Vaasa is a small Finnish city located on the West Coast of Finland, about 400km (250 miles) north-west of Helsinki.
A good friend of mine, who I met in Valencia, recently moved back to Finland and made Vaasa her new home. After receiving countless gorgeous pictures of Vaasa’s coastline; of cute boats and cozy cafes, I decided it was time to see for myself what this part of the world has to offer!
Vaasa is a university town and the second most international city in Finland. On one hand, the city feels innovative with many interesting startups and inspiring entrepreneurs who I was fortunate enough to talk to and share saunas with during my visit. On the other hand, the city feels laid back, streets are wide, clean and quiet and wherever you go you are never more than a few blocks away from water and greenery.
So, as I am on a train back to Helsinki, I would like to share with you what makes Vaasa worth traveling to and what not to miss while you are here.
Best Time to Visit Vaasa
The best time to visit Vaasa is in summer. With long, sunny days and mild temperatures, summer terraces open throughout the city and alongside Vaasa’s many beaches. Outdoor festivals are organized and many locals spend their weekends in their summer cottages just outside of the city, enjoying nature, barbecues, their saunas and being by the water.
High season or summer season starts in early to mid-June and lasts until mid-August. By the end of August many places (summer terraces, outdoor activities, some museums, etc) close, people shift their focus back to work and the days start to get shorter and colder.
Because summer is the best time to travel to Vaasa I will start with things to do in Vaasa in summer. But, there are actually some great things to do in Vaasa in winter as well, so if you are visiting Vaasa in winter please scroll down to see my tips for a winter trip to Vaasa.
Things to Do in Vaasa – In Summer or All Year Round
1. Start By Taking a Stroll Around Vaasa
Vaasa is a small and very walkable city. If you start at the central market square (Kauppatori) you can easily explore most of the city in just a few hours.
Explore the central streets with their shops, cafes and restaurants and mix of new and historic buildings. Walk north towards Onkilahti Park (one of Vaasa’s city parks) for some greenery and lovely views. Walk to Hietasaari island to check out the beach, or go south along the coast towards Kustaanlinna Beach and Hietalahti Park.
The University of Vaasa’s campus is also worth checking out. With historic factory buildings, some made of bricks, some made of wood, and its seaside location, it’s considered by many to be the most beautiful campus in Finland.
A 10 minute drive (20 minute cycle) from the center of Vaasa you find the ruins of Old Vaasa. Vaasa was originally located further from the sea but burnt down completely in 1852. It was then rebuilt by the coast, where you find it now. If you have the time it is worth going to Old Vaasa to see the few remaining ruins and learn more about the history of Vaasa.
2. Have Lunch at Bock’s Corner Brewery
Bock’s Corner Brewery is a brewery, restaurant and pub located just north of Vaasa’s center. What I love about this place is not just their good beer, but even more so, their business philosophy. Almost all of their food is locally sourced and even the restaurant itself is largely built with local material.
From Monday to Friday, 11 AM – 2 PM, they offer a delicious and very affordable buffet style lunch. Don’t forget to try a Bock’s beer as well!
3. Boat Trip to Jannes Saloon
In summer, Janne’s Saloon, a restaurant on the island of Kuusisaari in the Vaasa archipelago, organizes cruises around the area. The cruise gives you a nice view of Vaasa from the water. The cruise takes three hours, stops for one hour at the restaurant to give you the opportunity to enjoy the restaurant or explore the island.
Cruises run only in summer, from late June until mid-August. Click here for exact dates, location, and a timetable.
4. Visit a Museum in Vaasa
With more than 30 museums, Vaasa has a surprising number of museums for a small city. From art museums to a history museum and even a doll and gnome museum… there is a wide choice here!
Most museums are small so won’t take up much of your time to visit and several offer free entrance. Do check if they are open as many aren’t open year round.
VisitVaasa.fi offers a list of all museums in Vaasa here.
