What are quirky local customs in Helsinki?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Violetta Teetor

Finns have absolutely no qualms about sitting next to a complete stranger at the sauna, sweating their hearts out and beating themselves with birch branches to get the circulation going. The Finnish sauna is one of the best ways of cleansing the body, soothing the muscles and calming the soul. Wood-burning saunas are better, but public ones are unfortunately few and far between. Kotiharjun Sauna is steeped in tradition and has an old world charm about it. At Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall, you can swim in the nude at designated times for men and women.

Dip yourself into a hole in the ice and get that ticker pumping at a rate that is not recommended for people with heart disease. The Kulttuuri Sauna is proud of its 'green' practices using recycled wood chips for heating. They have a jetty with steps at the end and a pump to keep the water liquid in the midst of the surrounding ice. 

When the sun warms up, it's time to wash the carpets. The gusto with which this habit is practiced is a sight to behold at the various pontoons in the sea around the city. Using environmentally friendly soap, they scrub and wash and put them through huge mangles and leave them out to dry on poles provided by the municipality. They come back a few days later to find a dry, clean, fresh-smelling carpet to take home.

Salmiakki, or salty licorice, is an acquired taste that causes severe craving when a Finn finds him or herself abroad without it. This candy is taken to extremes with salmiakki kossu, hooch flavoured with the stuff or as a flavourant in a black, greyish ice cream. You either love it or you hate it, there's just nothing wishy-washy about it.

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