Tampere in Finland: 5 tips to experience the sauna, mummies and art is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen.
Tampere: For a theater festival and sauna in Finland's nicest city
It's August and the weather is nice, but that's not why I'm sweating.
It's 70 degrees in the sauna, and more water has just been thrown on, and the water is dripping off the pan.
I've gone to a festival in Tampere that is Finland large cultural city with 13 theaters and a huge underground scene. And although I knew that Finns love saunas, I didn't know how wild it really was up here. Because in addition to Tampere being a lively cultural city, Tampere is also proclaimed the "sauna capital of the world".
There are many good reasons for this.
The world's oldest sauna is the Rajaportti Sauna in Pispala in Tampere, and it dates from 1906. Of course, there have been other saunas before, but this is the oldest public sauna still in use.
The sauna I sit and sweat in is a little different, though. It is an old villa in Tampere's most colorful district, called Pispala Tahmela's Villa. The very committed locals saved the old villa from sale and possible demolition, and today it is a community center with a café and a small library - right by the lake. And when you can eat something, you must of course also be able to go to the sauna, so you can do that here.
The experience just got a notch bigger because it was a 'guided sauna experience', where a local called Sauna Sirii made us a part of the various rituals.
They were whipped with birch ice - it doesn't hurt as much as it sounds - and many other other herbs, where, for example, juniper scratches a bit more, but is good as a gentle form of acupuncture. She also sang and told stories while we walked between the two different saunas and the lake, which was quite fresh to jump into.
Culture is taken seriously here - including the part about staying healthy and warm. By the way, it is tradition not to wear swimwear, but this is changing in some places, so take your bathing equipment with you if you are going to a public sauna.
I ended up going to the sauna every single day. Sometimes at the hotel and other times in the city. Every single day. And it feels really good here in Tampere, which the Finns themselves call Finland's most attractive city to live in, and I can kind of see why.
Of course, they also boast of being the world's happiest country - just like Denmark did when we were. That is why Tampere is also called the most attractive city in the world's happiest country. Nothing less.
It is said with a crooked smile, because irony and sarcasm have certainly not gone out of fashion in Finland, and their humor is as black as the licorice they are also so famous for.
Fortunately, the city does not live up to my prejudices about Finland in the summer: I don't meet a single mosquito, which is quite nice, because mosquitoes love me, and it's definitely not a mutual feeling.
Tampere: The Moomins meet heavy metal
Before the festival really starts, I manage to get out and see the city.
It's a fairly compact city so everything can be reached on foot and I only take the bus and tram a few times. Tampere has a past as one of Scandinavia's largest industrial cities, and while industry has moved out, culture has moved in.
Today, the city contains culture in all its guises.
One of the more famous places is the world's only Moomintroll museum, The Moomin Museum. It houses the largest collection of Tove Jansson's artworks and installations and is definitely also for adults who have grown up with the fairy-tale stories of the Moomintrolls.
The museum is located by the large concert hall, and a good tip is to borrow one of the intro books at the entrance.
It is a fine introduction to the fairy tale world that Tove Jannsson built up, and in many ways they are reminiscent of Tolkien's fairy tales, because here there is both light and darkness.
Exactly as I remember from the mummy stories of my childhood.
Good and bad. Day and night.
Tampere also has a more obviously wild side.
It is said to be the city in Finland with the most heavy metal bands, and there is a clear underground culture.
I can't remember when I've seen so many people with purple hair and leather clothes in the street scene, and it's not just young people: in Tampere there is room for everyone to be who they want to be.
So if you want to hear alternative underground music, there are plenty of options in Tampere.
I continued to the 120 meter high observation tower at Näsinneula, which contains both an amusement park and aquarium, and it is also here that the Sarah Hilden Art Museum is located. It's a bit on the edge of town, so I took bus number 2 out there all the way to the last stop. Easy.
The tower can definitely be recommended.
It offers a beautiful view of the city and nature, and since the top part actually rotates, you can sit and enjoy a donut and a cup of tea while you slowly watch it all.
One of the city's expensive restaurants is also located up there.
Art in Finlayson
So what kind of city is Tampere?
The city is quite unique and yet it reminds me of a few other cities in Europe.
If you can imagine a city the size of Aarhus, which structurally resembles Birmingham, culturally resembles Berlin and geographically a bit about Stockholm – because the city is surrounded by water – we're about to get there.
For example, they have the district of Finlayson, which is in the absolute center of Tampere and today is an artists' quarter in the old, beautiful industrial buildings, where the water runs right outside. Among other things, Galleri Himmelblau is located here, which has a fantastic exhibition with woodcarving workers, and there are working workshops, cinemas and street art.
Of course, they also have a more mainstream art museum, the Tampere Art Museum, located on the edge of the Finlayson area. Here there was an unusually exciting photo exhibition about the atomic bomb and the Thule base down in the basement and a quickly completed exhibition upstairs.
