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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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 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.
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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