Summer in Finland: Top 5 things to do

The summer in mid and northern Europe is a lot shorter than we’d like. The temperatures aren’t as high as in the south, but at least this is compensated with very long days. In order to get the batteries reloaded after the winter, let’s check out what’s the best that the summer in Finland has to offer.

1. Take advantage of outdoor activities

Summer in Finland is the time where, finally, Finns can do outdoor activities other than skiing (in any of its varieties) or playing hockey (Finland’s national sport).

Visiting one of the thousand lakes for hiking, sunbathing or swimming is one of those things you can do. In Finland you’re never too far away from a lake, and visiting one is an excellent way to spend a day. If you want to see a huge lake, go to Saimaa lake, the biggest one in Finland.

Koli: national park in Finland
Lake, trees, mountains. This is Koli, a National Park in Finland.

If we talk about lakes we should also talk about beaches. Some of them are nudist beaches, like Yyteri near Pori, which, together with its other non-nudist half, makes up for one of the largest beaches of the nordic countries.

If you are in the Helsinki area, check out the most visited beach of the city, Hietaniemi beach, which offers a lot of sport opportunities and is supervised by lifeguards during the summer in Finland. If you want to know all the beaches Finland has to offer, check out this list from the council of Helsinki.

Another outdoor option is to visit a Finnish forest. There is a law in Finland called “Everyman’s right”, which allows everyone to roam free throughout the forest, no matter who owns the land. That, of course, doesn’t only apply to locals: If you find yourself in a Finnish forest, roam free and get lost (but not a lot, take a GPS with you) without worrying. Nordic walking, the sport where you walk with ski-like sticks, can be practiced everywhere and is popular in Finland.

2. Attend one of the crazy competitions that happen during the summer in Finland

In summer the fun finally breaks loose and one of the ways Finns have found to channel these impulses are crazy competitions. For instance, in August you can go to the Air Guitar World Championship in Oulu or the Mobile Throwing Championship in Savonlinna.

Air guitar
The participants of the Air Guitar Championship in Oulu are real stars of the summer in Finland.

Other famous World Championships in Finland are the Mobile Sauna Championship, in the city of Teuva on Finland’s west coast in August and the Wife Carrying Championship in Sonkajärvi in July.

3. Attend a music festival or a city festival

Finland offers some great music festivals during the summer, for instance, Ilosarirock in Joensuu (held each July), the Tuska Metal festival held in Helsinki each June, or the Flow Festival of Helsinki in August. Plenty of options for dancing during the summer in Finland.

Leaving aside the usual music festivals (plenty of nights and days with lots of bands, camping, and pretty expensive beverages) as mentioned above, we can highlight the Savonlinna Opera Festival held each summer in Finland. Another famous music festival is Pori Jazz.

Go with the Flow (festival). Classic bad joke.

Finally, if we talk about city festivals, the World Village Festival of Helsinki celebrated each May and the Helsinki Festival (official website) are great options.

4. Visit popular tourist sights

A lot of people love to go to Finland for tourism during the winter, to enjoy the northern lights (check the best moments and the best places to see them in Finland) or to visit Santa, but other, less cold-friendly people can enjoy the summer in Finland too.

You can visit theme parks such as the Angry Birds park in Tampere or the Moomin park in Naantali. If you want a hardcore version of a theme park, check out the Veijo Ronkonnen sculpture park as well: you’ll need courage for this one.

The Veijo Ronkkonen park
A strange park Mr Veijo Ronkkonen made, no doubt. Source.

From Finland you can quickly check out Russia, Sweden and Estonia too, thanks to the country’s ferry options. If you take a ferry from Helsinki, you can stay in St. Petersburg, a city I recommend, for up to three days without a visa. (The boat that makes this trip is the Princess Maria.) Stockholm is also pretty close, and Tallin is just a couple of hours away.

If, instead of man-made things, you prefer to appreciate the natural attractions of the summer in Finland, you should see the midnight sun over the arctic circle or the white nights under it. Two awe-inspiring phenomena for the ones who see them for the first time.

5. Participate in the traditions that the summer in Finland has to offer

Juhannus (we’ll talk in detail about it soon) is the preferred holiday of the summer in Finland for the Finns. It is the longest day of the year and that – because the difference in daylight hours between the summer and winter in Finland is so big – is an important occurence. On this day Finns light huge bonfires by the lakes and spend the day in their summer cottages.

A summer cabin in Finland
Summer in Finland = summer cottage. Source.

