If you would’ve asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have been interested in a Southern Finland road trip. I would’ve considered it boring and nothing to see. But I was wrong and it’s good to admit it. What started all this enthusiasm for road tripping was my Mum’s camper van, motor home, RV or whatever you want to call it.
Previously she was super busy using it herself so I never got the chance to try it out. Moreover, I’ve been living in Thailand and on Koh Phangan on and off so haven’t been in Finland that much.
Anyway, now I’ve realized that you don’t need to go far to find awesome things to see and hence, I’m giving you my Finland itinerary. I’d recommend two weeks for this but you can also cut it short and leave out some destinations according to your schedule and interests.
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Finland Road Trip Starting Point: Helsinki
Helsinki would be a natural starting point as most people fly in here. You could also drive from Estonia or take the ferry from Sweden or Rostock. Anyhow, Helsinki has a lot to offer so I’d recommend spending at least two days here.
I have written quite a lot about my home town so here are some recommendations on what to do in Helsinki:
- The Best Vegan Restaurants in Helsinki (The Only Vegan Guide You Will Need)
- Sompasauna – the Best Public Sauna (Helsinki area)
Need a place to stay? In case you have a tent or a camper van, definitely go to Rastila Camping. I live close to it and have visited it a few times. An awesome place with a good restaurant.
Otherwise, check the rates, reviews and availability here.
From Helsinki to Lahti (my old home town), the drive takes only about an hour if you can avoid the rush hour. The distance is 100km/62 miles. I wouldn’t say that Lahti is a super exciting city but it is very clean (European Green City award winner 2019) and offers fab conditions for sports and an outdoorsy lifestyle, for instance.
If you are traveling with children, we have a petting zoo called Yli-Marolan kotieläinpiha and next to it, a decent-sized playground/activity park called Perhepuisto in Laune area. Both of these are free of charge. Nearby you can find the picturesque Anttilanmäki neighborhood. Stroll through it to see charming old villas.
This might sound weird but I’m a second-hand & flea market freak and Lahti is the epitome of those. Seriously, whatever you’ll need, you can find it here half price or much less. I buy most of my clothes, shoes, and kitchenware from the opshops and charities in Lahti. Most of them are conveniently located in Laune which is the southern part of town and not far from the motorway exit and the previously mentioned family-friendly activities.
One of the classic Lahti spots is the Salpausselkä ski jumping arena with its ski jumping towers. My niece actually got married on top of the highest one. She part-took in the celebrity wedding planner tv show. This area is full of excellent trail tracks for walking, running and bike riding. Then there is the ski museum and the aforementioned ski jumping tower for some magnificent views.
Summertime the harbor with its restaurants, bars, and cafes is like the unofficial living room to people living in Lahti. Try Teerenpeli, a local brewery with its superb lingonberry or blueberry cider or Cafe Kariranta for the best cinnamon rolls and cheese croissants in Lahti.
I’d also recommend doing a stroll in the leafy Lanu park which starts just a stone throw’s away from the harbor. It has numerous concrete sculptures by a sculptor Olavi Lanu. You need about 30 minutes in the park unless you are a major art enthusiastic.
Where to eat:
- Mea Manna – a lovely vegetarian lunch cafe that employs people with learning disabilities
- Mamma Maria – a classic, homely Italian restaurant serving Lahti people since 1995
- Wine Cafe Olavi is also super nice
- Oskarin Piha, Asemapäällikkö and Cafe Kariranta are all traditional and unique cafes in old wooden houses that have fab products
Need a place to stay? There is Messilä Camping which is a lovely place with different activities. I used to ride here for years but the riding school isn’t operating anymore. For other accommodation, check the hotel reviews, availability and rates here.
More info: https://visitlahti.fi/en
Tip! Check out the following link to learn some great money-saving tips on a road trip!
Järvisydän (in Rantasalmi)
En route from Lahti to Savonlinna, you have to make a detour at Järvisydän which is the most mesmerizing spa and holiday resort in Finland. This means about 60 extra kilometers there and back from the main road but it will be worth it. The spa clearly has gotten inspirations from the Finnish folk-tale, Kalevala. It is not a mega big spa but there are numerous saunas and they have paid attention to every detail.
They offer a wide array of activities, such as seal watching (yes, we have one species that lives only in the lake Saimaa in Finland), fat biking, forest walks with berry picking, yoga, kayaking, SUP boarding and boat trips to the nearby Linnansaari national park. Alternatively, you could just soak in the tranquil atmosphere and enjoy the beauty of nature and Finnish Lakeland.
I love summer but I imagine this place would look equally beautiful in winter. You could admire the clear skies with millions of stars from the comfort of your scenery suite or with a bit of luck, even Northers lights. In winter, you can also get to know the cute reindeer and perhaps do a snowmobile tour.
