Some people wonder how the Finns can survive those dark and freezing autumns and winters and despite that having been declared the happiest country in the world for the fourth consecutive year according to the World Happiness Report published on March 20. The answer is simple: they know that the other half of the year will be illuminated and full of life. As of the winter solstice, the day begins to gain ground over the night, which is why from that moment it is common to find Finns enjoying life outdoors, even in the early hours of the morning. During the summer “white nights” the sun dips briefly into the horizon, generating a feeling of constant daytime – in the northernmost areas of the country it stays above the horizon for more than 70 days in a row. The city of Oulu, the capital of the northern region, and its surroundings are the ideal setting for the Finnish experience during spring and summer.
The entire Oulu region is a connecting point between the southern lakes area and the Lapland region. Its airport is the second busiest in the country, so connections with the main European capitals are guaranteed. Once in the city, its orography invites you to forget about the car. The best thing is to let yourself be carried away by the passion that its inhabitants profess for bicycles; most use them for their urban trips, including the smallest of the family. In the surroundings of the central Kauppatori Square, where the municipal library and theater are located, there are several shops for renting bikes by the hour at affordable prices. Once equipped, from this enclave you can start various pedaling routes to discover this town of almost 4,000 square kilometers (of which 22% is water).
To the wide network of bike lanes that run through the city are added the level crossings that connect the different islands that make it up, such as Pikisaari, one of the oldest districts of Oulu and which receives the name of the tar distillery that formerly it was its economic engine. Today only the charming wooden cabins where their employees lived, converted into hostels, shops and restaurants, remain from that activity. Crossing the small island, it takes just three kilometers to reach another larger island, Toppilansaari, washed by the Gulf of Bothnia that Finland shares with Sweden. That is why it is common to find Finns and Swedes – the latter crossing the bay by boat – enjoying Nallikarin beach. Its calm waters make it the perfect meeting place during the summer season. When the tide is low, you can walk up to 50 meters out to sea without the water exceeding your knees.
Another area to pedal is the Ainolan park, one of the largest and its green heart, although in this city nature blends in with concrete in every corner. In its vicinity there are two important institutions to get to know the Finnish cultural scene, in the art Museum, and the scientific and technological milestones carved in Oulu, in the Tietomaa Science Center. The metropolis, which formerly lived on forestry and salmon fishing, has become in the last half century one of the most important technological enclaves in the country, attracting talent from inside and outside.
You cannot visit Finland without living one of its most indigenous experiences: the sauna, declared in December 2020 Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. There are more than three million saunas for a population of 5.5 million. This practice, in addition to being healthy, is one of the pillars of the social life of the Finns, who even hold important work meetings in the steam.
Practically all houses have one (either electric or wood stove), and it is also an essential service of hotels and hostels. Although in the second half of the 20th century public saunas began to disappear, in recent years the private sector has again promoted their appearance. One of the most peculiar of Oulu is the Kësan sauna, in the middle of the Merikoski river. This floating sauna, managed by volunteers and accessed by boat, invites you to combine the vapors inside with baths in the river itself.
To continue caring for the body, back in Kauppatori Square you will find the old Kauppahalli market. Built in 1901, here you can still breathe that tradition of the sale of supplies for which it was created. Inside, and in the immediate vicinity, it is common to find stalls selling all kinds of fresh and cooked products, the star dish being the exquisite reindeer and elk meat stews. Between 35,000 and 50,000 moose, an animal that lives wild in the forests of Finland, are hunted on an authorized basis each autumn. In the case of reindeer, they are of livestock production. A vegetarian option is to try the famous Finnish pastry, with delicatessen like the Tippaleipä or the Runeberg.
Before leaving the city, it is worth visiting the Rotuaari pedestrian street, full of shops and karaoke bars – karaoke is another of the passions of the Finns. Local fashion and jewelery brands are also one of Oulu’s emblems, alongside the shops of the famous Finnish brand Marimekko.
Another of the attractions of this province is its rural life, where the population lives in constant communion with nature. So it’s worth a nearby getaway. About 30 kilometers from the city is Ii, a small town that offers different proposals to discover the past and present of the region. A pleasant two-kilometer route, which runs mostly along the homonymous river, allows you to learn about the history and life of the fishing villages in the area, as well as a contemporary art museum in the middle of the forest, The Environmental Art Park . The works that are exhibited among nature are signed by international artists who have passed through la Residencia KulttuuriKauppila, also in the municipality and great cultural engine of this Finnish enclave since its opening in 2006. And to complete the rural experience, a good idea is stay at Villa Kauppila, a bed & breakfast with cabins facing the Iijoki river.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.