Midsummer Nights in Finland

We only get the tickets for Tallinn-Helsinki ferry one day before our actual trip, as til the last moment we aren’t sure – will we be able to go, what will be our plan? Luckily, everything falls into place and we are ready for our trip to Finland for the Midsummers, which is a famous holiday and celebration in Baltics and Nordics!

Practical information about our trip is here.

Our journey to Tallinn is without any surprises, but once we reach the port, we drive around quite a bit, unsure, where exactly is the right road to the ferry? Finally, we are in line to drive up to the ferry and soon after we are on board. There aren’t too many people around, just a rare truck driver smoking outdoors. At first we stay outside on the deck, but as the ferry moves into the sea, it becomes too windy and we move indoors.

What to do in Helsinki off the beaten path places

Staying in Helsinki

We stay at my father in law’s house, who lives in Helsinki for many years, in the Kallio district. It is a hip area, with many flea markets, the only remaining proper market in Helsinki, cafes big and small, bakeries, art shops and even the famous Karhupuiston Grilli hotdog stand is right there!

Kallio market

What to do about parking? It isn’t cheap in Helsinki. When we visited, half the center was dug up for road and communications repairs. When on the lookout for the parking place, it feels like everywhere you go, you must have that little clock in the car, as even though there are a few free parking places, all are only for a few hours, even all the shopping malls require you to put up the clock in your window!

We get lucky, there is a parking lot not too far from the house that allows for 24/7 parking, however, only one day at a time. So every day we change the parking place just to be sure that no one thinks we have left the car for too long. As our schedule usually takes us there at the odd hours, we always get a spot, but driving by during other hours, the place is always full.

Granite house

The first walk in Helsinki is more to stretch our legs from the long journey. We take a look at the historic workers house Paasitorni. Nowadays there are two restaurants inside, both serving traditional Finnish food. Rumors say the chef is the same, but one has a bit better prices. Right next to the building we notice an oddity – communal gardens! Flowers, herbs, all undisturbed, with little signs indicating that these are public gardens. Later we see such large wooden boxes also in other places in the city.

public communal gardens in Helsinki

Our next stop is Tervasaari or the pitch island, passing by the famous Helsinki cathedral. The island was used for storing of the highly flammable pitch, which was prepared for export. Today it is a popular place for walks, and one can also take a swim. Turns out, not only for yourself, but you can also take your carpet for a swim! There is even a special device for drying the carpets easily.

tervasaari or tar island helsinki

We are walking on the island and cannot stop admiring the scenery. First, the geese with the little ones, then, noticing how light it really is here during the Midsummer nights! It is a really late evening, but because of the light it seems that it isn’t even dinner time.

Uspenskin cathedral at night Helsinki

Next to the Uspenski cathedral and the beautiful sailboats we see iceboats. Soon it gets very quiet, as it is the weekend and most of Finns are at their summer houses this time of the year. When we come back to the island a couple days later during the week, it is a whole different busy, as the party is at its peak at the bars around the cathedral!

The Blue Lake that Needs Rest

Our first trip outside of Helsinki is to the Kiikunlähde lake about 120 km away from Helsinki. It is famous for the clear blue color of water. We leave Helsinki nearing noon, as after all the walking during the night we feel quite exhausted in the morning, and our inner clocks haven’t adjusted it to being this light all the time!

The highway is good, other drivers polite and soon we reach the lake. I have wanted to see this place since I first realized we might be visiting Finland this year! Arriving at the lake, at a place that used to have a parking lot just a few months ago, we see large signs forbidding parking. There is red tape everywhere, quite literally, and signs “the lake is tired, it needs a rest”. To be honest, you can’t even see much of the lake to begin with, as half of it is surrounded by a fence, and there is a little sightseeing place just in the middle. From the other side that has free access, the view isn’t a nice, as you can see the power cables.

We drive around the lake twice puzzled where to leave the car. Finally, we find a little parking spot in one of the nearby streets, but it looks like a private place for someone who has a summer house right there. We can see someone working in the garden, so decide to be brave and ask – is it ok we park there for a little while? The owner is fine with that and tells us as long as we don’t leave any rubbish, he is ok with that. The people living here are tired of having to pick up all the trash after the visitors, the lake is on a private property and that’s why all the signs.

