Finland has a lot of unique places and a lot of untouched nature to offer. But which are the most beautiful places that you should definitely see – for example, as part of your very first trip to Finland?
Over the years, I have roamed my second home country countless times from north to south and from west to east and discovered sooo many beautiful spots. It was all the more difficult for me to compile a kind of “Top 10” from them. Even though such a list can never be complete, I would be happy if it serves you as inspiration and “whet your appetite” for future Suomi trips.
1. SUOMENLINNA – THE HISTORIC SEA FORTRESS OFF HELSINKI
The Suomenlinna sea fortress is a must-see on a Helsinki city trip and also makes a great start to an unforgettable Finland vacation. The historic walls from the 18th century extend over six islands. What was once built as a naval base is now a popular destination for capitalists and tourists. It is especially beautiful here on a sunny summer day, when you relax on the rocks and watch the huge Swedish ferries coming and going. You can reach Suomenlinna within a few minutes by ferry from Kauppatori – from which it is a stone’s throw to Helsinki’s white cathedral, which shines in full splendor from afar.
2. ROVANIEMI – THE OFFICIAL HOMETOWN OF SANTA CLAUS
Rovaniemi is not only the urban center of Finnish Lapland, but also advertises itself with the slogan “The official hometown of Santa Claus”. In fact, Santa Claus, or Joulupukki as he is called in Finnish, is at home here. In the imaginatively designed Santa Claus Village in the Arctic Circle, not only children’s eyes light up, but adults also feel transported to their own childhood for a moment. In my opinion, the atmosphere here is at its best in the snowy winter, when you can also take a reindeer sleigh ride right next door or, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights.
But summery Rovaniemi is also worth a trip. Experience the midnight sun, treat yourself to a special kind of wellness on the sauna raft “Erkin Arkki” and enjoy the reindeer, which are anything but shy.
3. THE SAIMAA LAKE DISTRICT – A SMALL PARADISE ON EARTH
The largest lake district in Europe welcomes you in the southeast of the country. Lake Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland, is the heart of the lake district and covers an area of 4370 square kilometers. Countless islands and bays offer space for hidden Mökkis, the typical Finnish summer houses.
Places worth seeing in the lake district include the traditional garrison town of Mikkeli, the idyllically situated Puumala, the picturesque ridge of Punkaharju surrounded by water, and the city of Savonlinna with Finland’s most beautiful castle, Olavinlinna. In the south, you should venture to Lappeenranta and Imatra with its rapids, while Kuopio is the absolute highlight of the northern lake district. Here you should not only try the regional specialty “Kalakukko”, but also enjoy the panoramic view from the observation tower on Puijo Mountain.
4. KOLI – FINLAND’S NATIONAL LANDSCAPE AT LAKE PIELINEN
A very special place in Finland is undoubtedly Koli National Park. High above Lake Pielinen, the peaks of Ukko-Koli, Akka-Koli and Paha-Koli offer breathtaking views of the country’s fifth largest inland body of water and the hinterland. It is not for nothing that the Koli backdrop, which looks like a photographic wallpaper, is called the Finnish National Landscape.
And while you’re here, why not circle Pielinen and visit the towns of Nurmes with its historic Bomba House and Lieksa with the Pielinen Open Air Museum. North Karelia’s capital Joensuu is also worth a detour, as is Finland’s easternmost municipality, Ilomantsi, a center of runesong tradition and Orthodox Christianity.
5. HANKO – FINLAND’S SOUTHERNMOST CITY WITH A MEDITERRANEAN FLAIR
Hanko, Finland’s southernmost city, is just 127 kilometers from the capital Helsinki. Hanko is a real summer city. The numerous villas create a sophisticated atmosphere, while the pleasantly empty sandy beaches exude a Mediterranean flair even in high season. Landmarks of Hanko are the red water tower and the church. There is room for about 7000 boats in Finland’s largest marina.
6. PORVOO – HISTORICAL IDYLL ON THE RIVER
As the second oldest city in Finland, Porvoo looks back on an eventful history. Already in the 13th century it was a center of trade, today it is considered one of the most popular destinations not far from Helsinki.
Characteristic of the city is the river Porvoonjoki, on the banks of which the red salt storage houses are a great photo motif. On a hill above the old town, which consists of many colorful wooden houses, Porvoo Cathedral watches over the city and its inhabitants.
7. RAUMA – WOODEN HOUSES WHEREVER THE EYE LOOKS
When you enter the old town of Rauma, you feel like you’ve been transported back in time in a time machine. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1991, the largest wooden house district in the Nordic countries is a sight in itself. Here you can stroll for hours through the cobblestone streets and always discover new details. The archipelago sea off Rauma has not only been declared a nature reserve, but is also a true Eldorado for water rats in the summer.
8. KALAJOKI – SANDY BEACHES LIKE IN THE SOUTH
Miles of sandy beaches like in the south, but the whole thing not even a two-hour drive south of Northern Finland’s technology metropolis Oulu? This is Kalajoki. The “Kalajoen Hiekkasärkät” are known to every child in Finland, but are still rather unknown abroad – unjustly. Because in addition to relaxing on the beautiful beaches, you can also enjoy numerous other activities such as hiking, mountain biking or golfing.
Accommodation is available in all price categories, from a simply equipped hut to a luxury villa. The spa invites you to pamper your body and soul in the whirlpool or during soothing treatments. If you don’t want to go that far north, you can also find beautiful sandy beaches in Yyteri near Pori.
9. TURKU – THE FORMER CAPITAL ON THE AURAJOKI RIVER
The history of Finland’s oldest city and former capital – then still under Swedish and later Russian rule – goes back to the 13th century. The landmark of the city is Turku Cathedral, located directly on the Aurajoki River. From here you can stroll along the picturesque river course and admire, for example, the sailing ship “Suomen Joutsen”. Turku Castle is located in the middle of the harbor area and has unfortunately been quite built over. Today, Turku is considered a lively student city with a diverse nightlife and up-and-coming gastronomy.
The archipelago in front of the city is a maze of islets that you can easily explore on a circular route (“Saariston rengastie”). My tip: Pay a visit to the cute spa town of Naantali just outside Turku.
10. TAMPERE – CHARMING INDUSTRIAL CULTURE SURROUNDED BY LAKES
Tampere is the country’s largest inland city and for many years was known primarily for its industry. Not for nothing the city got the nickname “Manchester of the North”. The legacy of the past is still witnessed by the red brick buildings around the Tammerkoski Rapids in the city center, which have long since been used for other purposes. Located between the two large lakes Pyhäjärvi and Näsijärvi, Tampere is now a creative center with a lively arts and cultural scene.
You can enjoy a fantastic view of the city and its surroundings from the Näsinneula observation tower as well as from the Pyynikki tower in the park of the same name. Here you can also get the most delicious cinnamon buns (“Korvapuusti”) far and wide.
Text: René Schwarz
About the Author:
René Schwarz is half Finnish and grew up bilingual. The self-employed copywriter and author travels regularly in his second home country and loves to share his passion for Suomi with others. Since the beginning of 2016, he has also been doing this on his blog FinnTouch, where you can expect, among other things, more Finland travel tips, interviews with Finnish artists and also very personal stories. Take a look!