Perhaps NOW is the time to plan for your trip to Finland. World Economic Forum study found Finland the safest country in the world for travellers. And it is great for motorcycling with all sorts of events taking place across the country. Sports, Music and RR Championships at Imatra!
A few years ago we left home for a short overnight ride (hence the open face helmet and sunglasses in the picture) with my wife and a few friends. Only to end up leaving our friends behind and touring Lapland and visiting Nordkapp in Norway by the Barents see, altogether some 4500km. The picture has a glue of where it was taken😀.
Now that covid-19 has seriously fu**ed up everyone’s riding plans for the summer, it is time to visit Lapland and the north again.
Well, Lapland is no second prize, it is a great destination on its own and well worth visiting even several times.
The fells of the Finnish lapland may best be described, scenery-wise and from a distance, as teletubbyland. No Alp-like mountains in Finland, whereas the Norwegian side is more mountainous. The change of scenery is actually quite remarkable first when you ride above the tree lines and quite sudden when crossing from Finland to Norway in the north.
The Norwegian mountains are part of the Scandinavian mountains (Scandes) and resemble loose flint or karst mountains to my non-geologist eye. The mountains may not be very high, but the roadsides are very steep indeed and often lead to the see. Narrow, paved roads are fun to ride – unless you are afraid of heights.
On the Finnish side you WILL see reindeer. In the north, they roam free, so you do not necessary see any warning before they appear!! What comes to avoiding traffic, reindeer are dumb! No matter how loud your bike is, they will run in front of you. Loud pipes may help a bit when you need to move a heard that is blocking the road. Pass them slowly, they may just turn in front of you! On the Norwegian side you will see sheep, sometimes lying on the warm tarmac in the evening!
Riding through the length of Finland will be a treat in itself. As the crow flies 1200km. (Same distance as from London or Copenhagen to Venice). The plan is to ride a “round trip” – up one side, down the other.
Across the length of Finland to Norway. A great trip coming up!
Some of the roads leading to the nordic countries from central Europe may not be a rider’s dream but they are efficient in taking you from A to B. As always with a new destination, you enjoy the new scenery, but after once or twice, these arteries are rather dull. This goes with Via Baltica and riding through Denmark and southern Sweden. All nice destinations on their own, though.
To add interest to my ride, I took a slight detour and stayed in Kaunas in Lithuania – a very nice town with a beautiful old town and some fantastic food and trendy people. Recommended stop en route.
I also set my camp in Gdansk in Poland for a few days to explore the surroundings a bit more. Gdansk, Sopot, Gdynia, Hel. This corner is really not on any route unless you go there specifically or go for a ferry from Gdansk to Sweden – Which is exactly what I did.
A few words about Gdansk and its close neighbours. Gdansk really is a nice town and worth visiting. A large Prague-like old town. I like Prague but I liked Gdansk even more, nice small restaurants – Berlin-meet-Praque – and really excellent food and drink. It is very touristy but has a local feel as well. And very good street performers!
If you want some more space for yourself and like it quieter, close by is the town of Sopot. Made famous by its music festival during the Soviet era. A lovely town with fantastic beaches. And it is really close to Gdansk to enjoy both towns
Next west is the port town of Gdynia and north-west the peninsula in the sea with Hel at the end. Although the road to Hel looks like a scenic one, the road really just runs between bushes. Traffic may also be hellish and you are better off on a motorbike. Not much to see. Unless you count the local public transport bus.
Not often do you see a bus to Hel numbered 666!
But this was suppose to be about the ferries…
Polferries sail from Gdansk to Nynäshamn just some 100 km south of Stockholm. This is a roro ferry for trucks but also takes passengers with their vehicles. Check the timetable but my ferry sailed from Gdansk at 6PM and arrived in Nynäshamn 12 noon the following day. I assume it does about the same to the opposite direction.
The ferry is clean and comfortable to travel. It has options from airline seats to shared and private cabins for your night sleep. Several restaurants and also outside seating to enjoy the sea.
Food onboard is not quite what you could expect after the fantastic food in Gdansk. I even opted for some prepaid meals in the a la carte restaurant for dinner but assume the canteen would have been better. For breakfast, a la carte was decent.
A small detail is that my pre-purchased dinner included a drink. Turned out it was coffee or soft drink. On the other hand, if you pre-purchase just a drink coupon, it is for beer and wine as well. But they are all drinks, I guess. With the coupons, service was quick and efficient.