Spending the weekends in a cottage – most likely with one of the three types of sauna in Finland – is probably the best option to spend the summer with friends and family, since most likely the cottage will have next to it a forest and a lake. I am yearning for it already!

What’s your recommendation for the summer in Finland? What’s your favourite activity from the ones we listed here? Let’s use these days before the autumn and the Ruska take over.



A great year to see Aurora Borealis in Finland

It shouldn’t be like that, but in 2014 we’ll have good chances to see many, and very intense, Aurora Borealis.

And I say that it shouldn’t be like that because the solar cycle – what makes Aurora Borealis happen more often and intensely – should have been dwindling this year. But instead of that, 2014 is presenting us with a very active solar cycle thanks to a double activity solar peak.

Aurora Borealis in 2014
An Aurora Borealis over a Finnish town. Source (CC: by-sa)

The Aurora Borealis in Finland: Where and when

Some of the favorite posts about this topic of Big in Finland‘s readers are the one about the best places to see the Northern Lights in Finland and Lapland (a little summary: The more northern the better) and the one about when to see them (in general: In the equinox months and around midnight).

With these two articles one can assess better where to go and when, while planning a trip to Finland.

Aurora Borealis on Finland's sky
The Aurora Borealis dances over the trees. Source (CC: by-sa)

Aurora Borealis in 2014: It is a great year

Last year was pretty good in this regard – we put our favorite photos of the Aurora Boralis over Finland in 2013 on our Spanish blog – and it seems that the tendency is continuing.

2014 is going to be a great year to see this wonder of nature that happens in the northern hemisphere of the earth, above the arctic circle. But don’t just take my word for it: NASA experts say it too.

Aurora Borealis over Joensuu
This Auora happened in Joensuu, North Karelia, Finlandi.

A peak in Aurora Boralis activity

According to the data that NASA handled, and mentioned in the linked article above, from December 2013 on there was a new peak of solar activity to see the Aurora.

What does this mean? That if you’re in Finland for travel, Erasmus exchange or any other reason, you’ll have to look at the sky more often than ever in order not to miss an Aurora Borealis.

Right now there are too many hours of daylight per day – something we will talk about soon: The white nights – to see them, but if you dream of watching the Aurora Borealis dancing over the night sky, from September on it will be the best time to do so (check out our tips for traveling to Finland).

And remember: The solar activity that causes the Aurora Borealis to occur will be decreasing from 2015 onwards until the next peak will happen in some years. That will mean less frequent and less bright northern lights. So in order to have the best odds to see an Aurora, this year is your year.

When did you see your first Aurora Borealis? Do you know if it was on a high solar peak?



Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food

The defining moment that tells you entered your adulthood is – along filling your first tax report – watching cooking shows. And when I stumbled upon Gordon Ramsay trying traditional Finnish food I couldn’t help but share it.

I got to know about Gordon Ramsay through the fantastic Master Chef USA, a TV program that I follow each and every year. It has excellent production values and its design as a television program is impeccable.

Gordon Ramsay on a cooking show
Ramsay, recording a cooking show. Source (CC: by)

Gordon Ramsay: Who is he and what does he do

Since I first saw Master Chef I also started watching some others’ Gordon Ramsay programs when I am in the mood for some TV program about food. Kitchen Nightmares USA or Gordon’s Great Escape (where he travels to other countries to learn traditional techniques, and where he changes his usual harsh critiques towards a more benevolent approach) are programs that are well done and that I like.

If you don’t know who Ramsay is, he is the 2nd chef with the most Michelin Stars in the world. Because of that, and his TV programs, he’s one of the world’s most known chefs. He also had a stellar appearance in The Simpsons (Season 23, chapter 5, when the Simpsons become foodies – by the way, don’t trust anyone who calls him or herself a “foodie” – and food bloggers).

Ramsay, with a ticket
Ramsay working in a kitchen. Source (CC: by)

If you like the person – or the persona – he’s got a fantastic YouTube channel where he shows how to make basic yet delicious recipes at home. with a better taste. I learned a couple of tricks with these videos.

Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food

Perhaps it is because I saw some videos of him on Youtube, the video appeared as a suggestion when I was looking for a video of Finland for another post. The title of the video didn’t leave me indifferent: Gordon Ramsay tastes traditional Finnish food.

After watching him and hearing his opinion on traditional Finnish food, I had to share it here. He’s merciless. You can watch it here:

What you see him tasting in the video is Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka), then he continues with leipäjuusto with cloudberry jam, and finishes with the dish we talked about in our last post: Mämmi, that dessert that everyone in Finland eats during Easter.

