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FINLAND FINLAND

 

A travel story from Finland

By Kim de Leeuw & Meel Pölkki 

Crackling fire, the smell of roasting sausages and an astonishing view over the lake. All of these come together in one of my favourite Finnish activities: grill & chill. All over the country, you will find grill places where you can make your fire making use of wood that is already chopped by others. The only thing you have to do is to bring sausages and tools to light the fire. During my many hikes in the country, I loved to sit down at one of these grill places and enjoy the beauty of my Lappish surroundings. Chances are that you will also see some reindeer as there are more reindeer than humans in Lapland and these beautiful creatures are allowed to roam freely through the country. 

Finland is one of these countries that you can easily visit all year round because every season has its own charms. During spring, everybody is enjoying the warmer weather, longer days and melting ice. On May 1st, the Finnish celebrate Vappu (Labour Day). Originally, the holiday started out as a tribute to a saint and the welcoming of spring, but it has now become much more than that. Workers rights are celebrated and everyone goes out for a picnic wearing their graduation hat from high school. Also for students it is an important day: it marks the end of the academic year. During Vappu, these students go outside to celebrate and they will wear their overalls (opisjelijahaalarit). Sometimes they celebrate Vappu for weeks! In Finland, every student has an overall of which the colour corresponds to their faculty and college. During their student time, they will collect patches at social events to decorate their overalls.

LEFT: GRILL PLACE, RIGHT: LAKE CLOSE TO INARI

In the summer, the sun truly comes out and you can enjoy midnight sun, also known as nightless night. During these days, the sun (almost) won’t set and you can enjoy endless, warm daylight that you usually only get at sunrise or sunset. At this time of the year, the Finns live outside and they celebrate Juhannus (Midsummer), which is one of their best known traditions. During this lightest time of the year, the Finns traditionally light up a big bonfire, juhannuskokko. By now, many generations have believed in midsummer magic which all relates to romantic wishes. One of the most known beliefs is that when you pick up nine different wild flowers and put them inside your pillow, you will dream about your future husband. Besides Midsummer, it is also quite common to organise Crayfish parties during August and/or September. This tradition is actually from Sweden and includes singing some Swedish songs while drinking shots. The everyman’s right comes in very handy as well during this season, because by the end of the summer you are able to go berry picking. There is an almost unlimited amount of blueberries and, in Lapland, you can also find some delicious cloudberries. 

Even though I loved the warmth of the summer, Finnish autumn might be one of my favourite seasons. In September, the leaves start to turn yellow and the shrubs turn dark red. The colours are absolutely beautiful in this period that the Finns call ruska. It is the time to enjoy your last hikes before snow falls and the days are becoming ultra short. On certain days, there is hardly any daylight at all! Luckily, the beauty of the snow absolutely makes up for it. December 6th, Finland celebrates its independence and there are many formal and informal social events organised throughout the country. In the evening, the Finns turn on their TV to watch the president’s Independence Day reception and hear all about the comments on the outfits of the 2000 guests. When I studied in Finland back in 2017, the country celebrated its 100 years of independence. Starting in the Middle Ages, Finland was first part of Sweden, which is why Swedish is the official second language of the country and 5.2% of the Finnish population speaks Swedish as the first language. Later on it became part of Russia after the invasion in 1808. In 1917, the Finns negotiated for independence with the Russians and on the 6th of December the country became officially independent. The last Finnish tradition I want to discuss is Christmas which the Finns take really seriously. So seriously that they even named the entire month of December after Christmas; Joulukuu (December) literally translates to Christmas month. A lot of companies, families and friends organise pikkujoulu (Christmas parties) to anticipate for Christmas before actual Christmas starts. 

Other random facts about Finland that I love: the country has wife-carrying sports and swamp football. And did you already know that the Finns drink the most coffee in the world? 

FINNISH RUSKA

Finland has many places that you can visit with especially nature being an absolute highlight of the country. I mean, there is a reason why the nickname also is the land of a thousand lakes (though there are actually 187.888 lakes). These lakes and the pine trees are definitely dominating the scenery in the country. Below, I will tell you about my favourite places in the country, starting in the south. 

Helsinki

The capital of Finland has a really chill vibe and is a place that you should not miss during your trip to Finland. The two most famous landmarks are the Helsinki Cathedral (pictured in the image below) and the Uspenski Cathedral, but the churches that I enjoyed most where the Temppeliaukio Church (which is partly underground, made from bedrock and has sunlight entering the church from the dome) and the Kamppi Chapel which welcomes visitors of all religions. Close to the city centre, there are also a couple of islands of which Suomenlinna and Seurasaari are worth a visit. Suomenlinna is a seaside fortress built by the Swedes to protect the country against the Russians, whereas Seurasaari is an open-air museum where you can find traditional buildings and learn about rural life of the past centuries.

A STREET IN HELSINKI WITH THE HELSINKI CATHEDRAL IN THE BACKGROUND

Porvoo

Finland has six medieval towns of which Porvoo is one of them. In fact, it is the second oldest town in the country. The streets are cobbled and the wooden houses are absolutely colourful. Most of them are painted in a pretty pastel colour. There is a spectacular viewing point at Iso Linnamäki hill and an interesting history museum. Our former thesis student, Meel, is actually from this town!

WOODEN HOUSES OF PORVOO

Nuuksio NP

Close to Helsinki, you will find Nuuksio national park. There are many pretty hiking trails in this park to witness two of Finland’s typical sceneries: lakes and green forests. To learn more about the natural wonders of the country, you can visit Nature Centre Haltia. 