5. Check Out Vaasa’s Beaches
Going to the beach might not be the first thing you think of when traveling to Finland. But, Vaasa is actually one of the sunniest places in Finland and has lovely beaches that are just a short walk from the city center!
Even if you find the water too cold to swim, in summer you will find many beachside cafes worth checking out or you can simply sit on the beach to people watch and take in the scenery.
There are nine public beaches in Vaasa, seven of which are within a 3 km (1.9 miles) radius of the market square. The most popular beaches in Vaasa are Hietasaari, Mansikkasaari and Strömsö (scroll to the bottom of this article for a map of these beaches and all the other places worth visiting in Vaasa).
6. Rent a Paddle Board, Kayak or Jet Ski in Vaasa
With so much water (Finland is known for its incredible number of lakes and islands) it’s no surprise that Finns love to be in, on or by the water.
If you visit Vaasa in summer and it’s a sunny day you will see many people paddle boarding, kayaking or jet skiing. If you want to join them, you can find a list of places where you can rent paddle boards, kayaks and jet skis (plus some other water sports in Vaasa) here.
7. Play Around or Relax at Waterpark Tropiclandia
With pools, slides, jacuzzis, and saunas, Spa and Resort Tropiclandia is both popular for kids and adults. The pools are heated (apart from the cold water pool) and the indoor air temperature is 32°C (89F), which makes this a great attraction in Vaasa, no matter what the weather is like.
For opening hours, dates and prices check Tropiclandia’s website.
8. Go Hiking Around Vaasa
Hiking isn’t incredibly big in Vaasa but the nature surrounding Vaasa is beautiful and there are a good number of hiking trails in the area so if you like hiking I definitely recommend it.
VisitVaasa.fi offers a list of all the hiking areas and trails around Vaasa. Do contact them however if you want to know more about which trail best fits your interests and is most suitable for the time of year you are visiting Vaasa.
9. Try a Finnish Sauna
You really can’t visit Finland without going to a Sauna!
If you are staying in a hotel, your hotel will most likely have a sauna. If you are lucky your hotel room will even come with a private sauna! If you rented an apartment through Airbnb the building probably has a sauna and if you rented a cottage that cottage will almost definitely have a sauna.
As you have maybe gathered from this, yes it’s true, most houses in Finland have a sauna! On top of that most gyms have saunas, swimming pools have saunas and even kids often go to saunas with their school. Conferences and other business events are often combined with a visit to a sauna too. There are many saunas that can be rented for those events or by a group of friends / family members. One of the most spectacular options in Vaasa is the Floating Sauna in the harbor of Vaasa.
The Floating Sauna is a 6 x 10 m pontoon, located at the inner harbor of Vaasa. You can enjoy a relaxing sauna while the pontoon navigates along narrow channels within Vaasa’s inner archipelago, passing idyllic summer cottages on the many different islands. The Floating Sauna can accommodate up to 12 people and can be booked through VisitVaasa.fi.
If you aren’t booking the floating sauna then, in my opinion, you will have the best sauna experience when you use a sauna in a cottage by the sea. You don’t only get to be in a sauna this way but you will also be out in nature, perhaps get to spend some time in a jacuzzi and, as I did, you really should jump in the sea after the sauna! As much as I hate the cold, the refreshing feeling you get from this is quite unique!
10. Fit in Some Shopping While in Vaasa
Your main reason to visit Vaasa won’t be to go shopping, but Vaasa does have plenty of shops worth checking out!
From local, independently owned boutiques to international brands, you will find enough shops around Vaasa’s city center to keep you entertained for an afternoon.
Do pop into the Vaasa Market Hall (Vaasan Kauppahalli in Finnish and Vasa Saluhall in Swedish). This small, covered market hall dates back to 1902 and offers a nice mix of retail and food. Pop in for a cup of coffee or a snack, especially on one of those colder days.
11. Have Dinner at Faros Restaurant Ship
Faros is a restaurant located on an old lighthouse boat. You can choose to have dinner on the actual boat or in the comfortable building next to it. It’s a lovely spot for dinner, the food is delicious and the staff very friendly. And as anywhere in Vaasa they speak English perfectly.
