4 days in southern Finland exploring Helsinki, Salo and Hanko
4 days in Finland couldn’t have come around at a better time.
It came at a time when I felt lost about how many destinations are getting destroyed by over-tourism and at a time when I needed some space. I desired some fresh air in terms of both the nature of my travel and the stuff inhaled deep into my lungs.
Finland took me by surprise and delivered exactly that.
I honestly feel like Finnish people have got it so right. The quality of living and of air out here is unrivalled and quite frankly, I’m very envious.
Did you know? Finland is one of very few countries that operate the ‘freedom to roam’ policy. Also known as ‘everyman’s rights’, this policy allows you to roam and enjoy all the parks, lakes, fields and forests. You can pretty much set up camp, fish, bike, pick berries and swim anywhere… free of charge (excluding obviously people’s back gardens – common sense required).
It seems hard to imagine, and it was even weirder to experience, but I honestly felt like we had been given the southern corner of the country to explore all by ourselves. We probably encountered just a few handfuls of people during the entire four days, and for hours at a time we’d see nobody at all. We met no other English people. That’s not to say there’s zero tourism, but there’s vast amounts of land to explore here and coming just before the summer peak is even more blissful.
The contrast between what we had arrived to and the big smoke back home (London) was somewhat uncomfortable to begin with.
Voices floated around in my head saying, ‘What do people do here?’ and, ‘Well, this is a boring life.’ I’m ashamed that our way of living had led me to perceive things this way. What I now know and appreciate is Finland: an incredibly respectable, extraordinary country.
But as I look back on our long weekend here in the Nordic land, I feel so clear headed. My body feels refreshed and I’m trying to top up my tank with as many deep inhalations of this clean air as possible, before we depart. I love Finland.
Let’s rewind a little. What brought me to Finland?
Finland Tourism had given Zanna and I the opportunity to fly out from London Heathrow to Helsinki (the capital of Finland) in one of the brand new aircrafts in the Finnair fleet, to uncover four days of Fiinish adventure.
Aside from the 24-hour stopover in Helsinki I had last year on the way to China, neither of us had any inclination as to what we were about to witness.
Over the following four days we tucked into a wealth of knowledge from our Finnish tour guides as we uncovered three different areas in the southern region… Helsinki, Salo and Hanko.
Note: For the end of May / beginning of June we experienced lower than usual temperatures of 6-12 degrees (the coldest May since 1969, apparently). If you’re coming just before the high summer (July/ August) like we did, bring a few thermal layers just in case.
So here we are, my thoughts and photos from each destination…
Day 1 in Helsinki
As the capital of Finland, Helsinki is one of the busiest regions in Finland. Though saying that, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. A combination of the waterfront location and the spacious wide streets that map out this modern city has you feeling at ease and welcomes you to wander freely at your own pace.
Finland’s contemporary architecture and innovative decor is evident in the hotels and cafes that you stroll alongside. Just like the rest of Scandanavia, Finland definitely has an eye for design. We stayed at Hotel Lilla Roberts, which was nothing short of gorgeous.
Amongst an abundance of shops and greenery, Helsinki also gives you the option to escape to the nearby islands (I’ve heard Suomenlinna is lovely) via a quick boat ride.
It’s a lovely city and I would probably recommend a day or two here during your Finnish adventure.
My Helsinki tips and recommendations:
- Check out Senate Square, the cathedral and the waterfront for your iconic Helsinki shots.
- Head to Kulma for a great cup of coffee / matcha in an visually satisfying cafe.
- Dine at Zucchini (vegetarian restaurant )
- Grab a healthy concoction of goodness at Mari’ s Smoothie Bar in the Old Market Hall
- Save yourself and dine at Restaurant Kuurna for an INCREDIBLY TASTY meal made from only the finest, locally sourced and seasonal produce. I can honestly say I indulged in one of the tastiest meals of my entire life here. Highly, highly recommend if you have a couple of extra pennies. I was expecting a much higher price, but there are 37€ (2 course) and 44€ (3 course) options available here.
- Grab a cocktail / coffee at Ateljee Rooftop Bar
Day 2 in Salo
After spending a day in Helsinki, we departed from Helsinki train station (in the centre of the city) and headed directly to Salo in south-west Finland, where we arrived in a town that is only just beginning to make its mark on the Finnish tourist map.
Salo was once home to Nokia HQ and is actually a city, even though when you arrive, you will struggle to believe how. It’s more of a rural countryside village surrounded by woodland. Woodland is the direct translation for ‘Salo’.
