We made a road trip from Helsinki to Tromso via Finnish Lapland. Together, we drove thousands of kilometres but the experience was still rewarding. In this article, we share practical road trip tips and introduce sightseeing of Kilpisjärvi and Tromso. Read the full story.
Covered in the Article
- Summer Trip to Lapland
- First Driving Day
- Second Driving Day
- Full Day at Kilpisjärvi
- Back from Tromso to Helsinki
- Tips for a Road Trip
- How to Hire a Car in Finland
- Bottom Line
Summer Trip to Lapland
The year 2020 was exceptional for all avid travellers including us. Speaking of our summer vacation, we hadn't many options where to travel. The pandemic situation in Europe was getting better after the spring but the infection rate in many countries was still too high preventing almost everyone from travelling to sunny European beach destinations. Flying to South Europe wasn't a real option.
We got the idea to travel domestically to Finland and visit Lapland. Also, our Nordic neighbour Norway is easily accessible from northern Finland so we finally decided to combine a visit to Finnish Lapland and Norway. Driving in our car was a very practical solution to implement this plan.
From Helsinki to Tromso
Finland's map is stretched to 1,160 km from South to North. Therefore, driving from Helsinki to Finnish Lapland takes more than 1000 kilometres and from the Finnish border, an additional few hundred kilometres before reaching the city of Tromso in Norway. Luckily in the summer, there was plenty of daylight which made driving a lot easier.
Google Maps helped us in planning the driving route. We needed also places to rest on the way so we compared accommodation prices on a few hotel booking sites. For example, Booking.com has good a selection and affordable rates. Our goal was to drive as straight as possible but based on the hotel prices, we made minor route adjustments to save some money. Our final driving route was Helsinki - Jyväskylä - Kemi - Kilpisjärvi - Tromso. On the outbound journey, we kept an overnight stop in Kemi, which was practically halfway to Kilpisjärvi.
First Driving Day
It was necessary to stop now and then. Driving a long distance isn't safe without enough rest. Having two shifting drivers made it also safe to travel on the road.
Refuelling Stops: First One near Lahti
Our first refueling stop was just after Lahti, only about 150 kilometres from Helsinki. Teboil sold affordable fuel and with their membership card, we got also an extra discount.
During the whole trip, we consumed about 200 litres of fuel. The fuel price in Finland varies from one petrol station to another so it is possible to save from 5 to 10 per cent by refuelling only less expensive fuel. That is why we continuously monitored fuel prices and stopped along the way to refuel at a gas station with the cheapest price.
Lunch at Jyväskylä
After 4 hours of driving, we had our first lunch break in Jyväskylä, the city of world-famous architect Alvar Aalto. Jyväskylä is a medium-sized city so we had many choices of where to eat. We ended up eating street food in Restaurant Taikuri. The food was tasty but served portions were quite small. Since we were a little late from our driving schedule, we continued driving immediately after lunch.
Coffee at ABC Pulkkila
Our next stop was at ABC Pulkkila to buy snacks and ice cream. ABC is a gas station chain in Finland that usually has a supermarket and restaurant. We do not recommend refuelling at ABC because the fuel is always pricey. Otherwise, the ABC chain is a nice option to have a lunch or coffee break.
Overnight in Kemi
We arrived at our first overnight stop in Kemi late at 10 PM. The weather was rainy and foggy slowing down our arrival to Kemi. Also, at times, reindeer were walking from one side of the forest across the road which prompted drivers including us to slow down or stop times. Kemi is a small coastal town in the middle of Finland. Finding our hotel was easy with the help of a navigator.
Hotel Toivola was a great choice to stay. The room on the hostel side cost only 49 euros but it was cosy. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful and the hotel had a free parking area. The hotel had also a restaurant but unfortunately, it was just closing when we arrived. We can recommend Hotel Toivola to anyone who needs a clean, cosy and affordable hotel or hostel to relax. In addition, they have a sauna free of charge.
Check the current prices of Hotel / Hostel Toivola.
Second Driving Day
Lunch at Muonio
On the next morning of our road trip, we continued driving to the North. On route E8 close to the Finland - Sweden border, we were able to see Sweden almost all the time. Normally, it would be allowed to cross the border to Sweden anywhere but during our holiday, Finland had border restrictions lifted because of the pandemic.
We stopped to eat our first reindeer burgers in Muonio at Restaurant Hyvä Pata. The food was delightful, and the restaurant itself was like it from the 80s making it somehow exotic.
