Are you curious what Finland is famous for? Whether you’re planning to visit soon or you’re in need of some fun Finnish trivia, we’ve compiled a list of 27 things that Finland is known for.
Finland is famous for being the Happiest Country in the World, as well as having the world’s best education system and cleanest air. Finland is known for its saunas, reindeers, Nokia, and the Santa Claus village. This Nordic utopia is sometimes called the Country of a Thousand Lakes, and it’s got 187,888 of them.
Come with us as we explore what Finland is known for!
1. Northern Lights
Finland is famous for its spectacular views of the Northern Lights. Of course, you can see them in many countries, but the Aurora Borealis favors Finland in that you get an exceptional amount of privacy while you do it. Lapland is the favorite spot, and the best latitude for seeing them is the Kilpisjärvi region.
According to Finnish folklore, the northern lights are caused by a mystical arctic fox running north. He causes the skies to ignite by touching the mountains with his fur.
If you’re not a Finn, you might think of saunas as a luxury. In Finland however, they are a necessity. Primitive Finns invented them around 30,000 years ago, and there are more saunas than cars in Finland. There’s even a sauna at the Burger King in Helsinki!
Finland is famous for its sauna rituals and traditions. Don’t be alarmed if your Finnish friend starts gently beating you with a birch twig, it’s their way of improving your circulation. Roll in the snow, throw yourself into an ice cold lake – I promise you, it’s much nicer than it sounds!
Afterwards, it’s customary to have an after-sauna drink, usually beer or similar. I was also extremely lucky growing up to have a Finnish-Swedish guardian of my own to also offer me home-cooking after I’d finished baking myself at her lakeside sauna. You’ll never sleep better than after a sauna and refreshment. Kiitos, (thank you) Eva!
3. Ice Hockey
Finland is known for its quirky sports, but one that’s caught on around the rest of the world too is ice hockey. It’s true that many countries have rivalries with their neighbors, but nothing gets Finns and Swedes riled up like an ice hockey match, especially against each other.
Competition is fierce for gold and in 2019, Finland won the Ice Hockey World Championship for the third time. The national team, nicknamed Leijonat (the lions), are currently ranked third in the world when it comes to ice hockey prowess.
4. Connection with nature
Finland is known for having gorgeous lakes and forests, and the Finns feel a deep personal connection to the natural world. The Finnish word Metsäsuhde means ‘a part of an individual’s identity and personal relationship with that which evolves through different stages of life’.
Finland opens up its wilderness to tourists and locals by law. The rights of civil access allow anybody to walk, cycle or ski almost anywhere in the country. This also means you can forage for berries or mushrooms, even sleep in a tent pretty much wherever you like.
This comes with a caveat however, so don’t fish or hunt and leave it just the way you found it. Littering and noise pollution are not welcome in Finland so respect others and the land. It’s a great way to explore Finland on a budget, provided you go at the right time of year!
Mämmi, or memma to Finland-Swedes, might look like a pile of dirt to the untrained eye but to a Finn, it’s an Easter delicacy. I have it on good authority that it tastes like childhood nostalgia, and everyone I know with Finnish connections begs me to give it a go!
Traditionally eaten on Good Friday, Mämmi is made of rye flour, malt and syrup. It has the same consistency as porridge, and used to be consumed with milk or cream. These days, some Finns eat it with custard or vanilla ice cream to sweeten it up a touch.
Finland is famous for pioneering technological advancement. For many of us, our first cell phones were made by Finland’s master company, Nokia. My own Nokia phone survived falling in the ocean, being dropped in snow and even down a stairwell at my high school. But did you know that Nokia actually started as a paper production company?
In the 1960s, Nokia gained fame for their iconic rubber boots. To this day, my dad’s pair are still my footwear of choice when walking through the forest. These boots have proved just as indestructible as my trusty Nokia phone. Nokia are also credited with the first GSM call in 1991, and the first satellite call which was made in 1994. Those Finns know how to make ever-lasting objects!
