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10 days - Journey into Finland’s Cultural Heritage
Finland’s coast boasts the world’s largest archipelago. The beautiful blue Baltic Sea surrounds almost half of Finland – in the West and the South. It is one of the largest brackish inland seas in the world and has a salinity of less than 1% (where most oceans average 3.5%!). For centuries, the shores of the Baltic in Finland have been dotted with small, charming fishing towns and villages that are mostly populated by Swedish speaking Finns.
One of the best ways to discover Finland’s cultural heritage is to visit some of the fortresses, castles and manor houses that date back to the Swedish and Russian ruling times. As waterways were very important transport routes, most of the old buildings can be found conveniently located on the shores of the Baltic Sea or the inland lakes. This tour takes you to some of the most important historical and cultural sites in Finland.
If you want to continue your journey of discovery around Finland, you can combine this tour with our second self-drive itinerary Green Forests & Blue Lakes – Journey into Finland’s Heart & Soul.
Self-drive itinerary with hire car. Pick up and drop off is in Helsinki, either at the airport or city centre.
International flights to/from Helsinki, arrival and departure airport transfers in Helsinki, meals other than specified, items of personal nature, beverages.
If you wish to hire an automatic car, these are 'on request' and can be difficult to obtain. Please seek further advice with us.
In the morning pick-up your hire car in Helsinki and head west towards the village of Fiskars. Today you will visit a couple of old ironworks villages which, in a sense, started Finland’s industrial manufacturing. These ironworks produced cast iron and forged iron products and in their heyday there were 134 of them in Finland. The villages surrounding these ironworks were self-sufficient with their own schools, churches and hospitals.
Fiskars Ironworks was founded in 1649 and manufacturing here continued till the 1980s. As the industry moved from Fiskars Village, its inhabitants followed and many of the buildings were left empty. Built on the banks of two sets of rapids along the Fiskars River, most of the buildings in the village date from the early nineteenth century, and were designed by some of the most notable Finnish architects of the time.
This beautiful setting with surrounding countryside appealed in particular to crafts people, designers and artists. So by 1993 about 20 art professionals had moved to Fiskars and established the Artisans, Designers & Artists of Fiskars Cooperative. Over the years its membership has increased, and today the co-op has more than a 100 members whose work represents most areas of the arts, crafts and design.
Wander through artists’ studios and craft shops and enjoy lunch at one of the cosy cafes. We can also book you a private guided tour if you want to get more out of your experience. During the tour, a local guide will tell you about the history and traditions of the village, show you the key sights and provide you with a glimpse of Fiskars today as a village of artists, artisans and designers.
Continue your drive to Mathildedal, another historical ironworks village. Spend the night in this idyllic village with traditional red & white wooden houses and old factory buildings, all set in a park-like surrounding near the sea.
After check-in at your hotel, which is located in an old refurbished industrial building, explore the charming village and enjoy an afternoon tea at one of the cafes. Free time to relax and enjoy your early dinner.
Although the Midnight Sun only shines above the Arctic Circle, nights are white all over the country. Late at night, the sun briefly dips beyond the horizon before rising again. But it does not get dark and even here on the southern coast there is virtual daylight around the clock.
We have arranged you a canoe trip after dinner as we think you should not worry about sleep but make the most of the white nights. Your guide will pick you up from your hotel and walk you down to the pier. After safety and paddling instructions, it is time to head off on the calm waters of the Mathildedal Strait and to the Island of Isoholma. Enjoy the sound of silence and the magical light of the endless summer day while gliding through the water. You will have a snack on the island before paddling back to Mathildedal. Duration of the tour about 3 hours with a paddling distance of about 8 kms. You can have your own canoe or share with your partner.
After enjoying your breakfast made of local fresh produce, your guide will pick you up from the hotel for a nature walk in the surrounding national park. Teijo National Park lies just a few hundred meters from your hotel. Here you can experience Finland’s nature in miniature: lovely lakes, green forests, marshes, streams and the sea. During this 3-hour tour your guide will introduce you to the local flora and fauna and you will enjoy a snack by a campfire. Easy walking with a distance of about 6 kms.
Continue your journey towards Turku, the 2011 European Capital of Culture. We suggest you stop at the island of Hirvensalo on the way to visit St.Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel. Completed in 2005, this church is better known as the Fish Chapel due to its shape. The architect behind this beautiful timber chapel, Matti Sanaksenaho, is best known for his unique sculptural forms. If you are interested in a more in-depth experience, we can book a private guided tour of the chapel with a short organ recital for you.
Arrive in Turku late afternoon and check-in at your hotel.
