Everyone has heard the saying “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Well, Pohjola Route and Oulu’s got their own version—memorable experiences that stick with you long after you’ve left.
I started my journey with the Pohjola Route, a scenic trail that took me from Oulu to some beautiful places like Kalajoke and Hailuoto.
Where do I even begin? Let’s start with the jaw-dropping visuals. Whether I was driving through coastal landscapes, old villages, or rolling fields, each moment seemed to be vying for a spot on a postcard. Forests kissed the sky, and rivers provided gleaming mirrors to the scenery. And then there was the Northern Lights – the spectacle that no photo can truly capture.
Pohjola Route is this fantastic mix of everything ‘puristic’ ‘ and naturalistic that Finland offers. One minute you’re cruising along the coast, the next you’re deep in the forests. I even found myself at some geological wonders that just take your breath away.
The name Pohjola means “the North,” and it’s deeply rooted in Finnish history and myth. It’s like you’re travelling through a storybook, except the landscapes are real and right in front of you. It’s right next to the Gulf of Bothnia and not far from the Lapland border. This route gives you a bit of everything: coastlines, archipelagos, dense forests, rivers, lakes, and even fells.
You are on a scenic journey in the northern part of Finland, next to the Arctic Archipelago of the Gulf of Bothnia and border of Lapland. This isn’t just a pretty drive on the Pohjola Route Oulu; you’re following the flow of 15 Finnish rivers that are landmarks in the country’s history. As you go, you’ll see fields and farmlands lining these rivers, all rippling in the breeze.
Up here in the North, or Pohjola as it is called, the forests are lush and the landscape is a mix of ridges and dunes. You’ll find serene lakes and quiet swamps where the only thing breaking the silence might be the rustle of marsh tea plants. If you’re a nature enthusiast, you’ve got to check out Rokua Geopark—it’s a standout spot for anyone wanting to delve deeper into the untouched nature and deep forests.
This area is considered the birthplace of Finland, steeped in history and folklore, like the tales from the mythical Kalevala. It’s got this sense of timelessness like it’s been through a lot and has a lot to say. But modern Pohjola? It’s all about peace and the rugged beauty of nature. It’s the kind of place where you can find yourself, make choices, and chart your own course under the Northern skies. In simple terms, Pohjola is Finland at its most authentic.
During my trip, I found several incredible spots along the route. It spans almost 900 km, so there’s no shortage of things to see and do. Each place offers something unique, from outdoor activities to local culture and flavours.
Kalajoki: Beaches and More
I made a stop at Kalajoki, famous for its sandy beaches. Walking on the beach felt like a vacation in itself, especially with the golden sunset over the sea. You can surf, sunbathe, or simply take in the views. The dunes provided an ideal backdrop for some amazing photos.
We stayed at Santa’s Resort and Spa, Oulu, which is more than just a place to stay; it’s an experience just because it’s right on the beach in Kalajoki. You look out, and bam! There’s the Gulf of Bothnia! Many rooms have these wonderful glass-encased balconies, so you can watch the waves while you relax.
Now, let’s talk about dinner at Restaurant Bistro at the hotel. Imagine biting into a perfectly cooked dish and thinking, “Is this what Finland cuisine tastes like?” Yes, it’s that good! So, if you ever want a mix of a great wine list and food that makes you go “Mmmm,” this is your spot!
Cultural City of Oulu
But back to Oulu. Here, people like to do things their own way. They made modern cell phones and are now working on 6G technology. They even started the Air Guitar World Championship to spread the idea of world peace. And guess what? Oulu is set to become the European Capital of Culture in 2026. Life here is an adventure, mixing creativity and the beauty of nature.
You can make great memories in many ways. The experience of a Finnish sauna is refreshing, while others prefer something more exciting like a Husky ride or a Reindeer ride or a trek in the deep forests – all within the ambit of Oulu.
This city’s got spirit, and it’s not just the cold talking. Oulu is a change of pace, buzzing with life and cultural activities. And speaking of local icons, don’t leave Oulu without snapping a selfie with the Market Square Policeman statue. It’s a tribute to the authorities who used to patrol the bustling market, and it’s become a city symbol over the years.