There’s a saying in Finland you should know about: “Vain rumat ne vaatteilla koreilee”. It means “only ugly people need to dress up” and that’s about the level of honesty you can expect from a Finn.
Finns are often incorrectly labeled as ‘shy’ by tourists, even rude – but to a Finn, you might be embarrassed to find out that you are the rude one. On home turf, being silent is being polite. Not disturbing others is how you show courtesy to your fellows.
Ask a Finn a question and they’ll tell you no lies, so only ask if you really want to know the answer. Lastly – only engage a Finn in small talk if you wish them a severe case of Myötähäpeä – second-hand cringe. It’s just not how they operate up there!
Finland is also known for its love of vodka, and their attitude to alcohol can be summed up in one of their own idioms: “a drop won’t kill you and you can’t drown in a bucket”. It’s hard to believe today, but Finland actually had alcohol prohibition in place from 1919 to 1932.
Celebrations like Christmas and Midsummer in Finland almost always include heavy consumption of vodka or snaps. However, binge-drinking isn’t a public affair in Finland, and drinking is mostly done in privacy or at large gatherings. Fittingly, the Finns also have a word for drinking alone at home in your underwear with no intention of going out: Kalsarikännit. Well, no one’s perfect!
9. Santa Claus Village
Speaking of Christmas, Finland is where you’ll find Santa’s hometown! One of the largest tourist attractions in Finland couldn’t be cozier or more festive. Forget what you’ve been told about the North Pole because Santa’s official hometown is 8 kilometers (4.9 miles) north of Rovaniemi, Lapland.
You can visit him any day of the year at Santa Claus Village, and while you’re there take husky and reindeer sleigh rides! Santa’s post office in Rovaniemi receives half a million letters every year – and if you provide your own address he’ll even reply to you.
10. The cleanest air in the world
Finland has the cleanest air in the world and the best place to breathe is Lapland. Studies confirmed by the World Health Organization confirmed that Finland’s impeccable air quality is down to having fewer cars and no large polluting industries nearby.
Around 227,690 square kilometers (22,769,000 hectares) of Finland is woodland, and the trees work overtime to clean the air for its inhabitants.
11. Finnish pancakes
If you really love something, you give it many nicknames. At least, that’s what the Finns do. Finnish pancakes can be called Lettu, Lätty, Plätty, Ohukainen or Räiskäle.
Typically served with raspberry or strawberry jam and whipped cream, Finnish pancakes are thinner and slightly darker than its cousins, the French crêpe or American pancakes.
Pancakes are traditionally eaten on Thursday in Finland, but these days many Finns have them any day of the week.
12. National Sleepy Head Day
Finland is known for its amusing traditions, and this might just be the best yet. On 27 July, Finns let themselves sleep in. Don’t be the last to rise however, because the unfortunate Sleepy Head is thrown into the nearest lake by the rest of the family!
In the city of Naantali, they go one step further. A Finnish celebrity is chosen to be thrown into the sea at 7am, and their identity is only revealed at the last minute. Former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, saw her husband launched into the chilly Baltic in the name of tradition.
Dating from the Middle Ages, Sleepy Head Day comes from the Finnish superstition that the last to rise on this day would be lazy for the rest of the year. I’d say an alarm clock is preferable, but it’s a great way to get back at your relatives.
13. The world’s biggest coffee drinkers
Somehow, Finland has kept its coffee-craziness under the radar. The average Finn consumes 12 kilos (26.4 lbs) of coffee a year (and you thought your coffee addiction was bad!).
Everything in Finland begins and ends with coffee – and actually, everything in between too. Finland is the only country in the world to contain two 15 minute coffee breaks in some collective labor agreements. Imagine that, telling your boss they’re legally obliged to let you drink your cup of Joe in peace!
14. The ‘weird’ language
There’s nothing actually “weird” about it if you’re Finnish, but to outsiders, it’s a tricky one to learn. Only very weak ties link it to other languages like Estonian, but Finnish is absolutely packed with linguistic gems.
