Helsinki is a wonderful Scandinavian capital, and an all-around pleasant, clean and calm city full of fascinating museums and history, stunning seaside sights and, yes, saunas. But Finland is so much more than its young capital. It is a beautiful country filled with pristine lakes, snow globe-like winters, long temperate summer days and charming small towns sprinkled in between sprawling forests. (The entire country has a population of 5.4 million and is the third most sparsely populated country in Europe.) But for a traveler with only a few days, it’s difficult to experience all that Finland has to offer in such a short time.
Here’s two day trips that, while just a hop and a skip from the big city, give visitors a glimpse into the variety of beauty and culture present in Finland.
Nuuksio National Park
As someone who grew up in the never-ending sprawl of suburban Los Angeles, I was stunned to discover that a short bus trip out of Finland’s capital and most populated and largest city, an unspoiled playground of sparkling lakes, gorgeous vistas and never-ending forest of green awaits. Nuuksio National Park, established in 1994, is comprised of 43 lakes surrounded by birch and conifer trees. It’s a quiet, peaceful place with about half a dozen mostly flat, moss-lined trails to choose from and plenty of picnic tables along the way.
How to get there: Take the S, U, L or E line in direction Kirkkonummi/ Kyrkslatt from the Helsinki Train Station (about 25 minutes). Transfer at the Espoo station to the 85 or 85a bus in direction Nuuksio (20 minutes).
This small medieval town (second oldest in Finland!) oozes with charm. It was easy for me to spend an afternoon admiring the old town’s cobbled streets and brightly colored wooden homes. A beautiful church, built in the 13th and 15th centuries, is perched above the skinny streets. The town was built on the Porvoonjoki river, and there’s an iconic row of wooden sheds along the waterfront, red as bricks (or maybe even Santa’s coat–the jolly man hails from Finland, you know!). Climb up the hill across the river–the view is a treat. An old cemetery rests at the top. On a warm afternoon, the waterside path makes for a relaxing stroll.
The streets are lined with one-of-a-kind boutiques and antique shops and cute cafes add to the splendor. As summertime kicked off with a Friday evening concert in the old square facing the historic town hall, we ducked into Brunberg candy shop to sample the licorice (they even have a tar flavor?!) before continuing down to the river for dinner on the waterfront deck at Fryysarinranta.
The sun didn’t sink below the horizon until nearly 11 p.m. so dinner was enjoyed under a warm, hazy golden hour glow that meant it must be summer in Finland.
How to get there: Possible by boat, but the quickest way is by public bus or the Porvoon Liinkenne line (30 minutes).
–The Wandering Alligator