Today you will explore the main sights of Turku with a private guide. Your first visit will be to Turku Castle. The Swedes consolidated their power in Finland through three crusades. After each crusade, a castle was built to serve both defensive and administrative purposes. Turku Castle was built during the first crusade in the 1280s at the mouth of the river Aura. The name ‘Finland’ only covered the settlements in the south-western parts of the country, surrounding the Turku Castle, till about early Middle Ages.
Continue to the Luostarinmäki Open Air Museum. The 1827 Great Fire of Turku caused enormous destruction as most buildings in town were made of wood. Luostarinmäki was spared and today it provides a unique setting with domestic buildings and workshops from the 1800s. The area consists of 18 small plots and the old houses are preserved exactly where they were built. Wander around the streets and be transported back in time. Find out how ‘common’ people lived and watch skillful craftsmen busying in their workshops.
Walk to the Turku Cathedral, one of the most important religious buildings in Finland. It has witnessed many important events in the nation’s history. The ceiling of the cathedral is extremely high and boasts a lofty vaulted nave and many splendid wall arches. The side chapels are particularly interesting containing the tombs of Swedish war heroes and even a former queen of Sweden, Catherine Mansdotter.
After your tour you could enjoy lunch at one of the cafes by the Aura River.
Today enjoy Turku on your own or book an optional full day tour. Use your Museum Card to visit some of the other interesting sights in Turku or hire a boat if you are interested in exploring the Aura River a bit further. These boats are fitted with electric motors for an emission free ride and you don’t need a boating licence. They are sturdy and easy to operate and come with maps for suggested touring routes. Let us know if you would like us to book you one for a nice picnic or dinner cruise! If you want company, they also come with your own local skipper.
After breakfast head north towards the Gulf of Bothnia and the quaint old town of Rauma established in 1442. In Finland Rauma is known for three things – beautiful old wooden houses, its distinctive dialect that no other Finnish speaker can understand, and the skilful makers of bobbin lace.
The old town of Rauma has a unique collection of old wooden buildings and was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. Medieval features, such as narrow and meandering lanes and irregular plots, can still be seen in the town structure. The densely built area of almost 30 hectares has about 600 buildings, most of which are privately owned. Gorgeous gates and board fences bordering the yards are typical of the townscape. Every house has its own rich and colourful story.
There is no precise information about the origins of Rauma dialect, but thanks to seamen who brought influences from all around the world, the dialect has a lot of vocabulary from many different languages. One of the characteristics of the dialect is to cut the words at the end. Rauman giäl”-dialect is well and truly alive. You can see it used on town signs or you might hear the elderly locals speak it at the market place.
Historical sources reveal that bobbin lacemaking in Rauma goes back all the way to the 1740s. The Rauma Lace Week held in July celebrates ‘all things lace’ and attracts lace makers and visitors from all over Finland and overseas. Initially, Lace Week was a set of bobbin lace exhibitions, but it has since developed into a wide-ranging community event. One of the highlights of the Lace Week is a friendly battle in which contestants compete for the title of the town’s fastest lace-maker.
Meet your local guide at the Information Centre for a 1.5-hour walking tour of Old Rauma. Walk along the narrow and twisty cobblestone lanes while the guide introduces you to the culture and history of this town of sailors and craftsmen. You will visit the beautiful Church of Holy Cross (subject to availability) built in the late 15th century for the Fransiscan monastery with impressive medieval wall and arch paintings. You will also stop by in a lace shop to watch the skilful making of bobbin lace. The tour ends at the Maritime Museum where your guide leaves you to explore the maritime history of the town on your own.
Afterwards enjoy coffee or lunch in one of the quaint cafes in the old town. From here you will continue your drive inland towards the lakes and the city of Tampere on Lake Näsijärvi.
On the way to Tampere stop at Sammallahdenmäki, located about 20 kilometres from Rauma. Sammallahdenmäki was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999 as the first prehistoric archeological site in Finland. It has the best samples of burial cairns from the Western Bronze Age in entire Scandinavia.
Arrive in Tampere late afternoon and check-in at your hotel.
Many award-winning restaurants attract people to Tampere from near and far. There are a lot to choose from - from fine dining to cosy gastro pubs. Some of these are very popular, so let us know if you would like us to make you a table reservation.
The City of Tampere was established by King of Sweden, in 1779, on the bank of the Tammer rapids. Tampere has been an industrial pioneer in Finland since the very beginning. Finland’s first paper mill started operation here in 1783 and the cotton factory established in 1820 by James Finlayson grew to become the country’s first large-scale industrial establishment. The first electric light in the Nordic countries was also lit in Finlayson’s modern production facilities in 1882.