Maybe you found your perfect sofa and don’t know how to describe the exceptional springiness you get from the cushion? Hyppytyynytyydytys. It literally means “bouncy cushion satisfaction”.
The Finns love a compound noun even more than Germans. In fact, you can make up any you like in Finnish and still make sense. The longest official word in Finnish is “epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän”. I challenge you to learn what it means and pronounce it!
15. The World’s Happiest Country
Finland is famous for being the Happiest Country in The World, and has been for three years running! Many are surprised when they hear that the chilly North seems to be where all the happy people live, but what makes them so cheery?
Well, in Finland it has a lot to do with community spirit. It might seem like an oxymoron, that the shy, less extroverted Finns are so willing to help their neighbors, but in Finland it’s about what you do more than what you say. Institutions like Nappi Naapuri have been set up to establish local connections to aid those in need of neighborly help. In times of crisis, like the 2020 global pandemic, Finns were more willing to share their economy and work load to minimize the stress of their fellows.
It also helps of course that Finland has the cleanest air, is the safest country in the world and even has the world’s best education system (more on these things below!).
16. World-Class Education
Finland, once again, topped the World Best Education Systems list in 2019. Finland is famous for providing excellent education to children and young people – but what do they do that makes them so successful? Well, there are no standardized tests, minimal homework and teachers teach happiness. Yes, happiness.
All play and no work goes against what many believe is the golden ticket to top grades, but the Finns prove the opposite. Most students leave school with at least two languages, Finnish or Swedish and English, and many elect another European language on top of that. Spending just 20 hours in school a week, Finnish children have plenty of time to play sports, socialize and learn independent skills.
It’s also illegal in Finland for schools to charge tuition, so children rub shoulders regardless of their parents’ income. Two words can sum up Finland’s education approach: community and equality.
17. Saimaa Ringed Seal
Finland is also home to one of the only fresh-water seals in the world. This particular species, the Saimaa Ringed Seal, can only be found in lake Saimaa. Unfortunately, this species is also one of the world’s most endangered and rare.
They’ve lived in lake Saimaa for 8,000 years and became isolated from other species of seals after the Ice Age. The Saimaa Ringed Seal is one of the most intelligent and playful species of seals. You can spot them playing with floating objects in the lake or see pups pestering their moms.
18. Getting naked
It’s hard for non-Nordics to understand, but nudity and sexuality are very separate in this part of the world. Finland is famous for its easy going approach to being naked in the company of others, especially at a sauna.
This is because Finns in particular view nudity as the most honest and hygienic way to be. I’ve heard it said by my Finnish-Swedish relatives that you should “behave in the sauna as you would at church”. It’s less about admiring the bodies of others as taking care of your own.
It might make you blush for a few minutes, but it sure is a way to bond with people. I have anecdotal proof that the short-term embarrassment is much worse than being berated for being the only one to keep a swimsuit on!
19. Finnish folklore
If you do happen to misbehave in a sauna, it’s not just angry locals you should beware of. Elves frequently dominate Finnish folklore, and the Finns have an elf or tonttu to guard over all areas of life.
The saunatonttu lives in the sauna and his job is to punish anyone who acts up in there. You can placate him by acting accordingly and by giving him an offering of rice porridge at Christmas – a tradition that many Finnish families still practice with their children.
Other elves include the home elf, kotitonttu, and the forest elf, metsätonttu. Finland is also famous for having an elf who guards the castle in Turku, called linnatonttu.
20. Lappish / Sámi People
Finland is also known for being home to Europe’s only indigenous group of people, the Sámis. Sometimes called Lappish people, the Sámis also live in the northernmost parts of Norway, Russia and Sweden.
10,500 Sámis live in Finland today, and their national day is celebrated on 6 February every year. Sámis are famous for their expert reindeer herding, handcrafted goods and connection to the land. The Finnish Sámi parliament is located in Inari, and is one step on a long journey to undoing the persecution the Sámis have experienced.