The guide tells us that from 1934 to 1979, Oulu had its own Market Square policemen, and they became so appreciated that locals raised money to honour them with a bronze statue. This wasn’t just any statue; it was crafted by artist Kaarlo Mikkonen and stands at an impressive 2.2 meters. Decked out in a cap and a Sam Browne belt, this big policeman has turned into a symbol of Oulu over time. So, while you’re here, don’t miss the chance to take a selfie with the famous Policeman statue. It’s pretty much the ultimate “I was in Oulu” announcement!
We checked into the Lapland Hotel which is located right in the centre of Oulu, next to the Cathedral and historic Ainola Park, it brings the spirit of Lapland to the city.
The restaurant bistro serves up seasonal dishes that are straight from Lapland. We were treated to their 5-course Surprise Menu, which kept us guessing and made the flavours even more enjoyable. And yes, we couldn’t resist their wine selection, which was the perfect end to a satisfying meal.
Chocolate-Making at ChocoSomnia
But the adventure doesn’t stop there. I attended a chocolate-making workshop at a place called ChocoSomnia. Without a doubt, it was the sweetest experience! Riikka Ojanen walked us through the entire process. Who knew making chocolate could be such an art? We were taught by the chocolate queen herself – Riikka – the mastermind behind it all, and let’s just say my chocolate-making skills went from zero to hero real quick.
At the chocolate workshop, it is great teamwork that goes hand in hand with humour, teaching and plenty of laughter. Imagine a corporate team-building exercise, but replace the spreadsheets with chocolate! Everyone’s spirits in our group rose as they dived into the chocolate-making process, led by none other than the chocolate master herself. You get to temper chocolate, and craft pralines and basically become a chocolatier for a few hours. And it’s not just for fun; these workshops are genuine mood boosters.
This isn’t your average chocolate; it’s artisanal goodness crafted right in Oulu. Riikka shared her story during the chocolate-making process. She was originally from Sodankylä and trained as a dental hygienist, but found her calling in chocolate. Back in 2010, during her maternity leave, she earned a qualification in entrepreneurship. With no full-time job to return to, she seized the opportunity and founded her own chocolate empire here in Oulu. Wow, what an entrepreneurial journey!
In Oulu, there’s no shortage of fun and unique experiences. A dinner at the local Indian cuisine restaurant Garam Masala was a delicious treat. The person who owns Garam Masala restaurant is also the chef there. He’s all about mixing things up—serving tasty food, sharing food stories, and his own experiences in Finland. Whether you’re into vegetarian dishes or chicken, the flavours are just right—not too spicy but still authentic Indian.
The food is served with fluffy basmati rice, soft naan bread, and some crispy poppadums with dips on the side—totally refreshing! And don’t worry about leaving hungry; the servings are big! The restaurant isn’t huge, but it’s cosy and can fit medium groups!
The beautiful Island of Hailuoto
On the coastal side, we took a detour to Hailuoto. Imagine long beaches and traditional villages, all with a backdrop of the open sea. Inland, the route follows 15 rivers with fields and farms stretching as far as the eye can see.
Hailuoto, a ferry ride away from Oulu, is like an uncut gem. The island showcases the simplicity and beauty of Finnish rural life. I visited the Marjaniemi Lighthouse and felt a certain solitude looking out into the sea, contemplating the ships that had passed by over the years.
Talking about Marjaniemi Lighthouse, this has been the guiding star of the Gulf of Bothnia. This 1872 brick wonder stands tall at the island’s westernmost point. Designed by Axel Hampus Dalström, it’s his fourth lighthouse masterpiece. Brace yourself for a mini-workout, because there are 110 steps to the top—and no floors in between! The lighthouse was a three-man job until 1962 when they finally automated it. And guess what? The adjacent pilot station turned into a hotel.
This is the Luotsihotel Arctic Lighthouse offering accommodation and robust organic food menus. The hotel is right by the old lighthouse. Some rooms have comfy lounge areas and balconies with amazing sea views. There’s also a working pilot boat marina nearby. This place used to help boats navigate, and, certainly, the views of the sea are something else!