Make sure you check which terminal the ferry departs from. You may see some conflicting information from different sources, so be careful. The terminal seems to change at times. This time (Summer 2019) we sailed from Westerplatte port.
Kapellskär – Naantali
Another roro route, this time with Finnlines. Note that all meals are included in your ferry ticket as standard. Plenty to eat and good quality, much better than Polferries anyway. The restaurant is large and there is enough seating for all.
The ferry is clean and has the usual seat and cabin choices and it even has a sauna with a jacuzzi bath. Also a nice bar area with a view and outside seating also from the sauna.
My ferry sailed around 8PM and arrived to Naantali 7AM.
Most ferries from the Stockholm region also make a stop in Åland and you may want to take the option to explore the island as well.
Well, now you are in Naantali, ready to explore the south-wester corner of Finland or to head north or east. Both good choices with very different things to offer. Enjoy your trip!
PS. The Costs
Both ferries about the same – under €150 each. Thats one person, motorbike and a bed. Shared cabin on Polferries, private cabin on Finnlines. On Finnlines also all meals. Check offers available.
Finland perhaps? Continuing to St Petersburg or Nordkap? Other Nordic countries? Need a Ferry? The following is written with a ride to Finland in mind and as such gives you a good idea of the ferries but does not cover all travel options for your Nordic adventure.
To get to Finland, you have a number of choices both on land or opting for a ferry for longer distances.
Arriving to Finland
Starting with the end in mind, the usual ports for arrival to Finland are Helsinki or Turku region. Ferries to Finland sail from Tallinn in Estonia or from Stockholm area in Sweden. A very popular choice is also a ferry from Travemunde in Germany, saving you the ride through the Baltic states or Denmark and Sweden.
Via Baltica is in Good Shape
If you do come by land to Tallinn and once you are through the roadworks in Poland (soon!?! over and look promising), the Via Baltica -road is mainly single lane but in reasonable condition today. Long lorry lines can be expected but on a motorbike those can usually be passed with relative ease.
There are some very nice stops in the Baltic, should you choose to spend a bit more time on the road. (Cities like Kaunas or beach resorts such as Palanga, Jurmala and Pärnu).
Ferries from Tallinn to Helsinki are frequent throughout the day.
The Western Route via Denmark – Sweden
If you take the western route through Denmark and southern Sweden, you will have one or two shorter ferry cruises. First the ferry from Puttgarden, Germany to Rødby, Denmark. From there you have options to either ride “The Bridge” between Copenhagen and Malmö (Øresund Bridge), as in the popular tv-series, or you can choose another ferry Helsingör (DK) – Helsingborg (S), slightly further north.
Again the E4 road through Sweden is quite quick to ride and mainly dual lanes all the way to Stockholm.
There is also another option, if you wish to ride the Danish mainland to Frederikshavn and cross the sea to Gothenburg in Sweden.
My recent ride took me down through Via Baltica, Poland, Austria and Italy to Lugano in Switzerland. My return ride was the western route through Germany, Denmark and Sweden over the Øresund Bridge. My choice was to use the bridge as it is magnificent, although the road from Malmö to Stockholm takes you near Helsingborg anyway.
Costs and Booking
Sea crossings are not free and the Ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn is around €100 for rider and a bike one way. For the Puttgarden ferry I paid €56 and the bridge crossing set me back €29. Taking land routes you may need accommodation as well. (2017 costs).
Ferry from Stockholm has a number of operators, variations and prices. The most expensive is to sail from Stockholm to Helsinki. Cheapest often Kapellskär north from Stockholm to Naantali near Turku. Loads of options, best to google. As it was peak season and all ferries were full, my only choice was a €100 deck chair or €240 inside cabin from Stockholm to Helsinki.
If you do not fancy the long ride, a popular, sometimes slightly costly option, is to take the Finnlines ferry from Travemunde to Helsinki. This is by far the most relaxing way but then you miss the route in between… When calculating the cost, be mindful about the total costs of the land route, incl. possible accommodation. Even the higher one-off charge may be quite competitive, particularly compared with the western route.
Other Routes and Destinations
If you wish to ride north through Sweden or Norway, there are even more ferry options available from Germany or Denmark. You can also come down through Finland around the north or vice versa, down through Sweden / Norway. There is yet another ferry between Vaasa (FI) and Umeå (S) half way up the gulf of Bothnia.
