Finland is not the adrenaline-filled winter sports paradise you would imagine, missing rugged mountains and crenellated fjords: the typical Finnish hobby is cross-country skiing over mostly flat terrain. You’ll need to go to Lapland and destinations like Levi and Saariselkä if you want to do downhill skiing or snowboarding.
Ice hockey (jääkiekko) is Finland’s national sport, and winning the Ice Hockey World Championship is akin to nirvana — particularly if they beat arch-rivals Sweden, as they did in 1995 and 2011. The Liiga (finnish) is the annual national championship, in which 14 teams compete, and watching a game if you’re traveling during the season (September to March) is highly recommended. While the action on the rink is intense, spectators are usually well behaved. Tickets start at about €16. (if not necessarily sober). If you chance to be in Finland when they win the World Championship, traffic in the city centers may be clogged as supporters rush through the streets, generally inebriated, to celebrate.
Finland’s national sport, though, is pesäpallo, which literally translates to “baseball,” but looks and plays very differently from its American counterpart. The most noticeable change is that the pitcher sits beside the hitter at home plate and throws straight upward, making hitting the ball easier and catching it more difficult. In the summer, both men’s and women’s teams compete in the Superpesis league for the annual title.
If you want to try your hand at something really Finnish, don’t miss the summer’s variety of odd sporting competitions, which include:
- Air Guitar World Championships. Oulu, August.
- World Fart Championships. July, Utajärvi.
- Mobile Phone Throwing Championship. Savonlinna, August.
- Swamp Soccer World Championship. July, Hyrynsalmi. Probably the messiest sporting event in the world. They also arrange a snow soccer world championships each February.
- Wife Carrying World Championship. July, Sonkajärvi.
- Sulkavan Suursoudut. July, Sulkava
During the brief summer season, you may swim, paddle, row, or sail on the lakes or the sea. Around the 20th of July, the water is at its hottest. The current surface temperatures are typically published in local media, and a map of the surface temperatures may be accessed on the Environment Ministry’s website. During the hottest periods, late at night or early in the morning, when the air temperature is lower than the water temperature, the water may feel very nice. Most towns have swimming pools with somewhat warmer water, although these are often closed during the summer. Some beaches have lifeguards during peak hours, although non-obvious hazards are uncommon; almost any shore may be utilized as long as you do not leap in without first checking for obstructions. Due to eutrophication, cyanobacteria plague the waterways throughout the hottest season; if the water seems to contain large quantities of blue-green flakes, do not swim or use the water, and do not allow children or pets to enter it. Many Finns swim in the winter as well.
Because of the freedom to access and the sparse population, it is simple to go trekking wherever you are. If you’re serious about hiking in the Nordic countries, check out Hiking in the Nordic Countries for tips and Finnish National Parks for locations. There are routes for day walks as well as week-long hikes – as well as vast wilderness for the expert. Early fall is the greatest time for hiking since most mosquitoes have killed off and the autumn colors have bloomed, but summer is still enjoyable, and hiking may be done at any time of year.
Going berry picking in a neighboring woodland is a lighter form of being outside. In larger cities, appropriate forests are typically mixed with the suburbs (i.e. within half a kilometre from a local bus stop). Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is so abundant that you may get it almost everywhere (in July–August) for your morning porridge, a pie, or as a dessert with cream and sugar. Wild strawberry (late June), lingonberry (August–September), bog bilberry, raspberry, and crowberry are other popular berries. Cloudberry and cranberry may be found on bogs, with the latter being harvested late in the fall. Many Finns also collect mushrooms, but you have to know what you’re doing since there are some that are deadly, such as the European destroying angel, which is easily misidentified as an Agaricus (field/button/common mushroom and the like).
Cross-country skiing is the way to go in the winter (and spring in the north). Most cities, as well as winter sports facilities and national parks, have well-maintained trails. Backpackers in the wilderness utilize bigger skis and do not depend on pre-existing trails.
Many Finns like fishing, and recreational fishing is accessible to foreigners as well. Most calm waterways allow for free rod and hook fishing. Fishing with a (single) reel and lure is permitted in most still waters, provided a national fishing fee is paid at a Metsähallitus service point (such as a national park visitor centre) or R-kioski, in the web shop (Finnish only), or by bank giro (2016: €39 for a year, €12 for a week, €5 for a day, plus any bank or kiosk surcharge; children under 18 and the elderly over 64 When paying, report the desired beginning date and produce the receipt upon request. Separate licenses must be purchased for flowing waterways rich in salmon or similar species, as well as certain specifically controlled streams. You may fish using most legal techniques if you have a national permit and permission from the owner of the waterways (most landowners in the countryside have a share). There are minimal sizes, protected species, and other specific restrictions to be aware of, such as when obtaining a permission. More information is available at 020-69-2424 (08:00–16:00) and on websites such as ahven.net. When moving between bodies of water, you should sanitize your equipment, including your boat and footwear (there are salmon parasites and crayfish plague). Many small companies organize fishing trips. There is no catch-and-release fishing (but undersize fish is released).
