Don’t Miss These 12 Amazing Places to Visit in Finland
When I told people, I was going to spend three weeks traveling around Finland they seemed shocked. “Don’t you want to see the rest of Europe” they’d ask. Yes, but not on this trip.
The problem is that they, like many others, see Finland as just two main destinations; Helsinki, and Lapland. An expensive city, and northern lights. Yet, that isn’t anyone’s wrongdoing, it’s just how untapped Finland still is as a tourist destination.
So, I went to Finland to discover a little more about this quiet Scandinavian country. Over three weeks I explored thoroughly, eating wild blueberries, looking for brown bears, torturing myself in the sauna and attempting to catch fish in some of those thousands of lakes.
Finally, I came up with these top 12 places to visit in Finland. Some you have heard of and others will be a complete surprise.
In my opinion, the best way to see Finland is to drive. I always use RentalCars.com when booking a car for a road trip. They list all the big brands like Avis, Europcar, Hertz, and Sixt but with impressive discounts. We’ve used RentalCars.com in Australia, New Zealand, and Finland just in the past year and have saved thousands of dollars.
If you were planning to visit Finland for a few days but extend that to a couple of weeks after reading this article, then my goal has been achieved. Finland is an amazing country, with loads of beautiful destinations, which are yet to be discovered.
Lake Keitele (Äänekoski)
At over 493 square kilometres in size, Lake Keitele is one of the largest in Finland. There are several small towns dotted around the lake’s shores such as Äänekoski, Sumiainen, Suolahti, and Viitasaari to name a few. In between, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small summer cottages which the Finns just love escaping to.
We stayed in Äänekoski in a beautiful wooden summer cottage with a wood-fired sauna by the lake for three nights. The days were spent exploring the forests collecting wild blueberries and fishing on the lake, with nights in the sauna watching the late sunset and sipping cold Karhu beers. Staying a night in a summer cottage along Lake Keitele is an experience I highly recommend to anyone visiting Finland.
Oulanaka National Park
Oulanka National Park is considered to be one of the top national parks in Finland, and for good reason. There are a series of beautiful rapids rushing through the canyon known as the Kiutaköngäs Falls. It is an easy 1km walk from the carpark, so travellers of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy it. Just beyond here you will also find some scenic rope swing bridges crossing over the canyon.
The walk to the Kiutaköngäs Falls forms part of the much longer Big Bear Trail (Karhunkierros Trail) which continues for 82km south to the Ruka Ski Village and takes at least 3-4 days to complete. Many people come from all over the world to find wild brown bears on this trail. While they’re quite difficult to spot, you’re almost guaranteed to see reindeer.
Bear Watching (Suomussalmi)
The best place to see wild brown bears in Finland is along the eastern border near Russia. While there are about 1,500 wild bears in Finland, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll run into one on a leisurely walk through the forest. Brown bears have a great sense of smell and will normally run away long before you both cross paths.
For the best chance of seeing wild brown bears, I suggest going with a local tour guide. We went bear watching in Finland with the Martinselkonen Wilds Centre which is located about 65km northeast of Suomussalmi. During our 5 hour guided trip, we saw over 10 wild brown bears, some even came within 3 meters of our bear hide!
Helsinki is considerably more expensive than the rest of the country, even a cheap hotel in the summer months will set you back around 100 euro per night. If you’re on a budget I recommend checking out one of these AirBnb options as you can make great savings.
Our favourite way of getting around Helsinki was by electric scooter rented at an hourly rate through the app called Voi. We took our scooters via the famous Rock Church to the beautiful waterfront Regatta Café for a Finnish coffee and korvapuusti. On the way back we dropped into the Old Market Hall by the harbour where you can get amazingly delicious smoked salmon.
The architecture around Helsinki’s harbour is beautiful. One of the most iconic attractions is the large white domed Helsinki Cathedral. I suggest visiting around sunset when you can join the crowd of locals in sitting on the steps with a few cold cans of beer from the local supermarket. It’s a great way to end the day exploring Helsinki.
Neristan is the old town of Kokkola, a city on Finland’s west coast midway between Vaasa and Oulu. Old colourful wooden buildings line small cobblestoned streets, some turned into cafes, restaurants, and corner stores, while many others remain as normal residential dwellings. Unlike Porvoo near to Helsinki, Neristan hasn’t seen the hordes of daily tourists coming through town, and so it has retained a very authentic charm.
If you’re on Finland’s north west coast for a couple of days, then you could also make the trip out to the nearby Tankar Island where there is a small historical village with an old lighthouse. Alternatively, continue further up the coast to Raahe where you will find a similar historical wooden town like Neristan.
Svedjehamn is a beautiful fishing village in the Kvarken Archipelago. The Kvarken Archipelago is one of Finland’s 7 UNESCO world heritage sites featuring a unique natural phenomenon where the islands are rising out of the sea. Yes, that’s right, the islands have been rising out of the sea by about one centimetre per year since the previous ice age.
