15 must-do things to do in the Lake District

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Experience the Finnish way of life by finding the best things to do and see in the Great Lakes region!

A fascinating mosaic of greens and blues, the Great Lakes region is teeming with things to see and do. Reputed to be the largest in Europe, it has long captured the hearts of the Finns. With its lush forests, thousands of lakes and rivers and deserted islands, it’s the ideal place to get away from it all.

All year round, whatever the season, it offers visitors a peaceful setting in which to recharge their batteries and enjoy a multitude of activities. Whether you want to relax in a lakeside cottage, ice-skate, try out a water sport or unwind in a sauna, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for.

Visiting this incredible part of Finland? Here are 15 must-sees in the Great Lakes region!

Explore the sparkling waters of Lake Saimaa by canoe

Boat boats harbor canoe landscape norway finland sunset

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  • 📍 Location: Lake Saimaa (Lappeenranta, Savonlinna and Imatra)
  • 🤩 Experience Finland’s largest lake

Close to the Russian-Finnish border, you’ll find the unmissable Lake Saimaa. Bordered by picturesque towns such as Lappeenranta, Savonlinna and Imatra, this 4,400 km2 lake – the country’s largest – is full of surprises.

To discover its many facets, let yourself be tempted by a canoe trip. Pack a few snacks, don your life jackets and set off to discover a truly unspoilt natural environment. At your own pace or on a guided tour, you’ll be enchanted by the infinite possibilities offered by this wild labyrinth. If you’re lucky, around May you’ll come across one of Saimaa’s 400 ringed seals. A must-see in the Great Lakes region.

Relax in one of Tampere’s 50 saunas

Intérieur du sauna finlandais, sauna en bois classique, salle de bains finlandaise

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  • 📍 Location: Tampere
  • 🤩 Experience: relaxing in a steam bath

When visiting the Great Lakes region, be sure to stop off in the charming city of Tampere. Just a 2-hour drive from Helsinki, it’s the perfect destination for a well-deserved wellness break. Home to no fewer than 50 public saunas, Tampere has not stolen its title as Sauna Capital of the World.

Once you’ve visited the streets lined with red-brick buildings, succumb to the call of the famous steam baths. A true Finnish institution, they offer a truly unique experience. From the emblematic Rajaportti – dating from 1906 – to the very modern Kuuma, relax in pure local tradition. So, are you ready to turn up the heat?

Sleep in a Mökki in the heart of a vast forest

Vue aérienne d'un cottage en bois dans une pinède verte au bord du lac bleu en été rural Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: in the heart of a Great Lakes forest
  • 🤩 Experience: sleeping in a forest in the middle of nowhere

Looking for what to see and do in the Great Lakes region? How about spending a weekend or more in a mökki? Rustic or modern, these traditional Finnish cottages can be found in great numbers in the forests bordering the country’s lakes. Popular with locals in both summer and winter, these pretty cabins are the perfect place to recharge your batteries.

Find refuge in the heart of nature, far from almost everything, and enjoy every moment filled with magic. Let yourself be lulled by the rustle of foliage, take a dip in the cool waters of a lake and chat under the stars around a roaring fire. You’re sure to enjoy your introduction to cottage life.

Enjoy panoramic views in Koli National Park

Vue aérienne de la colline Ukko dans le parc national Koli Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: North Karelia, Koli National Park
  • 🤩 Experience breathtaking views in a wilderness setting

Set course for North Karelia and stop off at the magnificent Koli National Park. Ideal for nature lovers, this nature reserve has it all. Popular for its many activities – from swimming to hiking to skiing – it is best known for its breathtaking panoramas.

A remarkable inspiration for the country’s artists, it has established itself as a must-visit destination in the Great Lakes region. There are a number of options available to you for a feast for the eyes. One of them is to climb Mount Ukko-Koli. From its 347-metre-high summit, you’ll have the chance to admire a breathtaking view of Lake Pielinen.

Discover the town of Savonlinna and its medieval castle Olavinlinna

Vue aérienne du château d'Olavinlinna, Savonlinna, Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: Savonlinna
  • 🤩 Experience the picturesque town and its medieval castle

Built around the 15th century, the fortified town of Savonlinna welcomes you to a timeless setting. Enveloped by the waters, notably Lake Saimaa, it lends itself perfectly to bucolic escapades. Stroll through its historic center – spread over 4 islands linked by bridges – and let yourself be charmed by the singular energy of the place.

