Southern Finland and Archipelago

photo © Discovering Finland

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.