, Stockholm felt like a massively busy city!

The Nobel Prize Museum

I think we enjoyed it most in the morning, before everyone got up and on the streets!

We enjoyed CafΓ© Schweizer in Stockholm, if you’re ever there!

Not only were the coffees, teas and cakes good, but they are known for their fresh-squeezed juices (as you may be able to tell from the visual clues in their window display πŸ˜‰ ).

Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is a Swedish coffee break ritual. It’s a tradition of taking a break over coffee and a snack, encouraging people to pause and reset. You’ll see reminders to “fika” in many Stockholm shops… We do love the concept! Much like morning and afternoon tea in New Zealand…

Of course, another playground…

Our favorite area of Stockholm was the little island of Gamla Stan in the city’s old town. It was nice to just meander around, especially in the quieter parts, and pop into the manymany cafes and restaurants off the cobbled streets. (It’s full of 18th century builds and is also where the Royal Palace is located.) It just had such a more relaxed vibe than the rest of Stockholm, in our opinion.

Of course we had to see who had the best Swedish meatballs, and this place was the winner!

While “Restaurant C&C” is not exactly a flashy or appealing name, the building has an interesting history…

…and the food was good (with attentive service), which is all that matters!

In addition to their Swedish meatballs in the delicious sauce, we also tried the elk fillet, medallions of reindeer and fillet of wild boar — all delicious! Our daughters couldn’t get enough.

The one super-touristy thing I’ll mention that we did do in Stockholm was the “amphibious bus!”

We figured 1) none of us had been on an amphibious bus yet and 2) it would be cool to see Stockholm both by bus and by water with minimal planning needed on our parts. πŸ™‚

We were not worried about sinking, but they’re sure to allay anyone’s fears with a clear view of all the life jackets they have for each person aboard. πŸ™‚

I think we enjoyed cruising around the Stockholm harbor more than expected — there were some FANCYPANTS boats (not pictured) and so many of them that it was impressive to see.

And of course, documenting the moments when our bus went from land to water and then back again was fun!

Next…

If you missed the earlier places we lived in (or traveled to) in Europe, you’ll enjoy seeing

  1. living in the Azores
  2. Madeira
  3. The Canary Islands
  4. living in Sevilla, Spain
  5. Morocco
  6. living in the Scottish Highlands
  7. northern Italy
  8. living in Austria for the summer
  9. Norway
  10. Baltic States
  11. Copenhagen
  12. …and more HERE! (includes our trips through South and East Africa!)

PS: Following these steps has enabled us to make our dreams a reality, create a home that worked FOR us (instead of the other way around)!

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