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Exploring Finland by car - get to see the gems of South East Finland and the Lake Saimaa region

Touring with own, or rental, car is a choice of many travellers visiting Finland. It is definitely a great way to explore the amazing landscapes and highlights that this beautiful and peaceful country has to offer. Did you know that in 2019, the population density of Finland was only 18.2 inhabitants per square kilometer? Here you don't have to worry about crowded places, you can enjoy the space, peace and quietness. We offer you room to roam and healthy and safe travel!

Helsinki - the capital of Finland

You can start your journey in the capital city of Helsinki. Helsinki is one of Europe’s fastest growing and developing cities. Pure nature, greenness and proximity to the sea are assets of Helsinki. Helsinki is also a city of fascinating contrasts. You can find extremes of pulse and peace just around the corner from each other. Helsinki is filled with surprises and contrasts, with light summers and dark winters, urban nature and science & arts.

1. The Cathedral church
The church is part of Helsinki's Empire era centre and a landmark for those arriving by sea. It has become the symbol of the whole of Helsinki.
2. Kaivopuisto
It is one of the oldest and most popular parks in the city.The neighbourhood is home to old villas and several embassies, and has become known as a diplomat district.
3. Sibelius Monument
The Sibelius Monument in Helsinki is one of the capital’s most visited and adored attractions. It is located in the Sibelius Park, in the district of Töölö, just a stone throw away from the sea.
4. Central library Oodi
Helsinki’s new flagship library Oodi has been voted winner of the 2019 Public Library of the Year award by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).
5. Amox Rex Art Museum
It is an art museum named after publisher and arts patron Amos Anderson. It opened in 2018 and rapidly reached international popularity, attracting more than 10,000 visitors in a matter of weeks.

Places to stay:
1. Clarion Hotel Helsinki
It is situated along the waterfront in the district Jätkäsaari, 600 metres from the West Ferry Terminal. Set in two 16-storey towers, this modern hotel offers a rooftop swimming pool, sauna and fitness centre.
2. Lapland Hotels Bulevardi
In the middle of Helsinki´s bustling life filled with joyous discussions, you can find the Lapland Hotels Bulevardi and our luxurious rooms and fresh ingredients from the North.
3. Hotel F6
A unique boutique hotel in the heart of Helsinki.

Kotka - a city by the sea

Helsinki-Kotka 133 km (approx. 1 h 30 min by car)

Kouvola.jpgPicture: Kotka

Picture: Hamina

Kotka-Hamina region is situated on the southeast coast of Finland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea within only 1 hour drive from Helsinki. Kotka–Hamina is an attractive seaside region offering more than 100 kilometres of coastline with a laid-back islander lifestyle and a strong maritime culture. Its rugged shorelines and authentic fishing village locations can be visited with one’s own boat or by a regular boat service. The beautiful, unique and award-winning parks in different parts of Kotka city are attractions that always charm the visitor. The region is a compact yet diverse area offering untouched wilderness in a natural environment and two National Parks: Valkmusa National Park in Pyhtää and Gulf of Finland

National Park in the breathtaking archipelago.

There is no need to trek into nature; you are already right in the middle of it. The beauty of the waterways is dazzling, and there are also special sites of fascination for hikers, anglers and bird-watchers, with countless alternatives, from shooting rapids at speed to gentle walks and tranquillity amidst fantastic scenery. The River Kymijoki, which back in history marked the border between Sweden and Russia, offers a haven for calm and relaxation and is also
the best salmon river in Southern Finland.


1. Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge
An interesting cultural and nature destination for the whole family.
2. Maritime Centre Vellamo
Come and learn the stories of the sea and the Kymenlaakso region. Let our exhibitions take you by surprise, dive deeper into the history of seafaring on a guided tour or examine history independently.
3. Sapokka Water Garden and Katariina Seaside Park
Sapokka is an oasis in the middle of Kotka! The main element of this park, which is popular among locals and visitors alike is water. Katariina Seaside Park is an extensive outdoor recreation area created in the former oil port amid the ruins of the Ruotsinsalmi fortress.
4. Valkmusa National Park and Gulf of Finland National Park
Valkmusa's extensive natural open bogs give visitors a chance to wind down and see, hear, smell and even taste nature all around.
Gulf of Finland National Park is particularly suitable for boaters, and hikers in good condition.
5. Hamina old centre
Hamina is a world-class small town whose fortifications conceal a range of fascinating locations within walking distance of each other. Charming wooden houses, beautiful churches and interesting museums will sweep you off your feet.
The Town Hall (1798) at the hub of the eight radial streets now houses municipal offices. It has also served the purposes of a bank, shops, jail, police department, and the main guard of the fortress in the early 19th century. The hand-wound clock in the tower chimes on the hour.

