Helsinki is a sea-town par excellence and an exciting, dynamic place. Half the city seems to be water, and the tortured geography of the coastline includes any number of bays, inlets and a speckling of islands. The harbour is the heart of the city, and watching the giant ferries glide into port is a defining memory and essential Helsinki experience.
Turku & The South Coast
The southern coast of Finland extends west and east from Helsinki in two roughly equal stretches: one ending in a finger of land jutting into the Baltic towards Sweden, the other coming up short at the Russian border.
Extending hundreds of kilometres above the Arctic Circle, Lapland is Finland’s true wilderness. For many, this northern extreme is the classic Finland – a mysterious land of clear Arctic air where the midnight sun brings continuous daylight in the brief summer (June to August) and the long, polar nights offer the chance to view the stunning aurora borealis (October to March).
Tampere & Häme
The Republic of Karelia stretches from not far north of St Petersburg to the Arctic Circle - more than half of it is forest, and fully a quarter is water, including nearly all of Lake Onega and half of Lake Ladoga, the two largest lakes in Europe.
If you’re looking for quintessential summertime Finland, this is it. Eastern Finland is a romantic region of lakes, rivers, locks and canals. There’s more water here than terra firma – a glistening patchwork of waterways in summer where a highlight is canoeing or taking a lake ferry between towns.
Oulu, Kainuu & Koillismaa
Little known beyond the Baltic, this sweeping archipelago is a curious geopolitical entity that belongs to Finland, speaks Swedish, but has its own parliament, flies its own flag proudly from every pole, and issues its own national stamps. There are over 6000 islands, although many of these are small mounds of granite rising centimetres above the sea.
South Coast of Turku & The South Coast
The south coast is absolutely packed with characterful little towns. The great empires of Sweden and Russia fought for centuries over its juicy ports. Today they’re commandeered by castles and fortresses that seem at total odds with the sunshine, smiles and sailing boats.
Scenic Tampere, set between two vast lakes, has a down-to-earth vitality that makes it a Finland favourite for many visitors. Through its centre, churn the Tammerkoski rapids, whose grassy banks contrast with the red brick of the imposing fabric mills that once gave the city the moniker ‘Manchester of Finland’.
The historic castle and cathedral point to the city’s rich cultural history when it was capital; but contemporary Turku, a European Capital of Culture in 2011, fizzes with museums, experimental art and a hectic festival calendar. It has its own TV station, and several of Finland’s writers and artists call it home.
West of Helsinki
To the west of Finland’s capital are a scattering of pretty lakeside and coastal towns and villages. The holiday cottages in Lohja and the summery seaside towns of Ekenäs and Hanko are popular escapes for Helsinki’s citizens.
Mainland Åland & Around
The archipelago has several large islands that form the core of Åland. Some of Finland’s oldest historical landmarks are in this region, particularly around Saltvik and Sund. Eckerö in the west is a much-loved Swedish family destination, serviced by regular ferries to/from Grisslehamn. Bicycle tours are very popular in summer.
Though no longer a province, this region of southern central Finland, also known as Tavastia, has historically been an important one. The castle at Hämeenlinna was the middle of the line of three imposing Swedish fortifications across the breadth of Finland. Today this ancient stronghold contrasts with the modernity of Lahti, the region’s other main city.
Lake Pielinen Region
At the heart of northern Karelia is Pielinen, Finland’s sixth-largest lake, which offers plenty of water-sports action. Finns flock to Koli National Park for epic views and winter skiing, while Lieksa and Nurmes equip intrepid travellers to head out into wilds such as Ruunaa for whitewater rafting.