As the days grew longer this spring I began to fantasize about spending summer solstice under the midnight sun. I recalled with excitement that dulled buzz that comes from not getting enough sleep when it’s constantly light out, a gently energizing sensation so unlike sheer exhaustion. Last week I succumbed to the urge and flew off to the city of Oulu in Finland.
Why Oulu? As is usually the case, my decision was determined by budgetary bottom line. In late May I sat down and looked at all of my options for experiencing the true midnight sun. My research indicated that only a location at or above the 64th parallel north would do the trick. That left a number of decently trafficked airports a single layover away from London: Luleå and Kiruna in Sweden; Bodø, Narvik, and Tromsø in Norway; Oulu and Rovaniemi in Finland.
The cheapest fare I found from London to any of these northern cities was to Oulu via Riga on airBaltic, for €223. I snapped it up.
Oulu, the sixth biggest city in Finland–the fourth biggest if the cities of the greater Helsinki Metropolitan region are counted as one–is a technologically-savvy, bicycling-mad place. The city is saturated by free wi-fi and laced with cycling paths. In the summer, Oulu pulses with restrained energy. Even on a quiet summer night there are plenty of people about, biking, socializing, and swatting away mosquitoes.
In short, summer in Oulu is spectacular and atmospheric. The summer is brief and locals enjoy it fully. Here are five ways to maximize a visit to Oulu during the summer season.1. Explore the city by bike. Oulu has a fantastic infrastructure for bicyclists, with 550 kilometers of cycling trails. The city’s residents use their bikes in impressively high numbers. Families, officeworkers, and tourists all share space on paths and roads. Rent a bike at Pyörä-Suvala or Jussin pyöräpiste.
2. Eat at Sokeri-Jussin Kievari. Located just over the bridge from Oulu’s downtown on the island of Pikisaari, Sokeri-Jussin Kievari is a traditional eatery with a down-home aesthetic. My lunch of vendace fried in butter was delicious, and there are more exotic things on the menu as well. (Also worth a meal is Bar & Grill Kauppuris, with its mammoth burgers of beer-braised pork neck, bacon, steak, and roast beef.)
3. Visit the Oulu Museum of Art. While this may not be a summer-specific activity, a stroll through the museum is certainly worthwhile at present. Through September 11, six contemporary Finnish artists are showing their work in an exhibit titled Close to a Wonder. Among the noteworthy items in the exhibit: Ville Löppönen‘s oil paintings, Pekka and Teija Isorättyä‘s life-size multimedia sculptures, and a set of captivating photographs by Perttu Saksa. Admission to the museum is €3.
4. Check out the Kauppatori or market square at midnight. Some nights you’ll find scores of locals chatting and listening to music. On others, you’ll find a handful of alienated teens and the above unmanned strawberry stand. The adjacent Kauppahalli (Market Hall) is pretty; during the day a notable selection of pastries and local produce is sold inside.
5. Nallikari. A broad beach on the island of Hietasaari, Nallikari is home to a holiday village called Nallikari Camping as well as a spa hotel, Oulun Eden. The beach is beautiful and the waters beyond slope gently. The beach is popular with families and windsurfers. At a distance of about two miles from Oulu’s city center, it is an easy cycling destination. Nallikari also features a miniature golf course.
Some media support was provided by Oulu City Tourist Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s own.