Adventure Cycling in Finland: Everything You Need To Know And More

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I had the greatest opportunity. Cycling the Iron Curtain Trail (EV13) 1600km across Finland. This is the most Epic Cycling adventure of my life. Here are all the facts you need to know, from why I decided to do it to all the answers to your question.

You can read a play by play of my cycling adventure, all 8000 words of it, here.

I decided to add this post to help anyone considering an epic adventure such as cycling the Eurovelo 13 plan and answer the most common questions my readers ask. I’m hoping that by giving you all the necessary information you might consider doing something EPIC.

How Adventure Cycling to the Most Northern Point in Finland Came to Fruition

I’ve been to Finland three times. The idea came to me last summer when I was exploring the outdoors along Finland’s west coast.  I had the opportunity to explore  Kvarken Archipelago, Finland’s only natural UNESCO site and a kayak or canoe lovers dream, the remote fishermen’s island Maakalla, where time seems to have stood still for the last 100 hundred years and Liminka Bay, the #1 birdwatching spots in all of Finland!

View over Maakalla island and Finland's smallest parsonage.
View over Maakalla island and Finland’s smallest parsonage, which is built in the shape of a boat.

 The more time I spend in Finland, the more I realize that many of us,  don’t really know what adventures await us in Finland. When you think of the best places for adventure, Finland, probably doesn’t make the top of your list. Not because it doesn’t deserve to, but because we don’t know.  I would like to change that!

Finland Is The Perfect Place For A Solo Cycling Adventure

When I’m in Finland, I feel a sense of peace and a connection to nature. No doubt a direct effect of the fact that almost 70% of the country is covered in forest and 10% of it is comprised of lakes for a grand total of….wait for it….187,888 lakes!

Generally speaking, Finns are introspected. Many of them choose to spend their summer holidays at their cottage, often in remote places, away from everybody.  I grilled a local on my last visit upon visiting a cottage;  How long do you stay here?  Some people stay the whole summer, others just a couple of weeks, but in general, we like to stay for as long as possible.  

What do you do? We relax, enjoy nature, or go for a swim.  It’s very lowkey. Do you socialize with the neighbors? We say ‘hello’ to each other of course, but the point of coming to your cottage isn’t to socialize with your neighbors, it’s to be with your family, and to enjoy nature.

Hot tub overlooking the Kvarken Archipelago in Finland.
Hot tub overlooking the Kvarken Archipelago

 This conversation left a lasting impression. It fascinated me that a whole nation values nature so much and the solitude it brings. I would go stir crazy, relaxing at a cottage for a month, but I love the idea of being in nature and being in solitude.

 That’s where the idea of the cycling adventure on the Iron Curtain Trail (EV 13) came in. The trail is either 1550km long or over 1742km long depending on the source. The trail runs from the northern end of eastern Finland, where it meets the Norwegian border, all the way down through eastern Finland to the Gulf of Finland in the south.

It’s part of the international Iron Curtain Trail in which Europe was divided into the east and west. According to the official Iron Curtain Site, The Iron Curtain Trail invites people to retrace and experience the former division of the continent on a 6,800 km cycle track along the length of the former border, combining European culture, history, and sustainable tourism.

adventure cycling beside reindeer in Finland
I’m hoping to cycle alongside reindeer!
Photo: By BishkekRocks (Own work) CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

The Iron Curtain Cycling Trail

In 2005 the European Parliament named it as a model for sustainable tourism.  Sustainable tourism is an issue close to my heart.  I’ve been fortunate enough to visit rural villages across Europe, speak with travel industry professionals and have seen with my own eyes how sustainable tourism can provide a much-needed source of income for local villages, allowing people to stay in their village if they choose, instead of moving elsewhere for work. It’s my sincere hope that by cycling the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland, that I can increase awareness of some of the remoter regions in Finland, and encourage more tourism.

My Adventure Cycling Route in Finland

adventure cycling the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland

Note, I started in Savonlinna, a region that boasts the largest lake district in all of Europe! I missed the first 266km of the route, but add in a few extra kilometers when I visit Kenestupa and Utsjoki which are off the Iron Curtain Trail, located at the top part of the map of Finland!

Day 1: Fly from Munich to Helsinki, pick up a bike

Day 2:Train from Helsinki to Savonlinna, hopefully, participate in a seal safari!