There are some great walking trails nearby Svedjehamn which takes you through the forest and along boardwalks in marsh land. During the summer, the forest here is filled with wild blueberries so thick that you can pick a whole bowl in a matter of minutes. The endless amount of blueberries makes this one of my top places to visit in Finland.
Being quite far west, Svedjehamn also has one of the latest summer sunsets in the country. During early August the sky never gets much darker than a pale blue, meaning you can go out kayaking through the archipelago even at midnight!
Rovaniemi, situated on the article circle line, is the gateway to Finnish Lapland. In days gone by Rovaniemi was one of Finland’s primary regions for the logging industry, however, these days it has become more of a tourist destination with lots of those iconic glass igloos. (Check out our comparison of the top glass igloos in Finland).
Many international travelers flock to Rovaniemi to visit the Santa Claus Village, ride a husky sled, and pat a reindeer or two. However, you only need to push a little beyond the city limits to discover hiking trails in the forests and the beautiful swimming spots along the Kemijoki River.
During the summer months, you can witness the amazing midnight sun, a period that lasts for a couple of months where the sun simply doesn’t set below the horizon. Endless days for exploring!
Savonlinna is a fairly large city in the south of Finland located in the Saimaa Lakes region, just under 4 hours’ drive north east of Helsinki. Given how accessible Savonlinna is, I’m surprised that there aren’t a lot more travelers visiting and talking about this city.
Olavinlinna Castle, dating back to 13th century, is the most iconic and photogenic destination in Savonlinna. Considering the number of battles that have ravaged its walls over the years, the castle is preserved very well. You will love getting lost in the labyrinth of passageways and stairwells throughout the castle, discovering hidden rooms over multiple levels. If you visit during the summer you should also hop on a steamboat tour of the lake, departing from Savonlinna’s harbor and cruising past the castle.
The wide range of attractions and accessibility from Helsinki makes Savonlinna one of the top places to visit in Finland for anyone with a tight itinerary.
Leivonmaki National Park
The walking trails throughout the Leivonmaki National Park will take you deep into the forest where, in the right season, you’ll be able to find wild blueberries and mushrooms. There are stunning views across the lake where the forest reflects with mirrorlike clarity in the still waters. This is one of my favorite parts of the Central Finland region.
The Esker Ridge walk takes you along a narrow stretch of land far out into the lake where you are surrounded by vast stretches of water on either side, it’s an unforgettable experience especially if you go around sunset. There are also beautiful camping spots along the Esker Ridge where you can pitch a tent or hang a hammock in the warmer months. You will really feel like you’re staying at the end of the world in total seclusion.
When exploring the Leivonmaki National Park, take my advice, don’t forget the mosquito spray.
Located 1.5 hours down the road from Savonlinna, and just 2.5 hours from Helsinki, Mikkeli is a super accessible town with a stunning region to visit. About 20 kilometers southeast of Mikkeli you will find the Ollinmäki Wine Farm which produces wines from blueberries, lingonberries, and currants, a very unique Finnish product.
Continue a little further down the road where you can enjoy the tranquil forest at the Anttolanhovi Art & Design Villas, a perfect display of Scandinavian architecture integrated into luxury accommodation. You will love being completely surrounded by forest ad water at the end of this secluded waterway. If you don’t leave here relaxed, then you never will be.
Filled with dense forest, hidden beaches, and great fishing locations, Lake Yövesi is one of my favorite lakes in all of Finland. The most iconic attraction here is the ancient Astunvamsalmi Rock Paintings which date back to 7,500 years ago. The paintings depict a series of scenes including humans, hands, Shamans, and elks. Compared to the other rock painting around northern Europe, this is one of the largest and best-preserved.
The best way to explore Lake Yövesi is by boat. We went on a small boat with Otto, the owner, and operator of a small local tour company called Sun Saimaa. He claims to be an artist, not a businessman, as he thinks up lots of creative ways for travelers to experience the Finnish outdoors such as fine dining on a ledge overlooking the lake, camping on the beach with a tent sauna, or even simply kayaking through the scenic Lakeland region.
Pulkkilanharju is an impossibly difficult name to say, with an impossibly narrow ridge running through Lake Päijänne. In sections, the land is barely wide enough for two traffic lanes but still manages to find room for some of the most scenic picnic locations in the entire country.
Do as the Finns do, pack a nice lunch basket with dark rye bread (ruisleipä), cheese, salmon paste, pickled herring, and deli meats. Drive along the ridge until you see a sign with a little fire pit or a person swimming, this indicates a good place to stop. After spending a few hours out here in the summer, you’ll understand why Pulkkilanharju is on the list as one of my top places to visit in Finland.
What is your favorite place to visit in Finland? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll add it to my travel itinerary for my next trip to Finland!