Land has its own fishing legislation, and almost all fishing needs permission from the owner of the waterways, which may be obtained for many particular locations by paying a charge. Except for 15.4–15.6, residents may fish by rod and hook in their home municipality, and Nordic residents may fish for domestic use by any legal method in waterways without an owner (far enough from inhabited islands).
During the summer, Finland organizes a number of music festivals (festari). Among the most noteworthy are:
- Sauna Open Air. Heavy metal, Tampere, early June
- Provinssirock. Rock, Seinäjoki, mid-June
- Nummirock. Heavy metal, Nummijärvi (near Kauhajoki), late June (Midsummer)
- Raumanmeren juhannus. Pop/disco music, Pori, late June (Midsummer)
- Tuska Open Air. Heavy metal, Helsinki, late June
- Tangomarkkinat. Tango, Seinäjoki, early July
- Ruisrock. Rock, Turku, July
- Ilosaarirock. Rock, pop, reggae, Joensuu, mid-July
- Pori Jazz. Jazz/world music, Pori, mid-July
- Flow. Indie/electronic/urban, Helsinki, mid-August
- Qstock. Rock, pop, rap, Oulu, end of july
Most festivals span 2–4 days and are very well planned, with many different acts performing, such as Foo Fighters and Linkin Park at Provinssirock in 2008. The standard full ticket fee (all days) is about €60–100, which includes a camp site where you may sleep, dine, and meet other festival attendees. Festivals provide a fantastic atmosphere, and you’re certain to meet new people. Drinking a lot of beer is, of course, a part of the experience.
Many tourists want to see the mysterious Northern Lights (aurora borealis, or revontulet in Finnish) blazing in the sky. Far north Lapland in Finland is one of the finest locations to view aurorae since it is easily accessible, offers high-quality accommodations, and has reasonably clear sky when compared to coastal Norway. However, viewing them requires some forethought and good fortune. Because it is bright at night in the summer, the aurora frequently becomes invisible, and they do not appear every night even in the north. To have a decent chance of seeing them, spend at least a few days, ideally a week or more, in the far north during the appropriate season.
Northern lights are seldom observed in the southern hemisphere. Northern lights appear approximately once a month in Helsinki, for example, but the places where you are most likely to see them are too light polluted. Northern Lapland, on the other hand, has a 50–70% chance of seeing some northern lights every night with clear sky, and light pollution is very simple to avoid.
Finland’s most important contribution to the world (and the world’s lexicon) is the sauna. The sauna is basically a chamber heated to 70–120°C; according to an often-quoted figure, this 5 million-person country has no fewer than 2 million saunas, in homes, workplaces, summer cottages, and even Parliament (many agreements in business and politics are reached informally after a sauna bath). Saunas (because they were the cleanest locations nearby) were used to give birth and cure the ill in ancient times, and they were the first structure built when establishing a new home. The ancient Finnish proverb, “If it can’t be healed by sauna, tar, and booze, it’s for life,” maybe crystallizes the Finnish reverence for the sacred chamber.
If you are welcomed to a Finnish house, you may be asked to bathe in the sauna as well – this is an honor and should be regarded as such, but Finns realize that outsiders may be put off by the notion. After having a shower, enter the sauna naked, since wearing a bathing suit or any other clothes is regarded a bit of a faux pas, but if you’re feeling timid, cover yourself in a bath towel. Unlike in some other cultures, there is little erotica in Finnish saunas. Even when Finns bathe unisex, it is simply for cleansing and refreshing, or for talks about life or politics. Gender segregation is common in public saunas in swimming pools and spas. A separate mixed sauna with entrances to both men’s and women’s showers, for example, may be beneficial for couples or families; admission to the incorrect side should be prevented. There are typically distinct shifts for men and women, and perhaps a mixed-gender shift, in locations with a single sauna. Children under the age of seven may typically work any shift. In private saunas, the bathing turns are typically organized along similar lines by the host.
After you’ve had your fill, you may cool down by going outdoors, simply to sit on the veranda, for a roll in the snow (in winter) or a plunge in the lake (any time of year, beach sandals or the like can be useful in the winter) — and then coming back in for another round. Repeat many times, then crack open a cool beer, grill a sausage over an open fire, and enjoy complete relaxation Finnish style.
Nowadays, the most popular kind of sauna has an electrically heated burner that is simple to operate and maintain. Wood-fired saunas may still be found in the countryside, but purists prefer the (now extremely uncommon) traditional chimneyless smoke saunas (savusauna), in which a huge pile of stones is heated and the sauna is thoroughly aired before entering.
Anyone over the age of 65 or with a medical problem (particularly high blood pressure) should contact their doctor before using a sauna – although sauna bathing as a routine is beneficial for the heart, your initial visits may need professional guidance.
If you like social dancing – foxtrot, tango, waltz, jive, etc. – you should visit one of the dance pavilions (Finnish: lavatanssit at a tanssilava), which are typically located near a lake or in a beautiful rural environment. They have declined in popularity since the 1950s, but they still retain a devoted following. Similar dances are organized at a number of rural community centers. In the summer, most dance pavilions have at least weekly dances, and there is usually a dance somewhere in the area on most days. Part of the same population may be seen in warm indoor venues throughout the winter (mostly community centres, a few of the pavilions, some dance restaurants).