Once there, be sure to visit the famous Olavinlinna Castle. Once the scene of numerous battles, it now houses a museum with permanent exhibitions. On your own or with a guide, discover the anecdotes and little secrets surrounding the site. Every summer, the castle also hosts the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Between art, culture and outdoor activities, you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs in Savonlinna!

Dancing with the locals at a music festival

Foule à un festival de musique en plein air aux bras tendus Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: Great Lakes region
  • 🤩 Experience: taking part in a music festival

Did you think the Great Lakes region was all about hiking and water sports? Think again! Music lovers won’t be disappointed either. In summer, when the nights get shorter, the region hosts a number of festivals that are well worth the detour.

On the second weekend in July, you can stop off in Joensuu for one of Europe’s oldest festivals: Ilosaarirock. In the heart of Laulurinne park, near Linnunlahti beach, international and local artists concoct an atmosphere of pure madness. Great music, an electrified crowd and exceptional scenery in the background. The perfect recipe for unforgettable memories!

national park Repovesi Kouvola Finland

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  • 📍 Location: Kouvala, Repovesi National Park
  • 🤩 Experience: sailing on sparkling waters

Looking for what to see and do in the Great Lakes region? Just a few hours from Finland’s capital, Repovesi National Park welcomes visitors to an idyllic setting. Plunge into the heart of its wild forests, inhale the sweet scent of bark and marvel at its blue lakes and ponds.

To get the most out of these picture-postcard landscapes, what better way than to take to the water. Sail at your own pace, for example, in a canoe or rowing boat, and enjoy the best views of the park’s majestic cliffs. You’ll be amazed.

Please note: keep a safe distance from cottages and their private beaches during your excursion.

Try your hand at traditional fishing in complete tranquillity

Pêche sur glace au nord du coucher de soleil en Scandinavie

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  • 📍 Location: entire Great Lakes region
  • 🤩 Experience ice fishing in winter

In winter, when the waters freeze over, one of the must-do activities in the Great Lakes region is to try your hand at traditional ice fishing. Popular with Finns, this winter activity promises moments suspended in time.

Amid pristine vistas and wrapped in layers of clothing, sit quietly on the edge of a hole in the ice. While you wait for a fish to take the bait, revel in the silence, enjoy the feeling of being alone in the world and – who knows – taste the joy of making a catch. We’ll let you in on a little secret: it’s not the catch that’s important, it’s the experience that’s worth it.

Warning: before venturing onto the ice, make sure it is sufficiently consolidated, at least 5 cm thick.

Lace up your ice skates for a hike on Lake Kallavesi

patine sur la glace d'un lac gelé, paysage naturel

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  • 📍 Location: Lake Kallavesi, Kuopio
  • 🤩 Experience: ice skating on natural ice

With the arrival of the icy cold, covered in its thick white coat, the Great Lakes region becomes a paradise for winter sports enthusiasts. Let yourself be seduced by theenchanting atmosphere and strap on your ice skates for some memorable moments.

Between January and March, Kuopio is the perfect place to enjoy this sensational activity. Glide over the frozen waters of Lake Kallavesi, following only the marked sites, and have fun on its most popular trail: the Finland Ice Marathon. With a length of 12.5 km and free access for all, it will take you along the city’s shores.

Stroll along the Pyynikki esker for a breathtaking view

Banc rouge et lac Pyhäjärvi à Tampere, Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: Tampere
  • 🤩 Experience a bucolic walk overlooking Lake Pyhäjärvi

Treat yourself to a breath of fresh air in Tampere with a walk on thePyynikki esker, the highest in the world. Rising to an altitude of 160 meters, it guarantees a breathtaking view of Lake Pyhäjärvi. Walk between the pine trees and enjoy a moment of pure bliss.

Along the way, stop off at the observation tower on the esker. This 26-metre-high red granite structure boasts a fantastic panoramic view from the top. Don’t leave without tasting the  » munkki  » doughnuts in its unmissable cafeteria. Said to be the best in the country.

Take a scenic drive along the road to Pulkkilanharju

Route de la crête de Pulkkilanharju entre lacs du Parc national de Päijänne, Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: Päijät-Häme, Päijänne National Park
  • 🤩 Experience: a drive along a grandiose itinerary

Put on your best playlist and take to the superb Pulkkilanharju road. Part of the way through the Päijänne National Park, this route takes you on an 8-kilometer journey of sheer ecstasy. Cross islands linked by bridges and watch a succession of fantastic panoramas unfold before your eyes. Crystal-clear waters as far as the eye can see, lush green forests, boats bobbing on the Vääksy canal.

