How to Have a Dreamy Summer Escape in the Lakeland Region of Finland

Swap the bustle of Helsinki for the cool serenity of the Finnish Lakelands for an adventure like no other
Swap the bustle of Helsinki for the cool serenity of the Finnish Lakelands for an adventure like no other | © Raija Lehtonen / Visit Finland
Rupert Murray

There are endless summer days and there are saunas. What more do you need to know?

Small numbers are simple to understand, but when someone tells you there are nearly 188,000 lakes in Finnish Lakeland, your brain explodes. What does that look like? The short answer is: incredible. This nature-laden wonderland heaves with beauty both on and off the land – with long summer days, beautiful sunsets and captivating white nights. If you enjoy walking, cycling, swimming, canoeing, fishing, foraging, eating… or any one of a thousand other things, it’s here, in Finland’s Lakeland.

Explore Nuuksio National Park

Twinning Helsinki with Lakeland adventures is a popular choice for travellers to Finland, and this national park is a terrific example of why. It’s just 40 minutes from the capital, yet you’ll feel light years away from city life. There are trails galore – for everyone from strollers to hard-core hikers – that take you through dense forests, alongside pretty lakes and into glorious valleys. Birdwatch, rock climb or cycle your way through delicious scenery. Swim, canoe or fish in impossibly beautiful lakes. And, if you want to wake up and enjoy that morning stretch in serene surroundings, book a suspended lakeside tent near the park.

Nuuksio National Park is just 40 minutes from Helsinki, yet it feels light years from city life

Paddle through Kolovesi National Park by canoe

Not for the faint of bum: you’ll spend the best part of eight hours cruising the narrow rivers that wind through the Lakeland wilderness. Within this well-known paddlers’ paradise – which forms part of the vast Saimaa lake system – you’ll encounter craggy cliffs, green shores and calm waters at a serene pace. On the trip you’ll also see ancient rock paintings that offer a glimpse into the fascinating past of local Finnish people and, if you get lucky, a beautiful Saimaa ringed seal.

Paddle through a paradise of narrow, winding rivers at Kolovesi National Park

Seek out the birds and the bears

Binoculars and bravery both feature equally on a tour of the western fringes of the Siberian boreal forests. On a single excursion in eastern Lakeland, the eagle-eyed may spot Siberian jays and tits, warblers, waders and 10 species of owl – there are birds here that are hard to find anywhere else on the planet. Then there’s the bears. Sacred in Finnish folklore, these great beasts take a little finding, so it’s worth staying overnight in a cabin-like hideaway to increase your chances. For animal-focused holidaymakers, it’s worth heading towards northern Lakeland next for the chance to see lynx and wolverines.

In the eastern Lakeland region you’ll spot rare birds like this Siberian jay

Peddle the Kikarinlampi MTB-trail, Taivalkoski

The love – and encouragement – of mountain biking in Lakeland is such that there are countless two-wheeled adventure trails for enthusiasts and beginners alike. This 13km (8mi) route near Taivalkoski offers the chance to see protected swamp areas – lovely ones, though, not the troll swamps of your childhood imagination – around the Kikarinlampi pond, taking you through pine forest and even a reindeer round-up fence, used in local husbandry. When you reach your halfway point, it’s impossible not to stop and stare at the views of the pond before continuing past tall trees, bogs and lingonberry bushes.

Experience the Finnish trinity – a waterside cottage with a sauna

Cottages are an institution in Finland, with locals flocking to them to relax for summer as well as winter breaks. Facilities vary from the uber-luxe to the very simple, but what’s death-and-taxes certain is that there’ll be a sauna. There are thousands of cottages in Finland to choose from – thanks to the country’s obsession with them – and Lakeland has plenty of beauties on offer with waterside locations, some with their own boat and jetty thrown into the price. Stock up on barbecue food, bring a fishing rod and prepare for an ethereal Finnish experience.

Lakeland has plenty of beautiful waterside cottages with saunas, some with their own boat and jetty

Visit bustling Kuopio

With the endless natural beauty on offer in the region, it could be easy to forget to enjoy some of its manmade delights. This harbour town is well worth a day or two of your time, especially in the summer months when it hosts dance and wine festivals, and there’s a glut of restaurant terraces by the harbour where you can enjoy the sight of steamboats chugging by, and why not embark an evening cruise while you’re here. Equally, take time to enjoy the colourful summer market, the iconic fresh produce purveyor Market Hall and eat at the Puijo Tower with unrivalled views of the lake district.

Visit the classic harbourside restaurants in Kuopio and enjoy the gentle sight of steamboats chugging by

Road trip through Lakeland’s villages

Driving through this part of Finland is a joy. Natural wonders abound at every turn, plus there are some delightful places to stop for a drink, a stroll and a gander. Some of Lakeland’s villages are beyond charming, such as Luhanka – population 700 – where black coffee and beer are on tap. Fishing hotspot Suolahti, on the shores of Lake Keitele, is home to an abundance of great cottages to rent. Sumiainen, between Lake Keitele and Sumianen, is perfect for camping, cabins and swimming. And there’s Petajavesi, famed for its 250-year-old, Unesco-listed wooden church. These, and many more delights, await on a road trip like no other.

Petajavesi, famed for its 250-year-old, Unesco-listed wooden church, makes a pretty pitstop on your Lakeland road trip

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