If your destination is St Petersburg in Russia, good options are ferry from Travemunde to Helsinki and crossing to Russia at Vaalimaa, or Via Baltica and border crossing at Narva, Estonia.
I would come to Finland though…
Costs for a Family Trip
Below my friend Pekka Niinivaara’s cost summary for some of the routes. These apply for a family of four in a car and costs vary based on your selection of cabin, etc:
Welcome to the southwestern part of Finland, the agricultural heart of the country.Our trip starts from the capital and takes us west, through old museum roads past Fagervik and country roads taking weekenders to the archipelago, Tammisaari seaside town for lunch and through Kemiö island, eventually leading us to Turku, the former capital of Finland for the first night.
The Fagervik museum road (1050) is a top tip and should not be missed if you tend to take the winding road instead of the main arteries. The road starts from Inkoo with a four km of gravel which can easily be avoided by following 51 to 186 and joining the 1050 from 186. You can follow the country lanes all the way to Tammisaari if you choose, or join the 25 closer to to Tammisaari (also Raseborg in some maps). If you continue on 25, you end up in Hanko, another seaside summer resort town.
Our ride took us to Kemiö island and towards Turku. Helsinki – Turku trip can be done in under two hours on the motorway but we took all day…
Turku is a lively university city and a city popular among the summer tourists. Located at the mouth of the river Aurajoki, Turku is also a busy seaside town and true to the city’s heritage, we were staying overnight at a former steamship Bore, today operating as a hostel, located right next to the Turku Castle.
In the evening, you can following the river upstream on a leisurely walk for some 2 km towards the Turku Cathedral. On the way there are museums, river front and boat restaurants and bars and many events taking place during the summer.
Turku has also hosted Tall ships races earlier and will be hosting TSR again this summer 2017, 20th to 23rd of July, along with a music festival.
Turku – Naantali – Louhisaari – Rauma
After a good night’s sleep, the morning ride lead us first to Naantali. Naantali is a picturesque old town and home of the Moomins on the island Kailo, very close to the nation’s president’s summer house Kultaranta. Naantali old town harbour is a great place for an ice-cream!
Just before Naantali, you will be passing the dockyards where some of the world’s biggest cruise ships were built. You’ll be able to see at least the cranes in the distance – the ships may be at the Caribbean although new ones are being built.
After the ice-cream in Naantali, continue along the country lanes towards the Louhisaari castle, completed in 1655. This is thebirthplace of one of Finlands national war-time heroes and former president Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim. Mannerheim was born here June 1867 and today the castle operates as a museum.
From Louhisaari, the country lanes lead to Rauma. Make sure to ride the roads along the seaside rather than the main road. Make a stop at Uusikaupunki city harbour for yet another coffee and ice cream before continuing to Rauma via the coastal road through the islands. Some gravel though.
Rauma is famous for its picturesque centre with old wooden houses, a very peculiar accent and their signature lace, which will be available in the town shops. Rauma is one of the seaside towns firmly associated with the sea, sailors and the most famous sea-shanties or sea-songs. There actually is a Donald Duck cartoon on Rauma language – Rauman giälel.
We stayed at the hotel Raumanlinna, which is just at the edge of old town and has new modern rooms, good breakfast and a large parking area in the back yard. Weather and time permitting, you also have an option to go an a sea cruise in the afternoon to Kylmäpihlaja lighthouse or alternatively a walk in the old town is a good choice.
Our dinner was at restaurant Wanhan Rauman Kellari which proved to be a good choice. They also have a popular balcony/patio for pre/after drinks on the balcony. Must say they had the friendliest staff with great sense of humor.
Rauma – Säkylä – Somero – Lohja – Helsinki
After enjoying Rauma, we started to descent back to Helsinki, with first a photo moment at Porosaari camping.
We were riding along winding country lanes past some of the main sugar producing areas in Finland past Säkylä (Rantatie – Beach Road), Somero towards Keppanakellari at Liesjärvi for lunch (www.keppana.com) . Keppanakellari is in the middle of nowhere and worth a visit. Just time it so that you are hungry, the food is tasty and portions substantial! In the summer, the place can be busy particularly at weekends.
Riding towards Helsinki round west, you can stop at Lahnajärvi, recently re-opened restaurant – or at Kasvihuoneilmiö, another peculiar restaurant and shop for odd things (!). Perhaps an ice-cream dessert!
