The largest inland city in Scandinavia, Tampere in Finland is wedged between two large bodies of water in a part of the country that is woven with rivers, ponds and lakes.
The fast-moving Tammerkoski rapids here were harnessed as a power source and brought about an industrial boom in the late-1800s.
So Tampere today is a city of historic warehouses and workers’ quarters, much of which has been turned into visitor attractions, restaurants and cultural centres.
Come here for exciting museums, a wonderful amusement park and Nordic landscapes of sparkling lakes and deep softwood forest.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Tampere:
1. Museum Vapriikki
Based in the spacious former engineering works of Tampella, a 20th-century heavy industry manufacturer, Vapriikki is several museums rolled into one.
Everyone should find something to catch their attention, whether it’s the Media Museum, Natural History Museum, the Mineral Museum, Postal Museum or the Doll Museum.
The complex is humungous, taking up around 14,000 square metres so there’s also loads of room for temporary exhibition at Vapriikki.
See what’s on when you’re in the town: China’s terracotta warriors and Egyptian mummies have shown up in recent years.
2. Pyynikki Observation Tower
Next to the water on the western side of Tampere is Pyynikki, a part of the city that sits on the world’s largest esker (a huge gravel ridge formed by glacial activity).
What it means for Tampere is a fabulous place for afternoon strolls and unobstructed views of the city and its surrounding lakeland scenery.
The Pyynikki Observation Tower was built in 1929, replacing a wooden tower from the late 1800s that took bomb damage in the First World War.
You can catch the lift to the top, or try walking, which rewards you with viewing portals as you climb.
The other reason to come to Pyynikki is to visit the cafe known for its delicious freshly baked doughnuts made with a secret recipe.
3. Tampere Cathedral
This Lutheran Church dates to the turn of the 20th century and is in the Nordic National Romantic Style, which was an offshoot of art nouveau.
What sets Tampere Cathedral apart though is its frescoes, which adorn much of the church’s interior and were painted by the symbolist artist Hugo Simberg in 1905 and 1906.
At the time these images didn’t go down well with everyone, and you can see why: The Garden of Death has three creepy figures that look like the Grim Reaper tending to a garden.
The Wounded Angel also appears here – this was voted Finland’s national painting in 2006.
4. Kaleva Church
Designed by the architects Reima and Raili Pietilä, Kaleva Church is from 1966 and became a protected building ten years ago.
It’s appearance is difficult to put into words. From the side it looks like a huge concrete grain silo, which has led to its popular local nickname “The Silo of the Souls”.
Inside what you’ll notice is just how much light there is.
The walls, which seem to be folded at strange angles have windows that extend from the floor to the roof.
All of the interior furnishings, including the eye-catching organ housing were designed by the architects themselves.
5. Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame
Part of the Vapriikki museum complex, the Hockey Hall of Fame documents the history and celebrates the stars of probably the most popular sport in Finland.
What’s surprising is that Ice Hockey was only introduced to Finland in the 1920s, and wasn’t really a spectator sport until the first indoor arena was constructed in 1965.
In the last 50 years though the Finnish National Team has won everything from World Championships to Olympic medals.
Take a look at the chronology of hockey equipment and the evolution of hockey training, and if you’re a fan of the game you can pay homage to NHL Stanley Cup winners like Ville Nieminen and Esa Tikkanen.
There’s more than enough fun for a day at Sarkanniemi, which is a lot more than just an amusement park.
Kids will have the time of their lives, riding on an Angry Birds-themed spinner and any number of trains, carousels, bouncy castles and obstacle courses, all of which are safe and up-to-date.
Bigger boys and girls can make for five different roller coasters, such as Tornado, with five inversions.
The amusements at Sarkanniemi are balanced with educational attractions, like the aquarium with 200 species, and the park’s planetarium.
7. Nasinneula Tower
During your day at Sarkanniemi you can also ascend Scandinavia’s tallest observation tower, cresting at 168 metres.
If it looks familiar, this 1971 structure is based on Seattle’s Space Needle and also has another hallmark of observation towers around the world: A revolving restaurant.
In a city so rich in natural beauty it’s well worth taking the high-speed elevator to the top to look down on the lakes, Nasi Park, Tampere’s cityscape and the sea of dark green woodland beyond.
