I first fell in love with Finland when we spent time in Lapland two years ago and have been itching to return to the country ever since. This time, however, we swapped snowscapes and sleigh rides for forests and lakes, and planned a Finland road trip summer itinerary.
Excited by the prospect of long summer days and plenty of time in the Great Outdoors we decided to spend two-weeks on our Finland road trip. This route starts in Helsinki, travels north to the Lakeland region, heads across country to Tampere and back south again to Turku.
Updated for 2020
During our cross-country road trip we swam in pristine lakes and picked berries on a family farm. We took a boat in search of the rare Saimaa ringed seal and ate enough pastries to last us a lifetime – and much more!
If you are planning a trip to Finland then this post is for you. Here, I share our Finland tour itinerary, tips for driving in Finland and all of our favourite sights in Helsinki, Finnish Lakeland, Tampere and Turku.
For more tips and ideas when planning your holiday, take a look at our Finland with kids guide.
Your perfect two-week Finland Road Trip
Two weeks is the minimum you want to allocate for a Finland road trip. We had 12 days and definitely felt that we wanted longer.
Our route covered the southern part of the country but if you want to visit Lapland then you can drive from the Finnish Lakeland region. It will take approximately eight hours to reach Äkäslompolo and about seven hours to drive to Rovaniemi.
If you do want to head north, this post details our magical week in Lapland with kids.
The following itinerary follows broadly the same route as we did. I have added an extra day in Finnish Lakeland, where we would have happily spent much longer. I’ve also included a couple of days in Tampere. We didn’t get to visit Tampere on this trip but everything I’ve heard about it makes me want to go back to Finland.
Read on to discover, how to plan the perfect Finland vacation.
Finland Road Trip Itinerary
Days 1 & 2: Helsinki
Days 3 – 8: Finnish Lakeland
Days 9 & 10: Tampere
Days 11 – 13: Turku & Naantali
Day 14: Return to Helsinki
Disclosure: We were guests of Visit Finland, Visit Saimaa and Visit Turku for this trip and for the purpose of producing this Finland guide. All my opinions are, as always, entirely my own.
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Helsinki (Days 1 & 2)
Finland’s capital is a fun place to spend a couple of days. In the summer it’s a place for swimming and soaking up the endless sunshine. During the winter months it’s a destination for making the most of its excellent museums and delicious dining scene.
We visited Helsinki in August and actually passed through the city a number of times on our Finland tour. Some of our favourite things to do when visiting Helsinki include:
Swimming at the Allas Sea Pools
Located on Helsinki harbour, this outdoor swimming complex offers three pools. There’s a 25m heated lap pool, a shallow children’s pool and my favourite, the sea pool, filled with waters from the Baltic sea!
Visiting the island fortress of Suomenlinna
Meaning “the Fortress of Finland” construction on this military complex started in 1749. It’s located on a series of small islands, 20 minutes away from Helsinki by ferry, and makes for a great day trip. There are tunnels to discover, a submarine to explore and plenty of small coves and beaches for paddling.
Suomenlinna is also a living and working community. There are around 800 residents who call the islands home and you’ll spot some of their pretty wooden houses when you first arrive on the island. There’s also a library, shop and a primary school here.
Spending time at Children’s Town at the Helsinki City Museum
This exhibition has been designed specifically for kids and is a wonderful, immersive way for children to learn about Helsinki’s history. Pretend to be a schoolmaster, go to work in an 18th century shop, jump in a horse-drawn carriage and discover more “old stuff” as my kids like to say!
Try local foods at the Old Market Hall
Helsinki is home to three market halls but if you only have time to visit one then the Old Market Hall, located on the harbour, is our favourite. It first opened in 1889, making it the oldest indoor market in Finland and is the place to come and try some local Finnish delicacies.
Discover the Kamppi Chapel of Silence
One of our favourite places to visit in Helsinki was also the place where we spent the least amount of time! Sights where “silence” is a key requirement are not always a winner with young children but we loved this beautiful multi-faith chapel. There are no services held here, rather the chapel was designed as a place to calm down and disconnect.
