With its own distinct language and quirky traditions, Finland is in many ways the odd one out of the Nordic countries. While a trip to Finland feels very Scandinavian on the surface, dig just a little deeper and you’ll find several distinctive elements to the culture.
The Finnish language is entirely different from the Scandinavian languages, while much of the culture is adapted to the cold weather experienced by much of the country, which is notably colder than most of Scandinavia especially in winter.
Many travelers wonder why the country so often ranks as the world’s happiest nation. Could some of these cultural quirks hold the key to Nordic happiness? Judge for yourself.
An outdoors lifestyle
Finns share a love of the outdoors with their Nordic neighbours and have the same freedom to roam laws protecting people’s rights to access nature. Vast areas of the forested, lake-filled nation are protected in 40 national parks.
While hiking and spending time on Baltic Sea islands are popular activities, it’s possible to make the most of nature in the cities too. Well-maintained walking and cycling. paths can be found in all cities together with open spaces that help the population make the most of their outdoors time.
Finns also embrace the harsh winters by wrapping up warm and carrying on with their lives. Cycling remains popular throughout the winter and winter festivals and events are common in the bigger cities. Ice hockey—a winter sport—is one of the most popular sports in Finland to play or watch.
This love of the outdoors is something Finns experience from a very young age. There’s even an early education movement known as forest schools, in which pre-school age children spend most of their days playing in the wilderness and learning about the natural world.
It’s easy for travelers to get a taste of Finnish nature, an important element of Finnish lifestyle year-round, but there’s a lot more to Finnish culture than just spending time outside.
Sauna is a national obsession
While Finland shares its love of the outdoors with the rest of the Nordic region, a Finn’s day in nature will almost always end in a sauna, something that’s much less common elsewhere in the region.
So popular is the activity in Finland that you are never far from a sauna facility, whether you realise it or not. What is seen in much of the rest of the world as a luxury is considered a necessity in Finnish culture.
International visitors often feel uncomfortable visiting public saunas but there is very little to be concerned about. The old Finnish saying: “Behave in the sauna as you would behave in the church” is rooted in truth.
Varpu from Her Finland described everything about the sauna’s place in Finnish culture as positive: “A sauna is a place of health, cleanliness and pureness. There’s nothing sexual about sauna. To be precise, it’s almost a holy place.”
Coffee (and cake)
You might expect Italy or France to top the charts of countries with the world’s highest coffee consumption, but it’s actually Finland that tops the annual list more often than not. Drinking multiple cups of coffee per day is the norm in Finland.
No-one is quite sure where the country’s love affair with coffee came from, but the extreme cold temperatures especially in the north surely have something to do with it.
Independent coffee shops and small chains are commonplace in all towns and cities, while fresh coffee is always served when visiting a Finn at their home. As with the Swedish fika, coffee is most often served with something sweet.
The medieval name day tradition
People in Finland don’t just celebrate birthdays. They also celebrate name days, a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. While festivities used to be grand, these days a name day is typically celebrated simply with coffee and cake.
According to This is Finland, the latest name day calendar features 834 names and is updated every five years. Not every Finnish name is included, however. To make it on to the calendar, a name must be used for at least 500 children.
Finland’s indigenous Sámi people also have their own name day calendar, as do the estimated 5.5% of Finns who speak Swedish as their native language. There’s even name day calendars available for popular pets including cats and dogs.
When the Swedish-Finn writer and illustrator Tove Jansson first created the miniature hippo-like trolls in 1945, she could surely never have expected the Moomins to achieve such worldwide popularity.
While the children’s books and cartoons are popular around the world, nowhere are they loved more than in Finland.
Tampere is home to the Moomin Museum, an experiential art museum featuring 400 original illustrations and 30 3D tableaus. In southwest Finland, the resort town Naantali hosts Moominworld, a recreation of Moomin valley full of fairytale experiences.
Over the last 77 years, Finland has hosted Moomin-themed stage productions and even an opera. Moomin characters have adorned the planes of national carrier Finnair and even made it on to commemorative coins.