Freedom to Roam in Finnish Lakeland, Swedish Lapland, and the Norwegian Fjords

Go off the beaten track in Finland, Sweden, and Norway to discover the best of northern Europe’s wild nature in this adventurous, wide-ranging itinerary.

Lake Saimaa

Lake Saimaa

Courtesy of GoSaimaa

Travel across the landscapes of Finnish Lakeland, Swedish Lapland, and the Norwegian fjords, immerse yourself in the local lifestyle and Sami culture, and experience the power of Nordic nature. You’ll visit the Nordic cities of Helsinki, Bergen, Stavanger, and Kiruna and explore the landscape through engaging activities. It’s a trip filled with the joy of friluftsliv, the Nordic concept of life in the open air, and under-the-radar destinations in Northern Europe. And you can always turn to 50 Degrees North for tours and Nordic expertise.

Iris Expedition Dining _ Salmon Eye.jpeg

Trip Highlight

Restaurant Iris

Enjoying a meal in a floating silver orb in the middle of the waters of the Hardangerfjord is an unparalleled way to dine. From the journey to the restaurant itself by electric boat to dishes featuring locally caught seafood, every part of this experience screams “once in a lifetime” and seemingly couldn’t take place anywhere else on the planet.

Trip Designer

The Nordics

The Nordics—a cooperative of the countries of Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, and co-funded by the European Union—invite you to enjoy their distinctive Nordic perspective and values, and a culture that stems from a rich shared history.
Helsinki Cathedral<br/>

Helsinki Cathedral

Courtesy of Tern Bicycles/Visit Helsinki

Day 1Exploring Helsinki

Arrive at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport and transfer to Hotel St George, a design-led hotel in Helsinki city center. Explore Helsinki’s attractions, such as the UNESCO World Heritage site, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress; the stunning Helsinki Cathedral, a neoclassical white marble building; and the bustling Market Square. Kiasma is the city’s edgy museum of modern art and the Design Museum shares the city’s design history, including icons like Marimekko and Artek.

Dine at recommended restaurants like Restaurant Grön, an 18-seat restaurant with a focus on local and seasonal food, or Restaurant Nolla, where you can feast on sustainable dishes, including pike, duck, and the catch of the day with beer from their own microbrewery.

Finish your day off with Löyly, a modern sauna complex on the harbor (booking is recommended), offering icy dips right outside in winter and a popular meeting place at its bar in summer.

Kuru Resort

Courtesy of Julia Kivelä/Kuru Resort

Day 2Helsinki to the Lake Saimaa Region

Drive a scenic four hours to the picturesque lakeside town of Savonlinna in the Lake Saimaa region. Part of what’s Europe’s largest lake district with 188,000 lakes, it’s surrounded by natural forests with pretty towns and cabins dotted around its edges.

Visit Savonlinna Market Square and sample local delicacies such as fried vendace (white fish) or lörtsy (meat pie)—in 2024, the area will be designated a European Region of Gastronomy. It’s a pleasant walk to the world’s northernmost medieval castle, Olavinlinna Castle, where you can take a guided tour to learn about its history. If you visit in the summer, you may be lucky enough to catch the annual Opera Festival held in the castle too.

In the afternoon, check in to the beautiful Kuru Private Resort in Rantasalmi, the site of Visit Finland’s masterclass in happiness and known for its tranquility, design-led surroundings, and views of nature at every turn, along with villas featuring a private spa and sauna. Enjoy resort activities ranging from snowshoe safaris and ice swimming in winter to kayaking and Champagne cruises in summer. The hotel’s restaurant, Solitary, serves up gastronomic delights that bring together the best of Finland’s flavors.

Day 3Adventures in Linnansaari National Park

After breakfast, check out Linnansaari National Park’s pristine nature and incredible views over Lake Saimaa. Join a boat safari from Järvisydän pier or rent equipment in Oravi village for canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding. Depending on the season, consider a Saimaa ringed seal-watching safari to observe one of the world’s most endangered seal species in their natural habitat and learn about their conservation.

Next, head to Punkaharju and hike the gorgeous Esker Ridge. Visit the forest museum Lusto, offering exhibitions on how we interact with the forest. Then head to Järvisydän Nature Hotel & Spa Resort for what’s known as a nature-conscious spa experience in its lake spa. Take advantage of the saunas, hot tubs, and swimming in Lake Saimaa.