Kiikunlähde crystal clear blue lake in Finland

While we walk to the lake, several cyclists pass us – they have no issues getting here at all! Then we walk by a tiny house right next to the lake – what an incredible place to have property at! The place is indeed beautiful, like a little mountain lake. The colors aren’t as bright as in the pictures we have seen, but we also realize that those where probably taken early in the morning, when we were still sleeping. With the sunglasses on we can also see the submerged wood at the bottom of the lake. Not as impressive as expected, but beautiful, nevertheless.

Devil’s Nest

Our next stop is Pirunpesä or the Devil’s nest near Lahti (there are a few places with this kind of name in Finland!). The “nest” is a geological formation, roughly 20 m tall cliff walls that formed when an ice lake was melting and created crevices. Smaller rocks fell through and were carried away, larger ones got stuck. There is a 4.5km long hiking trail with places to make fire. We arrive at the mouth of the formation and wonder – shall we try to climb this from here? Go around? Finally, we go around a bit and climb it from the other side, where it is less steep and safer. But there are no safety measures in place whatsoever, so one has to be careful. We observe the rocks that got stuck in the crevices, the trees growing right in the middle of it, and even discover little patches of bog on the stones at the top, as the water accumulates there and has nowhere to escape!

Pirunpesä or Devil’s Nest

Ski Resort in the Summer

Next we are headed to Messilä, a popular ski resort. Though peak time to visit would be in winter, summers are wonderful too! We leave the car at the bottom of the hill and wander straight up the hill through the lupine fields. An explosion of color, purple, white and pink. At times we notice patches of broken lupines – someone had a pick nick? Photoshoot? The answer is much more simple – we disturb a doe and it sprints away, leaving the exact kind of patch as we have seen before and stirring up dandelion fluff in its way. We find a comfortable place in the shade and settle down for a pick nick, watching the Vesijärvi lake nearby. Right next to the ski track is a pretty village of small, wooden houses. We see that every one of these has a chimney – there is a sauna indoors! A few people walk around here as well, as one can rent a cabin like this also during the summer.

Messilä skiing resort in the summer

The Giant’s Kettles

On the next day we are headed to the western side of the country. I observe the border on the map intently. At times we drive by quite close. Not too far from here is the place I was born – Petrozavodsk. I haven’t visited for many, many years. But not this time, this visit is just for Finland.

Our first stop is Askolan hiidenkirnut or the Giant’s Kettles. It is a unique place not just in Finland, but worldwide. It was formed in a particular way. When the glacier was melting, waterfalls formed, and sometimes smaller stones got stuck on the stone surface inside the waterfall, and as the water kept turning, so did the stones, making holes in the surface. This place is a chance to see such stones, there are 22 of these, and the largest one is 10 m deep and about 4 m wide! But to get there, we have to walk in the forest. For some reason, this forest has an enormous amount of flies. We are not surprised that there are many bugs in Finland, we had heard that, but in the previous days we hadn’t seen many, yet here they are.

After the walk through the forest, we come across a little metal box for donations. It also has information on how to transfer money if you aren’t carrying cash with you. We visit one kettle after the other, observing the different holes in the stone. Some are empty, some have water inside, and others even have large stones in them.

We reach the largest one and it has metal stairs leading inside. We wonder if it is permitted to go inside? As we take picture from the top, we notice a metal can at the bottom, so we decide to fish it out for the purposes of esthetics. This way, we also land a picture inside!

Askolan hiidenkirnut or Giant’s Kettles

We head back to the car, this time walking around the forest on the other side, passing more stone formations. This is a popular bouldering place, as the entire rock surface is white from talcum powder.  Was we approach the parking lot, one thing is clear – despite the quite well maintained property, there are no bathrooms. None! So the forest near the parking lot a testament to that, with white semi-disintegrated paper scraps all around.


Our next stop is Porvoo, a popular place for a mini-cruise from Helsinki. This town was established back in 1346. We leave the car in the large parking spot at the center of the city (free during the afternoon), and finally get to a normal bathroom right next there! This city clearly had tourists in mind when making renovations – there are free maps, a bicycle rental and other amenities.

Porvoo day trip from Helsinki

We are quite hungry, so stop at the Fryysarinranta, a café inside one of the beautiful little red houses that used to be a warehouse, with a view to the river. The cute little houses are the famous postcard view of the city! We eat steak, snails and have some lemonade, so finally we feel like we can explore the town a bit more! One could say that this city is a paradise for the ‘gram, as every little house, café and store are just perfect for taking pictures! Flowers everywhere, and the tiny little streets with steps made of stone.

