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Authored by ThePickyTraveller

Southern Finland is a unique and somewhat magical destination, made up of 40,000 islands and islets scattered over a fascinating archipelago, a vibrant European capital city, colourful Scandinavian wooden houses, and thousands of lakes and dense forests. 

It is a destination on the rise with a lot to offer, especially in terms of untouched arctic and subarctic nature. Though Southern Finland isn’t just vast expanses of pristine wilderness. “Vibrant cities offer a cutting-edge urban space with world-renowned design and music scenes. There is a spectacular ensemble of modern and stately architecture, and island restaurants” serving Nordic gastronomy.

The summer months see endless days, replaced by the northern lights during winter. Though regardless of the season, the following southern destinations should feature on your Finnish adventure this year!

A Guide to Southern Finland

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Helsinki

Helsinki is the most common starting point for an adventure through Southern Finland. The capital city (and one of the world’s northernmost at that), it’s not too big, but not too small.

Helsinki is at its best in summertime when the sun shines from 3 am to 11 pm and nights are almost non-existent. Big tourist draw cards include the many colourful Art Nouveau buildings in the center, the sea fortress of Suomenlinna (easily reached by a 15-minute public ferry ride), and the Design District with its many shops.

You can enjoy new Nordic cuisine in one of Helsinki’s Michelin-starred restaurants, and then climb Hotel Torni’s tower to watch an endless sunset over the city. Other highlights include the Rock Church (Temppeliaukion Kirkko), the Chapel of Silence (in Kamppi district), the outdoor museum of Seurasaari, and the markets that each summer fill up with fresh berries, sugar peas and mushrooms.

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Porvoo

Founded nearly 800 years ago, Porvoo is the second oldest city in Finland, and an absolute must see. Most well known for its lovely red shore houses from the 1700’s, the city is also home to many lovely restaurants, cafés, shops and museums.

In fact, walking through Old Porvoo is like one huge museum. It has retained its traditional shape right down to the cobblestone streets. Don’t miss Porvoo Cathedral with it’s impressive bell tower. It’s been burnt down five times since the 14th century, so combines many styles of architecture and design from it’s various renovations over time.

Porvoo is easily reached from Helsinki by bus (30 minutes). During summer you can also travel via steamboat. During winter it is covered in a beautiful layer of pristine snow.

Porvoo in winter

Turku

Instead of taking the freeway from Helsinki, drive the “King’s Road” to Turku. This historical and scenic road takes you through rural landscapes and small towns, and is a great way to experience a side of the country most visitors will never see.

Don’t miss Fagervik (an old mansion and its gorgeous grounds) and the ironworks of Fiskars on your way. Turku was the Finnish capital city until 1812 and has a nice European vibe. Have a snack along Aurajoki river and visit the medieval fortress Turunlinna.

Rauma

Located between Turku and Pori, old Rauma is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where time has stood still. Get lost in the small cobblestone streets and marvel at the old wooden houses (the same kind as in Porvoo). This is the largest unified wooden town in the Nordic countries.

Walking around Old Rauma is like stepping into a fairy tale: the colourful wooden houses, decorative gates, cobble stone streets and beautiful public buildings create an atmosphere of the long-forgotten past.

Even though old Rauma is bigger than old Porvoo, I tend to prefer Porvoo because of its beautiful hilly setting (Rauma is totally flat).

In the steets of Old Rauma

Tampere

Finland’s second biggest city after Helsinki, Tampere definitely deserves a day trip (less than 2 hours away from Helsinki by high-speed train).

The city is located on a scenic spot between two vast lakes, with rapids and riverbanks which cut through town (you can take peaceful rowboat trips or on cruises on larger vessels). It has a casual and down to earth atmosphere where regenerated industrial buildings house quirky museums, enticing shops, pubs, cinemas and cafe.

Have lunch at Näsinneula tower’s rotating restaurant and then stroll among old residential houses of the hilly Piispala district. Outside of the city, try to visit the iconic Iittala glass factory where you can watch real glass blowers at work (check the opening times though, as they usually close the factory for summer vacation in July).

Åland Islands

Board a big ferry-boat from Helsinki or Turku to the Åland islands and watch hundreds of islands and islets go by (most of them are totally uninhabited). In fact, there are roughly 6,500 islands spread across the Finnish Archipelago!

