One summer a few years ago, I found myself traveling alone in Finland. Having spent several days in Helsinki, I wanted visit the country’s islands, so I emailed a local acquaintance who e-introduced me to Milla, her islander friend. Milla sent me a handful of tips, capped with an offer: “I can take you overnight to our little getaway if it is not too much hassle.” Surely she’s just being polite, I thought. But as the Finnish proverb goes, “Take a man by his words and a bull by its horns.” I accepted the invitation.
From Helsinki, I joined Milla and her friends on a motorboat down the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland to a private island where she lives with her husband. We foraged in the twilight for blueberries and snacked on salmiakki (intensely salty licorice, a local delicacy) as we talked into the night. The next morning, we rose early to sit, nude, in Milla’s waterfront sauna.
I soon learned that this fast-friends experience was a microcosm of Finland’s overall welcoming vibe. The country is the birthplace of the first Restaurant Day, which encourages home cooks to invite travelers over for a meal. (The movement has since expanded to 73 countries and spawned a number of copycats.) You’ll find Day With a Local Helsinki, which provides one-on-one tours, and Helsinki Helpers, neon-vested tour advisors who roam the city, offering personalized tips in 11 languages.
There are also those famed public saunas, of course, where even the most reserved Finns are likely to reveal themselves. And on March 12th, Helsinki residents will host the first-ever Sauna Day, opening up their private saunas to friends and foreigners alike.