If there’s one thing I learned during my recent visit to Finland, it’s that the heart of the country is found outdoors.
Yes, the capital of Helsinki is home to cultural events, design stores, and cool cafes, but nature is where you get to experience the beauty of this country – the lakes, the forests, and the wild berries growing on the bushes.
Some visitors choose to stay in the capital because “the outdoors” seems too remote and hard to access, but what if I told you that the stunning Nuuksio National Park that you see in the photo below is only 40 minutes outside of Helsinki? Yes, this is nature at its finest and it’s only a short drive away.
My introduction to Finland’s Great Outdoors began at Haltia. Haltia is a visitor centre that showcases nature across Finland through various exhibitions. Basically, if you know next to nothing about the outdoors, then this is the place to come.
I spent part of my morning here, during which time I got to: walk through a snowy canyon and learn about Finnish winter and how animals and plants survive under the harsh elements, watch an animated landscape transport me through all 4 seasons in a matter of minutes, and experience ‘nature by night’ where I sat in a dark room and listened to the nighttime sounds of wildlife and streams. (This last experience is very soothing and apparently more than one person has been found sound asleep on the beanbags – Sam included!)
And here’s a fun fact for you: Finland has an estimated 13,000 trees for every Finn. That’s a lot of trees!
It was during my hike through Nuuksio National Park that I learned about Every Man’s Right, a practice that essentially allows anyone living or visiting Finland to make the most of nature. This means:
- You may pitch your tent and temporarily camp out anywhere in the country. The only rule is that you must be within reasonable distance of people’s homes – it would not be appropriate to set up your tent on someone’s front yard, or in a field where someone’s crops would be ruined – but anywhere else is pretty much fair game.
- You can freely pick all kinds of berries, mushrooms and flowers from the wild so long as these are not protected species.
- You are free to fish on any river, lake, or sea with a rod and line, and likewise, you are free to swim, bathe, and operate motorized vehicles in any of these bodies of water.
- You are free to walk, bike, ride horses, or ski in the countryside.
The only restrictions are that you may not disturb people or damage property, disturb game animals or birds during mating season, cut down or damage standing trees, hunt without a permit, or leave litter behind.
I found this to be a mind-blowing concept, especially coming from Canada where signs that read “no trespassing, keep out, and this is private property” are quite common. Meanwhile Finland’s Nature Conservation Act states that “no sign prohibiting trespassing, mooring, and landing or otherwise restricting free public access is to be erected on land or water insofar as there are no legal grounds for doing so.” Imagine that! While this is not at all common in North America, I did learn that Every Man’s Right is practiced in most of the Nordic and Baltic countries. That makes this part of the world a great summer destination in my books!
The Finnish government has even taken measures to encourage people to spend more time outdoors. For example, when I visited Nuuksio National Park, I noticed that there was a large shed along the trails stocked with chopped wood. When I asked my guide Jukka Pekka about this, he explained that this is funded by the government, so that when people visit the park, they can easily gather wood and make a little fire to either cook food outdoors or keep warm for the night in a designated camp area.
Aside from this, the national park is equipped with cabins for shelter, each of which contain a raised cooking area and a bench for a picnic. Also, the park has clean, environmentally-friendly toilets located inside cute little red cottages, so, aherm, if you’re coming from the city and you’re used to having facilities readily available, fear not!
I should also mention, that just because you’re heading out to a national park doesn’t mean that you have to go on an arduous week-long hike à la Bill Bryson. There are trails for people of all ages and fitness levels. Even if you’re pressed for time and only have a few hours to spare, there is still a trail for you.
For example, from the Haltia Nature Centre which I previously mentioned, you can embark on 2 short hikes that are perfect for day visitors. The first one is Päivättärenpolku which is 1.4 kilometres in length, and the other is Maahisenkierros which is 2 kilometers. Both of these are circle loops which start and end by the nature centre, and the parking lot is located right at the start of the trail, so really, there’s no excuse for you not to enjoy the outdoors!
Getting to Haltia and Nuuksio from Helsinki
During the summer months (May – Septmber) there is a direct bus that runs from Helsinki’s city centre to Haltia. The bus leaves from the front of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma at Mannerheiminaukio 2, and runs 1-3 times a day. (You can find the bus schedule here.)
You can also reach Haltia year round by taking trains S, E, and U, which run from Helsinki to Espoo, and from there you can catch buses 85 or 85K which will take you the rest of the way.
The entire trip from Helsinki takes about 1 hour via public transportation, or 40 minutes if you are driving your own vehicle.
Admission to the Haltia Nature Centre is 7 Euros for adults, and 2,50 Euros for children and students aged 7-17. However, admission to Nuuksio National Park is completely free of charge to everyone.