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Top 10 Things to do While Studying in Finland

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Located at Europe’s northern peak, Finland is a country of intriguing quirks – so much so that there is even an official term coined to market the nation’s unique sense of the bizarre: Finnwacky.

While the Finnwacky stereotype doesn’t begin to do justice to the range of cultural and leisure pursuits that are on offer to those who study in Finland, it does describe one enticing aspect of Finnish culture – it’s a country with a real sense of fun.

Add to this the remote beauty of subarctic Lapland, the sophisticated design and chic scene of Helsinki, low or non-existent tuition fees (depending on if you’re from the EU or not) and Finland is a great place to spend your time studying abroad…

1. Visit Lapland, the home of Father Christmas 

Lapland

You may have grown up and stopped believing in Santa Claus long ago, but no period spent studying in Finland would be complete without a trip to Lapland, the mythical home of Father Christmas. A snow-coated wilderness populated by reindeer and elks, Lapland is the original winter wonderland. You could even study in Finland at the University of Lapland, which is located in the province’s capital, Rovaniemi, and is the most northern university in the European Union.

As well as stunning views of pristine snowy hills and the mysterious Northern Lights, Lapland offers a wide range of outdoor activities to help thaw you out – from skiing and tobogganing, to husky sleighing, snowmobiling and even (if you’re feeling brave) taking a dip in a frozen lake. When you’re finished, head to Kemi and check out the world’s largest snow castle.

Did you know?

Although Lapland is primarily famed for its frozen winter months, the region’s extreme northern longitude means it also experiences endless summer days – literally. For several weeks in June and July the sun never sets below the horizon, meaning there is daylight 24/7. The downside of this is that during the winter, the reverse happens – constant darkness for days on end. However, this does bring with it spectacular views of the famous Northern Lights.  

2. Hang out in Helsinki 

Helsinki

A maritime metropolis exuding Scandinavian chic, Helsinki is cool in more ways than one, and currently ranks within the top 70 of the QS Best Student Cities. While the darkness of the winter months brings an atmosphere of hibernation to the city, in the summer Helsinki’s young crowd explodes into life, packing the streets and squares and partying through the night as the city sees nearly 20 hours of sunlight per day.

If you’re based in Helsinki while studying in Finland, you won’t find too many language barriers – nearly 90 percent of Helsinki’s population speaks English. One perfect way to make friends with your new classmates could be Vappu – the annual Spring Festival. Traditionally a student event, Vappu in Helsinki is an all-night party culminating in a champagne brunch at Ullanlinna Park – at least for those who can handle the pace!

3. Turn up the temperature with a traditional Finnish sauna 

Sauna

If the party scene in Helsinki leaves you feeling in need of a detox, what better way than indulging in Finland’s traditional, national obsession, the sauna. Finland has over two million saunas – that’s about one for every three people – and taking a steam-bath is both a leisure activity and, for some, a fiercely competitive test of endurance.

With its endless summer days and endless winter nights, Finland is a nation of opposites, and the sauna is no exception – once you’ve baked in temperatures of over 80°C (176°F), the idea is to jump into a swimming pool – or, even better, an ice-cold lake. This is said to be good for blood circulation, but most people do it simply for the adrenalin rush.

4. Go to a hockey or pesäpallo match 

Ice hockey Finland

Finland is known as one of the “big seven” ice hockey nations (alongside Canada, Russia, the US, Slovakia, Sweden and the Czech Republic) and the game is the country’s most popular sport alongside Formula One racing.

However, for a more quintessential Finnish sporting experience, check out the other national sport –pesäpallo. A Finnish version of baseball, pesäpallo has a few notable differences from its more internationally established cousin. Other popular Finnish sporting activities include football, floorball, Nordic walking, strongman competitions and, on the Finnwacky side of things, an annual wife-carrying race.