This post has more ideas on things to do in Helsinki as well as hotel and restaurant recommendations.
Finnish Lakeland Days 3 – 8
We loved our time in the Finnish Lakeland region and it was a true highlight of our road trip.
During the summer months, Finland is awash with blues and greens, the forested landscape scattered with patches of brilliant blue water. There is so much water in Finland, in fact, that it has been given the nickname “the land of the thousands lakes”. This moniker is not entirely correct, however, as there are actually 188,000 lakes in Finland. These stretch from Helsinki in the south right up to the northernmost part of the country in Finnish Lapland.
We stayed in two different places in Finnish Lakeland. Our first two nights were spent at the absolutely beautiful Anttolanhovi Art & Design Villas on the banks of Lake Saimaa. We could have happily spent a week here enjoying lake life in Finland. When planning your Finland trip, I would definitely recommend spending longer here.
The next two nights were spent further north, at the Jarvisydan Hotel & Spa Resort and the gateway to the Linnansaari National Park. When driving from Anttola to Jarvisydan Hotel we stopped along the way in Savonlinna to visit Olavinlinna Castle. Some of our favourite things to do in Finnish Lakeland include:
Exploring Lake Saimaa
Sublime Lake Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland and the fourth biggest natural freshwater lake in Europe. Measuring approximately 4,400 square kilometres, the lake is also home to some 14,000 islands. In fact, there are so many islands, that Lake Saimaa doesn’t look like one body of water, rather a series of lakes, connected via inlets and waterways.
During the summer months, holidaymakers arrive to spend time in the summer cottages that sit perched on the myriad islands. Here, they spend their days boating, kayaking, swimming and more in the clean waters of Lake Saimaa.
I would highly recommend either staying at the Anttolanhovi Art & Design Villas like we did or hiring your own cottage and spending a good amount of time here.
Searching for the Saimaa Ringed Seal
The waters of the Linnansaari National Park are home to the rare and endangered Saimaa Ringed Seal. The best way to try and spot one of these cute creatures is on a boat safari from Jarvisydan Hotel & Spa Resort. We spent a wonderful morning with our captain, Jarri, whose family have been in the area since 1658, searching for seals. Sadly, we were not successful but we did have an incredible day on the water.
Climbing Neitvuori Hill
There is not that much hiking to be done in Finnish Lakeland but if you want to stretch your legs then definitely take a hike up Neitvuori Hill. Meaning Maiden’s Hill, the summit stands at 184m above sea level and offers beautiful views of the sun-kissed waters of Lake Saimaa. Even better, go with a local guide and have a picnic at the top of the hill. This post has more information on climbing Neitvuori Hill.
Visiting Santa’s Hideaway
Even Santa needs a break and when he wants a holiday he heads to Kenkävero vicarage, near the town of Mikkeli, in Finnish Lakeland. You can visit his summer cottage and even see the machine he uses to learn whether you’ve been naughty or nice. If you visit between June 24 and August 6 then you’ll get the chance to meet Santa and some of his elves.
If he’s already gone back to Lapland by the time you visit then don’t worry, you can rent his cottage for overnight stays.
Discover Olavinlinna Castle
The 15th century Olavinlinna Castle is located in the town of Savonlinna on an island in the Kyrönsalmi strait. It is one of the star attractions in Finnish Lakeland. Originally built to defend against marauding invaders, the castle is today most famous for the annual Savonlinna opera festival that is held within the castle walls every summer.
Our favourite thing about Olavinlinna Castle was the dressing up room on the ground floor where the kids could pretend to be knights, guards and princesses. The kids also enjoyed spotting the medieval toilets attached to the sides of the towers!
This post has more ideas on visiting Finnish Lakeland, including a detailed itinerary.
Tampere (Days 9 & 10)
Here’s where our Finland tour deviates slightly. I really wanted to visit the city of Tampere but we didn’t have time on this Finland trip. So, when we left Finnish Lakeland, we drove back towards Helsinki and then on to Turku, which was a quicker route than driving across the country.
