The Nordics rarely popped up our radar whenever it came time for us to choose our next location. For most of the year, it’s cold up there (which does make it an ideal winter wonderland destination, but we are generally averse to temperatures below 70F) and notoriously expensive. We’d originally thought of the Nordics as a stunning area where you’d fly in, take a short, but expensive tour around, then fly out again no more than 2 weeks later (can’t spend all the pennies at the same time!)
Little did we know how incredibly affordable and wonderful the Nordics could be for an entire summer, through camping. As we like to say, it was an absolute God idea. We also ended up renting two small apartments during our time in the Arctic Circle for surprisingly little. Since the northern part of Finland (or specifically Lapland, where we were) is mostly busy in winter, you can find low prices for accommodation in summer and take a break from camping.
The BEST Things About Experiencing Finland Through Camping
Even if camping wasn’t so enticing for being budget-friendly, we would still love, and generally prefer, this mode of traveling in first-world countries. Not only is it healthy to spend more time outdoors, our favorite thing about camping is the kind of people that you meet doing it. Somehow, camping tends to attract (for the most part) down-to-earth people. We felt like we really got to meet the real deal kinds of Finns this way. You’ll also be able to really experience the midnight sun that never fully sets in summer!
Of course, like a true procrastinator, I’m only writing this article many months after our time in Finland. From what I can remember, I believe we paid something like 135-145 euros total for one week of camping at Rastila in Helsinki, and 20-22 euros per day in Rauma. So divided by three, it worked out to be much more affordable than any other accommodation options we’d found (besides of course couchsurfing and workaway gigs.)
Website for Finding Campgrounds
There are tons of campgrounds, categorized from one to five stars, all around Finland, and all throughout the Nordics (and Baltics!) in general. To find where they are, check the ratings, price, and facilities, you can use the website camping.fi for Finland and camping.se for Sweden.
You can get the same info that’s on these websites in booklet form from most of the campgrounds when you arrive in person. We also think it’s great to ask locals for their favorite campground recommendations, as camping is a common and favorite activity for Finns as well.
In addition to campgrounds, it is also perfectly legal to “free camp:” pitch a tent in the forest or on unfarmed, cleared land for a night or two, so long as you don’t leave a trace of your stay. This “Freedom to Roam” or otherwise known as “Everyman’s Right” of allowing anyone to walk across or camp temporarily (1-3 nights) on private or public land applied to all of the Baltics and Nordics.
There are some responsibilities, rules, and restrictions for this though, so make sure to read up on it a bit beforehand. For bathrooms and safety, etc, we preferred to find campgrounds most of the time.
Wifi/ Working Online while Camping
This is a big one for digital nomads. It might seem like camping and the online life aren’t compatible, but it worked out surprisingly well. Most campgrounds had wifi you could use, or you could find a library to rent a private office room to work from for about 5 euros per day.
While we were camping our way through the Baltics and the Nordics, I was both working online, finishing a semester of university online, and interviewing for, then beginning another online job. I needed strong, fast, readily available wifi in a quiet spot — and was always able to find that (with one exception in Sweden!)
Don’t Have a Tent or Camping Gear?
If you’re heading to the Nordics from the EU, and you don’t want to spend a fortune on camping gear, Decathlon may be your best bet. You can pick up a decent, pretty lightweight tent for something around 40 euros. Their travel air mattresses (something like 30 euros) and sleeping bags are also quite inexpensive and backpacker friendly, size-wise. This is a French-owned retailer with outlets all over Europe.
Otherwise, you can even wait until you arrive in the Nordics to do your shopping. There are outdoors stores everywhere. (XXL is a popular one.) The prices may be higher, but you’ll also be looking at quality brands– and can often find great sales. This could be your best bet if you’re looking to find gear that will last you a long time.
Transportation: Getting to Campgrounds Without a Car
Alright, this section isn’t for you fancy campervan-ers. Ya’ll just roll along to the next section. 😉 (We’re just jealous.) To get through the Nordics, we used boats, buses, trains, metros, and hitchhiking. Since we never rented a car, all of the campgrounds we stayed at were in walking distance from bus stations and in walking distance to supermarkets. Just an FYI for anyone else looking to do the same.
Helsinki: Rastila Camping (BEST spot!) Five Stars
Our first stop in Finland and our first camping experience in the country was at Rastila, a government-owned and run campground boasting five star facilities within a backpacker’s budget. Here’s the website for this campground. This campground had facilities for kids and the handicapped.
Why Go Here: It’s conveniently connected by metro, a pleasant place, and an affordable option in Finland’s capital.
Getting There: If you take the ferry from Tallin, Estonia, you can walk to the main train station and get the metro line that connects you to the metro stop named, “Rastila,” which is conveniently the same name as the campground. 🙂 A one-way ride ticket on the metro will put you back something like 4 euros.
Kitchen: There are both indoor and outdoor kitchens. You are expected to have your own cooking supplies, cups, plates, etc. But the staff allowed us to borrow the kitchen sets that are usually supplied for the cabins.
Cabins: Cabins are available for rent, but we heard they can get reserved even a year in advance, and are preeetty expensive.
