Most visitors to Finland either head to Helsinki, its pleasant capital located on the Baltic Sea, or, in winter, to Rovaniemi to see Santa Claus and the northern lights. While the rest of Finland is not as well-known, it has plenty to offer. From charming coastal towns in the south to the scenic wilderness of Finnish Lapland in the north, here are five of the most lovely towns definitely worth visiting in Finland.
1. Porvoo — One of the oldest towns in Finland
Porvoo is one of the oldest towns in Finland, founded nearly 700 years ago. It’s located just over 30 miles from Helsinki, and in the summer you can travel to Porvoo by steamboat from the capital. Even though it’s not a coastal town, Porvoo is connected to the Gulf of Finland via the Porvoo River, which flows through the city. Porvoo has historically been an important center for trade and its shore houses were used to store exotic goods from foreign lands.
With its colorful wooden houses and cobbled streets, Porvoo is also one of the most photographed cities in the country. The streets of Old Porvoo are lined with little shops, cafes, galleries, and museums. You can visit the Porvoo Doll and Toy Museum and reminisce about your childhood or learn how a wealthy merchant family lived at the end of the 18th century at the Porvoo Museum. When it comes to shopping, Porvoo’s design shops, with styles ranging from antique to modern, are famous throughout Finland.
People have traveled from Helsinki to Porvoo since the 19th century to visit its cafes and restaurants. Everything in Porvoo has a long history and so does restaurant SicaPelle, which is located in the home of artist and sculptor Ville Vallgren and has been voted the best restaurant in Porvoo. If you are looking for something a little sweeter, Brunberg’s Chocolate Factory is known by all Finnish children and its home is in Porvoo, where it also has a shop.
2. Utsjoki — Land of nightless nights
Utsjoki is the northernmost and smallest municipality in Finland, comprising of a handful of small Sámi, as the indigenous Lapp people are called in Finnish, villages in the middle of the Nordic wilderness. Despite a population density of around one person per 1.5 square miles, there’s still plenty to do in both summer and winter.
Much of the Utsjoki area consists of protected nature reserves. In summer spend your yötön yö — which translates to “nightless night” in reference to the midnight sun — hiking or biking through the beautiful trails stretching hundreds of kilometers. Many of those trails start from the village of Utsjoki. In winter, you can grab your skis or snowshoes, or rent a snowmobile, and glide through the glittering landscape in the endless night of kaamos, or the “polar night” that lasts all day.
If you want to travel as far north as is possible in Finnish Lapland, then Nuorgam is your destination. Situated on the Norwegian border, Nuorgam is only a few hours away from the Arctic Ocean. Here you can visit Suvanto Summer Café, the northernmost cafe in the European Union. The northern border is the Tenojoki River, where humans have fished since the Stone Age. Along with Sámi, Finnish, and Norwegian fishermen, you can fish either under the midnight sun or the northern lights.
The easiest way to reach Utsjoki is from Ivalo Airport, which is only a two-hour drive away with daily flights from Helsinki. Alternatively, fly to Kirkenes Airport just across the Norwegian border and make the 2.5-hour drive that takes you along the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
3. Savonlinna — A city built on islands
The area of Savonlinna is one of the best places to experience the peace and gracefulness of Finland’s Lakeland. Savonlinna is a city built on islands, and Lake Saimaa is always close by. Lake Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland and home to the Saimaa ringed seal, an extremely endangered species only found here.
The area of Savonlinna is a paradise for anyone who enjoys nature. At Linnansaari National Park you can find some of the best lakeland scenery in Finland and it’s also where you can try to spot the Saimaa ringed seal. The best way to explore the area is by canoe or boat in summer. In winter, tour skating — which is meant to cover longer distances and is different from regular ice skating — is the best way across the frozen lake.
Savonlinna itself is most famous for the Savonlinna Opera Festival, which is a cultural event known across the world. It is hosted annually in the medieval Olavinlinna Castle. In addition to the festival, Savonlinna hosts a number of other forms of live music, art, and theater. Savonlinna is surrounded by small counties and villages, all offering their own attractions and events. The town of Kerimäki is home to the world’s largest wooden church.
Savonlinna is located in eastern Finland, not too far from the Russian border. It’s easy to reach it by train, plane, car, or bus. The drive from Helsinki is around four hours, and Savonlinna also has a small airport that offers domestic flights to and from Helsinki.
4. Naantali — A spa town and home to Moominworld
Naantali, a spa town, is known for its happy and sunny atmosphere. Every Finn knows Naantali from the phrase hymyilee kuin Naantalin aurinko, which means “smiles like the sun in Naantali” and refers to someone who looks extremely happy.
This smiling town is home to the Moomins, the cartoon characters known by every Finnish child. Moominworld, with its blue tower house, is located on an island right off the coast and is easily reached by car, bus, or boat. Naantali also hosts Kultaranta, the summer residence of Finland’s president. It was originally the summer villa of the merchant Alfred Kordelin and has housed the Finnish president during the summer since 1922.
At the beginning of the 18th century, whispers began that water from the Viluluoto Spring helps relieve symptoms of many diseases. This is said to be the foundation for Naantali’s spa activities, which started officially at the beginning of the 1800s. The current spa pools and treatments in Naantali are run by the Naantali Spa Hotel.
Naantali is located very close to Turku, the oldest and second largest city in Finland. Trains from Helsinki to Turku run hourly and the ride takes two hours. From there, you can easily reach Naantali by bus. As Naantali is a coastal town, you can also reach the town by boat and explore the archipelago surrounding it.
5. Mariehamn — The capital of Swedish Finland
Mariehamn is the capital of Finland’s Swedish-speaking autonomous territory, Åland. It is an archipelago that consists of 6,700 islands located in the Baltic Sea. The people of Mariehamn, and Åland in general, lead a laid-back islander lifestyle and are very welcoming. Mariehamn, like many of the coastal towns in Finland, comes to life in the summer. It’s easy to get around on foot or by bike, as Mariehamn is situated on a peninsula with harbors on either side. It’s also only a 10-minute walk from the West Harbour to the East Harbour.
Everything in Mariehamn contributes to the maritime atmosphere, and the best way to discover the heritage of Åland is to visit the Åland Maritime Museum. If you’re in the mood for shopping, Sjökvarteret (Maritime Quarter) is the place to find local crafts, silversmiths workshops, and a marina for traditional wooden ships and boats. For cafes and restaurants head to Torggatan street, where you can taste the local cuisine.
In addition to seeing Mariehamn, you can rent a bike or boat and explore the rest of the Åland archipelago. If you’re a golfer, Ålands Golfklubb is one of the prettiest golf clubs in Finland. The restaurant Smakbyn is located near the club and is probably the most well-known restaurant in Åland.
Mariehamn is easy enough to reach as ferries and boats from Helsinki, Stockholm, Tallinn, Turku, and Naantali run several times a day. You can fly to Mariehamn from Helsinki, Turku, or Stockholm — but we recommend you take a ferry or boat. The scenery in the archipelago between Finland and Sweden is beautiful.