ONE OF NUUKSIO’S MANY LAKES

Oulu

If you are into cycling, Oulu is the place to be. The city has the most extensive cycling network of the entire country. The city is also famous for its Oulu August Festival during which hundreds of multi-art events are hosted with the most famous one being the air guitar world championship.

IMPRESSION OF OULU

Finnish Lapland

Rovaniemi

Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland and even though it might not be the prettiest city, it has something magical. Rovaniemi is the hometown of Santa Claus and you can find the Christmas spirit all over town. My favourite place to visit Santa Claus is Santa Claus Village, because you cannot only visit Santa, but also his little helpers, the reindeer, have lots of fun with the elves and cross the arctic circle.

SANTA SPEAKING AT THE OPENING OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON 

Rovaniemi is, however, more than just Santa Claus. During my exchange, I lived at the edge of the city which meant that I could walk to Ounasvaara within just five minutes. Ounasvaara is the mountain that is situated right next to the city and you can go there for many outdoor activities: from hiking to skiing to mountain biking. From the hill, you can admire some great views over the river. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the Arktikum, the museum where you can learn all about northern nature and culture. When the aurora borealis forecast is good (install an application on your phone), you can wait at the garden of the Arktikum for the northern lights to appear. This is one of the best places to watch the northern lights from the city because there is less light pollution there. The less light, the better you can see the northern lights. Especially when they are weak, it is hard to spot them above the city. But still, you need to have a little luck, because seeing the northern lights is no guarantee. 

LUMBERJACK’S CANDLE BRIDGE, ROVANIEMI

Inari

Inari is known as the centre of the Sámi people in Finland. It is here that you will find their parliament, cultural centre and a Sámi museum, Siida. The Sámi population is spread out over the Nordic countries Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. Within the EU, the Sámi are the only officially recognised indigenous people. Learning about these people and their traditional lifestyle is therefore a really inspiring thing to do when in Lapland. A lot of Sámi combine their traditional livelihood of reindeer husbandry with tourism services, so there are many possibilities to have encounters with these inspiring people. For more information about the Sámi people I would recommend you to read our tribal tourism series.

SAJOS, THE SÁMI PARLIAMENT

Other interesting things to do in Inari, besides the typical snow activities, are hiking around lake Inari or in Lemmenjoki national park where you can also find an old Sámi homestead. 

Nature

Pyhä Luosto – Korouoma – Auttiköngäs

As in the rest of the country, Lapland has some great nature to offer. You actually don’t have to visit a national park or other nature reserve to find beautiful nature. All you would have to do is step out the city border and you are there already. However, I will share some of my favourite places. The first one is Pyhä Luosto, which is actually a national park. Here you can find age-old forests, fells and mires and rugged gorges. At the end of September, the colours in this park are absolutely beautiful. Secondly, I want to tell you about Korouoma nature reserve which is a large canyon. It is part of a bedrock fracture zone and in the winter you can find some impressive icefalls here. Lastly, there is the Auttiköngäs waterfall which is one of the largest in Finland. The waterfall is situated in Taiga forest and you can go for a great hike. Nice thing about Finland is that most trails are also usable in the winter for a snowshoe hike. 

AUTUMN IN PYHÄ LUOSTO

Snow activities

Most of the tourists that go to Finland come for the winter activities and I absolutely agree that this is an awesome thing to do. The winter scenery in Lapland is epic and nothing is more incredible than witnessing a starry sky being lightened up by the northern lights. It is magical and truly a once in a lifetime experience. Activities I absolutely adored were visiting a reindeer farm and doing a husky tour. It is amazing to learn about the traditions of reindeer husbandry and to engage with the energetic huskies. Other winter activities include ice fishing, ice swimming, snowmobiling, (crosscountry) skiing and snowshoeing. There is something for everybody. In Lapland, it is also possible to sleep in a snowcastle (also accessible to day visitors as there are also snow sculptures to see) and glass igloos

WINTER ACTIVITIES IN ROVANIEMI

Recommendations by Meel (a true Fin)

Thanks to Meel, you have been able to read a lot about Finland’s traditions, but she also provided us with her favourite places to go in Finland. They are recommended by someone who knows the country, so I would say they are a must visit!

  • Saaristomeri: archipelago sea, which is largest archipelago in terms of number of islands 
  • Karhunkierros: a nice hiking trail in Lapland
  • Saimaa: the biggest lake area in Finland
  • Porvoo: it is in this travel story twice, now you must definitely go!

Ice Hockey

One of the things I absolutely fell in love with during my Erasmus exchange in Rovaniemi was ice hockey. Once the season had started, my friends and I visited the Lappi Arena weekly to support our town’s team: RoKi. Grab a sausage and visit a game of Finland’s most popular sport (in terms of spectators). Enjoy the thrill of the game. 

ROKI HOCKEY

Sauna

You have probably heard of and most likely visited a Finnish sauna before. The Finnish sauna tradition goes way back and nowadays many apartment buildings or Finnish homes have a sauna. As you can imagine, it is highly integrated in the culture and the Finnish heat up their saunas for many occasions. When visiting Finland during the winter, I highly recommend you to combine the heath of the sauna with a dive in a frozen lake (or river). Or with making angels in the snow, whatever you prefer. You will get a great adrenaline rush and it is supposedly healthy as well. 

There are still so many stories to be told about Finland, but it would be best if you go there yourself. Enjoy nature, peace and some beautiful northern lights. And for the non vegetarians, try the delicious salmon soup or reindeer meat. You can find many types of mushrooms in Finland, so mushroom soup or any other mushroom dish could be great options for vegetarians. Or how about a traditional potato casserole? 

 

 

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