Stay overnight in the hotel’s bird’s nest room with lake views. Dinner is at the resort’s intimate Savonian Kota restaurant—around a fire in a teepee in the forest.
A Finnish sauna experience immersed in nature

A Finnish sauna experience immersed in nature

Photo by Harri Tarvainen/Visit Finland

Day 4Rantasalmi to Joroinen

Start your day with a refreshing nature walk in the beautiful surroundings of the resort, exploring the nearby forests, trails, or lakeside paths and listening to birdsong, before driving just under an hour around the lake area to the Teahouse of Wehmais. Stop to enjoy a delightful lunch of homemade dishes such as a tasting plate of local cuisine paired with their teas.

After lunch, visit their farm and tea boutique and drive 20 minutes to your next hotel, Pihlas Resort. Take some time to unwind and enjoy the tranquil surroundings of the resort, which offers suites with views of the Pihlas Park and activities including a secret forest trail and an outdoor Jacuzzi. Relax by the lake, take a refreshing swim followed by a Finnish sauna, or simply unwind in the peaceful atmosphere. Other options available include kayaking, fishing, cycling, and a day spa. Have dinner at the onsite restaurant Siimes, which serves the best of the region’s cuisine.
Steamboats in Mikkeli

Steamboats in Mikkeli

Courtesy of Visit Mikkeli

Day 5Joroinen to Helsinki to Kiruna

After breakfast, start your journey back to Helsinki, approximately three hours away. Make a stop at Kenkävero, a historic and cultural estate by a lake near Mikkeli. Explore the gardens, browse craftsmen’s workshops, and learn about eco-friendly gardening practices—and pick up fresh buns and pastries from the bakery.

Continue your drive back to Helsinki-Vantaa airport to board a flight to Kiruna with a flight time of approximately 3-4 hours. A 20-minute drive from Kiruna Airport will bring you to the Ice Hotel, where you will dine and spend the night.
An Ice Hotel suite

An Ice Hotel suite

Courtesy of Hans-Olof Utsi/

Day 6The Wilderness of Arctic Sweden

After breakfast in the Ice Hotel, explore the wild nature of Arctic Sweden. Options include rafting on the Torne River, private fishing tours, sled dog training, and even ice sculpting classes.

In the afternoon, drive across the sparsely populated wilderness to Gällivare, a small arctic town with a castle, a steep mountain to hike up (or visit via chairlift), and a number of welcoming restaurants for lunch. Stock up on some food for later.

A short drive from the town, you can check in at Aurora Lake Lapland, another one-of-a-kind accommodation experience. The floating cabin connects you to nature, with wide picture windows ideal for seeing the northern lights, and water accessed through a hole in the ice. Spend your afternoon exploring nature nearby, taking a snowmobile safari, or enjoying the arctic sauna. Dinner is at the cabin, which is self-catering.
Sarek National Park

Sarek National Park

Photo by Anders Ekholm/Folio/

Day 7Sami Cultural Experiences and a Distinctive Spa

After breakfast, drive 1.5 hours to Jokkmokk, a center for Sami people in the region.Try reindeer and berries in a local cafe for lunch, and browse handicraft shops selling Sami products and design afterward.

Jokkmokk is also a good stop if you like to hike, with paths and trails all around the town. It’s nearby the mountainous Sarek National Park, one of Sweden’s most dramatic and stunning areas, and Muddus National Park’s primeval forests with accessible hiking trails. Stora Sjöfallet, featuring mountains crisscrossed with hiking paths, is known as the portal to the four national parks of the region and has an informative visitor center with family and nature-themed activities. In Jukkasjärvi, just outside Kiruna, the award-winning Nutti Sámi Siida offers an introduction to Sámi culture with its museum, cultural center, and seasonal reindeer activities, including reindeer racing.

From Jokkmokk, drive Harads to spend the night at The Arctic Bath in Harads. This spa hotel is in the middle of an arctic river which freezes every winter and offers an Arctic Culinary Dinner Experience which you can enjoy before a sauna in the evening.

If you choose to extend your trip in Sweden’s Sámi lands, there are plenty of options to add on for a day or two of further Arctic adventure. From the Jokkmokk area, it’s a short drive to the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia and the island city of Luleå for a sailing adventure among the islands of the Bothnian archipelago. Hemmagastronomi is a stylish and relaxed bistro-style restaurant serving local delicacies. Luleå is quite the gourmand’s town and offers much to enjoy, from deer sausage and pike pâté to blueberries and blue mussels. From Luleå, drive to Gällivare for a stay at the Laponia Sky Hut. This unusual glamping spot puts nature on center stage with floating glass-walled huts that come with WiFi and a kitchenette.