Places to stay:
1. Hotel Leikari
Situated in Rantahaka, Hotel Leikari is within 15 minutes’ drive of Kotka and Hamina. It features a restaurant and free WiFi.
2. Karhulan Hovi
This manor hotel is truly idyllic. William Ruth, the founder of the Karhula glass factory, built the manor as his business residence in 1891. Inspired by a French castle, the building has been used as a hotel for about 20 years.

Insider tips:
1. Restaurant Keisarinsatama
Located in Metsola, Kotka in an old brewery building called Kotkan Höyrypanimo. Lunch and á la carte is served in a breathtaking surrounding.
2. Maretarium
At the Maretarium you will get to know Finnish aquatic nature. Finland has 187,888 lakes, 25,000 km of rivers and 46,000 km of coastline of the Baltic Sea and its islands. About 60 native and permanent fish species live in Finnish waters.

Lappeenranta - in the heart of Lakeland

Kotka-Lappeenranta 110 km (approx. 1 h 30 min by car)

Lappeenranta frames.jpg

Spend memorable holidays by Finland’s largest lake, Saimaa, whatever the season. Tourists have been drawn to the region for centuries – and its attraction remains undiminished to this day. Lappeenranta is located in the Province of Southern Finland, South Karelia, near the Russian border only 200 km from St. Petersburg and 230 km from Helsinki.
At Lake Saimaa, you can experience the clean and safe nature destination where inhabitants naturally keep a distance. Lappeenranta Fortress and harbour boulevard await you, and tourist services help your trip around the lake.
In summertime, everyone in the Saimaa region takes to the waters to admire the stunning lake scenery on a cruise, canoe or a rowing boat. There are plenty of nature trails to hike or bicycle at and local cultural events to enjoy. A summer night in Finland is enchanting, since the sun never seems to set. In the Lappeenranta region, the dusk only lasts for a couple of hours in midsummer.

1. Lappeenranta harbour area
In the summer, the Harbour Square offers local specialities, such as vety and atomi meat pies that you can feast on while enjoying live music and admiring the views of Lake Saimaa.
2. Lappeenranta Fortress - the old town
It is a valuable part of the Finnish, Russian and Swedish cultural heritage and is part of the Castles and Fortifications chain of cultural destinations.
3. Saimaa Naturally - weekly programme
Discover the beautiful Lakeland nature with one of the activities by Saimaa Naturally. You can go biking or take a trip on a stand up paddling board. With the weekly programme you can pick out the activity and the day that fits your holiday plans and mood!
4. Saimaa Geopark
Saimaa Geopark in southern Saimaa, will show off Saimaa and its attractions. It will open up the story of the geology, nature and human life of the vast lake basin in a brand new way.
5. Lappeenranta Sandcastle
The biggest sandcastle in Finland can be found in the harbour area of Lappeenranta. Each year the castle is built with a different theme and a huge amount of 3 million kilos of sand is used to make this amazing attraction. It is definitely the favourite for the smallest members of the family, but surely with visiting for adults as well.

Places to stay:
1. Salpalinjan Hovi family run hotel
It is located 9 kilometers from the Lappeenranta city center. It is surrounded by the rich and beautiful nature of South Karelia as well as historic sites. You can discover Finnish culture and Saimaa Geopark: book a three-night accommodation package.
2. Villa Lummelahti cottages
Enjoy a traditional cottage holiday on the coast of lake Saimaa Lake, 40 kilometers north from Lappeenranta.
3. Wooddream Villas
Spacious and comfortable villas are furnished with iconic Scandinavian design. Villas has their own sauna!

Insider tips:
Our horse farm is located in Savitaipale (50 km/45 min. from Lappeenranta) in the middle of the beautiful Finnish countryside. During your visit you will be familiarised with the traditional Finnish horse breed, Finnhorse. You can try horseback riding and carriage driving, or in wintertime also sleigh riding and ski-joring.
2.The Saimaa Canal
The Saimaa Canal runs from Lake Saimaa, via the city of Vyborg, to the Gulf of Finland and is the most historically important canal in Finland. The Canal is 43 km long and has eight locks, three on the Finnish side and five in Russia.
3.The Salpa Line Fortifications
The Salpa Line (Salpalinja, salpa being the Finnish word for latch) is a fortification line dating from the Second World War. The fortification line’s structures can also be seen in the Lappeenranta area. You can explore the fortifications along the hiking routes on your own or join a guided tour.