As it is the Midsummer’s night, we wonder – how shall we celebrate? We have a cooler with us with various treats, just need to find a place to stop at. We decide to head to Virvik trail, located about 15 km away from Porvoo, there is a 2.5km long trail, medium difficulty. At first we find ourselves at the local disk throwing park, but my father in law takes us deeper into the forest, saying he found a nice place here last time. Finally, we park on a little road in the forest. He tells us that everything around is a private property, but according to the law, one can stay inside without disturbing the owners and without leaving trash. So we head up one of the hills with a view to the surrounding waters and a summer house. Not too long after, an elder couple walks by. Then we see them again. The look at us, but don’t say anything. The men finish the beers and soon we head back down to the car, having stayed 20 minutes at most on the top. When we are almost near it, a dark colored pick up truck stops near us and a woman from the same couple asks us:

“Do you know this is private property?”

“Yes, we do, but we also heard that according to the law, if we don’t disturb the owners and don’t leave trash, we can stay! We have here from Virvik trails!” we answer.

“Yes, that is true” she says and seems surprised that we know the rules. She doesn’t say much after, just complains that many visitors leave trash.

Virvik nature trail

The sunset time is approaching, and we still have one more place in mind to visit, Gumbostrand. This exclusive summer house area is similar to the others we have seen driving by, just a bit more fancy. We try to find a parking place, but everything is full, so we quickly leave the car near “Kioski Gumbo” café to take a few pictures.

The Lakes Around Helsinki

For the next day we have more plans to see lakes, this time, near Helsinki! Our first stop is the Vitträsk lake where in Hvitträsk there is the house of architects Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen, now a museum. This time around we have left the house much earlier in the morning, and the parking place is nearly empty. While the parking spots should be used for those wanting to see the museum, many also leave the cars here, go through the museum garden and head down to the lake. We start with the museum. Unfortunately the museum café is closed, as they have a private party planned, so we head inside. The entrance fee is a bit steep, 10 euros per person, and the exhibit isn’t too large.

Hvitträsk museum

Then we head to the other side of the lake to see the ancient drawings on the cliff. If my father in law hadn’t been here before, we definitely wouldn’t have found those! First, we head down from the museum on the asphalt road to Rauhalantie street. Then we head up the hill, to the house Nr 40. We go inside the property, but realize we have gone too far – just a bit back, between the bushes, there is a meter wide gap between the two fences, that leads you to the side of the cliff.

Vitträsk lake in Finland

Now we just have to get down! We stay to the right until we find traces of other footprints and proceed down. First, there is a little balcony, but that isn’t the right one. Then, next one is the right one – it has small red drawings. While not too grand, these are supposed to be the oldest rock paintings in entire Finland!

Vitträsk lake rock art drawings

As we reach the car, it is hot, we are hungry and would love to go for a swim. But who takes a swimsuit to Finland? Turns out, everyone except me! So we quickly drive to a store nearby, buy a bunch of tasty food (blueberry juice is a must here!), have a lunch and buy me a swimsuit. Luckily, the entire thing takes us barely 30 minutes and soon we are on the way to Kvarnträsk or also known as Myllyjärvi lake. This lake is a must visit place in the summer! First of all, because it is a bog lake, and second, because it is up the hill!

But we start by desperately looking for a parking place, as there are just so many cars that it seems we won’t find anyplace to leave it. As far as we can see, the road is just cars, cars, cars… We already want to leave the car at the side at the first available spot, but my husband decides to go further… and he was right! At the very end, where the proper parking places are, there is plenty of availability! So we park there and soon are heading up to the lake. Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have any amenities, so we have to change in the bushes, and are ready to jump in the lake!

Myllyjärvi lake

The lake is the expected brownish color, as the bog lakes usually are. But I see little children playing in the shallow water, and I decide to give it a go! The surface of the water turns out to be exceptionally warm and the swim is just what I needed!

Getting in and out of water is a bit tricky, as there are pine trees all around, so the ground is prickly. The stone floor of the lake is very slippery, so you have to be very careful. It is hard to say, how deep is the lake, but already near the shore all you can see is black. But the place is packed, and I understand why!

Back in Helsinki

After three days of exploring the surroundings of Helsinki, we finally decide to spend some time in the city, and the top place to visit is the Suomenlinna, one of the most popular sightseeing locations in the city! This island fortification was build in the middle of the 18th century, and is one of the UNESCO heritage sites in Helsinki. You can get there by taking the regular public transport ferry that goes there every 10-20 minutes, and the journey takes as long.