There’s nothing overly spectacular to see in the Åland islands, though people travel to enjoy the fresh sea air and slow-paced way of life. You can enjoy island-hopping, boating, fishing, golfing and lots more. 

Hopping from island to island is the way to do sightseeing in Åland. Thanks to ferries and bridges, it can be done on boat, kayak, car or bicycle. And skates in the winter! Try the pizza Åland (onions and generous chunks of salmon together with crème fraîche) before heading back to mainland.

Arriving the Åland Islands

Yyteri Beach

Not many people think of Finland as a beach destination. But there is a well-kept secret on the Finnish West Coast, near the town of Pori: Yyteri beach and its sand dunes.

Thanks to the remote location, this huge beach almost always remains crowd-free. Perfect for a dip in the Baltic Sea and for a picnic on a hot summer’s day. The sandy beaches are several kilometers long, with a soft, shallow bottom. A host of activities is available, such as surfing, beach volley ball and various other water sports.

Koli

Koli is Finnish wilderness at its best, and is Finland’s most well-known national landscape. You need to drive many hours through Karelia’s thick forests, but it’s really worth the trip.

The region is stunning, especially in winter. It’s the southernmost location in Finland, famous for its tree-covered hill scenery. During winter you can see tykkylumi, a particular kind of snow that heavily crusts trees. 

I recommend a stay at Sokos Hotel Koli, the only accommodation on top of Mount Koli. Not only will you enjoy incredible views from your room, but also relax in a high-quality spa at the hotel’s ground floor (with beautiful views as well). The rooms themselves are average, but the amazing location and spa save it. You can enjoy great hikes in summer, or skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing in winter.

Koli in winter

Savonlinna

In the middle of so-called “lake area” (most of the 180 000 Finnish lakes concentrate in this region), Savonlinna is mainly known for its impressive fortress of Olavinlinna built during the 15th century.

This is the oldest town in Eastern Finland, and is famous for its opera festival which takes place in the magnificent fortress each summer. Tickets are pricey and you need to book well in advance, but it’s a real one-of-a-kind experience I recommend to anyone.

Punkaharju national scenic area and two national parks offer year round opportunities for recreation in nature.

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ThePickyTraveller is always searching for the best travel opportunities, and paying attention to the small details that make an experience unique. His goal is to inform you about everything he experiences during his trips, including airlines, hotels, restaurants, and destinations themselves.

Specialized in upscale travelling, he is open to all kind of travel experiences…as long as there is access to a comfy bed and a shower in the morning! To ensure unbiased reviews, thepickytraveller remains anonymous.

Visit www.thepickytraveller.com or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo credits: Featured by Tom Mrazek. Helsinki Cathedral by Giuseppe Milo.

    27 Comments

  1. This is the first time that I have read a post with so many Finnish town names included in it…had heard of Poorvu but none of the others. Loved it.

  2. We really want to visit Finland soon. Koli and the hotel you recommend sound perfect with us.

    • I hope you get the occasion to visit Koli soon, I really recommend it!

  3. We haven’t been to Finland yet but for some reason, I don’t know why it never occurred to me that they have beaches too! Yyteri beach looks like a great summertime destinations. Thanks for sharing this useful guide.

    • Indeed. Yyteri beach is a hidden gem, and no tourist crowds there ;)

  4. I had no idea that Finland had so many islands! I’m really wanting to make it there to see the Northern Lights one day. These photos are gorgeous and really inspiring. I love the look of the houses– they’re gorgeous!

    • Northern lights are amazing. Try to go as north as you can to get better chances to see them!

  5. Finland and Sweden are the two of Scandanavian countries I have yet to get to! It looks amazing, especially Koli, that icy tundra. Is this where you can meet the Sami people? Your shot of Rauma is also beautiful and I can’t imagine Porvoo beating the aesthetics, even if its a hilly landscape!

  6. Finland is one place my job in event planning hasn’t taken me to yet. It looks amazing!

  7. As soon as I saw the photo of Rauma with its cobblestone streets I knew right away that when we visit Finland it’s one of the places we definitely have to visit. The other places which piqued my interests were Åland Islands and Koli.

    • I definitely recommend all those places, especially Koli which is totally amazing!