Near and in Helsinki you can treat yourself for a sauna and swim, virtually in the city centre or in many places around the capital. But that is another story…
Perhaps NOW is the time to plan for your trip to Finland. World Economic Forum has carried out an in-depth analysis of the Travel and Tourism competitiveness of 136 economies across the world. The study found Finland the safest country in the world for travellers.
OK, it is safe in Finland. But how about motorcycling? Any good? If you like winding country roads through small villages, lakes and fields, Finland is for you. Plenty of places to stay in small towns and country side. If you prefer accommodation in a Tent at a camping ground, B&B, hostel, hotel, it is all there and easy to find and usually of very high standard.
On the road traffic is very organized and relatively easy paced. Finland has a strict policy on alcohol and riding with the limit set to 0,5 pro mille and is also strictly enforced.
People and Events
People are welcoming and happy to enjoy a drink or two with you, Not just alone in their underwear, called Kalsarikännit (Please google yourself!)
In the summer in particular, the country is littered with events and festivals of all sort – from wife carrying and mobile phone throwing to swamp football to wine festivals, rock festivals, jazz festivals, etc across the country.
If you have your mind set for Lapland and even the North Cape in Norway, consider riding through Finland, enjoy the hospitality and changing scenery on the way up. Visit also the northernmost place in the EU before heading to Norway. You will find my comments about the ride north in my other posts and videos- route to Lofoten for one.
Speeding Fines are Simply Criminal!
Generally laws on speeding are absolutely criminal! Finland is well known for some extremely high fines – Home of the USD 103.000 speeding fine! One way to keep your peace of mind is to keep on the nice bendy roads and stay away from the speed traps on many main arteries.Another thing is that the speed trap cameras take your picture from the front and you may just get away with it!
Arriving in Finland, you will soon notice that virtually every motorcyclist gives you the friendly wave on the road. This is to acknowledge the comradery bikers feel from our shared interest and hobby. Let’s keep it up!
Resources for your planning
I am sure that you will enjoy your memorable ride and to help you make it a reality, I have posted below some resources to get your planning started.
To see the Lofoten Islands in Norway has been one of the must-do trips on my bucket list. Besides Lofoten, I really enjoy riding in the very north of Finland in Lapland – the rolling hills (fells, arctic mountains) of the Reindeer country, which makes the trip even more enjoyable.
Most would arrive from the south and for the purpose of this Lofoten blog, we ride straights through the country. My preference is to avoid the main (blocked) arteries (like E4) and to select the route in the middle. From Helsinki this would be first to Tampere, then Virrat (to route 66!) – Kuortane – Vimpeli – Veteli – Kaustinen – Toholampi – Sievi – Ylivieska – Oulu. Varying, enjoyable landscape. After a long ride, Oulu as the northern capital is worth exploring and a lively stop for a night or two. Our northern adventure starts here.
River Tornio is the border river between Sweden and Finland. The river is the longest free flowing river in Northern Europe. Kukkolankoski rapids just north of the town Tornio is a good place to stop for some traditionally prepared – on open fire – freshly caught white fish.
TIP: Arriving from south, continue past the first newer tourist traps further off the main road to the more traditional small village. This place is recognizable by the log floating lumberjack statue right in the middle of the area. There are also some local handicrafts available. If lucky, you may see some traditional lippo-fishig as well. basically a net scoop at the end of a long pole. About lippo and other kind of fishing in Finland click here.
Rovaniemi and Levi
Leaving Kukkolankoski, it is high time to start paying special attention to wild life running to the road. Not just elk/moose but particularly reindeer. This is now reindeer herding area and although each reindeer has an owner, they are free to roam anywhere in Lapland and are relatively wild.
If you want to see the real Santa Claus, now is your chance! Visit Rovaniemi and continue along E75 for the arctic circle Santa Claus Village. Heading north to Levi ski village (or Sirkka), you may want to take the road 79 along River Ounasjoki, which also flows through Rovaniemi.
At Kaukonen in Kittila on road 79, you should make a little detour off a 9km long dirt road (surface easy enough on a touring Harley) to the Reidar Särestöniemi’s atelier and museum. The paintings capture the nature during different seasons in Lapland.