Explore Scandinavia’s largest market in Tampere

interior of the Tampere Market Hall, the biggest market hall in the Nordics

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  • 📍 Location: Tampere
  • 🤩 Experience regional specialities and local produce at Scandinavia’s largest market

The Great Lakes are all about sport, culture, relaxation and gastronomy. It’s impossible to pass through without taking a gourmet break. And Tampere has exactly what you need. At the heart of its main thoroughfare, Hämeenkatu, the city jealously guards Scandinavia’s largest market.

Nestled in a superb Art Nouveau building, the Tampere market is sure to make your eyes and mouth water. Don’t be afraid to come hungry. You’ll quickly find what you’re looking for among a myriad of stalls. Fresh produce, local specialities, pastries and much more! Can you smell that coffee and hot buns?

Enjoy the sun 24 hours a day in summer

midnight sun with water reflection at lake inari in finland

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  • 📍 Location: entire Great Lakes region
  • 🤩 Experience the sweetness of endless days

How would you like to spend a summer where the days seem endless? That’s exactly what you’ll experience on your vacation in Finland. After the rigors of winter, the country lights up with a perpetual glow, inviting you to escape and have fun. Every region comes alive, and the Great Lakes are no exception.

No time to sleep! Take advantage of this incredible phenomenon to enjoy a wide range of activities and experiences. Organize early-morning hikes, go canoeing, feast until the early hours of the morning and enjoy an evening swim under the ochre glow of the legendary midnight sun.

Birdwatching in Parikkala’s Siikalahti nature reserve

Deux cygnes qui nagent dans le lac en Finlande

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  • 📍 Location: Parikkala, Siikalahti nature reserve
  • 🤩 Experience: birdwatching

Wild, wet nature, a tranquility disturbed only by the serenade of birds: the Siikalahti nature reserve is a remarkable haven of peace. Invaluable for the migration and reproduction of many of Finland’s bird species, this site is a must-see in the Great Lakes region.

Bring your binoculars, and fromApril to November, you’ll have the chance to take upbirdwatching. Starry bittern, whooper swan, bush warbler and pygmy gull. Keep your eyes peeled!

Cycling through the pine barrens of Hossa National Park

cycliste en VTT sur un sentier dans la forêt active sport

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  • 📍 Location: Kainuu, Hossa National Park
  • 🤩 Experience: cycling through unspoilt nature and treasures

A true natural gem, Hossa National Park – covering some 110 km2 – is a must-see in the Great Lakes region. Located in Kainuu, this site plunges you into an incredibly unspoilt setting.

Dotted with clear lakes and ponds, dotted with canyons and adorned with pine barrens, Hossa will leave you speechless. Discover its many treasures on a mountain bike tour. Choose the route that appeals most to you and hurtle along the marked trails. Along the way, stop to pick berries or contemplate the ancient rock paintings of Värikallio.

How do I get to the Great Lakes region?

Once you’ve arrived at Helsinki airport, you have several options. You can :

  • Rent a car at the airport, or in the city of Helsinki to get to the region in 2 hours.
  • Fly to various Lake District airports such as Kuopio or Savonlinna

Getting around the Great Lakes region

Vue aérienne de la voie ferrée

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By car

A car is a convenient way to visit the Great Lakes region. You can rent a car in Finland’s major cities or at the nearest airport.

By train

Finland’s well-developed rail network makes it easy to get around the region. You can check timetables and book tickets on the website of the Finnish rail company, VR-Yhtymä Oy.

By bus

There are regular bus routes connecting the various towns and villages in the region. You can check timetables and buy tickets on the websites of Finnish bus companies such as Matkahuolto or Onnibus.

By boat

Known for its many lakes, you might also consider taking a boat to move from lake to lake. There are ferry and cruise services to explore the lakes and enjoy the picturesque scenery from the water.

Where to stay in the Great Lakes region?

A wide range of accommodation options are available in the region, to suit all budgets. Whether you want to book a hotel or dream of a cottage in the woods, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Don’t hesitate to use a hotel comparator or unearth a more authentic nugget on Airbnb.

Hotels and accommodation map – Finland