Four years ago Jacky and I visited Tampere for the first time and were impressed with what we saw. We resolved to come back again and after years of dilly-dallying we stayed true to our word and visited the city again. Tampere, situated in south-central Finland (I always chuckle when most locals from the south call it central Finland when the country stretches far beyond) is nearly equidistant from Turku and Helsinki which are located to the south-west and south-east of the city. Tampere is one of the prettiest cities in all of Finland and would rank as our second favourite city (Turku natives would give me hell for saying this) in the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’. Founded in 1779 as an industrial outpost, the city’s population has now swelled to over 225,000 which makes it the largest inland city in the Nordic region. It is conveniently located at the confluence of two lakes, viz. Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, which are joined by the Tammerkoski, a stretch of rapids.
Tampere has been at the heart of Finnish industrialisation since the very beginning and was aptly bestowed with the moniker ‘Manchester of the North’. Over the years though, Tampere has reinvented its image from that of a centre of heavy industry to a hi-tech research, education, business and culture hub. The city is very tourist friendly and all the main attractions are at a walking distance from each other. Here are some of the highlights of this vibrant city.
The charming central square (Keskustori) of Tampere is situated adjacent to the bridge where Hämeenkatu, the city’s principal street crosses the Tammerkoski rapids. The roomy boulevard is approximately one kilometre in length and is filled with bars, boutiques and restaurants. The architectural style of most of these buildings dates back to the late 19th century. The streets of Tampere are dotted with beguiling old red-brick buildings which are a reminder of the city’s industrial past but have now been converted into swanky offices, places of culture and restaurants. In the centre square you will find the Old Church (Vanha Kirkko) and the enchanting Tampere city hall (Tampereen Raatihuone), a neo-renaissance edifice.
The Finlayson historic factory complex is a collection of historic buildings gradually extended from a textile mill started by Scotsman James Finlayson in 1820. It is the ‘old town’ of Tampere and a crucial part of the national landscape. An interesting tidbit is that the first electric light in the Nordic countries was also lit in Finlayson’s weaving hall in 1882. One of the museums inside the Finlayson complex is the Finnish Labour Museum Werstas which connects the steam engine museum and the textile museum.
The highlight of the steam engine museum is naturally the massive steam engine which powered the Finlayson factory. The textile museum has ample memorabilia, machines, and fabric samples on display. It provides a great insight into the city’s history of Swedish and Russian rule, the Civil War of 1917 and the rise and decline of textiles in Finland is explained in displays and through audio. We were both pleasantly surprised at how good the museum was and also that entrance was for free.
Folks who crave an aerial glimpse of Tampere should proceed to the Pyynikki observation tower which offers spectacular views of Tampere and the surrounding lakes. For us it is a definite must-see! The tower, despite being only 26m in height sits on the world’s largest esker over 150m above sea level. The eponymous cafe at the bottom of the tower is responsible for making what presumably are the best doughnuts in Finland. The price is rather steep at 2€ a doughnut but they are worth the money and are popular with tourists and locals alike.
While we’re on the topic of food, no visit to Tampere can be complete without sampling mustamakkara or ‘black blood sausage’. This local delicacy is prepared by mixing pork, blood and grinded rye and served with lingonberry jam and milk. The dish while not aesthetically pleasing to look at vindicates itself with its pleasing taste.
If that is not exactly up your alley, you could opt for a plate of chicken wings instead. Apparently, the citizens of Tampere consume about 1/3 of all hot wings eaten in Finland alone. Many restaurants in the city are now serving the American fast food which may be due to the fact that many ice hockey players returning from the States had nothing other than wings on their mind. Who knew?
Other attractions worth seeing in Tampere include the Orthodox church which is a lovely showcase of Byzantine architecture, the bohemian Pispala neighbourhood with its eclectic villas resting on a slope, Rajaportin Sauna which is the oldest public sauna in Finland and the Pispala Shot Tower.
Okay, Tampere might not be your go-to historic “castle and palaces” town, but what we personally love most about the city are its ample green spaces. You may think it’s Finland so there must be more than enough green anyway and in a way you’d be right. Nonetheless, some of the bigger cities should cut themselves a slice of what Tampere has to offer in terms of well-kept parks and inviting well-developed hiking trails. If you want to stay local, roam around the forests of Pyynikki. Or, if you want to explore further or happen to find yourself in the area, the neighbourhood of Hervanta has several great hiking trails to offer.
If after all that you still have energy left or you’d rather trade the museums for some action, visit the iconic Särkänniemi Adventure Park. We opted out of this, but a combination of thrilling rides, an aquarium, Angry Birds land, and last but not least the Näsinneula observation tower, will get you a day well spent, especially when travelling with children. Have fun!
Our final verdict: Tampere is best enjoyed in 1-2 days!
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed? Do you have tips on what else to see or do in Tampere? What was your favourite sight? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!