Day 3: Cycle 80km from Savonlinna to Kitee

Day 4: Cycle 59km from Kitee to Värtsilä

Day 5: Cycle 70km from Värtsilä to Ilomantsi

Day 6: Cycle 61km from Ilomantsi to Kivivaara

Day 7: Cycle 80km from Kiviaara to Lieksa

Day 8: Cycle 113km from Lieksa to Kihmo

Day 9: Cycle 43km from Kuhmo to Lentiira (I’m SO excited for this day, but I am keeping it a surprise!)

Day 10: Cycle 107km from Lentiira to Suomussalmi.

Day 11: Cycle 94km from Soumussalmi to Hossa

Day 12: Cycle 75km from Hossa to Kuusamo

Day 13: Cycle 103km from Kuusamo to Salla

Day 14: Cycle 92km from Salla to Savukoski

Day 15: Cycle 79km from Savukoski to Phyä-Luosto

Day 16: Cycle 39km from Phyä-Luosto to Sodankylä

Day 17: Rest day to enjoy the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä

Day 18: Cycle 130km from Sodankylä to Saariselkä

Day 19: Cycle 70km from Saariselkä to Inari

Day 20: Cycle 99km from Inari to Kenestupa

Day 21: Cycle 91km from Kenestupa to Nuorgam

Day 22: Cycle 144km from Nuorgam to Ivalo, (hoping to catch a bus to Inari, to make it shorter, but TBA)

Day 23: Fly from Ivalo – Helsinki – Munich

Along the way, I stopped to visit war museums, memorials, old wooden churches, and even had a few wildlife encounters including a seal safari, and a bear and wolverine hide!  It’s my mission to uncover the best of what eastern Finland has to offer and to promote sustainable tourism in the region.

I will cycle by Lake Inari in Lapland, Finland
I will cycle by Lake Inari in Lapland, and maybe even go for a swim!
By Karlis Strazdins (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Biggest Fears of Adventure Cycling in Finland

If you asked me before I did this “am I scared?”  Hell ya!  I don’t remember the last time I had butterflies this bad!  The choice to do this precisely because it does scare me! Until 6 weeks before, I hadn’t cycled more than 25km!  I did cycle 340km along the Donau from Passau, Germany to Vienna, to prepare.  Fortunately, that went very well, but I did that with 2 people and I’ll be cycling the Iron Curtain Trail alone! It was the most adventurous cycle trip I ever undertook.

It’s pretty easy to follow the Donau – it’s the second-longest river in Europe!  I was in for more of a challenge with the Iron Curtain Trail. Raija Ruusunen, the Project Manager for the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland gave me three maps and advised that I should upload them to my Garmin.  Sounds good!  Except for the fact that while I have a Garmin, I’ve never actually used it! Generally, I have excellent navigation skills in the mountains, but terrible in cities. I have no idea how I’ll do on a bike, but I’m about to find out!

Furthermore, I injured my hand when cycling the Donau and have a compressed nerve which has abruptly ended my training on the advice of my doctor. I’ve been running instead, but I am under no illusions that 30-minute runs are going to compensate for proper cycling training.

Considering The Mechanics of Adventure Cycling

My mechanical abilities are not the greatest and while I’ve helped change a flat tire, I’ve never actually changed one myself.  Given that a good portion of the route is above the Arctic Circle, it’s safe to say that I’ll be doing it alone when the time comes.

My hotels were all booked, now I just had to find them. Even Finland’s Everyman’s Rights which allows you to camp almost everywhere, couldn’t convince me that camping was a good option, with the additional gear required.

Finally, I asked myself, how will I deal with the loneliness? Or the bad days, when there is no one to cheer me on? I’ve done long-distance hiking excursions before, but never alone.  I will need to be my own cheerleader.

But as scary as all that sounds, it’s also what puts a fire in my belly! I planned to meditate every day before starting out, compiled a killer playlist of my favorite songs for when I needed pumping up! It’s as much as a mental challenge as it is a physical one! Plus, I’m inspired to bring awareness to these remote areas in hopes of encouraging more cyclists to visit some of the remotest regions of Finland promoting sustainable tourism!

Laurel on a leisurely bikeride, not a multi-day adventure cycle trip
I know that my cycling trip in Finland will look much different than when I went cycling in France.