Another restaurant that came highly recommended to me but that I didn’t end up trying is Strampen. It is located in the inner harbor of Vaasa in one of Finland’s oldest pavilions.
12. Have a drink at Butcher & Banker or at Littlepub
Just because of its cool interior, Butcher & Banker is worth checking out! It’s a lively bar with a great selection of drinks and a nice, trendy atmosphere.
If you are looking for a more relaxed drink then Littlepub is a great option. It is located right by the central market square.
13. Check Out Current Events in Vaasa
There is a lot going on, in and around Vaasa and it´s worth checking out what´s on when you are visiting Vaasa. From live music to food events, sporting events, theater, cinema, and more.
You can find an overview of all events in Vaasa here.
Things to Do in Vaasa in Winter
1. Ice Skating
In winter you will find several outdoor ice skating areas in Vaasa. If you are in Vaasa in winter, just ask your hotel or Airbnb owner where the ice skating areas are at that time.
2. Skiing at Öjberget ski resort
Öjberget Winter Sports Center is located just south of Vaasa. Here you can rent your gear and enjoy some downhill or cross country skiing.
3. On The Rox
Now this is a reason for me to travel to Vaasa in winter!
Get dressed in a survival suit and experience the feeling when the ice gives away under your feet. This, obviously, can only be done when there is thin ice, so contact AWAY Tourism, to see if they can organize this experience when you are visiting Vaasa.
Note: their website is not in English but they do speak English.
4. Driving on the ice in a Snowmobile
Janne’s Saloon arranges snowmobile safaris in winter. It’s not cheap but, if you, like me, love the idea of driving on the ocean, this might just be worth traveling to Vaasa in winter for!
Day Trips From Vaasa
1. Kyrö Distillery
The Kyrö Distillery is located about a 40-minute drive from Vaasa. What I love most about this distillery is its story: a group of friends sat in a sauna, talked about their love for whisky and how they should create their own rye whisky. And, they did! Kyrö Distillery is now a successful business that makes both whisky and gin (their gin quickly won ‘best gin in the world for gin & tonic).
The distillery bar is open on Saturdays from 4pm-7pm. Distillery tour starts at 4.30pm. Additionally, every first Saturday of the month they organize a live music event at the distillery bar from 4pm-12am. Check out their website for more information.
2. Huvivaltio PowerPark
Located about a 50 minutes drive from Vaasa, PowerPark is a massive, 160 hectare amusement park.
It offers more than 40 rides, 6 roller coasters, a horse racing track, shopping, restaurants, and accommodation.
The privately owned park shows how much one man with a vision, and enough money behind him, can achieve!
The accommodation and shopping mall stay open year round but the amusement park is only open in summer. Check their website for exact dates, times and prices.
3. Kvarken Archipelago – UNESCO World Heritage Site
During the last ice age, the Kvarken region was covered by a roughly 3.5km thick layer of ice. The glaciers were so heavy that they forced the Earth’s crust to sink. When the ice melted around 9.000 years ago, the crust began to rise again. Now, about one square km rises from the waters yearly, meaning that new land equivalent to about 150 soccer field appears, every year! It is a unique example of a continuously changing landscape.
The region around the archipelago is great for hiking to explore the area and take in the scenery. Just drive towards Kalle’s Inn and explore. Alternatively, Kwarken Nature and Fishing Tours offers fishing trips, ice fishing, guided hiking and boat trips.
The UNESCO Site includes both the High Coast of Sweden and the Kvarken archipelago in Finland and is a great collaboration between the two countries:
4. Boat to Sweden
Many travelers combine a visit to Vaasa and the region with a visit to Umeå in Sweden. Wasaline runs a daily ferry between Vaasa and Umeå and even offers several package deals including hotel, spa, and other attractions. The ferry takes about four hours and you can bring your car.
