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11 Things To Expect From A Roadtrip In Finland

Posted on August 18th, by Peter Parkorr in Finland, Picture Perfect. 13 comments

Have you ever been to Finland? Not too many people have, and even fewer people think of it as a summer holiday destination. But here’s the inside scoop – Finland is spectacular in summer! And not a snowflake in sight.

This week I’m heading to Helsinki for the Night of the Arts, to feast on the food scene and to see what else I find in this design-led city. I’ll be flying through the air as this post goes live, so it seems appropriate to reminisce on the blog about my roadtrip in Finland in 2012.

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The view over Helsinki from the Olympic Tower
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Flying the flag: Helsinki was World Design Capital 2012

Helsinki to Lapland: A Road Trip In Finland

On my first visit, I made my way to Helsinki by land and ferry from Berlin, arriving in late June and just missing the longest day of the year by a snip (damn!). With 10 days to see what I could of Finland, I hired a car in the capital and drove north through Tampere, Oulu, and Rovaniemi before a symbolic crossing of the Arctic Circle into Finnish Lapland. After visiting Santa’s official home, I made my way back to Helsinki via Kuopio, a kayaking adventure in Savonlinna/Linnensaari, and Porvoo.

My solo mission to Lapland and back showed me a good chunk of Finland, and I met a host of people en route. After the 2000+ kilometre drive I had three days to enjoy in the capital before flying to my next destination.

So am I looking forward to going back? Yes!

Here are 11 things you can expect on a roadtrip in Finland, and I’m hoping to love my second visit just as much. I don’t even mention the afternoon I spent drinking beer in a sauna…


Finland has the biggest skies in the world. The sky in Finland, is just bigger than other places. There is so much of it. As I drove for hours along perfectly flat roads through unending forests, I could barely keep my eyes off the heavens. Coupled with travelling north during summertime, the sun never dipped below the horizon, and I witnessed the most amazing light shows from the sun, the sky and the clouds.

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Middle of the night, somewhere in Finland

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Heavens above, tarmac below, Finland either side

2. Parks and public spaces

Despite 70% of the land being covered in forest, the population is small and relatively spread out. Finland has plenty of room. Helsinki’s parks and open spaces are loved by the locals and they take great advantage of them, which is my next point.

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A park near Helsinki’s Olympic stadium

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People making themselves at home outdoors

3. Free Music Events

From my few days in Helsinki I was really struck by how many free events were being held in parks and squares – with a focus on live music. What’s better than heading out to discover the city and finding an open-to-all gig in the park? The Finns enjoy these events like the Brits enjoy a beer garden, after stopping at the supermarket of course.

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Not sure who the band were, but the crowd knew
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One fan making the most of his festival outfit!

4. Green Initiatives

Speaking of supermarkets – I was a big fan of the way they encourage recycling. Check out the impressive system in my video – a machine scans the barcode of glass bottles or aluminium cans, swallows them, tots up how much money is due back to you, and prints a receipt to take to the cashier. Fantastic. Why don’t we do that??

5. Beautiful Lakes and Waterways

Finland has such a flat landscape that it barely exists above water in many regions. Along the coast and in the lake districts the land and the water are as broken as each other, making for reflections of light through the trees and uninhabited islands by the thousands. Unsurprisingly the Finns love summertime by the lakes and a spot of boating. I even tried a little wild camping myself on an island in the Linnansaari national park, not far from Savonlinna.

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The lakes and islands around Kuopio, seen from a viewing tower

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Looking out over Linnansaari national park from the peak of my camping island

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A slice of the boat life in the modern part of Porvoo

6. Outdoor Swimming

The thing that made me want to visit Finland in the first place was to find a cabin by a lake in the middle of nowhere, and spend a few days fishing, barbecuing my catch, and throwing myself into the pristine water several times a day. I didn’t manage that exact scenario yet, but Beth and Randy from BeersandBeans got close recently! Live the dream, baby.

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Last camping stop before Helsinki – the beach at ‘Sondby 2’

7. Rural landscapes from the 80’s US

In the more agricultural areas, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being in the American Mid-West. I’ve never been to that part of the US, but the huge swathes of farmland and wooden barns of Finland kept putting me in mind of scenes from Superman II (Smallville is supposed to be in Kansas after all) and other films. The flat landscape meant being able to see miles into the distance, with only occasional farm houses to break up the scene. Alternatively, where the road sliced through towering forests, I found myself humming the theme tune to X-files…

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Somewhere between Savonlinna and Porvoo…

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Sandwiched between heaven and earth – Finland
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Forest by the beach, or a case for Mulder & Scully?

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Not rural but the slightly faded towns that also reminded me of Nowhereville, USA. I blame Hollywood.

8. The Finns and the Finnish Mindset

In some ways, Finland seemed totally Scandinavian – well educated citizens, good industries, modern progressive lifestyles. In-situ I couldn’t help comparing them to the Germans because their accents are similar, but unlike the Germans the Finns are known for being pragmatic and not idealist. They can also be a little reserved in comparison to other Europeans, at least at first. And strangely, some of their culture, traditions and language even had me comparing the Finnish with the Japanese at times. There is also the incredibly interesting Sami culture from Lapland, well represented at Arktikum museum in Rovaniemi, along with natural history and exhibitions about Finland during WWI and II. There is lots to learn here, like the fact the Nazis took the Swastika from Finland’s Airforce, who used a blue version of it as their motif before the wars.

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Sami culture from Lapland and other history at Arktikum museum in Rovaniemi

9. The Land of the Midnight Sun

I have to mention it again, visiting Finnish Lapland during the peak of summer. It’s unreal. The low sun refuses to set, people stay outside til late, and everything has a surreal feeling. In Rovaniemi I relaxed by the water in a park bustling with groups of friends under the gentle ‘night time’ rays. Going for a swim in the light at 10:30pm before setting up my tent for bedtime was one of the best moments of my trip.

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‘Three by Two’ – 10:30pm on a Rovaniemi summer evening

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The bridge in Rovaniemi next to my swimming spot, around 11pm

A couple of my MustLoveFestivals co-bloggers made it to Finland for the Midnight Sun Film Festival and you can see how much they enjoyed exploring Finland too.

10. Contemporary design and classic cool

Helsinki was the World Design Capital 2012, and they are well-known for design on the international stage. The city has a great mix of historic and nouveau buildings, along with galleries and businesses to match. This apparently extends to a love of older cars, evidenced by some real classics in great condition on the streets of Helsinki, Tampere and elsewhere.

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He knows he’s the man, and so do we.

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Contemporary is trendy in Helsinki, but so is retro!

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Design meets recycling in Helsinki’s harbour market

11. Aaand…. Seagulls

Lastly I have to mention the seagulls! In a capital surrounded by water, their presence is a given. Not because like every seaside town anywhere, you have to be careful with your chips. Not because they swooped threateningly when I got to close to their island in a kayak. But because they also tested my patience as a photographer! Trying finding a statue without a seagull on it’s head, I dare you.

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One tourist hurries away from a slightly foolish attempt to hand feed this mob…

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Top bird. The seagulls choose their vantage point without thought for the statue’s modesty


I could list plenty more I loved about my roadtrip in Finland, but I’ll wait until I’ve refreshed my senses in Helsinki this week. I haven’t even mentioned the food scene, which is very much alive and kicking!

No ‘reindeer-burger-served-rare’ pun intended.

Have you been to Finland in the summertime? What else do you want to know about while I’m here? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. You can also subscribe to me on Youtube for videos from my travels.


All pictures copyright © Peter Parkorr 2014.