Finland highlights & map

Finland’s highlights, both scenic and cultural, vary wildly from the Arctic reaches of northern Lapland, to the central pine forests, and expansive archipelagos of the southwest. There are superior hiking, cycling, canoeing, wildlife watching and snow sports – but the region you choose to do these in will depend on the time of year; winter lasts considerably longer in the north, which may impact on your planned activities. Finland’s road network is well maintained, and there are excellent (if pricey) bus and train services. However, the country is huge and its landscapes – though beautiful – are monotonous, so we recommend picking just one or two regions and getting really stuck in, to avoid spending all your holiday travelling.
Colour Rock (Hossa)

1. Colour Rock (Hossa)

Värikallio, commonly known as the "Colour Rock," is one of Finland’s largest rock art sites. Dating back to the Stone Age, the 61 paintings are located along the scenic Hossa hiking route, and depict wildlife, hunting and shamanic rituals. They are dramatically situated on a rock wall emerging from Lake Somerjärvi – and were probably created from a boat or while the lake was frozen.

2. Helsinki

Helsinki is perched on a peninsula which creeps into the island filled Gulf of Finland. Its Art Nouveau architecture is well preserved, and the city has a laid-back feel, especially in summer. Excellent museums and quirky bars (including one carved from ice!) will keep you busy day and night. Don’t miss Suomenlinna, an 18th century maritime fortress built on a group of islands.

3. Inari

Despite being Finland's largest municipality, Inari has a population of less than 7,000, including many native Sámi. Much of the region is covered by national parks and designated wilderness areas. Winter sports include downhill and cross-country skiing, husky and reindeer sledding, while in summer the landscape is a glorious backdrop for hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and fishing.

4. Kuopio

Sitting peacefully on Lake Kallavesi, the harbour town of Kuopio draws visitors all year round. Summer activities include steamer cruises and lakeside hikes, while in winter there are numerous ski routes through the surrounding spruce forests. A grid of old wooden houses has been preserved in the city centre, and the Puijo Panorama Tower offers the best views in the region.
Lake Saimaa

5. Lake Saimaa

Several attractive towns are huddled along the jagged, 15,000km shoreline of Finland’s largest lake, and its many narrow canals and archipelagos offer calm waters and harbours which are ideal for kayaking. Winding lakeside trails are fantastic for hikers and cyclists. Linnansaari National Park is one of the most popular regions, and the best place to spot rare ringed seals.

6. Lakeland

Finland has around 188,000 lakes. Its Lakeland region is a wonderful blend of picturesque towns, vast, glassy expanses of water, scatterings of forest filled islands, and untouched nature reserves. Kayak across a lake, hike through the spectacular landscape, cycle the shorelines and look out for Saimaa ringed seals – one of the world’s most endangered seal species.

7. Lapland

Finland's most northerly province is enshrined in folklore and fairytale, with its residents - real and mythical - including the reindeer herding Sámi, lynx and wolves, and Father Christmas and his elves. European nature at its most raw, Lapland is the place to see the Northern Lights, track brown bears and cross country ski across kilometres of unmarked snow.

8. Luosto

Just 90 minutes from the Arctic Circle, Luosto is the leaping-off point for all classic Lapland activities – husky and reindeer sledding, Northern Lights tours, skiing, ice fishing, and even ice swimming and climbing. The nearby Pyhä-Luosto National Park is located on a fell chain covered in ancient pine forests, offering fabulous cross country skiing and hiking trails.
Oulanka National Park

9. Oulanka National Park

Oulanka is known for its 80km Karhunkierros hiking trail, though there are many shorter nature walks during which you can spot the park’s native endangered wildlife and over 100 species of birds. Around the park’s pine forests, sandy valleys and vast swamplands, several rustic wooden cabins have been renovated and can be used free of charge. The white water rapids offer fantastic rafting.

10. Oulu

Northern Finland’s unofficial capital, Oulu is a neat university city scattered across several islands, with well planned bicycle routes, free WiFi in the city centre… and, perhaps more famously, the Air Guitar World Championships each August. For the more traditional, fishing, white water rafting on the melted spring rivers and canoeing also take place here.
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

11. Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park

One of Finland’s oldest and largest national parks, Pallas-Yllästunturi protects 1,020 km2 of Lapland, including ancient forests, high fells and 350km of hiking trails. Marking the border between the north and south, the park contains many arctic as well as southern species, and farming gives way to reindeer herding. Its air is said to be the cleanest in Europe.

12. Rovaniemi

Just 5km south of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the home of Father Christmas, who can be visited here year round. As the capital of Finnish Lapland, this lively university city is the departure point for activities including Northern Lights tours, reindeer and husky sledding, skiing, skating and ice fishing.

13. Tampere

Tampere’s industrial past earned it the nickname 'the Manchester of the North.' Sitting on a narrow strip of land between two large lakes, the city is splashed with 200 smaller lakes, and the historical buildings downtown have been converted into shops, museums and restaurants. Finland’s oldest working sauna is situated in the attractive bohemian quarter of Pispala.

14. Turku

Turku is Finland’s oldest city, and with its cathedral, castle, cobbled streets and idyllic market square, it has a distinctly medieval feel. Sail to a nearby island, bike or hike the archipelago to enjoy unspoiled nature at the splintered edge of northern Europe. Lakeside beaches, adventure parks and bicycle hire make this a great, active destination for kids.
Western Uusimaa

15. Western Uusimaa

The area stretching along the fragmented coast to the west of Helsinki is known as Uusimaa. This region is a wonderful summer destination, when the long days allow you to cram in many hours of cycling, hiking, relaxing on beaches and island hopping. There are many small towns and villages, with both Finnish and Swedish speaking inhabitants.
Wild Taiga

16. Wild Taiga

Extending along the Russian border, Wild Taiga’s thick forests, hills and rivers are home to some of Europe’s rarest species, including moose, wolverines, wolves and bears. But it’s not just for nature lovers; as one of Finland’s earliest inhabited regions, Wild Taiga has a well preserved culture, and visitors can enjoy theatre, dance, chamber music and learning about traditional livelihoods.

Travel Team
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Travel times in Finland

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving times between the main Finland highlights. Be aware that it is a legal requirement for headlights to be used at all times, even during the day, and that winter tyres – preferably with studs – must be used during the winter months. Travel will take longer in winter – lower speed limits are also enforced.

    Helsinki – Oulu: 9.5 hours Helsinki – Rovaniemi: 13.5 hours Rovaniemi – Inari: 4.5 hours Helsinki – Turku: 2.5 hours Helsinki – Tampere: 2.5 hours Helsinki – Kuopio: 6.5 hours
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Tero Laakso] [Colour Rock (Hossa): Guillaume Baviere] [Helsinki: Tapio Haaja] [Inari: Richard Mortel] [Kuopio: Tumi-1983] [Lake Saimaa: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho] [Lakeland: Visit Lakeland] [Lapland: Taneli Lahtinen] [Luosto: Ray Garcia] [Oulanka National Park: Lysy] [Oulu: Santeri Viinamäki] [Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park: Markus Trienke] [Rovaniemi: Gerald Zojer] [Tampere: Tiia Monto] [Turku: Flöschen] [Western Uusimaa: Timo Newton-Syms] [Wild Taiga: Frank Vassen] [Travel times in Finland: Timo Newton-Syms]