By day, activity centres around the newly acclaimed (2015) National Park – Teijo. Here you can camp and sauna in the wild, enjoy boating activities or simply hike, like we did, around one of the many footpaths.
By evening in Salo, things centre around the main village pub Terho, where you’ll find the locals gathering and enjoying the live music on offer. The pub is undeniably small and when we visited we were the only ones in there, so it’s mad to think that’s the epic centre of the social scene. There is a notably gorgeous bakery out the back of the pub, so if you get a chance, try the focaccia and goat’s cheese combination and wash it down with one of the local beers.
During our time in Salo we stayed at a little family-run boutique farmhouse called Ruukin Majatalo, just steps from the Ironworks village, Alpaca Mill and Mathilda Marina, where we enjoyed a heart-warming meal after our walk – the perfect revival from the late winter breeze that had accompanied us.
Salo was another fly-by visit before we took a taxi one hour south to the beach town of Hanko…
Days 3 + 4 in Hanko
Known as the sailing capital of Finland and home to some of the most gorgeous summer houses you’ve ever seen in your life, Hanko was by far my favourite hang out.
It’s understated yet stunningly precise in what it offers.
Whether you want to relax by the waters, cosy up in the private saunas (that you can book into, bar the summer months when harbour members get priority), dine on fresh seafood in the warehouse quarter, or partake in some sailing, mountain biking or yoga, Hanko delivers it in the breeziest of ways.
One of my highlights here in Hanko was definitely the afternoon sail we enjoyed from Hanko harbour, weaving in and out of just a small selection of islands within the archipelago.
Did you know? The Finnish archipelago is actually the largest in the world.
During the two days we had in Hanko, we stayed in one of the traditional wooden houses that are very iconic here in Finland. We couldn’t have been more thrilled with the aesthetics as we pulled up onto the drive of Villa Maija.
The Finnish breakfasts have to be one of my absolute favourite things about my time here in Finland and Villa Maija was no exception. Think homemade rye breads, cheeses, meats, teas and cinnamon biscuits.
The most iconic and well known landmark in Hanko is the Red Water Tower which, for a small price, you can ascend to the top of and grab hold of a stunning panoramic view over the harbour and the Finnish archipelago. Well worth the pennies…
Again, we were among just a handful of folk wandering the streets and wooden structures here in Hanko. It was certainly a significant charm to our time here in late May, but it’s important to note that as the summer approaches, you can expect a swarm of residents with summer houses here and tourists too, all of whom are eager to attend some of the top sailing events. To experience Hanko at a good time but still out of the peak months, aim for June or September.
My Hanko tips and recommendations:
- In front of the old Casino there are some large rocks with canons on. Clamber on top and spend an hour relaxing to the sounds of the waves.
- If you want to try mountain biking or kayaking, I highly recommend getting in contact with Ilse Klockars. She is incredible. Ilse is Finnish, lives locally and lives and breathes the Finnish outdoor culture. Contact her and enquire on – firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. +358 (0)40 5233032.
- For lunch, 100% head to Cafferie. It has THE BEST SALADS and waffles (sweet and savoury), all combined with a gorgeous view of the ocean.
- For dinner, head to the Warehouse Quarter. (I recommend Hangon Makaronitehdas for incredible pasta, or Origo for a renowned local seafood buffet).
- Charter a boat from www.nordicboathouse.fi for a unique perspective and experience through the largest archipelago in the world.
- Grab some cans of chilled Cool Grape for your sauna experience. It’s a favourite amongst locals and is a welcomed refreshment as you work up a sweat in the saunas!
- You can get to Hanko from Helsinki airport by train. We changed twice en route but it was super easy. The trains are cheap, clean and on time. Some even have great WiFi and plugs!
I hope this has inspired you to plan a Finnish adventure!
Other posts you may like if you’re thinking of planning a European adventure:
- My weekend guide to Brighton
- 3 cities in 3 days – Bruges, Brussels and Ghent
- An epic 4-day Cornwall road-trip
- Living the Val D’isere ski dream
- The Yacht Week uncovered
- A guide to planning your Dalmatian Coast road-trip, Croatia
- 10 ways to save money for travel
- 10 reasons I love hostels over hotels
- A guide to the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge
Need to book accommodation? Here’s £30 off your first AirBnb booking – my budget travel godsend!
Have you ever been to Finland?
What did you think? Where did you visit? I’d love to know! ?
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