5. Have a picnic at Suomenlinna Island 

Suomenlinna Island

Suomenlinna Island, which translates as “Castle of Finland”, is a former military sea fortress on a picturesque cluster of islands located at the entrance of Helsinki's harbor. A popular tourist attraction for its spectacular views, Suomenlinna welcomes around 600,000 visitors each year. It’s also a popular hang-out for locals, many of whom take a ferry out from nearby Helsinki on sunny days to have a picnic. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Suomenlinna could be the perfect spot for a relaxing study break during your time studying in Finland – or a seriously scenic backdrop to make your revision seem that little bit more bearable.

6. Embrace ‘Finnwacky’ - go to one of Finland’s legendary weird events 

World Air Guitar Championship

Every country has a few customs, traditions and rituals that look a bit peculiar to the uninitiated outsider – but no one does bizarre quite as well as the Finns. Take your pick from a host of compellingly weird festivals going on all year round – highlights include the World Wife Carrying Championship, the World Cell Phone Throwing Championship and various ant-nest sitting competitions (no, that’s not a typo – it’s a competition to see who can sit on an ant’s nest for longest).

Our personal favorite is the fiercely contested annual competition to find the planet’s most vicariously virtuosic master of the fictional fretboard – that’s right, it’s the World Air Guitar Championship.

7. Crank up the volume with Finland’s heavy metal scene  

Heavy metal

Speaking of rocking out, the Finns are pretty good at doing it for real, too. Remember Lordi, winners of the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2006? Well, there’s plenty more where that came from. Finland is a country that isn’t afraid to turn it up to 11.

Hard rock and heavy metal are massive all over Scandinavia, but nowhere more so than in Finland. You might want to pick a more soothing accompaniment if you’re trying to study, but if you’re the sort of person who likes to let their hair down once in a while, Finland is definitely the place for you.

8. Check out Helsinki Design Week 

Helsinki street

Finland may be a country full of endearing oddities, but in the world of design, architecture and fashion, the Finns are as chic as it gets. Since 2005, Helsinki Design Week has been showcasing the city’s creative achievements, coinciding with the laidback party atmosphere that prevails in the capital during the sunny summer months.

If you can’t make it to Helsinki for design week, fear not – you can always get your dose of Finnish fashion and art decor in Helsinki’s design district. A neighborhood consisting of 25 streets peppered with art and antique shops, boutiques, museums and exhibitions, the design district is the perfect place to take a walking tour if you’re of a creative persuasion.

9. Hit the slopes 

Skiing in Finland

As you would imagine for a country that’s home to Father Christmas, Finland is a pretty good place to study abroad if you’re a skiing or snowboarding fanatic. If you decide to study in Finland having never tried snowsports before, don’t worry: there’s no better place to learn.

With many of the country’s slopes lying at relatively low altitude, there are an abundance of reasonably unthreatening descents to get you started without putting you off for good. Those who are more experienced will be glad to hear there are also enough advanced runs and off-piste opportunities to keep even the most intrepid adrenalin junkie happy.

10. Explore Scandinavia and Eastern Europe 

Explore Scandinavia and Eastern Europe

One of the great things about studying abroad in Europe is the proximity of a vast array of different nations, cultures, languages and landscapes packed into a compact space – meaning you may never have a better opportunity to travel and clock up some extra stamps on your passport.

Studying in Finland gives you an excellent chance to check out some of the less well-trodden travel trails in eastern and northern Europe during weekends or between semesters.

Hop on a ferry over to the Estonian capital Tallinn, just 50 miles south of Helsinki, or head to Latvia and get to know Riga, both a party capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also well within striking distance are Lithuania and Sweden, with trendy Stockholm just a ferry ride away too. If you fancy adventuring further afield, why not head east by train to Russia, and explore the beautiful city of St Petersburg?

Did you know?

Finland is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union (EU).

More things to do: 

  • Sit down to a meal of reindeer (just try not to think about Rudolf)
  • Put your hiking boots on and explore one of the 30+ national parks. The Archipelago National Park is included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves..
  • Heard of any Finnish cities other than Helsinki? Well there are plenty to explore, including Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Jyväskylä, Kuopio and Lahti.
  • Photograph a moose
  • Try your hand at fishing – after all, it is a staple part of the Finnish diet

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This article was originally published in June 2010. It was updated in December 2015 and again in December 2017.

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