You can learn more about the history of Sámi people at Siida Museum, Lapland.
Reindeer are an integral part of the Sámi peoples’ lives, and Finnish Lapland is home to 200,000 reindeer. To put that into perspective, there are 20,000 less people living in Lapland than reindeer!
Reindeer herds are managed by Sámi people for food and their fur, and of course you can take sleigh rides with the semi-domesticated ones found on some farms.
They might look cuddly but don’t get too close to these creatures unless you’re granted permission by a herder or in an enclosure. They can be aggressive especially around mating season, and startling reindeer can cost herders their livelihood.
22. Wife-carrying competition
Finland is also famous for its bizarre sports, and this one really is an antidote to marriage counseling. Every year in Sonkajärvi, Finland, husbands compete for their wife’s weight in beer. Seriously.
The wife-carrying world championship is exactly what it sounds like. Husbands carry their wives in one of three accepted positions around an obstacle course hoping to win first prize – his wife’s weight in beer.
This peculiar Finnish tradition goes back to the 1880s, and all over Finland you’ll find men training – yes, training – for this hilarious sport. Sadly, the Finns haven’t won their own competition since 2017, with last year’s winners being a couple from Lithuania. Better luck next year, Finland.
23. The Moomins
You may have come across these adorable, snuggly creatures on TV or read the books as a kid. For those who don’t know, the Moomins live in Moominvalley, and are the protagonists of Finland-Swede Tove Jansson’s children’s novels.
In recent years, a so-called “Moomin-Boom” saw worldwide interest in these Finnish favorites. Japan in particular took a liking to them, using Moomins as the official mascots at a chain of shopping malls.
Finland also has a population of Finland-Swedes. The term Finland-Swedes describes a group of people who are officially Finnish, but speak Swedish due to their heritage. The Finnish authorities allow parents to make the choice of declaring their child either as Swedish or Finnish speaking at birth, although in reality many children are bilingual.
Some 270,000 people in Finland have Swedish as their mother tongue, and 25,000 of those people live on the islands of Åland, an archipelago between Sweden and Finland. Finland-Swedes who don’t live on or around Åland tend to live in the Turku region, the south-western side of Finland. Turku is actually the world’s biggest archipelago, containing roughly 20,000 islands.
25. Women’s rights
Finland is also famous for being one of the forerunners of gender equality. Finland made history when, in 1906, it was the first European country to give women the right to vote. More recently however, Finland made headlines for having the youngest prime minister, Sanna Marin. Only 34, she leads a coalition government that is led entirely by women.
As if that wasn’t enough, Sanna isn’t just the youngest prime minister, she’s also the youngest head of government in the world. Finns also offer equal maternity and paternity leave rights to parents who make their own decisions about raising their children.
26. Safest country in the world
Finland has held the title of Safest Country in the World since 2017, and there’s data to back it up. Along with its low crime rates, Finns are also some of the most honest people. 11 out of 12 wallets were returned to their owners in Finland according to a recent poll, so if you have a habit of dropping stuff Finland is the place to be!
Of course, in the country with the title of Most Independent Judicial System, it follows that Finland also has the highest trust in their police force.
27. Licorice lovers
This might be the first piece of bad news, depending on how you see things. Finland is famous for its borderline obsession with salt licorice, so if you have a sweet tooth, watch out! Chocolate in Finland frequently comes with a licorice filling, and the Finns even have licorice flavored ice cream.
If you didn’t grow up eating it as I did, you might want to steer clear of this particular national delicacy. You’ll have a hard time finding candy in Finland that doesn’t include licorice, but if you like it then all the more for you!
Next time you make the trip to Finland, you’ll be able to impress friends and locals with your knowledge about the Country of a Thousand Lakes. If there’s anything to add about what Finland is famous for, share it in the comment box!