Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo – huge, capital cities attracting many tourists to visit the very south of the Nordic countries. However, if one would like to feel the real Nordic experience, to get the insight into the lives of the people from smaller cities, somewhat lower temperatures should be withstood, but many beautiful places are waiting to be visited. One of those places is Kuopio, a Finish city concealed with forests and surrounded by thousands of lakes (The Official Travel Guide of Finland). If you are looking for a wonderful place where you don`t want to be a part of the huge tourists crowds, but feel the spirit of a smaller Finish city, then you want to visit this place. It will fulfil your expectations, and give you even more!
Kuopio is not one of those places which you visit when you want to explore different styles of architecture and visit many museums, galleries etc. (although there are few worth visiting, like Kuopio Museum, Kuopio St. Nikolas` Cathedral, Kuopio Automobile Museum…), but where you want to enjoy the nature. You will surely become aware of that on the plane already, while being above the Finish landscape, with just a single look through the window, when only the blue and green will be caught by your eyes! This is the place where you want entirely enjoy the nature and lifestyle which you can have if cooperating with it. The fresh air which you breathe in as soon as you exit the airplane is simply amazing; you could swear that it feels like you have just got a new pair of lungs! Unfortunately, you might get quite shocked when you come back to the place where you came from. So, while in Kuopio, breathe, breathe, and breathe! All those forests aren`t there for nothing!
Although being quite far from Helsinki and surrounded by many lakes which might make it not as easy to access, you can fly from Helsinki to Kuopio, or use either car or train. Several great Universities make sure that the city is fulfilled with young people, keeping it alive even in the darkest and coldest winter days. And don`t think that low temperatures make it hard for spending time outside – there is nothing more popular than “warm sauna – cold lake – warm sauna” cycles! You can ask around and you will hardly find a family which doesn`t own a small island house with sauna in it. If you are not afraid of cold water, you can try it and see if there are some Finish roots in you!
What to do in Kuopio to experience real Finland?
If you would like to spend a day trying several different real Finish things, make sure to go to the Jätkänkämppä lodge and smoke sauna (the reservation is definitely recommended). Placed on the very lake shore, it offers great Finish food, possibly live music, sauna, and of course, jumping into the lake experience. You can even show off there by playing piano in the lodge. If you think you are not brave enough, few Finish liqueurs, known as Lakka, will help with that!
In case you would like to eat in a bit fancier restaurant with a great view on the city (and you are not so much into the sauna-cold water thingy), then Puijo ski jumping hill is the place you must visit. In the beautiful nature surroundings you can choose from several different things to do: eat in a fancy restaurant (the reservation is also definitely recommended), take a walk in the hills, through the forests, or try the ski jumping :). If you decide to grab some nice food, at the same time with a great view on the city and lakes, climb up the 75 m high Puijo tower (no worries, there is an elevator) and you will find a cosy, fancy restaurant offering all kinds of food. If you can`t decide which table to sit at because the view is stunning from every corner, don`t worry, because the whole restaurant is turning around (very slowly, don’t be afraid that you will get dizzy while eating), providing you with the 360° panorama.
A must eat food there is definitely a deer fillet, although you will have to spend a bit more money for it. Anyway, the view is definitely worth it! You can even go a bit higher, to the open-air top of the tower, where you can enjoy the view and fresh air even more, and feel the cold winter`s breeze on your skin at 300 m altitude from the sea level! When you get off the tower, don`t miss the opportunity to walk around and look at the huge ski jumping hill. Just standing right under it gives you a real feeling of the height and makes you wonder how someone can have courage to climb up there and bring him/herself down with a speed of ~100 km/h. And if you manage to visit Kuopio during the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup, the experience will be incredible!
If you would like to buy some traditional Finish products and souvenirs, or want to do some shopping, simply go to the city centre and everything will be right there, no need to walk a long distances (Kuopio city center map). The main square with Kuopio great market hall, one of the few old buildings in Kuopio, will give you a festive atmosphere experience of a smaller Nordic town. With friendly people all around, you won`t feel alone. You can also find smaller pubs and bars which offer great food for cheaper price.
If you just want to spend more time walking around, but out of the city centre, just go in any direction, find the first lake shore, and walk along. The soothing feeling it gives is incredible, so calm and with wonderful view in every direction you look. If the weather is not the best to walk around, you can try to use a relaxing atmosphere of the sauna and indoor pool of the Scandic Kuopio hotel, one of the nicest accommodations in the area. It also offers you the gym, and wonderful view on the lake from every corner of the hotel: from the bedrooms, the restaurant, and from the indoor pool. The hotel is not in the city centre, but only 15 minutes walk will take you there. Anyway, the surrounding you get in the lake shore area is much more comfortable than in the city center. Finally, if you decide to visit Kuopio, it will show you entirely different atmosphere than usual touristic cities, it will connect you with the nature and show you how it really feels to live in the north.