In Finland, the best places for nature enthusiasts range from snow-doused villages deep in the Arctic Circle to wild, wave-washed archipelagos on the Baltic Sea.
This guide will pinpoint just a few of the most amazing locations for pulling on the hiking boots and going off the beaten track. It’s got options right up and down the length of the great Nordic nation; places for those who prefer to dive into chilly swells and snow-caked fells that are trodden by reindeer herds alike.
It’s important to bear in mind, that some of these places can often be tricky to get to. That’s not the case for all our options – one or two are just a quick ferry or hour-long drive from Helsinki. However, be ready to do some legwork, hop on connecting flights, or have the snow tires at hand for romps up to the far north and beyond.
Believe it or not, there are 330 islets and rocks wedged into the bays right in front of the bustling capital of Helsinki. They are a proper playground for the city dwellers, who often hop on a ferry or even their own sea kayaks to escape the energy of the tram-rattling town center come the weekend.
The famous history and UNESCO site of Suomenlinna is certainly one of the best-known of the archipelago. That hosts a muscular military fort from the 1700s. However, it’s really just the beginning of what’s on offer. Even wilder Vallisaari island is right next door. You can go there to hike past old Russian barracks and wildflower meadows that come alive in the spring.
Of course, the Helsinki Archipelago really excels on the beach front. Everything from rock-ribbed inlets for wild swimmers to lazy pebble beaches for those who prefer to do nothing are in the mix. The best of them for us are at Pihlajasaari, an island that almost looks more South Pacific than Scandinavia, and Isosaari, a hard-to-reach isle with long arcs of sandy shorefront.
The Aland Islands
There are a whopping 6,700 members of the Aland Islands to get through. That’s almost as many islands as there are in the whole of Greece. Most of the ones found here, languishing out between the edge of Sweden at the mouth of the Bothnia Gulf, though, are little more than skerries – small, windblown rocks without a hint of human habitation.
The larger island of Fasta is the place where most go to begin with. It’s a good choice since it makes up the vast majority of landmass. It’s also riddled with natural treasures. Start in the pine-studded wilds of the Aussichtsturm Batterieberg hiking area and then drop down to the Bovik bathing lido for a swim. Later, head over to Käringsund to see lighthouses on red-rock outcrops glowing in the sunset.
You can travel to the Aland Islands by boat from either Finland or Sweden. However, we’d say true explorers should have their own vessel. That’s the only real way to get out to see the raw beauty and expanse of the chain; to find the hidden inlets and coves where there’s not another soul in sight.
Nuuksio National Park
There’s no shortage of national parks in Finland – the country boasts something like 40 in all! – but the Nuuksio National Park is worth a mention since it’s surely one of the most accessible of all. Less than an hour’s drive northwest of the capital in Helsinki, it’s a great place to go when you’re craving that hit of Nordic nature amid the coffeehouses of the big city.
So, what’s on offer? How about eight individual marked hiking paths that web their way around a mosaic of wetlands, lakes, gurgling rivers, and fragrant pine forests? The longest route is 17km and takes at least a full day to complete, while the shortest is a quick there-and-back of 1.5km that reveals only a taste of the wild.
Nuuksio National Park is a famous habitat for rare creatures like the Siberian flying squirrel. It’s also home to myriad plant and tree species. During the winter, the snows turn the walking paths to Nordic skiing routes and the whole place becomes almost totally deserted.
Finland, best places for nature, and Rovaniemi go hand in hand. Seriously, there’s no list that could possibly skip out on this doozy of a town for lovers of all things tundra, ice, and snow. Sat right there on the cusp of the Arctic Circle, it’s known as the gateway to Lapland and the official home of a certain Santa Claus – heard of him?
But there’s loads for those who like an adventure, too. Come winter, regular Arctic safaris leave from the town. They’re your chance to spot rare creatures of the snow – think Arctic foxes and hares – usually from whirring snowmobiles that navigate the wild woods around the town.
Come the summer, the snows melt and Rovaniemi begins to come back to life. The fields along the Kemijoki River begin to sprout wildflowers and the Ounasvaara hill beckons with hiking paths and bobsled runs, not to mention rock bluffs and lookout points that take in 360-degree panoramas of Lapland.
Move over Rovaniemi, for Saariselkä is WAY deeper into the feral lands of Finnish Lapland than the so-called home of Santa Claus. In fact, the town was developed as a purpose-built resort for travelers who are keen to get away to a place where snowdrifts rule supreme and the Northern Lights dance in the skies overhead during long, long winters.
Nature lovers get not one, but two of the vastest national reserves in Scandinavia right on the doorstep. The first is to the southeast. That’s the Urho Kekkonen National Park. It rolls all the way to the Russian border with its bald fells and gurgling waterfalls and wild reindeer herds.
In the other direction, you can enter the Hammastunturi Wilderness Area. That crashes into the Lemmenjoki National Park to create a contiguous nature reserve that’s nearly 60 miles across, wedged between Saariselkä town and the Norwegian state line. It’s one of the largest in the whole of Europe and comes awash with primeval evergreen woods and even gold claims where prospectors still work the pans during the summer months.
The Hanko Peninsula
Taking us all the way from the subzero north back to the balmier south of the country, the Hanko Peninsula reigns as the extremity of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Yep, you can come here to stand at the very end of the nation, amid boulder-strewn bays and salt-washed coves that are lapped by mirror-like salt waters.
Sometimes spelt Hango, the headland measures about 12 miles from base to top. At its southwestern end, it thins out into a spit of land that’s clad in a line of pine woods and drops to wispy beaches. From there, you can see the greater Hanko Archipelago, which hides all manner of craggy rocks and bird-topped outcroppings for sea kayakers and boaters to explore.
The main town and gateway to the wilderness in these parts is Hanko itself. That’s a charming summertime spot with a big marina and plenty of seaside bars that come to life between May and August.
Last but most certainly not least is the far-flung settlement of Utsjoki. This is as far as the line goes in Finland. One more step and you’ll cross into Norway and the upper extremities of the Arctic Circle. As you can imagine, that makes the spot pretty wild, pretty cut-off from civilization. Just think of it this way: The Teno River on which the town sits flows north into the Arctic Sea, not south into the Baltic!
Again, the village here is flanked by a duo of incredible wilderness reserves. On one side you have the Kaldoaivi Wilderness Area. That clocks up 3,000 square kilometers of rolling peat bogs and gnarled tundra forests, some of which is permanently frozen – yep, the whole year round! The Kevo Strict Nature Reserve lies on the other side of town. That throws another 712 square kilometers of protected land into the mix, including the Kevo Canyon, one of the most striking rock features in all of Lapland.
To be honest, a trip to Utsjoki Village should be reserved for the most serious adventurers out there. The best places for nature lovers hardly come more gnarly than this – the drive in from Helsinki is 15 hours on its own!