If you don’t feel like sitting down to a meal there’s a cafe one storey below.
8. Hatanpaa Arboretum
A very refined place for an easy lakeside saunter in the summer is this park a couple of kilometres south of the city.
Part of the Arboretum is made up of Hatanpaa Manor, a grand neoclassical stately home with grounds laid out in the English style.
Tall, old deciduous trees are lush in the summer, and the path bends past flower beds of crocuses and through a prized rose garden.
Lake Pyhäjärvi is an ever-present, and you can walk down to the shore to gaze out over the water and see the lake’s waterfowl.
It just isn’t done to visit Finland and not go to a sauna. In Tampere you can make it trip back in time as the Rajaportti sauna in this city is the oldest still in use in Finland.
It goes back to when the city was at its industrial peak, and was built for the factory workers in the Pispala district.
Now, if you’re really hardcore get over to Kaupinoja and Rauhaniemi, which are on the lakeshore. In the winter this offers the prospect of ice swimming.
Rauhaniemi even has steps leading down to the water, which is also illuminated from the lakebed.
10. Lake Activities
When there isn’t a thick layer of ice on Tampere’s lakes the opportunities for outdoor fun are huge.
The best thing to do is join a group or one of the organised activities going on at Lake City.
So on a Monday evening for instance you could head out on a guided kayaking tour, while on Thursdays from July to August you can see how you fare at stand-up paddling (SUP).
You won’t need any of your own gear for these experiences, as it’s all provided as part of the fee.
The rapids 20 minutes south of Tampere at Lempäälä are great for riverfloating: You’ll don a drysuit and basically see where the river takes you!
11. Viikinsaari Island
Set in the middle of Lake Pyhäjärvi, you can reach this island via the ferries that depart Laukontori harbour during the day in summer.
In the winter you could just walk or ski across the lake! It’s one of Tampere’s favourite places to be outside and active, not least because the local government organises all sorts of games, class and events.
These can be anything from dance lessons for kids to live music nights.
You can also rent all manner of things from the island’s office, from board games to badminton sets, fishing rods and rowing boats moored at the island’s pier.
Get to the stalls at the Laukontori or Tammelantori markets to try Tampere’s renowned black sausage (mustamakkara), made with pork, blood, rye flour and barley. Mustamakkara is eaten all over Finland but is a speciality of Tampere.
These markets are open Monday to Saturday until two.
What you do is go up to the counter and order by the amount you want to spend, so if you ask for “two Euros” you’ll get that quantity in sausage.
It’s all served with a carton of milk and a side of lingonberry jam.
For dessert get a doughnut from the same stall to round off the ultimate Tampere snack.
Tampere has its own bike-sharing system, Citybike.
There 22 stands all across the city and as Tampere spends a lot of money on its cycling infrastructure it really is a pleasure to see the main landmarks by bike.
Of course, you’ll also have option of embarking on bigger adventures: You could do a tour of the Pyhäjärvi shore or ride under the tower fir trees of the Kauppi Forest.
It costs €10 plus a €40 deposit and then you can use the bike for as long as you like.
14. Amuri Museum of Workers’ Housing
This museum will put you right in the shoes of a worker during Tampere’s industrial boom in the 19th and early-20th centuries.
It covers an entire city block and preserves five residential buildings, each one representing a different stage of Tampere’s industrial development (1802-1973).
Inside you’ll follow the stories of the people who lived here, and learn how they used their free time and celebrated things like births and weddings.
This being Finland there’s a sauna at the complex, built in 1885, while the Cafe Amurin Helmi serves freshly baked bread with breakfast on weekday mornings.
15. Market Hall
Tampere has the largest enclosed market hall in any Nordic country, dating to 1901.
If you have to do a bit of food shopping during your trip to Tampere then there’s no need to go anywhere else.
There are high-quality butchers, cheese sellers, bakeries, fishmongers and vegetable stalls here. If mushrooms or berries are in season then snap them up because they’re delectable!
The Market Hall is also great if you want to sample Finnish delicacies for the first time.
This is where you could introduce yourself to Lappish-style smoked reindeer meat for example.