Finland in ten days by car
Finland in ten days by car is a suggested route showing some of the most important sights in Finland. See the article on Finland for more information.
Compared to other European countries in general, Finland is quite sparsely populated, especially in the north. There are bus and rail links between major cities, but if you want to see the countryside the best way is definitely driving. The best time to do this journey is in the summer. During the winter many attractions are closed and driving is more uncomfortable due to snow and ice.
See also the main article
As always when taking a longer car trip, make sure your car is in a decent condition; an engine breakdown is never a pleasant surprise and definitely not when you're far away from home. Be mentally prepared to sit in the car for some 2500 kilometres in 10 days and do bring a good map.
The starting point for this itinerary is Helsinki, where most international travellers arrive. There are car ferries from Stockholm and Tallinn. Getting from Central Europe to Finland by car takes some 3-4 days/way driving calmly but without any major stops. From Southern Europe, one week/way is a quite good rule of thumb. If arriving from Russia, drive along motorway 7 to Helsinki. If you are from the surrounding countries or Europe it is probable that you have your own car. If arriving by plane there are many possibilities to rent a car at the airport or elsewhere as many of the major car rental agencies such as Europcar and Hertz are present in Finland.
One useful word to know is keskusta which means downtown or city centre and can be found on most road junctions near the city centre. In some major cities the Swedish centrum or even the International English centre are occasionally to be seen - these are obviously easier to understand for international visitors.
Day 1 - Up the ridge
Start from Helsinki in the morning. Drive along 7 E18 towards Porvoo, see Porvoo's Old Town and continue east along road 6 towards Kouvola and Lappeenranta. From Kouvola the road will follow the Salpausselkä ridge dividing Finland's coastal and inland regions. In Imatra there are the Imatra rapids, the very first "tourist attraction" in Finland, visited by the Russian Czar, among others. Continue towards Joensuu until Parikkala, turn left and drive along road 14 towards Savonlinna. You will cross the Punkaharju ridges that are also known as the "national landscape" of Finland. Before you arrive at Savonlinna you can take a short side trip to Kerimäki and see the world's largest wooden church. The main sight of Savonlinna is the medieval castle Olavinlinna hosting an opera festival each summer.
Day 2 - Land of a thousand lakes
On the morning you will drive on smaller roads, don't get lost! From the eastern edge of Savonlinna, take road 471 north up to Enonkoski and continue towards Heinävesi. A sound is crossed by cable ferry. Continue along 471 until the road ends, and turn right towads Joensuu along 476. After 12 kilometers turn left towards Sarvikumpu along 477. When you come to road 23, turn left towards Varkaus. After 15 kilometres turn right towards Uusi Valamo. New Valamo is a beautiful orthodox monastery, built in the 1940's after the original Valamo monastery situated on an island in lake Ladoga after Karelia was conquested by the Soviet Union. After the visit to New Valamo, drive back to road 23 and drive to Joensuu for lunch. If you are interested in Karelian culture, visit the Carelicum museum. Another point of interest is the bunker museum. Continue towards Kajaani along road 6 and turn right to Koli. Drive to Koli and walk up to the top of Mt. Koli for great views. Take the ferry over Lake Pielinen to Lieksa and drive to Nurmes.
Day 3 - Crossing the true wolf border
The trip continues further north along road 6 to Kajaani, where you can walk around the ruins of Kajaani fortress. Take road 5 E63 northbound towards Kuusamo, and turn left along national road 22 towards Oulu and Rovaniemi. At Paltamo, turn right along 78 towards Rovaniemi. You will now drive through 300 kilometers of virtually nothing but forest. Do look out for reindeer - while they are not as heavy as elks, you still don't want to crash into them. Moreover they are not wild animals but livestock, therefore if you crash into a reindeer you may have to pay compensation to the owner. Ranua, the last village before Rovaniemi has the northernmost zoo in the world where you can see Finnish and arctic wildlife like lynx, wolverines and ice bears. Arrive in Rovaniemi in the evening.
Day 4 - Here comes Santa Claus
Spend the day in Rovaniemi and don't forget the Santa Claus village at the Arctic Circle. Rovaniemi is a good starting point for Finnish Lapland if you want to extend your trip.
Day 5 - Return to the coast
Take road 4 E75 southbound towards Kemi. 33 kilometers before Kemi, take road 927 towards Vojakkala and Arpela. This road will end at Tornio river. Drive 5 kilometers north towards Kilpisjärvi and see the Kukkolankoski rapids. Not comparable to Niagara Falls, and not steep at all but still quite wide and long. A great place for picnic if it isn't raining. You can eat some salmon soup in a little cafeteria. Drive down to Tornio and make a quick visit to Haparanda, Sweden if you want. Arrive at Oulu in the early afternoon. You can walk around the city and look at the buildings from the late 19th century. Alternatively you can take a trip to Hailuoto, the largest island of the Gulf of Bothnia. Drive past the city center along 4 E75 to exit no. 6 and follow the signs to Hailuoto. The cable ferry departs each half hour and is free.
Day 6 - Ostrobothnia
Continue down along the coast towards Kokkola along 8 E8. If it is summer and you feel like swimming, stop at Kalajoki and drive to the sand beach (Hiekkasärkät). Sand beaches a little more than 200 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle! Drive past Kokkola and stop at the bilingual (Finnish/Swedish) city Jakobstad/Pietarsaari and see the Old Town and the sail ship Jacobstads Wapen. Continue south to Vasa, but before arriving in the city, turn down towards Pori and Tampere, turn towards Replot/Raippaluoto in the roundabout and drive across Finland's largest bridge to the island. The island is part of the Kvarken archipelago, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Spend the evening in Vaasa.
Day 7 - Plains and mustamakkara
Drive straight down along road 3 E12 to Finland's second most populous town, Tampere. In Ostrobothnia the landscape is flat with large fields, and when arriving in the Pirkanmaa region the landscape turns back to the usual forest. Tampere boasts interesting museums, Tammerkoski rapids in the center of the town, Northern Europe's highest observation tower and one of the most popular amusement parks in Finland, Särkänniemi. Don't forget the infamous local delicacy mustamakkara (blood sausage).
Day 8 - Pieces of history
Continue west along road 12 to Rauma, whose Wooden Old Town is an UNESCO world heritage site. On the way to Rauma you will drive by Lake Köyliö where, according to the legend, Bishop Henry who brought Christendom to Finland, was murdered in the year 1156. Then there is another UNESCO site, the bronze age burial site in Sammallahdenmäki. From Rauma, continue south along 8 E8. At Raisio, just before Turku, turn off to Naantali (follow the signs) to see the president's summer residence and if there are kids travelling with you, go to Muumimaailma theme park. Spend the night in Turku.
Day 9 - Capital to capital
Turku, Finland's oldest city, capital until 1812, and today Finland's third largest city hosts at two of Finland's main sights; Turku Castle and Cathedral. Three fourths of the city burned down in the Great Fire of 1827, so many of the buildings in today's Turku date from the 19th century. Close the circle by heading back to Helsinki in the evening. Turku is also a good base if you wish to extend your trip and explore the remarkable archipelago around Turku.
Day 10 - The daughter of the Baltic
Finland is a quite safe country even by European standards and even more so in rural areas, the basic precautions are always good to remember. When driving outside built-up areas look up for wild animals crossing the road. Crashing into a 500 kg heavy moose with highway speed can have fatal consequences!
From Helsinki one can get out the same ways as one arrived.