Suomenlinna Helsinki sightseeing tips

One could easily spend the whole day at these 8 islands! We visit the lighthouse that also serves as a church, the locks, the military fortifications, the submarine, the cannons and what seems to be at least a thousand geese. One can also go for a swim in the sea, and some people do use the chance. We also see a swam family that decides to come out right in the middle of a populated beach and hisses at everyone. Also seagull chicks are everywhere, calling out for their parents and food.

While we stroll around the island, we notice how many people actually live here, this isn’t a place just for the tourists! But there is plenty of those too. Entering the local supermarket we see that all the sandwiches have been sold out, so we have to have ice cream for lunch (blueberry, not complaining!). As the afternoon approaches we notice that the day in the sun is beginning to leave it’s marks – we got sunburnt. So you don’t just need swimsuits, you need sunscreen in Finland!

Although tired after the day in the sun, we decide to visit one more place in the evening, the Seurasaari ethnographic museum. It was opened in 1909, and you can see traditional 18-20th century houses from all of Finland here. Water mills, a church, and even boats transporting half the village to the church! Cars are not permitted on this island, so it is a calm walk indeed.

Seurasaari ethnographic museum

When we really feel like our feet are just about to fall off from all the walking, we finally walk around the island and can drive home. On the way there we stop for more food, and realize that one is clear – before heading back home to Latvia we want to stock up on some really tasty foods! The lactose-free food choice is just out of this world in Finland! When going to Finland, we brought the entire cooler full of cherries and strawberries, then for the way back we will have a whole lot of dairy products!

Boat Day

After all that walking our feet need rest on the next day, so we decide to rent a boat! To rent a boat in Finland, one doesn’t need to have a license, you just need to know how to drive the boat and you need to be able to persuade the renter. We find a website called Click & Boat, which is similar to airBnB, but the owners don’t want to rent the boats to us. So we find a larger company that rents the boats out of an island!

boat rental tips in Helsinki

As we approach the dock, we wander – where is the right place, which is the right boat? There are dozens of these. Finally, we find the right one, and later we must take the same boat back, unfortunately, it only goes til 8pm, so after we are done we have to rush to catch it.

One must keep in mind that the water around Helsinki can be very shallow at times, and has boulders in the water, so you have to be very careful and should only rent the boat if you know what you are doing. Although there is an electronic map on the boat, it was in Finnish.

We drive by the places we visited during our stay, seeing the pitch island, ice boats and almost to the ethnographic museum. We had a wonderful time on the boat!

Gumbostrand trip from Helsinki

The Last Day in Helsinki

For our last day in Helsinki, we have a tour of the churches. First we visit the ecumenic Kamppi chapel, which is located in one of the most lively areas in Helsinki, although rarely holds services. Then we walk around the cathedral, the bright white building with the green roof. Next to it is the Senate square and the Alexander II statue. This is about it that the cruise goers get to see in Helsinki, and often people say “there isn’t much to be done in Helsinki”, but they couldn’t be more wrong!

What to see in Helsinki - cathedral and Senate square

Finally, we visit the carved-in-stone Temppeliaukio church. Built in 1969, it still offers a glimpse into the original carving marks in the cliff. When we visit, except for us there are only two more visitors. Usually there are concerts taking place, they say that the acoustics are exceptional.

Temppeliaukio church in Helsinki

As the evening approaches and the end of our trip nears, we visit one last area in Helsinki, Arabianranta district and Vanhakaupunki waterfall. This was the place where the city of Helsinki started. Later, it used to house the largest porcelain factory in Europe. Today this district is known for the unusual requirement for all new buildings to use works of art, so now it is is known as the design district.

Vanhakaupunki waterfall and hydroelectric station

Right there is also the Vanhakaupunki waterfall, where two sides of the river Vantaa are, the clam and the rapid. This used to be a hydroelectrical plant, which now houses a museum. The vibe of the place reminds us Kallio – food trucks with spicy Asian food and burgers, groups of friends enjoying themselves sitting on the grass and listening to Latino hits, and every other person has a large, visible tattoo. And all around – hundreds of geese!

That is how our Finnish trip finishes. We remember it by geese, hip districts, surprising nature and places we hadn’t heard about before but that are now etched into our memories. And of course, the white nights of the Midsummer, when Finns celebrate in their summer houses near the sea.

Practical information about our trip is here.

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