Fancy a really wild weekend in Europe? Whether you kayak and camp on unspoilt isles, seek the brown bears hidden deep in its forests, or just bask under its midnight sun, Finland was made for adventure – and in summer it’s simply spectacular…
Soak up the midnight sun
At the height of summer, the sun only sets for a couple of hours in Finland, and the long evenings are bathed in soft, beautiful light. If you want to squeeze maximum adventure into your mini break, you’ve come to the right place: with all that daylight, you can carry on exploring well into the small hours.
Go forest hiking
Finland certainly isn’t short on forest: it covers 70% of the country. Indeed, when you’re driving, it can feel like you’re travelling through a tunnel of trees – but you’ll need to venture off-road to experience the true magic of Finnish woodland.
There are 40 national parks to choose from, each with hiking routes to suit every ability. The newest of the bunch, Hossa, is criss-crossed with trails: you’ll venture through clearings where reindeers roam, around mirror-like lakes, and inside caverns covered with 4,500-year-old rock paintings. Pick up a map locally, or enlist a guide to take you to the most memorable spots.
Kayak around ‘Lakeland’
If you thought Britain’s Lake District was lovely, feast your eyes on Lakeland (no, not the shop) in Finland’s ravishing south. Some watery stretches in this region are so large that they have their own islands – and splashing your way around their coves and mini beaches is a fine way to unwind on a weekend.
From June to August, when the midnight sun blazes, the water is also at its warmest: perfect for pitching camp on your own little isle, and heading out for a long sunset swim.
Cycle Turku’s Archipelago Trail
Okay, so you won’t fit the entire 118-mile Turku Archipelago bike trail into one weekend, but the beauty of this circular route is that it’s well connected by road (and the start is only a two-hour drive from Helsinki) so you can choose which bits to tackle.
There are over 20,000 islands in Turku, and the trail traverses the prettiest ones – with a few ferry crossings, of course. You’ll pedal through rolling green countryside, tiny wood-built villages, and picturesque harbours where the seafood is fresh, the schnapps is flowing, and the long summer sunsets are spellbinding.
Swelter in a sauna
Taking a sauna isn’t just an occasional treat in Finland, it’s a national hobby. The country’s population is 5.4 million, and they have three million saunas between them, such is their devotion to communal bathing.
Hotels and guesthouses usually have their own electric saunas, but it’s worth taking a trip out to the forest to experience a traditional wood-fired example: the smoke of the birch branches is renowned for its cleansing qualities. While it’s the norm to go nude (yikes!), fear not: you won’t be expected to bare all in most hotel or guesthouse saunas.
Swim in a lake
Make your sauna experience all the more authentic by running from your wood-fired forest cocoon to the nearest lake (usually only a few metres away), and plunging into its bracing depths.
Repeat a few times – with a little light whipping with a birch twigs to get the blood circulating – and you’ve got the perfect (yet somewhat punishing) ritual for purifying your bod.
Go bear watching
Few people realise that brown bears loiter in the forests of Finland, along with Arctic foxes and wolverines. It sounds like a menacing menagerie, but they’re actually very wary of humans – and the smallest sound will make them scarper.
For a peek, you need to head to the bear-watching centres in central Finland. You’ll spend the night in purpose-built ‘bear hides’ (basically log cabins, deep in the forest), lying in wait for them to make an appearance. You’ll need patience and a good pair of binoculars to see these gentle(ish) giants in the wild, but it’s totally worth it.
Revel in the rhododendrons
You’ll find a rainbow of blooms in Helsinki’s Rhododendron Park, a flower-filled oasis in the north of the city. The sweet-scented rhodies and azaleas are at their most dazzling in summer, and a trail of paths and walkways makes you feel like you’re strolling through Finland’s countryside rather than its capital.
Soak in Helsinki’s sea pool
While Allas Sea Pool is open year-round, it’s best enjoyed in the summer months – for obvious reasons. This Helsinki haven is filled with purified Baltic Sea water, and with its surrounding restaurants and views of the harbour it’s a popular hang-out for locals as well as visitors.
If you don’t fancy swimming in sea water, there are two freshwater pools nearby, one for adults, and the other for kids.
Forage for berries
In late summer, Finland’s woodlands bestow a bounty of wild berries and mushrooms, and foraging becomes a national pastime. You’ll find rich clusters of raspberries, blueberries, bilberries and lingonberries, which taste sharp and sour, not unlike cranberries.
It’s essential to travel with a knowledgeable guide, as the forests have plenty of inedible berries too. Or, leave the picking to the experts, and enjoy the fruits in jams, puddings, and blueberry-infused schnapps (yum).