Sauna: There is private sauna on the property, right next to the Vantaa River. On certain days, at certain times (Wednesday and Saturdays when were there), the sauna becomes free to use for anyone staying at the campground. Usually it’s something like $80/hour. So take advantage of that! There are often groups of local grandmas or grandpas who chat in the saunas for say 15 mins, with the sauna at least at 100C with lots of steam, then walk out and jump in the river, go back in the sauna and repeat– they can do this sometimes for up to four hours I was told, although two hours is more the norm.
Wifi: Near the entrance of the campground, you’ll find a small building labelled the TV room or kids room. This room, as you could guess, has a TV, kids books and toys, some chairs, outlets, and a bathroom. The wifi is strongest in this room. However, the wifi reaches across much of the campground as well.
Supermarket: There’s a Lidl within walking distance (I think about 1.5 miles?). It’s a nice walk to get there too, through some pleasant neighborhoods.
Rauma: Poroholma Five Stars
Why Go Here: Rauma is known for its historic, traditional wooden houses. Old Rauma is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also popular to take a waterbus or ferry to cruise through Rauma’s many islands.
Getting There: From Helsinki, we took a bus (omnibus…. we’re not a fan of them xD) to Rauma. From the bus “station” (not really a station, but a stop near McDonalds in the center of town), it’s over a 2 mile walk I believe to the campground. This one was a bit far. My mom had chosen this campsite due to its five star rating and for having handicapped bathrooms for Grace (usually you need special access to them– meaning they’re likely cleaner than the other bathrooms. But not always the case in actuality.)
Kitchen: Has two small, public kitchens with a stove, oven, and microwave. However here we didn’t have the option to rent any kitchen utensils, so we had to do without.
Sauna: There’s a free sauna on the property. There are specified times for only women, only men, and mixed. The sauna is right beside the lake— so same as before, you can jump into a freezing body of natural water between sweating sessions. xD It’s the Finnish way!
Wifi: We were originally told that there was no wifi on the property. But I was told to go down to the restaurant on the property– they had wifi over there. I tried teaching classes there, but it was all outdoors and too windy for my microphone. Eventually I was allowed to use the wifi in a small cafe area with windows all-around. This was fine for using wifi to study, but busy and loud, as it was often full of people. For work and presentations, I ended up going into town and booking out a private room in the library each day (five euros per day.) It was so nice!
Supermarket: There is a small grocery store maybe a mile or less from the campground. Another mile or mile and a half further, you can reach a Lidl.
Notes: The pitch area for tents is quite small, so in high season it would likely get very loud and crowded. It is also located right next to the car parking lot, so not the best spot ever, but also not terrible. There’s lots of great hiking to do around this town; my mom and Grace even saw a reindeer during one of theirs! Unfortunately we missed out on taking a boat out to see the islands, but seems like an amazing thing to do. This campground was definitely a bit more “hippy” and more run down than what we came from in Rastila. However, they have a nice play area for kids, and they seem to host a good amount of community events, including functions for the handicapped and elderly, which is really sweet. 🙂
Why Go There: It’s a town just a few miles from the Arctic Circle and Santa’s Village! Rovaniemi is an extremely “hot” destination in winter (see what I did there? (; ) This is a major tourist hub — the starting point from which you can take all sorts of winter adventure tours, see reindeer, and go skiing. Although the north of Finland is sparsely populated, there’s an established infrastructure in Rovaniemi to support a good amount of tourists.
We didn’t camp in Rovaniemi because 1.) It got pretty darn chilly up there in the evenings, and sometimes rainy. 2.) The campground was rated lowly and relatively expensive. In fact, it was just as expensive as renting a nice, studio apartment.. 3.) And the most important reason: before we went, Finns kept warning us that Rovaniemi is swarming with bugs at that time of year and to make sure to have on lots of bug spray or be all covered up when out. They were right!
We rented the first apartment (from booking.com, I guess) from what seemed to be immigrants to Finland from Hong Kong. We stayed there a few days before booking another small, but very affordable apartment for a week, or two or something? I was very thankful for this because it was time for my final exams, which sometimes took place in the middle of the night, due to our time difference with my university in Taiwan. I had really wanted to avoid needing to wake up in the freezing cold, zip out of the tent and go traipsing outside, tiptoeing past other sleeping campers to find a building where I could take an exam. It was a huge blessing to all of us to take a little break from being outside, as great as camping had been so far. So this could be a great option.
Beware the Midsummer Holiday (:
Our next stop after Rovaniemi was Kemi, as we were trying to make our way to Sweden next. We took a train there, and saw that transportation between Kemi and Tornio (the border town only 45 or so mins away) was not so frequent or convenient. We arrived in Kemi on the Midsummer holiday– Finland’s probably second most notable holiday, after Christmas. This is the longest day of the year, and a day where Finns go out to nature or their cabins and relax. Cities and towns become like ghost towns during this holiday. Kemi was exactly like a ghost town as well.
Thankfully we met a kind Finnish girl who was traveling around her own country and camping out in whatever random pretty spots she found. Since there really weren’t any good camping options in Kemi, and everything was closed and depressing, she offered to drive us over to Sweden, where there were some good campgrounds. And that’s how our camping adventure in Sweden got started!
P.S.: We were recommended to go camping in Kuopio, by a Finn we met in Helsinki, as that’s both a stunning and popular destination for locals. It was slightly more remote to get around without a car, so we didn’t end up going, but it could be a great option. The route below would be super neat too!
If there’s anything you’re still wondering about for camping through Finland which I haven’t included here, feel free to leave a question or comment below! Happy adventuring!