Join Me

While the trip was coming closer I opened up to my readers to ask me anything they wanted to and give me suggestions on must-sees, if they knew of any, while I was on my cycling trip. My readers and friends did not disappoint. I compiled a list below of the most frequently asked questions and their responses. My aim is to help others planning an Epic cycling adventure plan their trips.

While I was on my adventure I opened up my adventure cycle trip to all my social media followers. You can check out the #AdvFinland on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram where you can easily see what my adventure was like. Alternatively, read my in-depth post where I detail the day-to-day of my cycling adventure. 

Further information on cycling in Finland by Visit Finland.

The EuroVelo 13: My Adventure Cycling

The EuroVelo 13 (Iron Curtain) is a 1700km long cycling route in Finland! It takes you through some of the least densely populated areas in Finland!

A trip like this will change your perception that Europe is overcrowded, or that there is no nature in Europe. At the same time, it provides a history lesson about the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain and how it impacted Finland.

While I really enjoyed cycling 1350km of the EuroVelo 13, it does require some advance planning, since much of the route is so remote.
adventure cycling in Finland on the EuroVelo 13 Iron Curtain Trail

I wrote extensively about my day to day cycling the EuroVelo 13 -over 8000 words! Check it out. Then come back here to read the answers to the questions I get asked most frequently for turning your dreams of cycling the EuroVelo 13 into reality:

What Exactly Is The EuroVelo 13, Iron Curtain Trail?

Wikipedia’s official definition is: The Iron Curtain was the ideological conflict and physical boundary dividing Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991.

The term symbolized efforts by the Soviet Union to block itself and its satellite states from open contact with the west and non-Soviet-controlled areas.

Iron Curtain Trail itself covers 10,400km in 20 countries with 14 UNESCO sites en route, along with numerous points of interest related to the Iron Curtain! Click here to read more about the Iron Curtain Trail and why I choose to do it.

How Popular Is The EuroVelo 13, Iron Curtain Trail?
landscape of eastern Finland, seen while cycling the Iron Curtain Trail

The route is not well known, even in Europe. It’s very new and some sections of it aren’t even built yet! In Finland, (as of June 2015), there aren’t even signs for it. As a result, most locals aren’t even aware that it exists.

It’s in sharp contrast to the EuroVelo 6. The Danube Bike Path section from Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria, which I did before attempting the EV 13. It is the second most popular cycling path in Europe with 55,000 cyclists biking the 326km each year, but needless to say, you definitely won’t be alone!

If it’s solitude you’re seeking the EV 13 in Finland is a fantastic choice!

Is It Safe To Cycle The EV 13 in Finland Alone?

I can honestly say that as a solo female cyclist, I had a few safety concerns before starting my trip, as the route is really remote in some places.

But never once did I feel threatened. In 1350km, only once did someone pulls over and that was to offer me an apple and some water – that is one of my favorite memories from my entire trip!

I only met one other person who was cycling the EV 13 on my whole trip, and she was also a solo female cyclist. She was in her 70s and said she also felt safe.

Having said that, ensure you have a mobile phone and a SIM card, in case you need to call for help. The emergency number for Finland, is 112, as it is for all of the European Union.

Here is a guide to calling 112 in Finland. Note: I only cycled the EV 13 in Finland, I cannot comment on how safe it is to cycle the EV 13 route as a solo female in other countries.

How Are The Road Conditions of the EV 13 in Finland?
seeing a cafe while adventure cycling in finland was amazing

The roads are in excellent condition. You have the option of taking cycling paths for parts of the southern route, and then you’ll be primarily cycling on secondary roads or highways.

Drivers are almost always courteous and move over whenever they can. The only two sections of road that I did not feel comfortable on was highway 6 between Savonlinna and Kittee.

It has very narrow shoulders and was really busy. Fortunately, it’s a short section. It’s recommended doing this section early in the morning, or later in the evening when it’s less busy if possible.

I was also rather weary cycling also between Saariselka and Inari, but this was in part due to the strong winds and me suffering from Handlebar palsy which left me unable to control my bike as well as I would have liked.

Under other conditions, I believe I would have felt fine with this section.

What is The Terrain Like?
adventure cycling in Finland on good roads

As I mentioned, the road conditions are great! I had previously been to Finland three times and thought it was all flat, but boy was I wrong. Eastern Finland and Lapland?