The district of Pispala with its old colored wooden houses is a bit of an exception to the rule in Tampere – at least architecturally. But not necessarily culturally, because it used to be workers' housing, and today it's home to a cool mix of millionaires and hippies, as the locals said, and one of the underground bars is right there: Vastavirta-klubi.
The rest of the city is a cheerful mix of all possible styles from the past two centuries.
In Finland, nature is always close by, even in a big city like Tampere. There are parks, lakes, views. It is very visible from the observation tower how much nature takes up here.
So Tampere is mummies, punks, theatre, sauna and beautiful nature.
That is quite unique.
A good tip is to go on a guided tour, so you can get a little under the surface of it all. It made a big difference in Pispala, for example.
Pirkanmaan festivalit – Tampere Theater Festival
We had reached the festival itself, and everywhere in the city it was going on.
Dance, music, theater – inside and out.
In the small square in front of the cozy café Telakka, which was close to my Hotel Lapland, there were constant performances. Small shows, music, acrobatics. Latin, Finnish and everything in between.
In the evening there were the big shows. Among other things, I went to Circus Baobab's performance 'Ye!', which can almost be described as acrobatics meets neo-circus with a nice twist of Africa, because the squad was from Guinea.
It started dystopically about the symbolic battle for water and ended in a fireworks display of wild acrobatic acts – where they flew through the air – and fine hilarity, and the great hall in the Concert Hall was a perfect place to experience it.
The next day I bumped into a performance theater at the train station itself, where an artist had to spend the night and perform rituals for 33 hours. I'm not sure I understood that part of the party, but regardless, it was fun to be in a city where there was always something going on.
the the festival consists of several hundred events, some of which are in English, so there is something for everyone.
If you are at a big city edition of a cultural festival, the Tampere Theater Festival is definitely the right choice.
Restaurants in Tampere: Restaurant Apaja, KUMMU and the breakfast
We have gone down a small street and then into an alley.
There is absolutely nothing to indicate that one of Tampere's most original restaurants is located here, but it is: Restaurant Apaja is located in a small caretaker's house just up from the railway, and here we meet the cheerful hostess Riia, who created the place and serves little flavor bombs out there in the crooked house.
Really delicious and a completely unique and charming little place.
We also get Asian treats at KUMMA Bar & Street Kitchen, and after the sauna trip in Tahmelas Villa, we get the most delicious local salmon soup with crisp salad and home-baked bread. Yum!
The most surprising thing, however, is that the breakfast itself at the hotel is so good.
There are countless Finnish specialties from Karelian pie with egg butter to reindeer sausage with lingonberries and lots of local berries and bread. It's always good to see when even a fairly large hotel chain, such as Lapland Hotels, can find a way to include the completely local and talk about it so nicely.
In addition, I get to eat lots of Finnish licorice. Salmiakki and all its cousins, and I end up having shopped a total of 13 different kinds from the soft classic ones to some drones of salmiakki bombs. Look, for example, for more special types and gourmet licorice inside the old one Market hall on the main street.
In general, the locals seem to care a lot about eating well, and if it can be combined with a sauna, it's a hit.
Finnish is a party: On a trip to Päämäärankuja
When you love languages, every day in Finland is a celebration.
The completely unique language is really unusual for a non-Finn, and although there are threads for Estonian and Hungarian, they themselves call it 'The isolated language'. At least they don't lack vowels, and I immediately fell for the street name 'Päämäärankuja', located inside the Finlayson area.
Although I'm usually pretty good with languages, I had a really hard time remembering all the syllables, but I'll never forget what the meaning is, because it spoke directly to my travel heart: Arrival Strait. Or in English: Destination Alley.
I was meant to be there and now I was there. It just felt right.
Sometimes, however, Finnish is not that difficult. Kioski, Poliisi and Apteekki can be guessed. And in southern Finland there is a large Swedish-speaking population, so there are often signs in both Swedish and Finnish. That helps too.
When going to Tampere, you can either fly directly from, for example, Copenhagen or go to Helsinki and from there take a train directly from the airport for just over 1,5 hours with a change at Tikkurila Station.
Everything is signposted in Swedish, Finnish and English, so it's fairly easy, although it can be a bit confusing that Tikkurila can also be called Dickursby, which is the Swedish name.
It is a little easier to guess that Helsinki is Helsinki and Tampere is Tampere. And then hello is called something as simple as 'hey', thank you is 'kiitos' and cheers is 'kippis' - so it's a good start.
Regardless, Finnish is a feast of exotic sounds and vowels ad libitum. And I'm obsessed with it.
Finland is definitely worth a visit.
The country that has given us bizarre sports such as women's racing, swamp football and air guitar world championships is an overlooked cultural destination that will probably surprise most people, and Tampere is a really good place to start and experience it all.
Have a good trip to the theater festival, have a good trip to Tampere!
This is what you must see and experience in Tampere
- The public saunas, e.g. Rauhaniemi
- The Pispala district
- Näsinneula observation tower
- Finlayson Art Area
- Näsi Park in the center of the city
- Restaurant Apaja
- One of the many festivals in the city
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