Arrival at Kilpisjärvi
We arrived at our next overnight place, Kilpisjärvi, at half-past 7 in the evening. We had booked a really small cabin called Unna from Tundrea Holiday Resort. Accommodation prices in Kilpisjärvi are always high due to the high demand for travellers to Norway and those visiting Finland. Our mini cabin was one of the most affordable choices. Otherwise, we would have paid more than 200 euros per night which would have been too much. Our mini wooden cabin which was located under tall trees had two single beds and electricity. Linens were not included. Just outside our cabin, there was a camping site and below the reception building, there was a separate structure in-housing with a common kitchen with free-to-use toilets and shower facilities. The bathing area had also sauna rooms for two genders. Showering costs 2 euros per 4 minutes.
Full Day at Kilpisjärvi
Kipisjärvi is a small village but there are many things to see. With a car, it is easy to move from one place to another in a few minutes.
Our first priority was to conquer Saana Fell, one of the tallest fells in Finland. The only way to visit the summit is to walk up. It took us about 2 hours to climb up and 1 hour more to come down. The path up is steep so good hiking shoes are highly recommended. Remember to carry drinks and snacks with you. There was also a cold breeze so dressing warmly was necessary.
We visited also Lake Kilpisjärvi, Tshahkal Waterfall and Kilpis Center. If we would have had a little more time, we would have visited three-country Cairn. A short boat ride would have taken us to a point where it is possible to step into Finland, Sweden and Norway at the same time.
After the full day in Kilpisjärvi, we crossed the border from Finland to Norway. There was not any kind of border inspection even though we exited the European Union. It took about 2 and a half hours more to reach Tromso. Roads on the Norway side were in good condition but they were curvy. Careful driving is needed.
Finally, we arrived in Tromso in the evening. We had booked a room at Comfort Hotel Xpress Tromso in the city centre. The hotel is a self-service hotel having only basic services but it is well-located. If the price matches, this hotel is a good choice.
Parking in Tromso is expensive. Hotels do not have parking areas. It is free to park on the street during the night time but finding a free slot takes a lot of time. During the daytime, only 1 to 2 hours of parking is allowed and you have to pay a high hourly rate.
The easiest way to park is to drive to a parking tunnel. There are two of them in Tromso: Fjellet and Seminaret. Overnight parking in a tunnel costs about 10 to 20 euros but the day rate is much higher. It's better to leave early morning to save some parking budget.
Easypark is a handy app for paying for parking in Tromso. You need to pay to a machine in the tunnels before driving out.
Eating in Norway drains your budget fast. Expect to pay from 15 to 20 euros for a good meal at Burger King. In a normal restaurant, meal costs double. In the summertime, having a picnic outside is a recommended choice to save money.
Things to See in Tromso
Tromso is a small city but there is still much to see. We visited the following places which can be recommended to every Tromso visitor.
Arctic Cathedral is a parish church in Tromso. The church is small but it has beautiful architecture. There you can unwind and take a few selfies with the beautiful background.
From Arctic Cathedral, it is only a few steps to Tromso Cable Car, which takes you to Fjellheisen. This mountain is half a kilometre high and a popular hiking spot. Paths are easy to walk and safe for adults. But if you are travelling with small children, they must be supervised well. There are many places where you can fall. The mountain has also a panorama cafe.
On summer days, visiting Tromso Southern Beach is absolutely a must. It is a lively beach and usually crowded with young people. The days in the summer are long and people stay on the beach until midnight. If you are brave enough, dipping into the refreshing cold Arctic Sea water is great. Be aware of greedy seagulls that can steal your ice cream.
Flower lovers can head to Arctic-Alpine Botanical Garden. It is not the largest botanical garden you have seen but it still deserves your visit.
Norway is not a paradise for shopping if you are meticulous about your budget. Souvenirs can be bought from the city centre but for more shopping, you need to head to a shopping mall. We visited Jekta Storsenter. It had free parking, many shops and restaurants.
Things to See near Tromso
We recommend roaming around Tromso, too. With a car, Sommaroy is only 1 hour's drive away from Tromso. The route is super-scenic and easy to drive. Beautiful fjords will make the driving experience a more enjoyable one. Visiting Sommaroy is best on a sunny day.
You will find many white sandy beaches with crystal clear water of the Arctic Sea. A white beach is a perfect place to dip after exposure to the tormenting sun. Even though the water is extremely cold, you can tolerate it in the sunshine.