Imatra - the place of Imatrankoski rapids

Lappeenranta - Imatra 36 km (approx. 30 min by car)

Imatrankoski rapids.jpg
Imatra is situated in the southeast of Finland where it rubs shoulders with the Russian border. On the other side of the border - only 7 kilometres away from the centre of Imatra - lies the town of Svetogorsk. St. Petersburg is situated 210 km to the southeast, Finnish capital Helsinki is 230 km away.

Imatra is also a border town which shares a frontier with Russia. The former industrial settlement of Enso (now the Russian town of Svetogorsk) lies just on the other side of the border, which means that Imatra and Svetogorsk are in the unique position as the only twin towns which gaze over the border between the European Union and Russia.

The Imatrankoski Rapids are the most famous attraction in Imatra, and travellers have been drawn to the rapids for hundreds of years. At the turn of the century the rapids - with Imatra's famous hotel, the Valtionhotelli, standing on their banks - were the most popular tourist attraction in Finland. To celebrate the town's 50th anniversary, the rapids were permanently illuminated to allow people to admire it all year round. In summer, the rapids are allowed to run free on a daily basis.

1. Imatrankoski rapids and Kruunupuisto Park
Imatrankoski was a famous tourist attraction already 300 hundred years ago, and in the end of 1800 century it was considered as one of Europe's most known attractions.
Kruununpuisto Park, the oldest nature park in Finland, occupying the area around the Imatrankoski Rapids, was founded in 1842 by order of Tsar Nicholas I.
2. Vuoksi Fishing Park - catch your own fish!
Vuoksi Fishing Park in Imatra is a recreational area for families. Enjoy the delicacies of a fish restaurant, sit on the sun terrace by the Vuoksa River, enjoy the soft warmth of the Räihän Kuohu sauna. The Fishing Park has a wonderful camping area, especially popular among caravanners.
3. Haukkavuori in Rautjärvi
Haukkavuori is the highest point of the Etelä-Karjala province . Haukkavuori has demarcations of the Treaty of Pähkinäsaari (1323), the Treaty of Täyssinä (1595) and the Treaty of Uusikaupunki (1721). Haukkavuori is a popular hiking attraction because of its beautiful, rugged scenery and guided hiking trails. Haukkavuori is featured in the documentary film Tale of a Forest (2012).
4.Kollaa and Simo Häyhä museum
Museum’s focus is battles of Kollaa front during the Winter War and to the men of Rautjärvi in those battles. Special permanent exhibition is dedicated to the life of famous sniper Simo Häyhä. This exhibition contains several authentic items, letters and photos.
5. River Hiitolanjoki
Hiitolanjoki is a versatile nature destination for fishermen, campers, hikers and anyone interested in manufacturing history or traditions. The river is 53 km long and flows from Finland to Russia. The riverside has a nature path, that's starting point is at Juvankoski rapid, in Simpele.

Places to stay:
1. Imatran Kylpylä Spa Resort
It is the Eastern Finland's most diverse holiday centre on the shores of Lake Saimaa. Here you find everything for a perfect, unforgettable holiday a year round: accommodation, spa, restaurants, sport activities and beauty and wellness services.
2. Hotel Rento
The building is completely constructed of coniferous trees, and the interior is made in the tradition of Scandinavian design.

Insider tips:
1. Hotelli-Ravintola KÄGÖNE
Hotel Restaurant Kägöne offers good food and accommodation with a great atmosphere. Lunch is served daily at the buffet table. Renewed hotel rooms (6 rooms) are located in a peaceful environment, with windows facing a beautiful pond.
2. Karelian pie baking course with Creative Kaiku
Local skillful ladies will guide you to bake Karelian pies or other traditional pastries, in an atmospheric and inspiring environment of a traditional Finnish house. You will also here and learn something about Finnish traditions and get to know the outdoor museum area. Finally, you can taste the pastries!
3. Day trip to Rautjärvi
With currently 13 routes all around Rautjärvi there are plenty of options for outdoor enthusiasts. In total 4 hiking routes and 9 cycle routes are waiting to be explored.

