Are you planning your upcoming summer vacation? What if you went for a sustainable and epic train journey in Finland?
Finnish trains are known for being punctual, accessible, having entertaining playrooms for children, overnight cabins with showers, and the ability to bring both cars and bicycles on board, not to mention the beautiful railway stations around the country.
Let's take a look at some of the most interesting train journeys in Finland.
All Finnish trains are operated by the state-owned company VR.
Credits: VR, Janne Mikkilä
Here's a look at four of our favourite train journeys in Finland in the summer.
1. Jump on board an overnight train and discover Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle
Start your journey in the Arctic Circle at Rovaniemi and enjoy breathtaking nature, fun activities, and beautiful hiking trails.
You can reach Rovaniemi by direct daily trains from Helsinki. Take the night train and experience the comfortable sleeping compartments. If you choose the upstairs option, you'll have your own shower and toilet. The sleeper cars typically accommodate 1-2 people in bunk beds. If you're traveling during the day, you get to enjoy the Arctic landscapes whizzing past outside your window. Both options will be an experience. If you're a fan of traditional wooden architecture, peek out the window in stations like Kauhava, Kokkola, and Kemi to see Finnish train stations from the 20th century.
For the adventurous, there are many opportunities in Rovaniemi. Paddle or fish on the Ounasjoki River, explore the Lapland forests, ride through beautiful natural landscapes, or take a summer sled dog ride on wheels.
If you just want to relax that option is also available. At Ollero Eco Lodge just outside Rovaniemi, you don't even have to leave your room to experience Lapland's nature. Check into your cabin, lie down in bed, and enjoy a panoramic view of the forest, lake, and sky. Ollero has the Sustainable Travel Finland label. Another great accommodation option is the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel with unique cabins located in the midst of pine trees.
The train station in Kokkola, along the way from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, is one of Finland's many charming and traditional wooden stations still operating today.
Credits: Juho Kuva
Rovaniemi is a great destination for active holiday seekers, like those looking for mountain biking trails in the Nordic nature.
Credits : Visit Rovaniemi
One of the most unique things about visiting Lapland in the summer is the endless light. During June and July, the sun barely sets. The best way to admire it is from your own glass cabin, like the ones at Rovaniemi's Arctic TreeHouse Hotel.
Credits: Arctic Treehouse Hotel
2. Take a ride to the national landscape of Finland: Northern Karelia
Northern Karelia is where the Finns themselves go when they want to relax and enjoy nature. Artists and photographers have come here for centuries to be inspired.
The direct train ride from Helsinki to the heart of Northern Karelia, the city of Joensuu, takes about 5 hours. This is the perfect time to sit back and enjoy the smooth ride of a two-storey Intercity train. Book a seat in the upper floor and rest your eyes on the landscape of green forest, fields of hay, traditional wooden houses, and blue lakes. When you get hungry, stop by at the modern restaurant car and pick up a pasta dish or a bowl of traditional meatballs. You can also order food directly to your seat with the VR Matkalla mobile app.
Once you get to Northern Karelia, visit one of Finland's most beautiful national parks, Koli, located one hour north of Joensuu by car. Here, you can hike across marshes and hills, and choose from many outdoor activities such as canoeing, rowing, horseback riding, or cycling.
In Joensuu, you will find, among other things, the Northern Karelia Museum Hilma, where you'll learn all about Karelia's history through various theme exhibitions, and the fairy tale city of Mukulakatu, which is built for children. Then, head on to the Joensuu Art Museum Onni and enjoy national classics, such as Albert Edelfelt's "Parisian" and Magnus Enckell's "Narcissos."
If you're looking for a truly unforgettable accommodation experience in this region, try the Valamo monastery in Heinävesi. Here you can enjoy a uniquely peaceful atmosphere while also taking part in exhibitions and guided tours. The monastery has its own restaurant that serves delicious food as well as wines, beer, and spirits that they have produced themselves. Most of the bread and pastries are made by the monastery's own baker.