Kiruna, another two-hour drive away from Luleå and one hour from Gällivare, gives true outdoor adventurers the chance to hike Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, around 60 miles from the city itself. It’s advisable to do this hike with a guide. Alternatively, take a detour to Abisko and visit the Aurora Sky Station, the best place on earth to see the Northern Lights. Eat at Abisko Mountain Lodge’s Brasserie Fjällkökket, where local dishes such as moose, arctic char, and cloudberries are the stars of the menu.
Bergen Bryggen

Bergen Bryggen

Photo by Giovanni Tagini/VisitNorway

Day 8Norway’s Mountains and Fjords

Fly via Stockholm to Bergen, Norway and check into the Bergen Børs Hotel, located in the former stock exchange building a short walk from the city’s historic harbor. Its gourmet Michelin-starred restaurant, Bare, is a good choice for dinner.

An option is to spend the day in Bergen and hike up one of the city’s seven mountains, Mount Fløyen for panoramic views of the city and the start of the fjord. Take the classic Fløibanen funicular down and explore the Bryggen area, a UNESCO World Heritage site of colorful warehouses, now a central cultural area.

For those who choose to skip Bergen, drive to Hardangervidda National Park, known for its incredible natural beauty and roaming wildlife. The 2.5-hour journey takes you along mountain scenery, fjord-side roads, and across the top of the Hardangerfjord, with the chance to fish crystal-clear streams or hike along the way—or even ski, depending on the time of year.

The Hardangerviddahallen is the best place to eat in the area, with a Norwegian buffet, mountain trout, and reindeer steak on offer. Stay overnight at Hotel Ullensvang, a hotel among apple orchards with fjord views. It’s a convenient base for more hiking and features a long indoor-outdoor swimming pool with a backdrop of the mountains.

In the evening, enjoy dinner at one of the local restaurants or at the spaceship-like Iris restaurant, floating in the middle of the Hardangerfjord, where dishes feature seafood and salmon.
Pulpit Rock with a view of Lysefjord

Pulpit Rock with a view of Lysefjord

Photo by Øyvind Heen

Day 9Hardangervidda National Park

Begin the day with a hike through the stunning Hardangervidda National Park. Pack lunch and snacks to have on the journey. (Norwegians love to include a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar and an orange or two in their knapsacks when they go on a hike.) Choose among the many routes, including Queen Sonja’s favorite trails, which run through orchards, forests, and the high mountains.

In the afternoon, drive the Ryfylke National Tourist Route, one of Norway’s most scenic drives, stopping at the Langfoss waterfall, one of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls. You can take a short hike to the base of the waterfall for a closer view. Continue the scenic drive to Preikestolen, known as the Pulpit Rock. If there’s time, hike to the summit for a stunning view of Lysefjord below.

Finish the day in Stavanger, where you can explore the charming streets and dine at one of the city’s many seafood restaurants. If you can get a table, fine dining seafood restaurant Re-Naa has two Michelin stars in recognition of its exceptional New Nordic tasting menu. Stay at the central Radisson Blu Atlantic Hotel, with views of fjords and mountains. (Pro tip: consider spreading today’s activities over two days for a more leisurely pace.)
The cozy streets of old Stavanger

The cozy streets of old Stavanger

Photo by Fredrik Ahlsen/VisitNorway

Day 10Stavanger, Lysefjord, and Flørli 4444

Today, take a scenic boat tour of the Lysefjord and gaze at the towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls. Fully electric fjord cruises run from the quayside in Stavanger, taking you to see caves, mountains, and Preikestolen. Stop at Flørli, one of the largest wooden staircases in the world, known for its 4,444 steps which lead to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the fjord.

In the early evening, explore the cobblestone streets of Stavanger, including the old town, a collection of pretty white cottages, and the buzzy hub Fargegatan, lined with restaurants and bars. If you’re looking for a special gourmet experience to round off your time in the Nordics, Sabi Omakase is a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant with space for just 10 diners. Book in advance to ensure the last meal of your trip is spectacular.
More From This Author
Journeys: Food + Drink