The Nordic country of Finland is located in the far north of Europe, and it shares a border with Russia on the east, Sweden on the west, and Norway in the north.
In the north of Finland, you’ll find the region of Lapland, home of Santa Claus, located within the Arctic Polar Circle itself. This area experiences dramatic fluctuations in daylight hours, with the sun hardly making an appearance during the deep winter months yet hanging around for most of the day in the summer.
Further south, the changes aren’t so extreme, but the winters remain hardy – thankfully, you’ll never be far from a sauna where you can shake of those winter chills (there are more than 2 million saunas throughout Finland!). Wherever you decide to set up base, you’ll find it hard not to be mesmerized by the beauty of its rugged landscapes, littered with mysterious forests and lakes.
But it’s not all barren winter landscapes – Findland is home to many cities too, and Helsinki, the country’s capital, attracts over 1 million tourists a year, drawn in by the excitement of exploring a vibrant modern city set in a stunning sea-front location.
Although Helsinki is undeniably the number one choice for ex-pats, there are plenty of other spots worth consider before you pack up your bags and set up base in Findland, so here’s our guide to the best places in Finland to make sure that you find the spot that’s right for you.
Best for: Culture vultures looking for cool vibes
We’re starting off our list of the best places to live in Finland with the country’s capital, Helsinki. Located in the south of the country, Helsinki escapes the darkness of the winters in the north. Having said that, the winters are by no means warm, and saunas have sprouted up in and around the city to make sure those winter chills don’t get the better of you… Including a fully operational ferris-wheel sauna, SkySauna.
Helsinki is a uniquely beautiful capital city, thanks largely to its prime location – facing the baltic sea. The buildings here are an architect’s dream and only add to the overall magic of the place – some buildings are old and colorful, some feature clear traces of neoclassical design, others take modern minimalistic styles, and there are hints of the modern Jugendstil (‘young style’) dotted throughout the city.
There are tonnes of buildings, monuments, and museums related to art, history, and culture for you to explore too.
Being a capital city, you’ll have access to all the usual perks – fine dining, great coffee shops, and excellent shopping opportunities. The city is also decidedly hip, with plenty of healthy eateries, quirky bars, flea markets, and underground events.
The education, healthcare, and public transport systems are all excellent, and Helsinki offers one of the highest qualities of life of all global cities. However, this doesn’t come without a price – it’s an extremely expensive place to live, particularly if you have a family in tow and need a place with a lot of space.
But if you’re the kind of person who loves being in the thick of things, and you can afford it, then there’s nowhere else in Finland you’d rather be.
Best for: Big city life without the big city price tag
Like the sound of Helsinki but your budget just can’t stretch that far? You should definitely check out the city of Espoo, located just to the northwest of Finland’s capital.
The journey will take you around 20 minutes by car, but there are excellent train and bus services too that will only add a few minutes to your journey. The public transport is reliable and affordable, making it a popular choice among those commuting into the capital for work.
But that’s not to say Espoo is only worthwhile as a base for visiting Helsinki, far from it in fact. Espoo attracts plenty of students, and there are more than enough eateries, bars, and clubs to keep you entertained. It’s also home to various museums, and the Espoo Museum of Modern Art features some excellent Finnish exhibitions.
Plus, if you find city life getting bit much, the Nuuksio National Park is right on your doorstep and is home to some lovely lakeside hikes.
While it might not have quite as much going on as Helsinki, some people will definitely prefer the slightly more chilled vibes of Espoo – not to mention the more affordable prices.
Best for: Living among incredibly pretty scenery with some awesome outdoor spots on your doorstep
If you’re after a peaceful existence away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, then you should definitely check out the quaint old town of Savonlinna. With a population of just over 30,000, you can really get away from the crowds and soak up the outstanding natural beauty all around you.
Located in the Saimaa lake region, and built on various islands, the tranquility of the water has a calming effect on all who live here. Unsurprisingly, there are tonnes of outdoor activities to get involved with here, including canoeing, cycling, swimming, and hiking. For those of you seeking some inner healing, there are plenty of retreats in this area too, and plenty of multiday yoga courses you can sign up for.
Aside from the stunning scenery, there are cultural delights to keep you entertained too, the most famous of which is undoubtedly Olavinlinna Castle. This medieval stone structure is incredibly well preserved, and there are various exhibitions, some permanent and some temporary, highlighting the battles that were fought here as well as everyday life for those who called the castle home in years gone by.
The Savonlinna Opera Festival is also held in high esteem across the whole of Finland and is held in the castle itself during the summer months, making an appropriately dramatic setting for some deeply moving music.
It might not have enough entertainment to keep hardcore urbanites entertained, but this incredibly picturesque place has plenty to offer those seeking an active outdoor lifestyle.
Best for: A perfect blend of historical and contemporary attractions
If you’re interested in history, then there’s no better place to set yourself up in Finland than Turku. Once the capital of Finland, this city is the oldest in the country and is home to some fantastic historical structures and landmarks. These include Turku Cathedral, which dates all the way back to 1276, the strikingly tall Archangel Michael’s church (designed by a 23-year-old!), and Brinkhall Manor, the filming location for many of Finland’s historical films and TV series.
There are plenty of cultural events held here throughout the year too, and Turku won the European Capital of Culture award back in 2011.
But it’s not all history books here – in fact, the student population is thriving, and, as well as the usual bars and restaurants, there are plenty of trendy establishments serving up fine wine and craft beers – one of our favorites is Tiirikkala where you can sip a cocktail, listen to jazz, and catch some rays on the roof terrace. What’s more, Turku is located at the mouth of the Aura River, comes alive in the summer months as people spend days in the sun cruising along the water.
The education and healthcare are great here too, yet the accommodation isn’t nearly as expensive as Finland’s major cities, which means you end up with an awesome quality of life without bankrupting yourself. If you’re after a mixture of history, quirky hangout, and river-based summer activities, then Turku might be the one for you.
Best for: A busy base just a stone’s throw away from the Arctic Circle
If you’re feeling brave and want to explore the north of Finland, but don’t fancy living in the middle of nowhere, then Oulu makes the perfect base. It’s the largest city in the north of Finland (and the fifth in the whole country) and is located fairly close to the arctic circle. This means that in December you’ll experience very little sunlight, but in summer things will be bright almost all day long.
With Lapland just a few hours away, you can be sipping coffee in a quirky bar in the morning, sledding with reindeer in the afternoon, and still make it home in time for dinner. And speaking of dinner, as with all major cities, there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and sip coffee. Plus, there are tonnes of saunas to fend off those winter chills.
Oulu is also an incredibly eco-friendly city, with various pledges and innovative schemes taking place to reduce carbon emissions, so it’s a good place to look for work in green sectors. The daylight fluctuations might not be for everyone, but there’s something unique about living in a thriving city yet having the wonder of the arctic just a few hours’ drive away.
So, there you have it, our list of the best places to live in Finland. With thriving cities, medieval towns, and some spectacular scenery that includes sunny lake districts as well as snowy fields filled with reindeer, there really is something for everyone.
The winters may be challenging, but at least the Finnish are prepared and have tonnes of cozy hideaways (not to mention the saunas) so you can keep things toasty – plus, the Finnish definitely capitalize on their summer months, which are filled with outdoor events and activities. Wherever you decide to make your new home, you’re going to be blown away by the high standards of living, excellent scenery, and cultural attractions.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.