Book an upstairs seat on a train to get great views of the Finnish countryside when traveling east to Northern Karelia.
Credits: VR, Pekka Keskinen
The history of Valamo monastery, a unique place to visit and spend a night, dates back to the 12th century.
The view from the top of Ukko-Koli hill down to Lake Pielinen is said to be the national landscape of Finland.
Credits: Harri Tarvainen
3. Make a stop in Tampere – the sauna capital of the world
When in Finland, it's almost obligatory to visit the sauna capital of the world – Tampere. This is the city with the most public saunas in the whole country. You'll also find Finland's oldest public sauna, Rajaportin Sauna from 1906, here.
The train ride from Helsinki to Tampere is a quick one, only two hours. There are dozens of direct connections daily starting from the early morning hours to midnight. This route is one of the oldest ones in Finland. Steam trains used to go from Hämeenlinna to Tampere already in the 1800s. If you are a train or history buff, pick a connection that stops at the Hyvinkää station and visit the Finnish Railway Museum.
For those who have trouble choosing between relaxing in the sauna and having a fun night out in Tampere, you can kill two birds with one stone at Kuuma. Here you'll find both a traditional wood-burning sauna for beginners, and a smoke sauna for those who want to take the experience to the next level. Visitors can go back and forth between the sauna and the bars before taking a dip in the cooling pool –or Lake Pyhäjärvi.
Don't let the sauna steal the attention from everything else the city has to offer. Enjoy world-class dining at Bertha, eat a famous doughnut ("munkki" in Finnish) at Pyynikki, take in the view at Moro Sky Bar, or sleep like a queen at Lillan Hotel & Kitchen. Don't forget to visit Tampere Market Hall, the largest indoor market in the Nordic countries. For more information about the best things to do in Tampere, go to visittampere.fi.
Credits: Laura Vanzo / Rajaportin sauna
In addition to being the most famous public sauna city in Finland, Tampere is also known for its strong industrial heritage that is visible in the city's architecture.
4. Ride the train to the foodie capital of the Finnish west coast: Turku
Turku, the oldest city in Finland, is a must-visit destination for all food lovers. It is also easily accessible by train with multiple direct connections every day.
The train ride between Helsinki and Turku is a commuter's favourite in Finland as many people do this round-trip on a weekly basis. For more privacy on a VR train, you can book a private cabin whether it is for that occasional phone call, or simply to read a book in peace.
Just 300 meters from the Turku train station, you can check in at the boutique hotel Park Hotel Turku, which is located in a charming Art Nouveau building from 1902. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in the cosy garden, or at the furnished terrace before heading out on an adventure. Among Turku's traditional buildings, cliffs, and river views, there is much to discover –after all, the city is known as Finland's restaurant capital.
Here you'll find some of the Nordic region's best restaurants, such as Kaskis, Smör, and Kakolanruusu, with the latter excitingly located in an old prison. Turku also has a lot to offer if you're thirsty. Bistro Roster Turku, wine bar Tintå, microbrewery Kakola Brewing, trendy Rica Bar, and Walo Rooftop Bar are some of the recommended stops. For more inspiration and things to do in Turku, head to visitturku.fi.
Private cabins are available in nearly all VR trains and they can be booked at the same time you're purchasing the train ticket.
Credits: VR, Pekka Keskinen
Restaurant Kaskis, a Michelin-star winner, is a must-visit food destination in Turku.
River Aura is a quintessential part of Turku's landscape as it runs through the city. Many of Turku's best restaurants and bars are located on the riverbank.
Train timetables and tickets in Finland
The Finnish train system is operated by the state-owned company VR. At vr.fi, you can find information about tickets, timetables, traveling with children, cabins, dining options on board the trains, and much more. VR is commited to making travel more sustainable and is also the holder of the Sustainable Travel Finland label. Every trip on board VR's trains is carbon-neutral.
Sustainable things to do
Here's a look at Sustainable Travel Finland labeled things to do and places to visit along the popular train routes.