On a global scale, Finland might be a small country by population, but its green-minded approach and ever-growing attractiveness for international tourists are some of the reasons why Finnish cities regularly make headlines, far beyond the country’s borders.
Here are five which have come into the spotlight over the past year.
Since early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic brought the global tourism sector to a near standstill, home-bound wannabe travellers have been planning where to head to once the situation improves. The New York Times revealed earlier this year 52 destinations that are worth a visit as soon as the crisis subsides, with Turku, an over 190,000-resident city on the south-western coast of Finland, among them.
The list was put together based on reader suggestions for places that “delighted, inspired and comforted” them during the pandemic. Turku, nominated for its proximity to nature and the picturesque River Aura, became the only Finnish city and one of only three Nordic destinations on the list.
“It’s a heart-warming feeling to look forward to the future,” commented Lotta Bäck, the head of international marketing at Visit Turku. “Turku has been through somewhat of a makeover in the past years, and we have a booming restaurant industry, as well as a wonderful archipelago for visitors wanting to explore the nature surrounding our city.”
How to highlight the looming environmental impact of global warming in a way that sticks in people’s minds? The coldest town in Finland, Salla, took a look around at how rising temperatures are impacting the local climate and came up with a memorable solution: throwing its hat in the ring to host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
“Our intention here is clear: we want to keep Salla as it is, and our winters cold and full of snow,” said Erkki Parkkinen, mayor of Salla. “So, there was this crazy idea: to host the Summer Games in one of the coldest towns on the planet.”
Part of Salla’s bid was a mascot – one befitting the prominent local antlered population: a Rangifer tarandus, or reindeer, named Kesa.
Beneath the amusing veneer of the campaign reside important ingredients for change: climate solutions from a range of focal areas with which to stem the tide environmentally, including electricity, industry, transport and buildings.
Along with Bulgaria’s Gabrovo, Finland’s Lappeenranta last year received the European Commission’s European Green Leaf Award as recognition of its climate work and commitment to better environmental outcomes. The award is given annually to up to two cities with 20 000-100 000 inhabitants.
The city is using its 75 000-euro prize to help realise its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and has flagged several new initiatives to support climate and energy actions, foster biodiversity and share best practices. The 2021 calendar was filled with dozens of environment-themed events and activities, including international webinars and conferences and restoration projects at natural sites.
“This is an important sign to us that we have done things right,” viewed Ilkka Räsänen, the environmental director at the City of Lappeenranta. “However, we must still continue our efforts to mitigate climate change more effectively together with residents, businesses and LUT University.”
Thanks to its “perfect winter wonderland” travel offering and surging popularity among international tourists, the capital of Finnish Lapland, Rovaniemi, last year secured the top spot in the list of the 10 best winter destinations in Europe, published by Lonely Planet ahead of the 2020-2021 winter season.
The global travel media giant highlighted Rovaniemi’s abundant supply of snow and reindeer, the home of Santa Claus and the Arktikum science museum that provides an insight into the northern way of life. Sub-zero temperatures were adverted to as a thing to bear in mind.
“Finnish thermometers have more numbers below 0°C than above, so pack serious winter clothing,” the website advised.
For those unable to visit Santa’s hometown in person, Finland’s national flag carrier Finnair and Helsinki-based company ZOAN offered virtual reality flights. The unique experience sparked interest among children and adults alike and was described as “a fantastic way to reach a global audience” by Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi.
The European Green Capital 2021 is Lahti, a Finnish city that has been also recognised as one of five forward-thinking European cities by National Geographic. Among the factors that caught the media giant’s attention are Lahti’s goal of becoming Finland’s first carbon-neutral city in 2025 and commitment to a circular economy, innovative solutions for waste management and water conservation efforts.
Moreover, Lahti was praised for launching an app-based trading scheme for personal traffic emissions to encourage residents to reduce their carbon footprint and make more climate-friendly mobility choices. Another exciting step in the same direction is its world-first urban ski-sharing programme.
“As the green capital, Lahti will be looking for practical environmental solutions that can also be applied elsewhere in the world,” stated Saara Vauramo, programme director of the European Green Capital 2021 project.