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From the weird to the wonderful: Nine free things to do in Finland this summer

Read our handy guide to Finland's hidden gems and forgotten treasures, far off the well-trodden tourist track.

Leikkiviä lasta esittäviä patsaita Parikkalan patsaspuistossa
Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden in Parikkala Image: Hannu Räty

Although the coronavirus situation in Finland has calmed in recent weeks, recommendations on avoiding travel abroad remain largely in place. This means another summer of domestic tourism for many people and discovering everything Finland has to offer.

If you are already familiar with the country's main tourist attractions, then perhaps it is time to explore some of Finland’s more unusual landmarks, far off the beaten track, and our guide is intended to help you do just that.

Best of all, these sights -- from nature’s own treasures to man-made marvels -- are all free. All you need to do is get there.

Article continues after the map.

A map of Finland's 'hidden gems'.
Image: Tanja Ylitalo / Yle

Kummakivi Balancing Rock

Kummakivi
Kummakivi Balancing Rock, Ruokolahti. Image: Yle Pyry Sarkiolla

While legend has it that a giant placed the 500-tonne, seven-metre-long boulder atop the curved mound it now balances on, the true artist here is the Ice Age, which thousands of years ago carried this glacial erratic to the border of Ruokolahti in South Karelia.

Many have, rather unsuccessfully, tried to make the 'strange rock' (kumma literally means "odd" in Finnish) tip off its tiny resting point, but the rock was given protected status in 1962, ensuring the only thing that will make this rock budge is the giant that put it there in the first place.

Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden

Veijo Rönkkösen patsaita.
Veijo Rönkkönen Sculpture Garden, Parikkala Image: Yle

Throughout his life, artist Veijo Rönkkönen created human statues carrying out various physical tasks. Around 500 of these haunting statues, including a cluster of nearly 200 figures created in his image, are on display outside the home that the artist lived in from birth, in the small town of Parikkala, South Karelia.

Rönkkönen, who passed away in 2010, was known as something of a recluse, never engaging with the tourists that came to see his work. The self-taught artist even refused to receive his 2007 Finlandia prize in person. At his homestead, Koitsanlahti, his legacy as one of Finland’s most important artists of the ITE-movement (Itse tehty elämä, which translates to self-made life) lives on.

Oranki Art, Pello

Risto Immonen taideteos
An art installation called "A walk in the forest" by Risto Immonen. Image: Risto Immonen

Those who live near Oranki ridge, near the Swedish border in Pello county, are well-aware of the environmental art exhibit where more than 200 artists have left their mark over the past two decades. Yet with only somewhere between 600 and 1,000 annual visitors, the sculpture park remains one of Lapland's best kept secrets.

The art is created on location by artists from around the globe, with the intention of integrating their work into its surroundings. Eventually the environment reclaims these sculptures, leaving room for new artists to come in and be inspired by Finnish nature. Previous works have included pinecones made from beer cans, eerie plaster installations that will haunt your dreams, and the happiest tree in the world.

Orinoro Gorge

A nature trial at Orinoro Gorge.
A nature trial at Orinoro Gorge. Image: Leppavirtä Tourist Information

This ravine on the island of Soisalo in Leppävirta is a popular destination for those looking for a nature hike that is also visually captivating. Carved by glaciers during the Ice Age, the path between these vertical walls is now marked by wooden planks that wind their way through 200 metres of geological wonder.

The hike itself, which includes ponds to swim in, strawberry fields, a bucolic village and varied natural Finnish scenery, can be a 3km or a 7km loop, depending on your level of outdoorsiness.

Giant’s Kettles

Hiidenkirnu Jättiläisen kuhnepytty.
Giant's Kettle in Askola Image: YLE/Reetta Arvila

Drilled into the bedrock either by swirling water or rotating gravel while the country was covered by a glacier, these large cylindrical potholes are reminiscent of cauldrons large enough to be used by the characters of fairy tales. Giant’s Kettles or Devil’s Churns (pick your fancy) can be found across Finland - the oldest Giant’s Kettles, Aarnipata and Rauninmalja, are located in Helsinki’s Pihlajamäki, likely dating back 100,000 years.

