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Finland is a country of contrasts. Its vast wilderness and majestic landscapes will make you want to hop on a pair of skis or a kayak and start exploring, though its harsh weather will make you want to stay at home. Thankfully, there are many leisure options in the city as well, from tasting local produce and attending some of the numerous festivals and performances, to just relaxing in a sauna.

Experience nature

Enjoying nature in the Land of a Thousand Lakes is not just a possibility, it’s a responsibility. The Finns feel so strongly about spending time outside in a way that is not harmful to nature or to others, that they have created “everyman’s rights” (jokamiehen oikeudet), which are a set of rules that actually form an integral part of Finnish culture and legislation. According to “everyman’s rights”, you can:

  • walk, ski or cycle freely in nature, except in yard areas or in fields, meadows or plantations that could easily be damaged;
  • stay temporarily in areas where roaming is allowed – you can, for example, set up camp relatively freely as long as you maintain a sufficient distance from people’s homes;
  • pick berries, mushrooms and flowers;
  • angle and ice fish; and
  • boat, swim or wash yourself in water systems and travel on ice.

However, you can’t:

  • disturb or cause harm to others;
  • disturb or cause damage to birds’ nests or their young;
  • disturb reindeer or game animals;
  • cut down or damage living trees;
  • collect dried or fallen wood, twigs, moss or similar on someone else’s property without permission;
  • light open fires on other people’s property, except in an emergency;
  • disturb the privacy of people’s homes by camping too close or by making too much noise;
  • leave litter;
  • drive motor vehicles off road without the landowner’s permission; or
  • fish or hunt without the relevant permits.

Once you have become accustomed to these rules, you will be ready for your next outdoor adventure. And there’s so many adventures to choose from! You can visit one of the country’s many national parks, go cross-country skiing (one of the most popular and inexpensive winter sports), kayak the archipelago with its many islands and islets, hike the forests and maybe do some foraging (if it’s berries or mushroom season), or just take a finferry and visit as many of the thousand lakes as you can. And don’t forget to look up: Finland is one of the best places in the world for spotting the aurora borealis. You can see them in the skies of Northern Lapland between September and March, but sometimes they’re also visible in the southern part of the country.

Experience culture

Nature, majestic as it may be, is not all you can experience in Finland. There are many cultural opportunities in this vast country, including theatre. Finns love theatre: numerous theatrical productions and theatre festivals are held throughout the year; check the link at the bottom of the article for a comprehensive list.

Going to the cinema is also an option and you can find one located in most cities. Information can be found online regarding screenings and tickets, but, as a rule of thumb, tickets can cost anything from five euros to ten euros. In Finland, films are screened in their original language (and subtittled in Finnish and Swedish), unless they’re children’s films. If you’re interested in watching indie, foreign language and old films, then check out the screenings the National Audiovisual Archive is doing. Better yet, you can attend a film festival, as both the Helsinki International Film Festival (held in autumn) and the Midnight Sun Film Festival (held in Sodankylä every summer) have an excellent reputation and they never disappoint.

If you love museums, you’ll be pleased to know there are approximately a thousand museums in Finland (although about 700 of them are open only in the summer). A museum’s focus can be art, history, nature, a certain individual or a specialty field. In the summer, you’ll have the opportunity to visit one of the country’s many open-air museums; more expansive museum areas that include entire buildings, like a traditional Finnish farm house or some other area that has been made into a museum. You can find information on current exhibitions on the website of the Finnish Museums Association (link at the bottom of the article).

Experience everyday life

If it’s culinary experiences that you’re after, Finland has one of the most vibrant food scenes in Europe, with a focus on clean and naturally nutrient-rich foods. Helsinki in particular is a foodie mecca. There you can find anything from Nordic tapas to simple, traditional fish plates and delicious, organic local produce (definitely try the cloudberries). Walk to a farmer’s market, sit at a cafe and have a pastry and you’ll soon begin to realise that Finnish cuisine deserves your undivided attention.

At the end of the day, nothing says more “Finnish normality” than spending time in a sauna. The sauna is a Finnish invention, but it’s difficult to explain just how embedded it is in the Finnish culture and way of life. Maybe this will give you an idea: up until a few decades ago, women would give birth in saunas and the dead would be given a final bath in saunas, effectively making saunas a gateway between the worlds. Today, although possibly a less mystical experience, it’s still a huge part of everyday life, and you can find saunas in apartments, summer houses, in public swimming pools, gyms and hotels, on boats and buses ... even inside the Parliament. They say there are enough saunas in Finland to accommodate all 5.4 million Finns at once, and that may not be an understatement. To find one close to you, simply visit the Sauna from Finland website. Happy bathing!

 Useful links:

Finnish national parks
Theatre in Finland
Midnight Sun Film Festival
Museum search

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