Southern Finland is the most densely populated region of the country, and the region richest in cultural heritage, packed with attractions and places of historic interest to visit. The recorded history of Finland began here, and it is in Southern Finland that the oldest traces of human habitation have been found. The region extends from close to the Russian border in the east to Uusikaupunki on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, and includes the inland towns of Kouvola, Lahti and Hämeenlinna, and the coastal towns of Kotka, Porvoo, Turku and Naantali, home to the Moomin World theme park for children, with delightful views of Europe's largest archipelago.
By far the oldest of these, and the largest, is the old capital of Turku, where visitors will find a wealth of historical and cultural sites to explore. Chief among these are Turku Castle, the largest surviving medieval castle in Scandinavia, and the beautiful Turku Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1300. Turku is also home to the last passenger steamship operating in Finnish seas, the SS Ukkopekka, which offers daily cruises to the idyllic seaside town of Naantali. Known as the Sunshine Town, Naantali is home to Kultaranta, the summer home of the President, the palatial Louhisaari Manor, Nantaali Spa (the largest in Scandinavia) as well as the ever-popular children's favourite Moominworld, and the Adventure Island Väski.
Further up the coast lies Uusikaupunki, its proud maritime tradition evident from the numerous maritime themed museums. Visitors can also take cruises in the archipelago to Isokari Lighthouse and Katanpää Fort Island, visit the Myllymäki Windmill Park and St. Olaf's Church or enjoy Crusell Week, or Uusikaupunki Woodwind Festival. Just south of Turku in the Archipelago Sea lies the town of Lansi-Turunmaa, or Väståboland. A region of unparalleled natural beauty, it is an ideal destination for nature lovers and those who prefer such water activities as sailing, diving, kayaking and fishing, Lansi-Turunmaa also provides ample opportunities to enjoy golf, horse-riding, cycling, hiking and birdwatching, among others.
Bordered on three sides by the river Kymi, Kouvola is a rare mix of urban and rural, and of old and new. Nature lovers will enjoy the Aarnikotka Forest Nature Reserve and Arboretum Mustila. The Verla Mill Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Kouvola House, centre for the arts in the region, is one of Finland's most beautiful post-modern buildings. Further down the river Kymi, which is renowned for having the best salmon fishing in southern Finland, lies the picturesque coastal town of Kotka. Home to the Maritime Museum of Finland and the Maretarium, it is famous for Langinkoski, the old Imperial Fishing Lodge located upstream.
Lahti has excellent skiing facilities at Messilä Ski Resort and the famous ski jumps by the Salpausselkä Ridges, and is the only city to have hosted the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 6 times. It is also home to Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and hosts the Lahti Sibelius Festival. Also of note are the Church of the Cross, Messilä Manor and the Musical Fountains. Further west lies Hämeenlinna, the birthplace of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, and the site of the medieval castle of Häme and Aulankovuori Hill, where you can enjoy breath-taking views of Lake Vanajavesi and its valley from here.
Possibly the most beautiful of all the old towns in Finland, Porvoo is the second oldest town in Finland. Situated just an hours drive from Helsinki, Porvoo is cosy and idyllic, a truly beautiful place to visit with a delightful waterfront of red ochre sheds, medieval cobblestoned streets, and the charming Old Porvoo where you'll find the third most visited church in all of Finland, the Porvoo cathedral.
Although Southern Finland is the most densely populated region of Finland, it still manages to provide easy access to areas of great natural beauty. There are a number of excellent National Parks, such as Repovesi and Valkmusa in the Kymenlaakso region, Torronsuo and Liesjärvi in the Häme Lake Uplands, Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi near Helsinki, and those located in the Baltic Sea: the Gulf of Finland, Ekenäs Archipelago and Archipelago National Parks.
Most visitors to Finland consider the country's second oldest town to be the most beautiful. Just an hours drive, or a few hours by a relaxing cruise through the archipelago, from Helsinki, Porvoo's unique charms number its delightful waterfront of red ochre sheds, the medieval cobblestoned streets and alleys, and the charm of Old Porvoo where you'll find the beautiful Porvoo Cathedral.