But there’s more. The lighthouse isn’t just for show. It’s got a smaller light that helps guide ships to the local fishing harbour. Quite the multitasker, isn’t it?
You wouldn’t believe it, but Hailuoto is like an island on the move. Thanks to something called post-glacial rebound, the land is actually rising. Just 1700 years ago, this region was underwater! Hailuoto as we know it is actually a strange island, stitched together from smaller chunks like Santonen and Hanhinen. The cool part? This island is still growing and might eventually merge with the mainland. Keep an eye out for Kirkkosalmi, a wetland between Hanhinen and Luoto that’s a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Beer-Tasting at Hailuodon Panimo Brewery
If you’re a beer enthusiast, a trip to Hailuoto Organic Brewery is a must. Finland’s first-ever organic brewery is right here in Hailuoto. Nestled in a revamped old warehouse, Hailuoto Organic Brewery crafts German-style beers using local, organic barley. The water they use? Pure groundwater, is ideal for those high-quality lagers. And they’re eco-friendly too, using Finnish renewable energy and even heating the place with the brewing process.
The owner, Jürgen Hendlmeier shares his passion with a genuine enthusiasm that is infectious. The brewery’s got some serious gear, with a 3000-litre setup from Wachsmann Brautechnik and fermentation capacity boosted to a whopping 24,000 litres. If you’re visiting between June and September, they’ve got brewery tours, tastings, and events galore. So on the brewery tour we took, we got around to seeing how organic beer is made, and of course, sampling some brews!
I got to taste four distinct beer types, each better than the last. First up, a smooth golden lager that was light on the tongue. Next was an ale, organic and unfiltered, just full of natural goodness. Then came a German-style wheat beer, a balanced blend of mild bitterness and malty sweetness. And last but not least, a dark, copper-hued brew steeped in tradition. Their beer assortment was a fascinating experience, as each flavour told a story of local ingredients and craftsmanship.
Iso Syote – the Iso Syote Hotel and a Truckers Weekend Carnival
One of the highlights of my trip was the Iso-Syote region. Dominating the skyline is the rebuilt Arctic Hilltop Boutique Hotel Iso-Syöte, which had burned down a few years ago and whose indomitable owner, Juha Kuukasjarvi rebuilt the entire property from scratch into this stunning hotel that brings the outside in.
The hotel is perched right at the top of a hill in a region that gets plenty of snow, right next to a national park. A real Finnish treasure!
The hotel offers beautifully designed themed rooms, suites, and rooms. And talk about living in style! Stay in one of their experience suites: the Bear Cave Suite, the Eagle View Suite, or the Phoenix Suite, and you’re in for some unique comfort and design. These suites are famous worldwide and are like love nests.
Then there are the Fell Top Cottages and Kelo Cottages. Imagine being surrounded by pure nature, hanging out by the fireplace. It’s just a whole different nature vibe!
A large indoor pool and spa offer some super relaxation. I mean, you can just feel all your senses chill. And their top-notch restaurant, the Restaurant Hilltop, is like food for the soul, literally! You can just take in the panoramic views both from inside and the wide circular terrace outside and enjoy the hand-picked mushrooms, berries, and other tasty treats from the fell area. Oh, and you must try the reindeer meat—it’s a local speciality.
Watching the valley below from the hilltop, we were lucky to catch a Trucker’s Carnival – full of lights and loud music of a full-on party that is dominated by hundreds of monstrous size trucks and the milling crowds around food stalls, tattoo shops, clothes stores, cowboy boots, beer pubs and open-air dancing to festive beats.
The massive gathering of motorcycles, trucks and trailers turned into a non-stop, roaring party! Horns and sirens blaring, creating a symphony of chaos mixed with the buzz of engines and snippets of songs blasting from every direction! This isn’t your everyday traffic jam; that’s for sure!
You can’t miss the high-tech trucks and trailers, shining and polished till they sparkle. And the art on them! Some are splashed with intricate airbrush paintings, each more impressive than the last, turning them into rolling masterpieces. As the day turns to night, the sky explodes in a spectacle of colourful fireworks, turning the night sky into a canvas of light.
