Finland highlights & map
Make the most of your time
Finland’s highlights, both scenic and cultural, vary wildly from the Arctic reaches of northern Lapland, to the central pine forests, and expansive archipelagos of the southwest. There are superior hiking, cycling, canoeing, wildlife watching and snow sports – but the region you choose to do these in will depend on the time of year – winter lasts considerably longer in the north, which may impact on your planned activities.
Finland’s road network is well maintained, and there are also excellent (though pricey) bus and train services. However, the country is huge and its landscapes – though beautiful – are monotonous, so we recommend picking just one or two regions and getting really stuck in.
Colour Rock (Hossa) – Northern Karelia
Värikallio, commonly known as the "Colour Rock," is one of Finland’s largest rock art sites. Dating back to the Stone Age, the 61 paintings are located along the scenic Hossa hiking route, and depict wildlife, hunting and shamanic rituals. They are dramatically situated on a rock wall emerging from Lake Somerjärvi – and were probably created from a boat or while the lake was frozen.
Helsinki is perched on a peninsula which creeps into the island-filled Gulf of Finland. Its Art Nouveau architecture is well preserved, and the city has a laid-back feel, especially in summer when the Finns spend as much time soaking up the sun as possible. Excellent museums and quirky bars (including one carved from ice!) will keep you busy day and night.
Despite being Finand’s largest municipality, Inari has a population of less than 7,000 – including many native Sámi. Much of the region is covered by national parks and designated wilderness areas. Winter sports include downhill and cross-country skiing, husky and reindeer sledding – while in summer the landscape is a glorious backdrop for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and fishing.
Sitting peacefully on Lake Kallavesi, the harbour town of Kuopio draws visitors year-round. Summer activities include steamer cruises and lakeside hikes, while in winter there are numerous ski routes through the surrounding spruce forests. A grid of old wooden houses has been preserved in the city centre, and the Puijo Panorama Tower offers the best views in the region.
Several attractive towns are huddled along the jagged, 15,000km shoreline of Finland’s largest lake, and its many narrow canals and archipelagos offer calm waters and harbours which are ideal for kayaking. Winding lakeside trails are fantastic for hikers and cyclists. Linnansaari National Park is one of the most popular regions, and the best place to spot rare ringed seals.
Finland has around 188,000 lakes. Its Lakeland region is a wonderful blend of picturesque towns, vast, glassy expanses of water, scatterings of forest-filled islands, and untouched nature reserves. Kayak across a lake, hike through the spectacular landscape, cycle the shorelines and look out for Saimaa ringed seals – one of the world’s most endangered seal species.
Finland’s most northerly province is enshrined in folklore and fairytale, with its residents – real and mythical – including the indigenous, snow-dwelling Sámi, lynx and wolves, and Father Christmas and his elves. European nature at its most raw, Lapland is the place to see the northern lights, track brown bears, ski across kilometres of unmarked snow and gaze at the northern lights.
Luosto – Lapland for N. lights
Just 90 minutes from the Arctic Circle, Luosto is the leaping-off point for all classic Lapland activities – husky and reindeer sledding, Northern Lights tours, skiing, ice fishing, and even ice swimming and climbing. The nearby Pyhä-Luosto National Park is located on a fell chain covered in ancient pine forests, offering fabulous cross-country skiing and hiking trails.
Oulanka National Park
Oulanka is known for its 80km Karhunkierros hiking trail, though there are many shorter nature walks during which you can spot the park’s native endangered wildlife and over 100 species of birds. Around the park’s pine forests, sandy valleys and vast swamplands, several rustic wooden cabins have been renovated and can be used free of charge. The white water rapids offer fantastic rafting.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park
One of Finland’s oldest and largest national parks, Pallas-Yllästunturi protects 1,020 km2 of Lapland, including ancient forests, high fells and 350km of hiking trails. Marking the border between the north and south, the park contains many arctic as well as southern species, and farming gives way to reindeer herding. Its air is said to be the cleanest in Europe.
Rovaniemi – Capital of Finnish Lapland
Just 5km south of Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the home of Father Christmas, who can be visited here year-round. As the capital of Finnish Lapland, this lively university city is the departure point for activities including Northern Lights tours, reindeer and husky sledding, skiing, skating and ice fishing.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 15 minutes by ferry from Helsinki. A maritime fortress built on a group of islands in the late 1700s, Suomenlinna has tunnels, cannons and a submarine, as well as a museum. Unusually, Suomenlinna is also a suburb of the capital – as its old buildings and battlements serve as housing for around 800 people.
Tampere’s industrial past earned it the nickname “the Manchester of the North.” Sitting on a narrow strip of land between two large lakes, the city is splashed with 200 smaller lakes, and the historical buildings downtown have been converted into shops, museums and restaurants. Finland’s oldest working sauna is situated in the attractive bohemian quarter of Pispala.
Turku is Finland’s oldest city, and with its cathedral, castle, cobbled streets and idyllic market square, it has a distinctly medieval feel. Sail to a nearby island, bike or hike the archipelago to enjoy unspoiled nature at the splintered edge of northern Europe. Lakeside beaches, adventure parks and bicycle hire make this a great, active destination for kids.
The area stretching along the fragmented coast to the west of Helsinki is known as Uusimaa. This region is a wonderful summer destination, when the long days allow you to cram in many hours of cycling, hiking, relaxing on beaches and island hopping. There are many small towns and villages, with both Finnish and Swedish speaking inhabitants.
Extending along the Russian border, Wild Taiga’s thick forests, hills and rivers are home to some of Europe’s rarest species, including moose, wolverines, wolves and bears. But it’s not just for nature lovers; as one of Finland’s earliest inhabited regions, Wild Taiga has a well-preserved culture, and visitors can enjoy theatre, dance, chamber music and learning about traditional livelihoods.
The following times give you a rough idea of the driving times between the main Finland highlights. Be aware that it is a legal requirement for headlights to be used at all times, even during the day, and that winter tyres – preferably with studs – must be used during the winter months. Travel will take longer in winter – lower speed limits are also enforced.
- Helsinki – Oulu: 9.5 hours
- Helsinki – Rovaniemi: 13.5 hours
- Rovaniemi – Inari: 4.5 hours
- Helsinki – Turku: 2.5 hours
- Helsinki – Tampere: 2.5 hours
- Helsinki – Kuopio: 6.5 hours