Not nearly as flat as I thought they were! I’m not talking about huge hills – the highest fell (hill) in Finland is Halti at an elevation of 1324m – and not on the Iron Curtain route.

But there are rolling hills – and lots of them! They wouldn’t be difficult if there weren’t so many of them, seemingly one right after another!

Which Direction is Best to Cycle The Iron Curtain Trail?

I cycled it from south to north, as I wanted to finish in Nuorgam, the most northern point in the EU. And not on the Iron Curtain route (I veered off it just north of Inari to do so).

I also faced a strong headwind on more days than not! The usual way of cycling the EV 13 is to do it from north to south, which is what I would recommend if I was to do it again – anything to avoid a persistent headwind!

Best Time of Year to Cycle The EV 13 in Finland?


Midnight sun in Salla, Finland

I did it in June. Temperatures were cooler than normal but were always above freezing – perfect for cycling. It also rained about half the time.  I didn’t use my mosquito repellent once.

Based on that, I think June is a good month to do it – mild temperatures and no mosquitos. It would be warmer in July and August, but you would have the mosquitos.

September could also be a good month, as long as you’re prepared for some cooler temperature. Obviously the farther north you go, the cooler it will be.

The other HUGE plus of doing it in June through early August is that you’ll get to cycle under the Midnight Sun – when the sun literally doesn’t set!

Or depending on how far south you are, it may only set for a couple of hours! I can’t tell you how much I LOVED the Midnight Sun!

Bringing A Bike or Renting A Bike?

I choose to rent a bike from Bike Planet in Helsinki. It came with an odometer so I didn’t need to bring one, and although I had brought my own bike seat, I didn’t end up using it, since the one that came with the bike was very comfortable. I was VERY happy with my bike.

It also came with special tires to reduce the chances of a puncture. It’s still worth purchasing at least one inner tube while you’re there though as there are some places where the nearest bike shop will be 100km away!

How To Get To Näätämö (The Starting Point in the North)?


Laurel Robbins cycling the Iron Curtain Trail in Finland
The quickest way would be to fly from Helsinki to Ivalo.  I flew back from Ivalo on Finnair. Keep in mind, that you will have to pay extra for transporting your bike. You can read Finnair’s policy on transporting bikes here.  Note: you will also have to disassemble it if you choose to fly.

Alternatively, you could take a bus from Helsinki to Ivalo. Bikes are accepted on buses with no disassembly required. The journey takes ~20 hours.

From Ivalo, you could take a bus for the rest of the way to Näätämö, which takes just under 4 hours. At the time of writing, there was just one bus a day, and that is subject to change.

Always check the bus departures in advance. See Matkahuolto for bus timetables and tickets.

How To Navigate The EV 13, Iron Curtain Route in Finland?

adventure cycling in Finland through Finnish Lakeland There are no signs (as of June 2015), indicating the EV 13route, but signs should be in place within the next couple of years.

You can purchase the book, Cycling the Iron Curtain Trail published by Bikeline, but I found this of limited value since I needed more in-depth information.

But what I found to be by far the most helpful, are these maps developed by the EV13 in Finland. They have broken down the route into 3 sections and list all the services along the way:
EV 13 Näätämo to Kuusamo, EV 13 Kuusamo to Lieksa and EV 13 Lieksa to Vaalimaa.

These maps were lifesavers! It would be helpful if you could download them to a GPS, which I didn’t have, so I printed them off and then entered my destination every day into Google Maps on my phone.

Google maps (at least on an Android), can be used offline, but be careful with this. On several days, it disappeared, leaving me without a route.

Fortunately, I had studied the above maps beforehand, had screenshots of Google maps, and internet access (usually, but not always). I had also purchased a paper road map in Finland, which I referred to quite frequently. 

How To Prevent Muscle Soreness When Cycling?
Finnish saunas will prevent muscle soreness when cycling

Despite 18 days of cycling, I had very little soreness. I credit the incredible Finnish saunas for this! You need to consider how to deal with soreness on your cycling trip. I wasn’t a sauna person before but quickly became a convert.

There was nothing better after 80km of cycling to relax in a sauna, and then wake up the next day full of energy without any stiffness! The healing power of the Finnish sauna is really remarkable!

What To See Along the Way?
colourful bus stops in rural Finland

I wrote about this in Cycling the EV 13, but what really stood out for me was going searching for the Saimaa Ringed Seal, one of the most endangered seals in the world in Savonlinna.