Where to Stay in Vaasa
1. Book a Hotel in Vaasa
Vaasa offers a good range of hotels to suit different budgets. Because Vaasa is a small city and especially because ideally you want to rent a car to explore the area around Vaasa, the location of the hotel doesn’t matter a whole lot, so just choose the one that meets your needs.
Compare prices for hotels in Vaasa through Hotelscombined.com
2. Stay at an Airbnb or Cottage in Vaasa
Summer cottages are such a big thing in Vaasa, and in most of Finland, that I would highly recommend spending at least one night in a cottage with sauna by the sea.
You can find anything from apartments to cottages in the Vaasa region on Airbnb, and VisitVaasa.fi also has a good selection of cottages you can rent.
3. Go Camping in Vaasa
A popular option if you visit Vaasa in summer is to camp at Top Camping, which is located about a 30 minute walk from the central market square. You can rent small cottages here or bring your own campervan or tent.
4. Dock your boat in Vaasa
With so much water around Vaasa, what better way to experience Vaasa than from your boat? The Wasa Sail Club, Wasa Segelförening, has a marina with all the facilities you need when you decide to visit Vaasa by boat. And, since we are in Finland, that even includes a sauna! Their website is not currently available in English so it’s best to contact them for further information.
5. Stay at Kalle’s Inn for a Truly Unique Experience!
If you love the idea of staying in truly unique accommodation surrounded by gorgeous nature then you have to check out Kalle’s Inn!
Located on the edge of the Kvarken archipelago UNESCO World Heritage site, staying in these glass houses, looking at the stars at night is something you won’t quickly forget! Kalle’s Inn offers different saunas and jacuzzis, delicious food at their restaurant and various activities such as boat trips into the UNESCO World Heritage site, fishing or hiking.
And, although Lapland is the best place in Finland to see the northern lights, if you are lucky you can see them here too!
How to Get Around Vaasa
Vaasa is a compact town so inside Vaasa you can walk almost everywhere. But, it’s also a city that is perfect for cycling. So if you want to explore the city a bit more quickly or want to see some of the surrounding areas, considering renting a bicycle. If you are staying at a hotel you can probably rent bicycles through the hotel or check this list of rental companies from the Vaasa tourism board.
Vaasa is a lovely city and you can easily spend a few days exploring what it has to offer. But, if you are here I do highly recommend venturing out to see the area around Vaasa. Since public transport is limited you will need a car for this. So to make the most out of your trip to Vaasa I suggest renting a car and allowing enough time to just drive, stop whenever you see something that looks interesting and take in the scenery.
How to Get to Vaasa
Vaasa has an airport so you can fly directly to Vaasa. If you are coming from outside of Finland a cheaper option in most cases will be to fly to Helsinki. From Helsinki you can take a direct train to Vaasa, which takes about 4 hours. You can book this train online at VR.fi. Or you can of course drive to Vaasa and make it part of a larger trip through Finland.
Alternatively, if you are coming from Sweden, you can take the ferry from Umea to Vaasa. You can book the ferry online at Wasaline.com
Also Read: 10 Tips on How to Find the Cheapest Flights
Conclusion: Why Travel to Vaasa
At first glance, Vaasa might not look like a place that has a lot to offer tourists.
But, if you dig a little deeper (or have read this article), there is plenty to do in Vaasa to warrant a multi-day visit. Vaasa offers great activities all year round and something for every type of traveler. And a nice bonus: Vaasa is much cheaper than Helsinki and still one of those cities that not many international travelers have discovered.
I want to thank my friend for moving to Vaasa which gave me the opportunity to visit her! But, special thanks goes to VisitVaasa.fi who helped me explore everything Vaasa and the surrounding area has to offer. I wouldn’t have been able to learn so much about life in Finland and about the Vaasa region without their help!
If you are planning to travel to Vaasa and want to know more about what to see and do here, check out their website.
Other Articles About Finland:
- 10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Finland
- 4 Of the Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Lapland
- Interview With an Expat About Living in Vaasa
- Interview With an Expat About Living in Helsinki
A Map of The Places I Recommend Visiting In & Around Vaasa, Finland
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