Our First Week in Finland and a Surprise After 5 Years of Travel
After our week in Sweden it was time to leave the country behind us, for now anyway. We'll be back at the end of the summer. From Stockholm we hopped onto an overnight ferry to Helsinki. This ferry route is actually like a mini-cruise. They have a reputation for being booze cruises as they make a short stop at the autonomous Åland Islands part way through the crossing that permits the operators to sell duty free products en-route. Apparently the crossings have a reputation for being full of boozy Swedes but we didn't see a lot of that on our journey.
It was a fun evening though. As the ship leaves Stockholm at around 5pm it heads for hours and hours through the archipelago before making it to the wide open Baltic Sea. After some pre-dinner craft beers at the bar overlooking the tranquil scenery we headed for dinner at one of the many restaurants on board. We plumped for the buffet/smorgasbord because I love myself a buffet. This one had the benefit of endless wine included… well I did said it was a booze cruise. The boat is quite the experience; as well as multiple musicians to entertain you at the various bars there is a pool and sauna (we didn't partake), a casino and even a theater with a dance show to take you through to the wee small hours. By midnight we were ready to go back to our cabin and be lulled to sleep by the boats motion. In the morning we arrived in Helsinki.
We decided to stay in Helsinki for a few days. Iain had been once before but ,as with a lot of our business travels in the past, he had no memory of the city itself. The weather was a bit gnarly but the city has a cool vibe and some interesting and contrasting building styles. The Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral stands tall but is still modest compared to most we have visited. We’ve spent a lot of time in Spanish and Italian churches after all. Its bright white exterior is in stark contrast to the bold red brick of the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral a few hundred meters away. We enjoyed wandering the around the city dodging rain showers and finding shelter in various nooks and crannies of the city streets. A lot of the city center architecture, especially the grand train station, has a communist era feel. We came away with a very positive first impression of Helsinki and Finland.
From Helsinki we took a little trip east to the old city of Porvoo. It's a small city and couldn’t feel more different than Helsinki. We stayed near the old town which is really more of a large village. It is famous for its scenic wooden houses along the shore. We enjoyed a wander around the area and had a few drinks chatting with some locals at the riverside who were celebrating the beginning of summer.
From here headed west back past Helsinki, staying for the night near Lohja. The town was a little uninspiring but the lake shore parking spot was peaceful and was a good start for a scenic, if a little rugged, bike ride along the shore of the lake.
Continuing west toward Turku, we hit our first overnight snag. We hadn't found anywhere suitable for staying in the city so decided to head out of town and little and cycle back in. Unfortunately the area we had scoped out was preparing for a major music festival and out of bounds for parking up. We opted to head a little further along the coast to the lovely town of Naantali. Here we found what we had heard was a great parking spot at a harbor. It was a lovely walk from here into the gorgeous little town. We were impressed and spent some time enjoying the sunshine before heading back to the motorhome.
Then we hit overnight snag number two. After dinner and we were admiring the views while watching a little Netflix. A few other motorhomes had joined us in the blissful setting. Then suddenly at 9.45pm we had a knock at the door and were told by a private security guard that we needed to leave - “no camping allowed.” This is the first time ever in our 5 years of traveling like this that we have been asked to move on so I guess you could say we have been lucky. Fortunately we hadn't had a glass of wine with dinner so we trundled off in search of other places to stay. Our back up option in town was full so we headed to a nearby campsite which was also tunred out to be full! Luckily the people who owned this one had a second campsite out in the sticks and said we could get there in about 20 minutes. So, again for the first time ever in our RV traveling life, we were driving at night; we never do that. Fortunately it's summer in Finland and the sun sets late so we managed to get parked up by dusk. It was also a lovely spot but getting somewhere at 11pm is not our style!
After this snag we continued our way up through Finland with no more dramas, lots of lovely free camping spots and no more unexpected knocks at the door. Next post we find some lovely spots on along the coast in Finland and make it to the Arctic Circle.
RECOMMENDATIONS & TIPS
Where we stayed: We traveled in late June. We made a reservation in Helsinki, elsewhere no reservations.
75. Rastilla Camping Helsinki, Great location for getting to Helsinki. Metro stop just a few minutes away. Lots of green space, nice beach. 37€ a night with electric . GPS: 60.20679, 25.12133
76. Free parking, Porvoo, Gravel parking, busy during a summer day, but everyone clears out at night. Perfect for visiting the lovely town of Porvoo. GPS 60.39564, 25.64691
77. Free Lakeside Parking, Lohja, Pretty spot, with lovely cycling and hiking path running right by the parking lot. Busy with people enjoying the lake in the summer, but peaceful at night. GPS 60.24599, 24.05218
78. Camping Villan Tilam Nr Naantali, Run by same people who own Camping Naantali, we didn't spend much time here, but if you like somewhere peaceful and remote. This is perfect. 29€ a night with electric GPS 60.43032, 21.99067
You can always find details of where we stay on our overnight stays map.
Ferry Stockholm to Helsinki: If you want to cut out some kilometers (and driving) this is a great way to get to Finland (Turku or Helsinki) from western Europe. Two ferry companies essentially run the same trip, Tallink (who we went with) and Viking Line . It’s an overnight crossing and you must have a cabin. We upgraded a little to get a cabin where you were less likely to get engine noise and you have a window, albeit an interior one. The room was ideal, nice bathroom, comfortable beds, perfect to get some sleep after a visit to the restaurants and bar.