Besides this, I loved observing wolverines and bears in Lentiira – not to mention that it meant I only had to cycle 40km that day!

You’ll definitely want to check out at least one reindeer farm in Lapland. I really enjoyed the one in Salla. Plus, there are so many interesting stops along the way. Check out my top 7 Must-See Stops on the Iron Curtain Trail.

What to Eat During The Cycling Adventure
reindeer meat and mashed potatoes is a popular Finnish food

 

I found that I needed protein for breakfast and a lot of it. On the few mornings when I didn’t have it, the days were really rough. It made all the difference in the world!

Fortunately, in Lapland, reindeer is a common dish! It was one of the few meals that completely filled me up for dinner! After cycling so much, I had a bottomless pit for a stomach.

You’ll also want to bring extra snacks since on some days there might not be a single rest stop. Or there will be one, and it will be closed for some odd reason.

While you can get regular food, I highly recommend trying Finnish food. I could have lived on black licorice candies which kept my energy up!

It’s also worth noting that if you stay in a traditional Finnish cabin, you may also need to bring your own food.

Where to Stay During The Cycling Trip?

I’ve listed all the places I stayed in Cycling the EV 13 in Finland. You’ll also find more suggestions on the maps on the three links up above. It’s recommended booking in advance since in some remote places there will be few places to choose from.

I can’t imagine cycling 100km and then trying to search for a place to stay, only to find out that a hotel is full, and that the next place is another 50km away. You want to make sure you are prepared for your adventure cycling.

But that’s a real possibility in some places on the trip, so book in advance to avoid that from happening. I booked every night of accommodation in advance and was grateful that I had done so. 

Between this article and Cycling the EV 13 in Finland, you should be in good hands!

I’d love to hear from you if you’re considering cycling this route! It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done! This trip was epic and I loved the adventure cycling.

Disclosure: Thank you to Visit Finland and to EV 13 Finland for making my trip possible. As always, all opinions are my own. 

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13 thoughts on “Adventure Cycling in Finland: Everything You Need To Know And More”

  1. The Iron Curtail Trail? This is VERY EXCITING, Laurel! I’m quite impressed that you’re taking on this challenge and riding solo. I wish you the very best. Yes, I plan to experience it vicariously thru you.
    Finland is indeed a lovely place, one that I’ve been fascinated about since I met and became friends with a few Finns – and promised to visit. Looking forward to learning more about Finland through you.
    Have fun!

    Reply
  2. I wish you all the best for your cycling adventure. Wish I could join you! Really interesting way to spend a vacation with something different to do every day.

    Reply
  3. @Marcia – Thank you! I am VERY excited! I wanted to do something that I knew would definitely challenge me and that was out of my comfort zone and this is definitely it! I’m much more of a hiker, than I am a cyclist. This will be my third trip to Finland and I can’t wait to explore the eastern part and Lapland!

    Reply
  4. Sounds awesome! I’ll be cycling through Finland this summer as part of my Baltic Circle Tour. My first time there :). Going to the far north will be truly epic. I’ve done my share of bike touring (including the Canadian version of what you’re doing – cycling up to the Yukon), and the best advice I can give you is not to worry about pre-planning your days. Some days are going to feel amazing, and you’ll impress yourself with a 150km ride. Then other days it will rain, or you’ll be tired, or you’ll have mechanical fails, and you’ll only manage 25km. I always found my body appreciated a mix of big days and small days, and a rest day about once a week. The best part of travelling solo is the freedom, so enjoy that freedom, and just get there when you get there! (I realise flights can get in the way of that lifestyle)

    I look forward to following your trip! x

    Reply
  5. As always you post very interesting and worth reading articles! I really enjoy that! full of information!

    Reply
  6. I am sure you will have a wonderful experience riding in Finland I married a Finish girl some years ago and spend every summer riding in different parts of the country I will be traveling back to Helsinki this year either June or July one thing I would like to mention make sure you have plenty mosquito repellent with you the whole time .

    Stay safe !

    Reply
    • @Stuart – Thank you. I loved it. Cycling was such a gorgeous way to experience Finland. I was really lucky, no issue with the mosquitoes at all, I think it was too early as I was there in June. Lucky you that you spend so much time in Finland. There’s so much to see.

      Reply

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