But should beauty come before age, the Giant’s Kettle Park in Askola is known for its twenty potholes, varying in size, scope and colours. The largest geological find of its kind in Finland requires a 3-euro entrance fee to cover maintenance costs, however. Beauty comes at a price.

Abandoned Bunkers of Salpalinja

Teräksisiä konekiväärikupuja Marjalan bunkkerimuseon alueella Joensuussa.
Salpalinja bunkers, Joensuu Image: Lea Joutsensaari / Yle

The Salpa Line is the largest construction project in Finnish history, at one point employing approximately 37,000 workers during WWII. The line of defensive fortifications that was built to defend the eastern border from an anticipated Russian attack is over 1,200 km long, reaching all the way from Virolahti to Savukoski.

The battles of the Continuation War never reached the Salpa Line, resulting in some of Europe’s most well-preserved WWI-era constructions, including infantry shelters, trenches, rifleman's cells and dugouts. These abandoned bunkers can be explored along hiking routes, like the South-East Salpa trail, a 50km one-way hike from Virolahti to Miehikkälä, which includes a formal museum and hidden fortifications. Good footwear and a lamp recommended!

Villa Mehu

The entrance to Villa Mehu.
The entrance to Villa Mehu. Image: Eva Pursiainen / Yle

In Kirkkonummi, just west of Helsinki, a unique art environment created by dancer and ITE (DIY) artist Elis Sinistö can be found. Made entirely out of recycled materials, Sinistö constructed his own compound, which include the Sun Sauna, the Smoke Sauna, a ship-like main building and the Hermit’s Hut. For visiting children and adults, Sinistö built the Seventh Heaven tower and Hotel Elite.

The childlike structures are now dilapidated, but still a reminder of the artist’s whimsical presence. Villa Mehu currently belongs to the artist’s neighbour, who allows friendly, non-disruptive visits to the site.

Posankka

Posankan pienemmät jälkeläiset tervehtivät kaupunkiin tulevia Turun satamaterminaaleissa ja lentoasemalla.
Posankka, Turku Image: Jouni Koutonen / Yle

Near the University of Turku campus, a strange animal hybrid has delighted visitors and locals alike since 1999, when it was commissioned by the Pro Cultura Foundation for the city’s environmental art project. The Pig-Duck, created by artist Alvar Gullichsen, is an unlikely marriage between a marzipan pig and a rubber duck.

The cartoon-like sculpture stands at the cross section of pop culture and fine arts, paying homage both to the success of artist Kaj Stenvall’s duck oeuvre and the controversial pig paintings by Harro Koskinen. It is also the city’s official city animal, natch.

HaliPuu

Poika halaa koululuokan omaa nimikoitua halipuuta.
HaliPuu, Levi Image: Tiia Korhonen / Yle

Up in the woods of Levi stands a patch of Lappish Pine, not unlike the forest it is surrounded by. But this area is different due to the fact that the Raekallio family, in an effort to save their forest from felling, is allowing people to adopt their own tree for five years at a cost of 350 euros or join a clan for as little as 3 euros.

These trees can be decorated, watched in real-time on HaliPuu’s periscope account and, if desired, met in person. Each visitor is encouraged to connect to their tree by hugging it. The good news is that a trip to Levi is not necessary to experience the recharge one can get from nature: Pick a tree – any tree – and hug it. Won’t cost a thing.

10.7: This article previously listed Ukonkivi in Inarinjärvi. As tourist trips to the island are not free unless you have a boat in Inari, and at least one operator has ended trips to the island after complaints from local indigenous Sámi communities, it is not a 'free thing to do' and was therefore removed from the article.

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