A large city by Finnish standards, with more than 200,000 inhabitants, Tampere still has a small town feel. The city centre is compact in size, and the atmosphere is friendly and casual. The city is located on a scenic spot on a narrow strip of land between two lakes. The Tammer rapids and their riverbanks form the backdrop for old industrial buildings, and ridges. Formed thousands of years ago by ancient seas and retreating ice, they offer fantastic views over the two lakes.
Tampere has always offered a wide variety of culture as well - from performing arts and art galleries to historical collections from all walks of life.
To give you a better feel for this inland city, we have arranged you a walking tour with a local guide. Feel history and modern times intertwine while exploring the former industrial district with old red brick factory buildings and the city centre with a mixture of old and new architecture. You will also visit Pispala, a unique residential area resting on the slope of an ancient glacial ridge just outside of Tampere. When the area became part of Tampere in 1937, it was inhabited by railroad and factory workers and was notorious for its restless life and ongoing troubles. Now those days are gone and Pispala - with its narrow streets, beautifully restored wooden houses and magnificent views towards the two large lakes - is popular for Sunday outings and a sought after residential area.
After Pispala you will continue your walk through the protected forest of Pyynikki, the city’s popular recreational area, to Pyynikki Observation Tower. The family-owned café here is famous for its mouthwatering doughnuts and the tower for its exquisite view. This combination makes the climb all the way up to the tower worth it!
Enjoy a relaxed morning exploring Tampere on your own before heading down to the pier for a lunch cruise. You really need to be on the water to appreciate the beauty of the Finnish lakes! On this 2-hour cruise you will enjoy a buffet lunch while admiring the passing lake scenery.
After the cruise, if you are interested in art, you could visit the Sara Hildén Art Museum with a collection of modern and contemporary art, both Finnish and foreign. With some 5000 works, it is a comprehensive collection of modern art over the last forty years. The museum is located in a beautiful spot by Lake Näsijärvi. Large windows offer an open view over the grounds dotted with sculptures expanding all the way to the lake.
If your Finnish friends present you with gifts made of glass, these most likely carry a red round sticker with a white ‘i’ on it. Whatever you do, do not remove this sticker – ever! This sticker marks the brand ‘iittala’, a brand that Finns love and are very proud of! Today you will visit the Iitala glass village and learn more about this beloved Finnish institution and why that little dot is so important.
The story of iittala began in 1881 when a glass factory was founded in the village of Iittala. The factory is still operating, and it is where the best known Finnish glass vase, Alvar Aalto’s Aalto vase, is made. In the iittala glass factory you can admire the work of talented glassblowers as they create Aalto vases as well as Oiva Toikka’s bird designs from molten glass (note: factory is closed in July).
After your visit to Iittala, take a short drive south to the town of Hämeenlinna. If you want to keep exploring historical buildings, we can recommend you the following two sites. Private tours can be arranged at both places, if you are keen to learn more.
The building dominating the skyline here is the medieval Häme Castle, located by the shore of Lake Vanajavesi. Work on the castle seems to have started in the 1290s after the second crusade by the Swedes. The fight against Novgorod was still going on and the castle formed part of a defense line against the east, although after the peace treaty of 1323, it was quite far away from the actual eastern border. Apart from the ground floor, Häme Castle is built entirely of brick, which makes it very different from the other castles in Finland, which were built in natural stone.
Composer Jean Sibelius, whose home you will visit later on this journey, was born in Hameenlinna and lived his first 20 years here. If you are a keen Sibelius fan, you can visit his birthplace – nowadays a museum – in the centre of the town.
We also recommend that you visit the Forest Park of Aulanko, known for its natural beauty. Already in the late 19th century, Aulanko Hill was a popular place for outings. People used to climb up the hill in large groups, bringing picnic baskets with them. These days the hill is dominated by a granite lookout tower, reminiscent of old castle towers. From here you can enjoy a breath-taking view of the valley of Lake Vanajavesi, a great inspiration for many Finnish landscape painters. According to old anecdotes this view also inspired Jean Sibelius to compose parts of ‘Finlandia’, his symphonic poem of Finland.
Continue your drive further south towards Helsinki. On the way you will spend a couple of nights in the beautiful surrounds of Lake Tuusula at Krapi Estate.