We had a lunch at Anne-Grete Jensen Restaurant, which is an idyllic countryside cafe. Do not skip it!
Back from Tromso to Helsinki
After we had spent almost four days in Tromso, it was time to drive back to the Finnish border. Before reaching Kilpisjärvi, the first town in Finland, we stopped quickly to see Rovijok Waterfall.
Overnight Stop at Ranua
Along our driving route back from Kilpisjärvi to Helsinki, we had an overnight stop at a new location. We headed to Ranua, which is famous for its zoo and polar bears. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the zoo but we just slept in the hostel part of Lapland Northern Lights Hotel Ilveslinna.
The second driving day back home was a long ride. We drove the whole day from Ranua via Oulu to Helsinki. Because the distance was long, we had only short eating and coffee breaks.
Tips for a Road Trip
We have collected some driving tips for people planning to drive from South Finland to Lapland and maybe to Norway.
Roads in Finland and Norway
In Southern Finland, the roads are wide and in good condition. Driving is easy. The northern you go, the more narrow the roads get. The surface is not perfect but overall, the roads are well maintained. The speed limit on highways in Finland varies between 80 and 100 km/h. Southern highways have a limit of 120 km/h.
On the Norway side, the roads are well maintained. There are more up and downhills but they are not steep. The speed limit around Tromso varies from 70 to 90 km/h. The roads are quite narrow and curvy.
Finnish and Norwegian roads are normally not congested. We drove along the roads E75 and E7 which were the fastest routes. It was possible to drive for a long time without seeing any other car. Drivers in Finland follow traffic rules well because fines are extremely high.
Overtaking slower cars must be done carefully. Never try overtaking when it's forbidden by a traffic sign or by a solid white or yellow line. Enough space must be reserved for overtaking and overspeeding is a NO. In Southern Finland, major roads have overtaking lanes appearing every 10 kilometres.
There are many speed cameras spread along the way when driving between Finland and Norway. Many of these speed cameras can follow your car's speed long time so it is not enough to slow down just before the camera. Respect the speed limits to avoid super expensive speeding fines.
In Southern Finland, big moose make a realistic risk. We didn't see any moose during our trip. It is unlikely that you will encounter them as well. However, in Lapland, it is common to see a herd of reindeer walking on the road now and then. They are moving quite slowly and in many cases, they are easy to spot early. It is still necessary to be extra careful because you will meet a reindeer at least once per hour. They love to wander around, especially late in the evening.
We meet also a pheasant and a Capricorn. The animals just jump onto the road and it was the driver's responsibility to avoid them.
If you happen to hit an animal, calling the police is recommended. The general emergency number is 112. We recommend installing the Finnish 112 app that delivers automatically coordinates to the police during an emergency call.
It is never wise to travel without travel insurance because healthcare expenses may grow big easily. Finland has a good private healthcare sector but prices are high. European Union citizens may also visit cheaper public doctors but the quality does not meet the private healthcare quality.
How to Hire a Car in Finland
If you are planning for a road trip between Finland and Norway or Sweden, make sure that your car is absolutely in good condition. Otherwise, you may hire a car from any car hire company in Helsinki. We advise you to compare prices and insurance terms carefully before signing any agreement.
Read our helpful tips How to Rent a Car.
Having a road trip to Finland and Norway is a great experience. Considering the different road structures of the roads, the presence of animals lingering around and other people's driving habits, one must always be alert and extremely careful while driving. If possible, a second driver is recommended. It is wise to prepare well and make a good itinerary before your road trip. Booking accommodation early is needed to get the best rates, and to make the trip less stressful.
If you rent a car, you need to understand the insurance terms well. The cheapest car may not be always the best choice. Personal travel insurance is always necessary, especially when travelling outside your home country.
Our first road trip from Helsinki to Tromso was successful. Implementing a similar trip in the wintertime would be more challenging. That is why we recommend doing the first road trip when the weather is good.
Have you been driving in Finland or Norway? Comment below!
About the Author
Ceasar, an immigrant in Finland, co-founded Finnoy Travel out of his passion for exploring new horizons. His content primarily centres around immigration, travel, and life in Finland. An avid road tripper, Ceasar also shares insider tips on car driving abroad.
When not embarking on adventures, he meticulously proofreads every article before it gets published on the Finnoy Travel site. His responsibilities also extend to managing the social media channels of Finnoy Travel.