Kouvola - surrounded by nature

Imatra - Kouvola 131 km (approx. 1 h 30 min by car)


Kouvola is BIG on experience. Whether you prefer culture or sports, urban amusement or the great outdoors, Kouvola has got you covered. Finland, of course, is the “land of a thousand lakes” – and we have dibs on over 450 of them. Along the shorelines you’ll find over 7,000 summer cottages (also rental) that go a long way of showing what the “Finnish Way of Life” is all about.
The legendary Repovesi National Park is simply a must to see for every nature-lover, as is the Mustila Arboretum. What’s more, both attractions are known for being quiet family-friendly, too. In addition, Kouvola boasts its very own UNESCO World Heritage site, the Verla Mill – and after a tour at the venerable Verla, perhaps a quick stop at Tykkimäki Amusement Park and/or AquaPark?
What else is there? Well, you can golf, go rock-climbing, take in a midnight concert at Hiidenvuori hill or check out the mighty Kymi River, tour the local museums and mansions, or go shopping!

1. Repovesi National Park
The park offers accessible adventures for everyone. Its hills and cliffs challenge keen hikers and climbers. Highlights for families include the Lapinsalmi bridge, the hand-operated Fox's Ferry, cosy Lapp-style huts for rent, and fine views over the treetops from the park's high spots.
2. Verla UNESCO World Heritage site
Verla is a UNESCO World Heritage site that captures an interesting phase of development in Finland’s history. Culture, history, architecture, activities and nature come together at this multifaceted site.
3. Arboretum Mustila
Arboretum Mustila near Elimäki in Southern Finland was founded in 1902 as a test site for exotic conifer species. Today it remains a unique area of introduced horticultural plants in northern Europe. Nearly 100 conifer species, more than 200 broad-leaved tree species and numerous shrubs, vines, bulbs and perennials have been planted in the arboretum, covering 120 hectares.
Arboretum Mustila is especially famous for its rhododendrons and azaleas. In June a colourful sea of flowers can be seen in the Rhododendron Valley when hundreds of different species and hybrids are blooming. Another spectacular season of colours is in the autumn when the deciduous trees burst into a glow of red, orange and yellow.
4. Tykkimäki
Tykkimäki Amusement Park is situated in a beautiful natural environment in Kouvola by the lake. There are three amusement parks in Tykkimäki.

Place to stay:
1. Aurantola manor & cottages
Aurantola's light blue manor is located in the middle of a unique and clean nature, on the shores of the Lake Karijärvi in Jaala. Aurantola is a mix of historical surroundings, beautiful nature and peaceful countryside. The accommodation options include an AuroraHut igloo boat, 10 cottages, bed & breakfast rooms on the upper floor of the manor and a campsite.

Insider tips:
1.Repovesikeskus activities
Paddling trip for two
A great day picnic trip paddling in our clean and peaceful nature. The trip includes good picnic lunch, expert advice from the guide on how to use canoes and kayaks, and advice about the area. The trip is suitable for couples, families, and small groups. The trip can be made with single kayaks, duo kayaks, or open canoes.
Learn more:
Day trip by single kayaks
Day trip by duo kayaks
Day trip by canoes
2. Tykkimäen sauna
A modern, public sauna that is open to all on the shore of a clean lake.Tykkimäen Sauna was selected in 2017 as a Supreme Tourism Location in Kymenlaakso.
3. Hiidensaari
Hiidensaari is a diverse destination. By visiting the peak of Hiidenvuori, the stunning views across River Kymijoki and Lake Pyhäjärvi will open out – national landscape at its best. There are things to see from ancient history to the stunning protected broadleaf woodland. Hiidensaari is an excellent place to go hiking, mountain biking or even visit by boat or canoe.
4. Local museums
Home and Radio Museum
Kouvola bourgeois home with living rooms from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, furnished with contemporary furniture, technology, radios, telephones, turntables, gramophones etc.
The most extensive collection of military radios in Finland: agent radios, spy radios and devices etc.
Model Railway Museum
The museum is located in an old building that was once used as a school building by VR. You can enjoy model trains, model railways and other railroad items in the museum.
5.Kimola Canal
The tunnel and the exceptionally high lock make the Kimola canal a special experience.

Back to Helsinki - 136 km (approx. 1 h 40 min by car)
Lappeenranta, Lake Saimaa.jpg

You can contact the companies directly for further information and bookings.

Also the tourist information offices are happy to help you in planning a memorable holiday!

Tourist information:


Kotka and Hamina region

Lappeenranta and Imatra region

Kouvola region


Lake Saimaa, Purest Finland Regional Council of South Karelia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment Rural 2020 The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: Europe investing in rural areas
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