After some artistic influence at the museum, head to Levi for the evening’s entertainment. Levi hotels are very biker friendly and should your ride be a cold one, many offer saunas in your room. Ask for a studio at Sirkantähti, which I have used or Hulu Poro. Summer prices are very reasonable and include big breakfasts.
Eat while in Lapland: Reindeer stew with lingonberry. It is a MUST and available virtually everywhere! Also try reindeer prepared in many other different ways, just ask. And men, do not forget the reindeer antler powder! Women may also want to take some home to their guys…
Kilpisjärvi and Crossing to Norway
From Levi it is only some 260 km to Lake Kilpisjärvi near Norwegian border at the very end of the stretched arm of Finland. This is also from where River Muonio eventually starts and later becomes river Tornio.
At the foot of Saana fell at Kilpisjärvi, there are reasonably many accommodations available but you may wish to book in advance. This is a rather popular area for hikers and nature lovers. From here it is a very short drive to Norway. The land borders between Norway, Finland and Sweden are very relaxed and there are no formalities here either.
Slowly the fells and rolling hills are getting bigger and eventually more dramatic. You will also ride through many tunnels through the fells. Do stop at a Saami souvenir shop / tents and enjoy a cup of traditionally prepared black pot coffee made on open fire. Here you can sample some more reindeer meat and find even more souvenirs. Reindeer hide on the bike seat or antlers to the front? Both are frequently spotted!
After spending the night in Narvik, a coastal town just before Lofoten, the scenery is even more dramatic and now we are in the mountain country. The sea, islands, bridges, tunnels, dramatic cliffs, magnificent mountains, great road to ride on. We are in biker heaven now.
The closest I can think of to resemble the scenery would be New Zealand. The vegetation is very different but the shape of the land has many similarities. For such northern location above the arctic circle, Lofoten has exceptionally tempered, mild climate.
Our fantastic ride takes us to Svolvær in the south, the main town in the middle section of Lofoten islands. The northern part of Lofted islands is left for our next visit. It is amazing how Norway is so densely populated and lively even in the north and these rather remote locations. Svolvær has several good hotels and restaurants to choose from. Actually there are accommodations for tourists practically everywhere on the islands.
The best views were still ahead of us. The 130 km ride from Svolvær to Å on E10, the King Olav’s Road. Yes, that is the name of the village – just Å or Å i Lofoten. We were lucky and had the most fantastic weather, sunny around 23c and virtually no wind. The ride was absolutely breathtaking! Majestic mountain formations, valleys, seaside and fjord views, villages. The road was gradually getting narrower and ended on a car park turning point. Apparently a popular tourist location with a Fishing Museumand a good base for some further hiking trips.
For us it was also the time for some lunch and we chose a cosy, weather beaten restaurantMaren Anna in the Å village. The restaurant was partly built on the sea and also provided some comfortable looking beach accommodations (Hytte) in the vicinity for travellers.
What to eat on the Lofoten: Whale in many forms – most often stew or steaks. Klippfisk, the outside dried and salted cod which is best when also grilled before serving.
There are two roads leading through the main body of the island when leaving south from Svolvær.The eastern route along the coast and the western route past the Viking Museum. You should plan to ride both on your ride, although the museum may require a separate day. The museum has interesting videos and displays and a very good guiding system on multiple languages.
Again we were lucky and a Viking festival was on, which allowed us to explore a viking village set outside by the fjord with ”the real vikings” making handicrafts, cooking food and organizing field games.
Heading Back to Flatlands
Our ride home started with a two hour ferry sailing from Svolvær to Skutvik, stopping briefly at a small island village of Skrova. The alternative ferry would sail from Moskenes near Å to Bodø. This four hour ferry takes you a bit further south on the mainland. Our sailing was calm but I can imagine that tie-downs are in good use should the sea be any choppier. The ferry is small and the sea is open.
Again, you have several option to choose from, depending on where you want to ride. We were heading through Norway to Mo i Rana and further to Umeå in Sweden, a coastal town by the gulf of Bothnia for a ferry to Vaasa in Finland.
Gradually the majestic mountains turned into fells, then into smaller fells and again into rolling hills before flattening out completely by mid-Sweden. There are some great sceneries on the way though. The higher plain at the arctic circle and some great lake views before you ride through the pine forests to Umeå.
The sailing from Umeå to Vaasa on a rough sea marked the end of our Lofoten adventure and all we had left was the final leg home in the sunshine with some great memories of Lapland and the Lofoten Islands.