I was their guest this time and got to experience the spa and they kindly also offered us a free caravan spot. I tried to book a hotel room but they are immensely popular and I couldn’t find anything to suit our dates and/or price category. Tip! Book well in advance, especially in summer.
More info: https://www.jarvisydan.com/en/
HakoApajan Aikhituvat (in Rantasalmi)
Equally mesmerizing, next to Järvisydän, is HakoApajan Aikhituvat. A passion project of a self-taught man, Esa Heiskanen who has built this whole village out of logs he has dived from the nearby Hietalampi pond with his own hands. The water is crystal clear and cold as it stems from a stream. This explains why the logs have preserved nearly intact. The oldest are some 2000-4000 years old!
The viewing platform is marvelous though so is the wood architecture and the numerous cottages you will find here. In addition, you will find multiple carved items and this year, they also have a display of Esa’s work. Fancy staying longer? Why not rent one of the cabins which Esa has obviously built and experience some true Finnish summer cottage vibes with fishing and all.
More info: http://www.porosalmi.net/hakoapaja/
Savonlinna is best known for its castle, Olavinlinna, that is the northernmost medieval fortress. It was built in the 15th century to protect the Swedish crown from Russian troops. In case you didn’t know this already, Finland used to belong to Sweden and Russia too, a long time ago. The castle is a must-visit but takes maybe only an hour or even less to visit.
Next to the castle, you will find Lake Saimaa Nature and Culture Centre and plenty of old wooden houses, cafes, and restaurants. Another 5 minutes by foot and you will see the harbor and market square. There are numerous lake cruises departing daily and I’d strongly suggest visiting the beautiful Lake Saimaa in the heart of the Finnish Lakeside. Don’t forget to wander around the market square either to get yourself some Finnish delicacies, snacks or souvenirs.
I didn’t stay for the night, but there were cute little b&b:s and hotels in line next to the castle and they all looked wonderful. Check the reviews, rates and availability here.
I spent my Solstice, also know as juhannus in Finnish, here, in Punkaharju. What a beautiful place! We were camping at Punkaharju Resort with our camper van but they have cabins and villas to suit every budget too. It’s a beautiful, big camping ground by a lake and well-maintained. In addition to the restaurant, they have children’s activity park, Kesämaa, and minigolf.
Just 5-10 minutes away by a car were the famous Punkaharju ridge vistas that the Ice age molded here a long time ago. I’m gutted that I didn’t do my homework but rather concentrated on mellowing out with my friends; it turned out that we could’ve hiked along the ridges, seen even more of the beauty of Lake Saimaa and the famous Punkaharju hotel.
Other attractions that we missed were Johanna Oras manor gallery and Lusto forest museum. Oh well, one more reason to go back…
More info: http://www.visitpunkaharju.fi/en/
Check the rates, reviews and availability here.
Repovesi National Park (Kouvola Region)
Repovesi is a national park and it has a few one-day treks in case you can’t spare more time. The most famous one is Ketunkierros which comes with a suspension bridge for crossing. When writing this, it’s under renovation and will be reopened by the end of August/early September 2019. Since we didn’t get to experience it, we are going back in a few months to see this scenic place. (Okay, it’s a very good Insta spot, and I NEED to take some photos, LOL )
We did Korpinkierros hike and it had a few super beautiful sights, such as the Olhanvuori Rock; a cliff that is the most important climbing spot for Finnish climbers and also a few lookouts offering breathtaking views. Then again, about half of the trail happened on a dirt track, not in the forest per se which was a small disappointment. Anyway, this place is well worth a visit!
More info: https://www.nationalparks.fi/repovesinp
Jaala (Kouvola Region)
In Jaala you can find Verla, a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s an old mill and you can see it on your own or do a guided tour. The Verla mill museum is only available for those doing a guided tour, though. I’d recommend spending here for at least one hour. They have a great new restaurant/cafe which sells amazing waffles and other sweet and savory munchies so reserve another 60 minutes for grabbing a bite here.
More info: https://www.verla.fi/en/
We parked our camper van in Aurantola. My traveling companion had been here before some 15 years ago and he thought we should pick this place for the night. And he was completely right. Such a charming old manor/ country house lakeside.
I love old buildings and here they have many. As a Finn, I’ve been to a lot of saunas but I must say, the one in here blew my mind! Of course, after some heat or löyly in Finnish, we went skinny dipping in the lake. Finnish summer at its best! Check rates and availability for Aurantola here.
Porvoo is the most popular day trip from Helsinki and it’s completely understandable. This quiet old town has beautiful old villas in the old Porvoo by the river. It must be one of the prettiest towns in Finland.
Wander around the old town and visit its old wooden church. There are wonderful little artisan boutiques plus cafes and restaurants that all look cozy and adorable. Equally picturesque a place to enjoy some refreshments would be the river bank with its bars, cafeterias, and restaurants. It’s hard to choose just one because you would just want to sit down in all of these places!