His comments are anything but nice, since he uses the word “disgusting” in all of them.

Finnish food that I liked and where to eat it in Helsinki

Reindeer
A reindeer dish. Source (CC: by)

There are several Finnish dishes that I recommend trying when you are in Finland.

For example, I really love the texture and flavor of reindeer, something that you can get in many places in Finland. Also, bear meat is an exotic ingredient that tastes quite nice. Both ingredients are pricy, but worth trying when you are in Finland.

For the über-fine-diners, there are 6 restaurants in Finland with Michelin Stars (one each): Ask, Chef & Sommelier (the newest additions to the list), Demo, Luomo, Olo and Postres, all of them in Helsinki. If you want go for high class Finnish cuisine with some reinventions of traditional Finnish food, this is your restaurant list.

And if you’re not in Helsinki but it the rest of Finland (although it is also happening in the Finnish capital) you should try the street food on one of the Restaurant Days, where anyone can set up a restaurant for a day.

What’s the Finnish dish that you like the most? And what do you think about the traditional Finnish food (for instance, the one that Ramsay tried: Karelian pies, leipäjuusto or mämmi)?



Vappu – the spring fest in Finland

If you are in Finland right now you will notice that everyone is excited, and some are thrilled out of their minds. The reason is that Vappu is coming. And what is Vappu? It is the spring fest of Finland, the Labour Day and the May Day.

Vappu
I remember how, during my first Vappu, nobody could explain to me very well what it was all about. It took investigation and thorough questioning, but the answers to it were the same as I said above. But that wasn’t all.

Vappu in Finland

In Vappu you can meet two distinctive groups of people.

The first group are the students. They wear their colorful overalls and their graduation caps and they go out to celebrate and indulge for a couple of days. I like that.

Each faculty has different overall colors. For instance, in Joensuu, the Science Park people – with whom I proudly tagged along – were dressed in purple. Others were yellow, green, etc., making it easy to discover fellow people. The overalls have brands on them, mostly local, from companies who subsidize their costs to the students.

The overall from a Finnish university
An overall from one of the Universities of North Karelia
The second group are the Finnish people who don’t belong to any faculty, either because they are through with university, or because they never went. Nonetheless, they wear their graduation caps as well: mostly white and with a little black.

It seems the graduation from high school is a pretty important moment of every Finn’s life. They get the white cap that signals them as having finished high school and they treasure it all their life, wearing it on Vappu every year. I have discussed with Finns why they are so proud of having passed high school – especially in a country with a great school system – but I still don’t get it. Roses are another symbol of graduation day, where the Finns wear their best clothes.

Some Finnish grandpas wearing the white capTwo seniors wearing their high school graduation caps.

Vappu traditions

The university students are the ones mostly carrying out the Vappu traditions. The first tradition is to wet a representative statue of the city – for instance, Havis Amanda in Helsinki – with champagne and put a graduation cap on it.

In Joensuu the students have a giant graduation cap – 1 meter in diameter – and they march to the university buildings with the help of a marching band and put the cap onto one of the statues in front of the Carelia building. Pretty cool.

The giant cap
The giant cap being carried
Vappu also marks the real beginning of spring in Finland: Around the first of May there is no snow anymore (or, if there is, there are only little heaps of it left over in the shade), and the days are so long that they are inviting the Finns to party. During my first Vappu, we had terrific weather and we always honored every chance of having some drink on a terrace, an excellent moment to make some Finnish friends.

Beer on a table
A drink in the sun

What to eat and drink during Vappu

If you’re looking for a Vappu drink, try simä. If you prefer the food side, Vappu’s favorite is the munkki. Munkkis are Finnish donuts, and simä is a fermented drink that Finns make at home for this day. The munkkis I tried – homemade by the mother of a friend – were delicious, so I can definitely recommend them.

People, as I mentioned above, spend Vappu with infused happiness – yep, alcohol – outdoors, and having picnics in parks. Some Vappu parties can be found as well, and parties at night are common and almost a stop you can’t – and shouldn’t – miss. Student parties or club parties, you’ll have a great Vappu.

Vappu party
This was my first Vappu party

Party like is VappuMaking friends during Vappu

Enjoy your day. People are much more friendly than usual, and – who knows – maybe a Vappu romance can start (another great day for it will be Midsummer, but we will talk about that another day): Vappu, alcohol, picnic, outdoors, springtime. A mix that can’t and won’t fail.

Have you spend Vappu in Finland? What are your highlights for this day?




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