All I had read about Tampere before embarking on our bus trip from Helsinki, was this:
A simple industrial city two hours north of Helsinki that houses Finland’s oldest sauna.
As you can imagine, I didn’t expect much either!
But I am aware that today, some of the old industrial cities that have been reinvented can have a very interesting bohemian and industrial look which, I personally love.
So, I got on the bus with very few expectations but eager to enjoy the endless Finnish pine forests en route to what is known as the Finnish Manchester.
Upon arrival, we toured the centre – a very successful attempt to recover the industrial past of this small city of more than 300,000 inhabitants.
Its austere reddish brick industrial buildings sit firmly on the rapids of the imposing Tammerkoski River, which stunningly meanders through the city appearing and disappearing along the sauna capital of the world.
So far, much better than expected.
Was that incredibly blue subarctic sky contrasting with the sharp bell tower of its Lutheran cathedral?
Or the fascinating stories told in the Tampere Workers Museum about the first meeting between Lenin and Stalin in this small town?
Or the power of the Tammerkoski river unexpectedly surprising us through the quiet streets of the city?
All that, for sure!
But for me the WOOOW happened when I discovered the two impressive lakes that surround Tampere.
No, wait, I don’t feel I’m describing the moment correctly nor giving the city the credit it deserves.
Tampere – geographically privileged
Tampere is located in an ism between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi (good luck pronouncing it!).
But, in addition to these major lakes, this privileged little town has more than 200 beautiful lakes for you to swim, fish, and enjoy the water as you see fit.
In summer and in winter.
Because, do you really think a Finnish is going to be stopped by the subarctic temperatures in this area?
We’ll talk in a moment about their obsession for getting into dark lake waters at -35 ° C.
But first, the beauty of the lakes.
They are truly spectacular, there is no doubt about that.
But, for me, the WOW became DOUBLE WOW because of the “unexpected” factor of the entire experience.
We bordered the frozen shores of one of the lakes, crossed the ism (no, hold on, climbed it because we are talking about a small hill) and were faced once again by the impressive views of the second of Tampere’s main lakes unexpectedly opening before us.
If you visit Tampere, you walk along its two main lakes.
Just don’t expect roads specially paved for tourists.
Tampere is what it is.
And that’s good.
Will Tampere always be this honest?
Because the world is beginning to discover that in addition to Helsinki and Lapland, Finland hides many little jewels like Tampere.
The Finnish sauna: part of the country’s national identity for millennia
Tampere was declared the World Sauna Capital in 2018.
The city has more than 30 public saunas, including Finland’s oldest sauna: the Rajaportti sauna (1906) in the Pispala district, reflecting the importance of this activity for Finnish culture.
This tradition goes back more than two thousand years and it has become a key part of the identity of the Finnish people today.
In ancient Finland, the sauna was not only used for washing and bathing in the current sense.
It was necessary to dry flax, prepare malts, cure meat and for many other agricultural or household tasks.
It was also known as the “pharmacy of the poor man”, and it worked as a hospital where healers practiced their art administering baths, massages, and all kinds of cures (and spells!) which will not always be considered acceptable today!
It was even said that a few sessions in a sauna had the power to improve the male virility.
In the countryside, women generally gave birth in the sauna.
One of the Finnish presidents, Urho Kaleva Kekkonen, was born in a smoke sauna in 1900.
After delivery, mothers remained in the sauna for several weeks to recover and rest.
Saunas were also used to prepare the deceased for their last journey.
Saunas had been and are, a fundamental part of Finnish life from the cradle to the grave, literally.
But what’s happening right now?
That the concept of sauna is experiencing an international boom.
The appeal of the best saunas in the world
Up until now, it was only Japanese tourists who made their pilgrimage to the famous Rajaportti sauna in Tampere.
But now, technology is beginning to spread the deep-rooted tradition of this city throughout the world.
“In recent years we have tried to attract foreign visitors from all over the world, and we have translated our website into 11 languages,” explains Veikko Niskavaara, Superintendent of Rajaportti.
VisitTampere.fi has compiled all public saunas in the Tampere region on its own page at saunacapital.com, where you’ll find instructions and tips to help you manage your experience in a Finnish sauna.
New public saunas are opened every year in Tampere to maintain its fame and continue to attract tourists interested in this type of activity.
Tulli Sauna, opened near the Tampere Hall on April 2018, a contemporary space located in an industrial building, where in addition to enjoying the Finnish sauna culture in peace, you can try its varied and delicious menu, and even spend the night there!
Sauna Kuuma is a similar project, also launched in 2018, where you can enjoy a complete gastro-sauna experience in a modern and somewhat pricey environment.
If you prefer the old-style sauna, straight to Rajaportti!
For €10 per person (€ 6 on Mondays and Wednesdays), you can live the traditional Finnish sauna as locals have experienced it since 1906.
But what does all that mean for you, traveller over 50+?
It means that if you want to enjoy this wonderful tradition like the locals, you need to visit Tampere sooner rather than later.
International tourism is beginning to discover Tampere as a destination because of its own value, not just as a quick stop over between Helsinki and Lapland.
So, travel as soon as possible or travel in-between seasons!
But travel, my friend!
Don’t miss out on this little Finnish jewel that is Tampere!