I’d say it would be a fantastic idea to stay here for the night as it doesn’t get much prettier than Porvoo. Pariisin Ville has gotten really nice reviews so I’d love to rest the night here. Check the the rates and availability here.
From here, I’m giving you two options; you could stay in the southernmost area or drive towards the north (not that far, though, Lapland is nowhere near).
Hanko is a very popular summer getaway. I guess it would equal to the Hamptons in the US or Brighton in the UK. Hanko is much smaller though. I got to experience Hanko last summer because we embarked on our sailing trip in the Finnish archipelago from here. It has that old town charm and its wooden villas which we call lace villas in Finnish, are like from a fairytale.
There are healthy activities, such as yoga, sup boarding, bicycle rides and so on but also a fairly vibrant nightlife during summer. The old casino is a must-see!
Check the reviews, rates and availability for Hanko here.
Turku and the Finnish Archipelago
Turku used to be the capital of Finland so there is a lot of history to discover, such as Turku castle. Aurajoki river is a popular hangout place summer time as there are plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy the magical Finnish summer or just watch the world go by. Families definitely should not miss the Momin World for some fun summertime activities.
The circle road in the Turku archipelago is one of the most popular routes in Finland, in summer. The archipelago has a different vibe to it as the folks are predominantly Swedish speakers. What’s more, the landscape is very different from the average Finnish forest landscape and can feel exotic even to us, native Finns. I certainly felt like being in a different country when I visited the Dreamy Aspö.
However, if time is of the essence, I would leave out the ring road or Saariston rengasreitti in Finnish, to another time. It would make a nice, shorter trip on its own.
Check the reviews, rates and availability for Turku here.
Alternative Southern Finland Road Trip Route: Hämeenlinna and Tampere
In case you are heading to Lapland, it might be better to drive towards Hämeenlinna and Tampere and perhaps leave out Hanko, and Turku. I visited Hämeenlinna the first time just a while ago and I was positively surprised. I had no idea that the city is so well preserved in parts and has lots of idyllic wood villas and historical buildings.
Naturally, when you are in Hämeenlinna, you have to visit its castle Hämeen linna (Tavastia castle). I went on my own and it doesn’t take too long. I spent there around one hour. Most of this time consisted of cosplay or dress up, whatever you want to call it! You can try on 3 different harnesses and old medieval costumes. Obviously, I played a knight and the lady of the castle too and had so much fun. Don’t tell anyone that, in my opinion, this was the best part of the castle visit, hehe.
Just next to the castle you will find a military and prison museum also. I left them out though. Instead, I truly enjoyed strolling in the old blocks close to the castle, admiring the architecture that we nowadays, unfortunately, don’t get to see that often.
I saw the birthplace of our national composer, Jean Sibelius, too and this is also one of the many museums Hämeenlinna has. I would’ve wanted to visit the art gallery because it had an interesting display but decided to leave it this time. After all this, I have to say, please give this small city a chance. It completely deserves it!
Need a place to stay? Check the rates, reviews and availability here.
I have to be honest, I’ve visited Tampere a few times but never really taken my time to see everything it has to offer. Oh well, one more thing to add to my list. For this post, I enquired suggestions from Visit Tampere so I think we’d be in pretty good hands.
The things that I’d choose would be the historical Finlayson factory area, Werstas (the Finnish labor museum) and Tampereen tuomiokirkko (Tampere Cathedral) with its frescos by the famous Finnish painter, Hugo Simberg.
But most importantly, you will find the only Mumin museum in the world, in Tampere. That would be my priority! Families would also enjoy Särkänniemi, one of the biggest amusement parks in Finland. Here you will find Näsinneula tower as well for seeing the city in a bird’s view perspective. Well, almost…
In case you didn’t know, Finns are quite Mumin-crazy. I included. Every time I see a new Mumin mug, I want to have it. Unfortunately, the Mumin mug collection just keeps on expanding so can’t afford all of them.
Need a place to stay? Check the rates, reviews and availability here.
Southern Finland Itinerary: the Conclusion
This trip opened up my eyes and made me realize there is more to see in Finland that I have given it credit for. I’ve always wanted to go overseas but during this summer, I have also started to appreciate the beauty of Finland. Having a motor home has certainly made it easier as Finland can be quite expensive. (Don’t forget to read my tips for Budget travel in Finland by the way.)
Having a good company, cooking and doing barbeques together, chilling with a glass of wine are also essential to make your trip memorable. Oh, and please also remember to pack enough clothes as the Finnish summer can be a bit moody. We have some awesome, sunny days but equally often we are left waiting for the summer heat.
For next summer, we are planning on driving a bit farther, either to Lapland or the Baltics. Here is an excellent Baltics road trip itinerary, by the way, for anyone planning on driving to the South from Finland.
Please feel free to ask any questions or give suggestions too, in the comment section. I’m happy about every feedback that I get!
Need more Finland inspiration? I have a few posts that might interest you:
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