  8. Great recommendations! Porvoo seems so nice to stroll around. Did you get around by car?

    • You can reach Porvoo by car or by bus from Helsinki. Once there the town is small enough to discover on foot.

  9. Finland is a destination that I have not considered. Thanks for introducing me, as you are sharing a lot of great places from your personal travel experience.

    • Glad we could collaborate with thepickytravller to introduce and hopefully inspire you towards Finland :)

  10. You must be eavesdropping in on a conversation I had while in New York City this long weekend. I was literally talking just talking about Iceland, Sweden and Finland for some destination choices this year. Your guide is perfect practical and detailed. I think Finland will be next. Based on your pictures I was reminded how far north it which means snow. Great post!

    • Have a great time in Scandinavia Christopher :) Definitely hit up Finland if you have the chance :)

  11. I never thought to check out Michelin restaurants but I guess Helsinki would be it. I’d love to hear more about your favorite food. Anything we shouldn’t miss? Southern Finland sounds amazing and the scenary would be the greatest draw for us. This is a great starting point for researching a trip. Thanks Megan.

    • You should try the dark rye bread with eggbutter (ruisleipä ja munavoi), the meat pie (lihapiirakka), Carelian pie (karjalanpiirakka), the Princess cake (prinsessakakku), the baked cheese (leipäjuusto) and in summertime sugar peas as well as all the amazing berries (strawberries, blueberries, cloudberries, lingonberries…).

  12. I’m here in Helsinki right now. I forget the name, but the island off the coast that you can take a short 10 minute ferry ride to is well worth it. A dazzling spot both for the nature and for the calm.

    • Yes, Suomenlinna definitely is one of Helsinki’s highlights!

  13. Great set of photos! How much was all the expenses that you’ve made in regards to traveling to Finland? Been planning a trip there ever since. Safe travel always!!

    • Thanks Tristan. It depends where you are travelling from :) Helsinki has very good connections to major European hubs, with competitive airfares (Norwegian is my favourite airline for short- and medium-haul flights at the moment, with great fares, free wi-fi onboard and a constantly expanding route network). The price range would usually be 100 to 200 euros for a round-trip ticket. For direct long-haul flights choices are more limited and mainly operated by the national carrier Finnair, but prices tend to be more affordable with a connection (think 500+ euros in economy class for a round-trip ticket). A year ago Qatar Airways started operating between Helsinki and Doha, thus enhancing route choices with great fares (especially to Asia). Good connections via Istanbul also, with Turkish Airlines. Once in Finland I recommend to rent a car, especially if you want to reach more remote destinations like Koli or Yyteri. If you stick to major cities, there are good connections by bus and by train. The train tends to be more expensive, and competition between bus companies is fierce (resulting in very low prices: with a company named Onnibus you can score tickets for as low as 1 euro!). For other expenses, keep in mind the cost of living in Finland is high (like in all Northern countries…). You won’t find a decent hotel for under 100 euros per night during high season and eating at restaurants is very costly compared to Central Europe… All in all transportation is where you can save with careful organization, food and accommodation is where you should be prepared to splurge.

  14. Hi! I’m planning a trip for my family and I’ve chosen Finland in the end of April! My wife saw an article about fairytale glass igloo and that became her total passion. She is sooooo impatient to witness Aurora through the glass ceiling! But! there is no info about the location of such igloos, so i wonder if it’s situated in the south of Finland, cause your post about it enchanted me more that just a cool but very very expensive accomodation,. i’d like to hike and to see as much as I can. Åland Islands are charming! Any ideas about the accommodation there?
    By the way, I checked the weather and it told me the spring might come as soon as we get there. Right?

    • Hi Julian, thanks for reaching out. For the glass igloos check out Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort East Village. In northern Lapland the lights shine about every other clear night between September and March, so April might be leaving it a little bit late if you want to see the Northern lights – if you’re flexible to bring your trip forward a little that would give you a better chance of seeing them. Yes, spring begins in April.

      http://www.kakslauttanen.fi/ is the website for the igloo accommodation (in the North).

      For the Aland Islands, this website has fabulous accommodation recommendations, click on the tab for “Stay” and you’ll have options for hotels, cottages, b&b’s, campsites – it’s a very comprehensive resource for informtaion: http://www.visitaland.com/en/

      Hope that helps! Have a fabulous trip :)

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