With its vast landscape of pine forests and silvery lakes, fringed by a coastline dotted with thousands of islands, Finland was made for road trips.
Travelers following open roads through the wildernesses of Lakeland and Lapland will find that each season brings a different beauty, from autumn colors to snowbound winters. Most of the following routes are doable year-round, with ferry timetables restricting travel to summer in a few cases. Here are the five best road trips in Finland.
See the islands on a road trip to Porvoo and Pellinge
Helsinki–Söderby; 85km (53 miles); allow two days
After a few days in the Finnish capital, head out of town on the Kulosaaren Bridge for a first impression of the island-dotted Gulf of Finland coastline. The first stop is Porvoo, just 50km (31 miles) from Helsinki yet seemingly centuries removed, its atmospheric old town filled with traditional wooden houses. Wander the cobbled streets to the maroon riverside warehouses, first given a lick of red paint to celebrate an 18th-century Swedish king’s visit. With local delicacies such as Runeberg torte pastries beckoning from the windows of cafes, bakeries and chocolatiers, Old Porvoo is worthy of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, especially when dusted with snow.
Swedish is widely spoken along the Finnish coast, and you will hear the language more frequently – a trend that grows on Porvoo’s neighboring Pellinge (or Pellinki) islands. Moomins creator Tove Jansson would spend months at her single-room summer cabin here, drawing inspiration from the rugged coastal landscape. Road-trippers can hop between the forested islands on a cable ferry and bridges as far as the tiny fishing village of Söderby.
Visit ironworks villages and the Finnish Riviera along the southern coast
Espoo–Bengtskär; 120km; allow three days
Beat the city traffic by picking up your hire car in Espoo, connected to Helsinki by a short ride on public transport that runs with Nordic efficiency. Continuing the theme of sophisticated development, the area on the western side of the Laajalahti and Seurasaarenselkä bays is Finland’s Silicon Valley.
Detour north along the pine-ringed Nuuksion Pitkäjärvi lake to Nuuksio National Park (also served by buses from Helsinki), where rugged, glacier-carved landscapes await. The spruce forests are also home to a significant population of Siberian flying squirrels.
Choose your landscape: arc past forest-lined lakes (get used to these) on the E18 highway to Fiskars, or take the coastal Rte 51 to this picturesque 17th-century village. The area’s best-known ironworks village, Fiskars’s workshops are now occupied by artisanal craftsmen, offering distinctive souvenir shopping. At road’s end, the equally pretty 19th-century spa town of Hanko is mainland Finland’s southernmost point, known as the Finnish Riviera for its sunny weather, sandy beaches and seafood restaurants.
The journey finishes with a boat trip to Bengtskär lighthouse, the tallest in the Nordics at 52m (171ft), which cuts an imposing figure on its lonely islet.
Watch the water sparkle on Lake Saimaa and Puumala in Finnish Lakeland
Ruokolahti–Jyväskylä; 250km; allow two days
In Finland’s southeastern corner, Ruokolahti is the starting point of the Rte 62 drive through some of the Lakeland region’s most pristine scenery. The journey is a driver’s delight, as the tarmac soars across serene waters on slender bridges, then reconnects with thickly forested peninsulas, surrounded by islands bristling with pines. It’s also known as the Puumala Ridge or the Lietvesi Scenic Rd, respectively referring to the main town and one of the vast lakes en route.
While views of Finland’s largest lake, Saimaa, should keep you occupied, a top activity is a picnic cruise from Puumala to Rokansaari island in the Saimaa Geopark. You can also view 80 prehistoric rock paintings at Astuvansalmi in the park, or toast Finland’s version of the Ozarks at the roadside Ollinmäki winery, before Rte 62 ends at lakefront Mikkeli.
It’s easy to loop back to Helsinki from Mikkeli, but if you’re continuing north for further adventures in Lakeland or Lapland, Jyväskylä makes an excellent staging post. Reached through more forest (which covers 75% of Finland), the university city offers authentic Finnish experiences in the many saunas that earned central Finland the grand title of Sauna Region of the World. There’s also a trove of noteworthy architecture, including the wooden Petäjävesi Old Church – one of Jyväskylä’s two World Heritage Sites – and the world’s largest collection of buildings by celebrated Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto.
Have a few car-and-ferry adventures on the Turku Archipelago loop
Turku–Nagu–Kustavi–Turku; 200km; allow three days
Finland’s indented coastline and glacial hinterland are riddled with more than 180,000 lakes and almost as many islands, making this archipelago route a rite of passage. The starting point is southwestern Turku, Finland’s oldest city and former capital. The vibrant port and university city gives Helsinki a run for its euros with its galleries, museums, restaurants and nightspots, overlooked by a medieval castle and Gothic cathedral.
With some 20,000 islands and skerry islets in the Turku Archipelago, there are as many routes as there are summer cabins and kayakable coves. All offer an unbeatable island-hopping experience, with more seaside tranquility than blockbuster sights among the fishing villages, sandy beaches, under-the-radar accommodation and traditional Finnish cuisine. It’s one for the summer months of June and August.
From Turku, we recommend crossing the bridge-connected splatters of land to Lillmälö, followed by a ferry across the bay to Prostvik. Via a dozen ferry terminals, Rte 180 continues across Nagu, one of the archipelago’s five major islands, to Pärnäs, the launchpad for the sailing-and-driving route to Heponiemi. Then you’re back on dry land for good – no sweat.
Although this land-and-sea route might sound like a maritime odyssey, many boat crossings are short hops with on-demand departures. It’s just 70km (43 miles) back to Turku from Heponiemi, with the possibility of a final night on Kustavi island, enjoying rustic accommodation, a generous seafood buffet and the red-painted 18th-century church.
Take an epic Christmas journey at the Arctic Circle in Lapland
Rovaniemi–Inari; 325km; allow three days
Whatever time of year you visit Finnish Lapland, it will be Christmas in the regional capital of Rovaniemi. Drawing on the folkloric figure of the Yule goat, who distributed gifts to Lappish children, as well as the rugged area’s permanently wintry landscape, Rovaniemi has established itself as Santa’s home base. At the Santa Claus Village theme park, you can visit Father Christmas at his office year-round, as well as Mrs Claus’s cottage and the festive couple’s reindeer herd.
Rovaniemi is an impressive 825km (513 miles) north of Helsinki, but it’s well worth carrying on to cross the Arctic Circle (marked by a sign just north of town) and experience the Lappish landscape. Snow-piled forests and icy fells, frozen lakes and ski resorts await in winter, while autumn brings a glorious spectrum of golden hues. Even the sky varies its display throughout the year, from summer’s 24-hour daylight to the aurora borealis during spring and autumn.
The E75 highway passes Saariselkä, Europe’s northernmost ski resort and a gateway to the 2,500-sq-km (965-sq-mile) wilderness of Urho Kekkonen National Park. Here, you can go trekking, cross-country skiing, cycling, stay in an Arctic retreat and find more Christmas mythology – Finns believe the park’s reindeer-roamed Korvatunturi fell is Santa’s home.
On the lake of the same name, Inari is a center for the Sámi, the European Union’s only Indigenous population. Experience their culture on a berry-foraging expedition into the forest or by trying traditional dishes such as renskav – sautéed reindeer.