Finland's oldest city, and it's gateway to the West, Turku is a thriving city whose rich cultural heritage is complemented by its forward-looking people. Of the many great sights here, Turku Castle (the largest surviving medieval castle in all of Scandinavia) and Turku Cathedral are perhaps the most popular. Turku has almost 20 museums, including the Kylämäki Village of Living History and The Sibelius museum, which is the only museum totally devoted to music in Finland. It's packed events calendar includes the oldest rock festival in Europe, Ruisrock, a city festival (Down By The Laituri), and the Turku Music Festival which attracts internationally acclaimed classical musicians every year.
Idyllically situated around a bay on Lake Vesijärvi, Lahti is a vibrant town 100km north of Helsinki. A popular travel destination, Lahti has excellent skiing facilities at Messilä Ski Resort and the famous ski jumps by the Salpausselkä Ridges, and is the only city to have hosted the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 6 times. It is also home to Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and hosts the Lahti Sibelius Festival. Other sites of note are the Church of the Cross, Messilä Manor and its Musical Fountains.
Famous for it's majestic red brick medieval castle on the shores of Lake Vanajavesi, and for being the birthplace of the great composer Jean Sibelius, historical Hämeenlinna enjoys a vibrant cultural and commercial life. Surrounded by beautiful National Parks, the city boasts one of the best equipped theme parks in Puuhamaa, two excellent spas at at Aulanko and Vesihelmi, 8 golf courses, and the chance to hike, cycle, ride horses, ski, jet-ski, snowboard, sail and lots more besides.
Originally named The Vale of Mercy in latin, Naantali is one of the oldest, and quaintest, towns in Finland, developing around the medieval Brigittine convent Vallis Gratiae whose church dominates the local skyline to this day. Today it is known as the Sunshine Town, and attracts visitors from around the world. Naantali is home to Kultaranta (summer home of the President), the palatial Louhisaari Manor, Nantaali Spa (the largest in Scandinavia) as well as the ever-popular children's favourite Moominworld, and the Adventure Island Väski.
Situated snugly in the heart of the Archipelago Sea that lies between Turku and the Åland Islands, the town of Pargas is comprised of the five previous municipalities of Pargas, Nagu, Korpo, Houtskär and Iniö. This region is one of unparalled natural beauty, its fauna and flora often unique. The Archipelago Sea wherein it lies covers over 5,500 square kilometres, and contains over 10,000 islands and skerries as well as the Archipelago National Park in the south.
A charming coastal town, Uusikaupunki has a proud maritime tradition and during the 19th century the sailing fleet based here was the second largest in Finland. This tradition can be explored in the numerous maritime themed museums, and by visiting the harbours of the old town. Today it boasts an excellent guest harbour, Pakkahuone, voted the best in Finland on three occasions. Vistors can also take cruises in the archipelago to Isokari Lighthouse and Katanpää Fort Island, or enjoy a trip on the 100 year old Gaff Schooner Joanna Saturna or the 23-metre Brigantine Mary Ann, or explore the towns history via the 4km Promenade of Cultural History. Other highlights should include a visit to the Myllymäki Windmill Park and St. Olaf's Church. Crusell Week, or Uusikaupunki Woodwind Festival, is held annually and attracts visitors from all of Finland and abroad.
A modern town of less than 40,000 inhabitants, Järvenpää is significant in that it hosts 3 major events - the Sibelius Festival, the Lakeside Blues Festival, and the Lake Tuusula Chamber Music Festival. It has also been home to many famous Finns, and the Järvenpää Culture Trail, on the shores of Lake Tuusulanjärvi, takes you past the dwellings of Jean Sibelius, Juhani Aho and Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, J.H. Erkko, Eino Leino, Eero Järnefelt, Pekka Halonen and the Sibelius Academy's Kallio-Kuninkala College.
Defined by the Baltic Sea and surrounding archipelago, Kotka is a picturesque town with a rich maritime tradition. It is home to the Maritime Museum of Finland and the Maretarium, and the Kymijoki River flowing through it is renowned for having the best salmon fishing in southern Finland, and for Langinkoski, the old Imperial Fishing Lodge located upstream. The most popular activities here are cruises around the archipelago, rafting and kayaking through the rapids of the Kymijoki, sailing and fishing.
In a region numbering some 450 lakes and over 7,500 summer cottages, Kouvola is a rare mix of urban and rural. Nature lovers will enjoy Repovesi National Park, the Aarnikotka Forest Nature Reserve and Arboretum Mustila. Verla Mill Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Kouvola House, centre for the arts in the region, is one of Finland's most beautiful post-modern buildings. Families will thrilled at Tykkimäki, the third largest amusement park in Finland.