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Set along Finland’s far southern Baltic Sea coast, the cosmopolitan city of Helsinki still manages to keep its ‘small town’ ambience despite being a bustling international metropolis. The city is an enjoyable summertime destination for visitors, with its massive symbol and main landmark being the gleaming white Lutheran Cathedral, which towers over the city centre and waterfront. The outdoor summer cafes and bars are always crowded with locals soaking up the sunshine. The city’s great UNESCO-listed Suomenlinna fortress complex sits on an offshore island as a testament to days gone by. It is also home to more than 1,000 people and is a hub for restaurants, cafes and theatres.
Who to Book With
Helsinki Airport is the main arrivals hub for visitors to Finland, with car hire offered through Avis, Budget, Europcar, Sixt and Hertz at offices located on the walkway between the two terminals. Given the cost and restrictions of public transport, visitors planning to tour Finland are advised to book their car hire well in advance online to secure their preferred model and save money.
Best Time to go
The best time to visit Finland is the summer between June and September, when the days are exceptionally long and the weather is pleasantly warm. Average summer temperatures in the capital and the southern region of the country sit at around 17°C, and Finns take full advantage of the midnight sun by keeping late hours.
Need to Know Essentials
The following documents need to be shown when collecting your hire car:
- A valid UK or EU photo driving license or International Driving Permit
- Your passport as a further photo ID
- The credit card used for the online reservation
- A print-out of your booking confirmation
Finns drive on the right. The roads in Finland are mostly empty and kept in good condition, although traffic snarl-ups can occur in Helsinki around rush hours and on summer weekends. Dipped headlights must be used at all times during the day, and roads in the capital are well-signposted and easy to navigate. When driving through the countryside, tourists are advised to watch out for moose and other animals on the roads. Seat belts for all occupants are compulsory, and young children and babies must have specially adapted seats. Mobile phone usage while driving is only allowed with a hands-free kit, and credit cards are accepted at most petrol stations.
Public transport in Finland comes in the form of rail, road, ferry, taxis and air, although the rail network is restricted mostly to destinations in the south due to the country’s topography and weather. Lapland in the north, only accessible by bus or self-drive, is a favourite winter destination for its Santa Claus village and northern lights, but is also stunningly lovely in the summer.
Finnish Rail operates in the south, with local and express services from Helsinki to Tampere, Lahti and Turku, although the fastest trains are expensive. Typically, travelling by train is quicker than by bus, but Lapland is only accessible by long-distance bus or car travel.
Taxis in Helsinki and other Finnish towns can be hired at ranks or by phone in advance, but are the most expensive form of public transport. All cabs are regulated and metered, with fares calculated on a per kilometre rate, plus an initial charge, which rises on Sundays and late at night. Average charge per kilometre during the day is £5.00. Unregulated taxis should be avoided.
Bus travel in Finland is the cheapest way to get around, but is far less comfortable than train travel. Matkahuolto is the major bus company here, offering routes to the main tourist destinations, including Finnish Lapland.
Exploring the wide open spaces of Finland via self-drive is the most convenient and economical way to travel, especially as petrol is considerable cheaper here than in the UK. Lapland, with its vast snowfields and indigenous reindeer-herders, is an all-time favourite, but there’s far more to see and do. Porvoo and Turku have picturesque traditional wooden homes, 13th century Hameenlinna Castle is the country’s oldest, Olavalinna Castle is its most atmospheric, and Finland’s eastern region lakes number more than 60,000.
The Lake Paijanne Scenic Drive - This begins at the Vaasky Cana outside Lahti city and loops around Lake Paijanne, Finland’s second largest body of water. Heading north on road 314 towards Pulkkilanharju Ridge, the road offers views of glorious water, sky, forests and shore. Following the roads all around the lake is one of the best drives in the country, with very little traffic.
Helsinki to Savonlinna - The journey from Helsinki to Savonlinna is a six-hour trip through scenic wildernesses, dotted with charming small towns and villages. It begins with road 4163 to Mantyharju, then follows the 420 to Ristina and the 4323 to Puumala. Highlights include ferries across rushing rivers and endless kilometres of pristine scenery. The trip ends in Savonlinna after passing through Sulkava.
Finnish Lapland - A true wilderness and home to the Sami peoples since time immemorial, and is best seen with a rental car. If you’ve three or four days to spare, take the route from Helsinki to the heart of Lapland north through the centre of the country, taking in charming towns, lakes, forests, ancient castles and national parks.