If you have longer, then I highly recommend spending a couple of days in Tampere, a beautiful city and an increasingly popular destination in Finland.
Even though we’ve yet to visit Tampere, I’ve done my research and I know that the following are some of the most popular things to do.
Enjoy the Särkänniemi Theme Park
This enormous amusement park also includes an aquarium, planetarium, carnival game area and the Näsinneula observation tower, the tallest free-standing structure in Finland. If your kids are into Angry Birds, in particular, then they will love this place as it has the world’s first themed land dedicated to this insanely popular video game.
Visit the Moomin Museum
The Moomins are a national treasure in Finland and the Moomin Museum in Tampere celebrates everything about Tove Jansson’s books through a collection of illustrations and artwork. The museum is also home to a full-scale dollhouse version of the Moomin House, built by Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä.
Go undercover at the Spy Museum
Time to get out your false moustache and Fedora and get to work solving crimes. Tampere’s Spy Museum explores the world of cloak-and-dagger activities, focusing in particular on the Cold War era. Discover original documents telling stories of real life spies and try out the lie detector test.
Eat local goodies at the Market Hall
Food plays a big part in our travels and I love visiting markets. It’s not surprising, then that Finland’s myriad Market Halls are a winner with me. Tampere’s market hall has been around since 1901 and offers a huge range of food stands, cafes and places to grab a delicious lunch.
Turku & Naantali (Days 11 – 13)
Turku just may well be our favourite city in Finland. Lying on the southwest coast, just two hours from Helsinki, Turku is the oldest city in Finland and was once the country’s capital. It’s laid-back, compact and filled with fun things to do. There’s also an ever-growing food scene with plenty of lively cafés and restaurants and a cool creative buzz with lots of fun independent brands based here.
Turku is also the gateway to the pretty harbour town of Naantali, which is, in turn, how you get to magical Moominworld, home to Finland’s most famous residents. Some of our favourite things to do in Turku include:
Discover Turku Castle
The 700-year-old Turku Castle is the city’s star attraction, and rightly so, a visit here is a lot of fun. Filled with stories of daring escapes, treacherous families and romantic promises, the castle has a story to capture everyone’s imaginations. Our favourite tale was of the tourist who was held in place by a ghostly presence on a guided tour of the castle! There’s a fun dressing up room for kids and the castle also runs a Little Knights tour for groups of children.
Cruise along the Aura River
Running through the heart of Turku and out to the Archipelago is the Aura River. In winter months the river can freeze over, turning it into an ice skating rink and during summer months, ships sail up and down its waters. During summer months you can hire an electric boat and cruise along the Aura River yourself. It’s a great way to see the city and even more fun if you bring along a picnic.
Sail to Naantali
Jump on board the steamship S/S Ukkopekka, the oldest steamship in Finland still in commercial use, and sail from Turku to nearby Naantali. The two-hour trip takes place between June and mid-August and is a lovely way to see the coastline and dream about which summer cottage you’d like to buy. You can also have a buffet lunch on board if you wish.
Meet the Moomins!
Naantali is the gateway to Moominworld, home to Tove Jansson’s loveable characters and the unofficial symbol of Finland. Moominworld is a wonderful place to escape for the day with the kids, even if you didn’t grow up with Moomin tales. The park is divided into different areas and at the heart of it is Moomin House, where you’ll get to meet the Moomins themselves.
This post has more ideas on things to do in Turku as well as hotel recommendations.
What you need to know about driving in Finland
Driving in Finland is very easy; there is hardly any traffic, roads are well maintained and places are well signposted.
If you’re driving in Finland in winter then take comfort in the fact that this is also very straightforward (although there can be a lot of snow in places). All cars in Finland use winter tires and the speed limits are reduced during the winter months. You can also hire a ‘normal’ car and there is no need to hire an SUV. Just remember that daylight hours are few and far between during the winter months, especially the further north you travel.
For more information on driving in Finland, take a look at my Finland with kids guide.