Stuart Forster reports on things to do and see in Tampere, Finland’s largest inland city.
For first time visitors to Finland, Tampere may not be the obvious choice of destination, but the country’s largest inland city is a pleasant starting point if you want to gain an insight to the cultural soul of this Nordic nation.
This was my very first trip to Scandinavia and I had little real idea of what to expect from the city 170km north-west of Helsinki. Lots of tall, blonde haired people? Bone chilling temperatures? Frighteningly expensive beer? As it turned out, none of those stereotypes proved correct.
Nighttime in downtown Tampere
In fact, the only Nordic stereotype that does ring true is that the city exhibits a generally high standard of living. The city is clean, orderly and makes a good first impression. With more than 217,000 inhabitants, Tampere is a big city, especially in Finnish terms, but even at night the streets feel safe.
“You’d have to do something really stupid not to make it back to your hotel safely, even if you’re a woman and alone,” said my taxi driver in clipped but excellent English as he dropped me from the airport at my city centre hotel.
Tammerkoski rapids national heritage site
The next morning I woke early, to take an orientation walk, and saw that anglers were already out and active, casting their lines into the Tammerkoski river, which runs through the centre of town. The water which drops through the Tammerkoski rapids once powered the red brick mills and factories which earned Tampere its reputation as “the Manchester of Finland”. These days the former industrial buildings and riverside area is a national heritage site, regenerated and renowned for its annual theatre festival. When the mills went into decline, steps were taken to clean up the local environment.
The Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi lakes, to the immediate north and south of the isthmus on which the city is built, are now clean enough to provide habitat for even the most sensitive of crustaceans – the crayfish – along with a good selection of fresh water fish, including trout, pike and perch. The bountiful fish, idyllic blue summer skies and sense of solitude offered while fishing on the region’s pine forest surrounded lakes now attract anglers from Russia, Germany and even further afield.
Nordic walking and berry picking
The Finns also enjoy making the most of their natural heritage. Sixty-nine per cent of the nation’s land is forested and Finnish law guarantees people access to the countryside. People may trek and camp in the forest, and collecting wild berries and mushrooms is permitted without the need for a license. You don’t have to go far from town to see people of all ages enjoying activities such as mushrooming and Nordic Walking.
I joined a guided walk, which started from one of the city’s former lakeside factories. The premises have been converted into the Holiday Club Tampere, which houses plush spa and sauna facilities. The sauna is an integral part of Finnish life and soaking in the Jacuzzi after a session in the steam room is the perfect way to relax after a long walk.
Dining out in Tampere
And, of course, physical activity helps create an appetite. That’s just as well, for one of Finland’s greatest secrets has to be its excellent cuisine. The chefs make liberal use of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients such as lingonberries and mushrooms to garnish their dishes. Elk and reindeer numbers are kept in check by Finnish hunters, who supply local kitchens with the tasty, lean flesh.
The careful, artistic presentation of the dishes served in the Restaurant Näsinneula, in the 124-metre high revolving observation deck within Särkänniemi Amusement Park’s tower, is attractive enough to distract even from the panoramic view of evening descending over the surrounding lakes and countryside.
Tampere’s summer crayfish parties
Not only is the food good, people enjoy sharing it together. The Tampere region is famed in Finland for its seasonal crayfish parties. A small mountain of crayfish is placed in the centre of the table for guests to devour, washed down with glasses of ice cold schnapps. “For every crayfish we eat, we must salute it with a glass of schnapps,” said Ismo, a hospitable local fishing expert. And so we did.
After sleeping in, the next day I decided to take a look around a couple of the city’s numerous museums. The Lenin Museum provides details on the life of the Russian revolutionary, who was based in Tampere in 1905 and 1906. It was here that he first met Joseph Stalin. Finland was then a Russian province. Lenin granted the country independence following the 1917 Russian revolution.
The Cold War and the Spy Museum
The proximity of the two states helps explain Russian and Western interest in Finland during the Cold War. Fitting then, that the world’s first dedicated espionage museum was founded in Tampere. The Spy Museum displays an array of cunning gadgets and weaponry, and offers lie detector and special agent tests to visitors. The museum shop even sells pens which contain a hidden video camera.
Back outside, on Tampere’s laid-back, sun-kissed streets, I enjoyed the Art Nouveau inspired architecture around Central Square; a world away from Cold War paranoia and tight-lipped KGB and CIA agents. Tampere, after all, has plenty of secrets worth sharing.
For learn about the attractions in the Tampere region see the Visit Tampere website.
For information about Finland click on the Visit Finland website.
If you enjoyed this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts on a monthly basis.
‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.