But, the fun doesn’t stop there. Once the last rocket has fizzled out, it’s back to the party. Several trucking companies have even transformed their trailers into makeshift dance floors! So yes, it’s basically a truckload of fun with lots of noise, music, lights, and dance!
Wilderness and Huskies at Iso-Syote
The landscape at Iso-Syote is something out of a fairytale. The fells (mountains) stood tall, looking down upon a world of natural wonder. Here, I enjoyed an unforgettable husky farm visit and wilderness experience with Jonna Maatta. We sat in a traditional Kota teepee, sharing stories and drinking coffee.
The Husky Farm was like no other, with around 80-100 Siberian huskies geared up for the winter season. They were looking forward to pulling sledges through snow-covered forests, frozen lakes, and rivers near Syöte National Park. When we visited, it was warmer, so the dogs were just chilling in their kennels or curiously watching us.
We had a great chat with the owner over some hot coffee and tea. Jonna has a close bond with each dog, striking a balance between authority and affection. It was clear she considered these dogs as her family. They were all well-behaved and came up to greet us. At one point, it was like the dogs decided to throw us a welcome party, all howling and barking in unison. It was a cacophony, but a cheerful one one.
Though we missed out on a snow sledge ride, I’m sure it would be an unforgettable experience based on everything we saw and felt at the farm.
Chasing the Northern Lights on a hunt
The deep green forests, lush meadows and sparkling blue lakes and streams so typical of the region provide several meandering pathways to escape into nature. The wind whistles through the tall trees, the leaves rustle and the softness of silence descends. Certainly, the spirit is meditative at ease with its own true self. Which is probably why Finland has the Happiest nation in the world tag.
Come night and it’s pitch dark with deep velvet skies and stars hanging like bulbs that one can reach out and touch. Much of the starry-eyed mood vanished as we readied for a Northern Light hunt.
The Northern Lights hunt, was a surreal experience. We took a ride out post-dinner to a lonely stretch atop a hill, to keep away from lights, so the faintest colour in the sky could be picked up. The sense of excitement was palpable, almost like tiger-spotting in a national park in India!
We stood in the cool breeze staring at the huge stars, a clear dark sky, and total silence – which by itself was an experience. While I personally missed seeing the Northern Lights, my friends in the group did manage to get a glimpse of the natural wonder.
Traditional Reindeer Farming at Poro-Panuma
My journey led me to the Reindeer Farm Panuma, where Lauri Oinas introduced me to the traditional ways of reindeer farming. The experience gave me a profound respect for the lifestyle and traditions that have been maintained for generations.
The Poro-Panuma Reindeer Farm in the serene Panuma village held tales of tradition and simplicity. Tucked away in untouched wilderness, Panuma is a cradle of reindeer husbandry traditions, where the art has been passed down through seven generations at Poro-Panuma.
Surrounded by expanses of unspoiled wilderness, Panuma opens up a world of experiences throughout the year. Between the protected peatlands of Hirvisuo and Hattu-Kuusisuo, and by the side of Lake Panumajärvi and the flowing Panumaoja Creek, the tranquillity and beauty of nature are in full bloom. And if you have a taste for adventure, the southernmost fjeld area, Iso-Syöte, is just an hour’s drive away.
At Poro-Panuma, you can witness the daily life of the farm and have a base for either guided or solo hiking and camping adventures. Whether you want to try your hand at fishing in Kipinankoski Rapids, pick berries right from the courtyard, or find the perfect spot for nature photography, it’s all there.
Living in harmony with reindeer, the locals tend and feed them until the winter. When April smiles, they move the herd to fawning areas and summer pastures in Hirvisuo.
And for those seeking peace and simplicity, there’s a charming wilderness cabin by a stream. It’s a place to fish, pick berries, and soak in the tranquil beauty of real nature.
The Wonders of the Pohjola Route
My journey along the Pohjola Route was a kaleidoscope of experiences that showcased the diversity of Finland. From the beaches to the city, and from islands to fells, this road trip had it all.
So if you ever find yourself in Finland, make sure to hit Oulu and the Pohjola Route. Oh, and bring a bike; the city has a sprawling 900-km cycleway network that’s the best way to see it all.
Read More: Latest