Krapi Estate has been in the Holma family since 1911. First operating as a dairy farm and today as a hotel offering cosy accommodation and delicious local food, Restaurant Krapihovi cherishes old Finnish culinary traditions and creates new ones in an idyllic old villa built in 1883. The changing seasons and fresh local ingredients from fields, lakes and forests form the basis of the menu. The Estate has its own smokehouse, butchery and bakery on-site. Everything on your plate is made with great love and care.
Hotel rooms are located in converted cattle stables. There is also a golf course with a clubhouse and if you follow the winding road through the golf course to the Tuusula Lake, you find a traditional smoke sauna by the lakeside.
After check-in, there's free time for a stroll or a hit of golf (subject to availability). Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner at the Restaurant Krapihovi before settling in for the night.
Today you will explore the surrounds of Lake Tuusula by bicycle. The terrain here is pretty flat so it will be an easy ride. The entire lake circle is 26 kms but after only 5 kms you'll come upon one of the most important sights. On the rural west side of the lake, it is difficult to believe that urban Helsinki city centre is only 30 kms away. We have included three cultural visits on your ride, but there are other interesting sites on the way, too, that you can visit at your own leisure.
We can also arrange a picnic lunch for you, if you want to enjoy a snack on the way.
Lake Tuusula and its surrounds are culturally very significant for the Finns. There are several historical homes here that belonged to Finland’s leading artists, authors and composers. The beautiful countryside around Lake Tuusula provided them with a rich source of ideas and inspiration.
Your first stop is at Halosenniemi, a wilderness atelier that belonged to Pekka Halonen, one of the most beloved artists of the ‘Golden Era’ of Finnish art. A versatile artist and master portrayer of Finnish landscapes and people, he absorbed the latest international trends on his travels and ingeniously applied these to his paintings of Finnish nature. Halosenniemi was built during the National Romantic era of the early 1890s and the building reflects the aspiration of this era.
Your next visit is to the birthplace of Lake Tuusula's artist community. The author Juhani Aho, who is considered Finland's national author, and painter Venny Soldan-Brofeldt moved into their villa in 1897 and laid the foundation for a community of artists on the shores of Lake Tuusula. The couple's long-term residence exhibits their lifework.
Last visit is to the home of Jean Sibelius and his family from 1904. This timber villa was designed by Finnish architect Lars Sonck (you visited some of his other buildings earlier on the tour). Its distance from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital gave the composer the peace that he needed for his creative pursuits, while other artistic families living in the neighbourhood provided a lively social circle. Jean and Aino Sibelius lived at Ainola until the end of their lives.
Enjoy dinner at your hotel before enjoying your last night in the countryside.
On the way to Helsinki, we recommend you pay a visit to the Gallen-Kallela Museum. Designed and built by the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865 – 1931), the castle-like Tarvaspää studio and residence was opened to the public in 1961 as a museum.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela was one of Finland's most important visual artists. He was above all a pioneer of the Finnish national style of art and the most important figure in its development. The visual style known as 'national-romantic' is mainly his creation. He became known to the public at large as the illustrator of two key works of Finnish literature: the Kalevala, Finnish national epic, and Seitsemän Veljestä (Seven Brothers).
The beautiful surroundings and unique architecture of the Gallen-Kallela Museum makes it worth a visit. The museum’s temporary exhibitions present the art and life of Gallen-Kallela and his contemporaries and present-day works of contemporary art.
If you want to continue your journey of discovery around Finland, you can combine this tour with our second self-drive itinerary Green Forests & Blue Lakes – Journey into Finland’s Heart & Soul. In that case we will have you continue your drive on the last day to Porvoo. Stay the night here and then follow the itinerary the following day.
All prices listed are per person, based on two people sharing a room. 2024 prices are indicative due to the current uncertainty across Europe with increasing energy and volatile fuel costs.
Please ask us for hotel upgrades and optional add-ons. You can also shorten this tour by returning to Helsinki after your bicycle tour on Day 9 or having one less day in Turku. Please ask us to custom make this tour accordingly.
Before departure, or while dreaming of a Scandinavian adventure, get your fill of inspiring travel books here.
Sir David Attenborough's latest BBC series 'The Green Planet" re-visits the taiga forests of Finland. This subarctic forest lies just south of the Arctic Circle and is a playground for hikers, bikers, and boaters, in summer and winter.
Midnight sun and sauna, the perfect ingredients to celebrate Midsummer in Finland.
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Travel insurance is compulsory for all tours with 50 Degrees North. The safety of our travellers, staff and operators is a major priority of 50 Degrees North. With an operational office in Norway, 50 Degrees North has access to an up-to-the-minute flow of information regarding the countries we work in. We are also in regular contact with the various operators we use. Their in-depth knowledge and understanding of their various areas is vital.