Hello all. I spent a week in Helsinki last summer and had one of my best trips ever. I loved everything about it! Now I want to see the rest of Finland. Although I'm usually an independent traveler I have considered an escorted tour since I hate driving and rail coverage is somewhat limited in much of the country. However, I haven't decided not to go it on my own.
So - I have two questions:
1) are there any tour companies that do excellent tours of Finland ONLY - I have no desire to redo the other Baltic countries although I think I'd enjoy a few days in Russia
2) if I do this trip independently, what should I add to my agenda that's accessible by rail? I already know I'd like to see Turku and Savonlinna for sure, but I'd also like to see the countryside and the lakes.
Unfortunately I am not aware of any tour company, that would give you a good tour of Finland; there might be one, but I would place my money on independent travelling.
If you are going to Savonlinna, there are lots of lakes in those parts of Finland; if you take a bus or a taxi for the last leg of your journey, you'll get to nice places easily in eastern Finland. Punkaharju is really beautiful, and if you have time, I would recommend renting a summer cottage by lake for a couple of nights; http://www.lomarengas.fi/en/ might give you a good selection.
Porvoo is also really nice small town near Helsinki, you can get there by boat as well as by bus (trains do not go there).
As I have lived 20 years in Tampere and Tampere is nearly always selected as a most wanted city to live in Finland, I would recommend seeing Tampere as well. It is only 1,5 hours by train from Helsinki and 2 hours by train from Turku.
Also if you have time flying or taking a night train to Lapland, it would give you entirely different perspective to Finland.
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I'm glad to hear that you liked Helsinki and Finland.
To answer your second question, I have a recommendation: do not miss Lapland when you go to Finland. The south and the west coast are very nice, and also the eastern lake district, but in Lapland you can find something extraordinary.
You can take the night train to Rovaniemi, Kemijarvi, or Kolari, and continue from there by bus or rent a car. There are certainly also guided tours available.You don't have to go far to notice that the nature is totally different from the rest of the country. You can take a hike to the hills and rivers, see wild nature and arctic reindeer everywhere.
I hope you will enjoy Finland!
What awesome answers!!! Finland is also one of my favourite countries to visit but I haven't seen so much of it yet. Will be using some of these tips for sure!
I don't know a Finnish company that specialises in touring the country but I can recommend a UK based outfit called Lekker Adventures (it's run by South Africans) that do very good bespoke and activity-based travel across many countries. Not sure if they are operating in Finland but I do know they have trips to Iceland so may be worth asking...
Traveling by train is easy in Finland - and trains are fast and clean. National railways has several different kind of tickets.
My home town Hämeenlinna is one hour train ride from Helsinki, and it has old medieval Hame Castle (Hame Castle). It is easy to get around by bicycle - nice place to visit is Aulanko (Aulanko), which has great views to Lake Vanaja. There are nice cycling routes in the area so you could see and experience countryside as well. For example Petäys Resort offers nice opportunity to enjoy lakeside life.
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As a reply to are there any tour companies that do excellent tours of Finland ONLY;
There are many good tour companies arranging mainly group tours to most popular places in Finland.
However, I recommend you to contact our Travel Club Finland assn (non profit). We´ll assist individual travellers as well as groups in all arrangements in Finland; we know the places, best ways to travel, schedules, events, activities, prices etc. and give good tips and information according to your ideas. We have professional people in the backgroud to assist you and our co-operative travel agency (IATA) take care of all travelling arrangements, bookings etc. according to your demands and needs.
Don´t hesitate to contact us by email info(at)travelclub.fi . Ask,and give us your requirements, interests and schedule for yourself or bigger party or group. We are happy to assist you giving alternative suggestions and a proposal for all arrangements suitable to your needs.
We have been working as a non-profit and non-commercial club over 20 years and we arrange group travelling for our members to destinations all over the globe as well as in Finland. Our professional network is wide and efficient at your service. We won´t charge for our services except small office fee for bookings and orders.
We recommend you to travel by train or express bus in Finland as they are very comfortable, clean and fast. You don´t need rent a car for long distant trips if you don´t want to drive.
Don´t miss 24 hrs cruise at Baltic sea; The route Turku - Stockholm has rather luxury cruising ship going thru wonderful archipelagos and beautiful sceneries. Good restaurants, entertainment and shopping on board. Pricing in outer cabin for 1-4 persons cost approx 50-150 € for all persons depending on the time of booking.
We recommend Lappi as well. There are luxury hotels available but we´d prefer to accommodate you in log cabins, holiday villages, wild forest cabins etc. instead.
Finland is interesting also during the snow covered, dark and cold winter time.
Let´s keep in touch!
TRAVEL CLUB FINLAND ASSN (non-profit)
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Kiitos for all the great information, everyone. I can't wait to be back in Suomi!!! :-)