Tampere: city on the rapids

by Jon.Sparks

Finland’s first industrial city has moved smoothly into the 21st century. Compact, walkable and lively, Tampere flanks the rapids that gave it birth and still give it a special energy

Energy. That's what Tampere has. And I don't just mean the vibrancy of the modern city: Tampere was founded on energy, specifically the power of falling water.

Tampere (Tammerfors in Swedish) lies between two of Finland's many lakes. It's always tempting to say 'countless lakes', but they have been counted and the official tally is 187,888. You're welcome to go and check the count... The difference in altitude between Näsijärvi (järvi means lake) to the north and Pyhäjärvi to the south is not great; about 18 metres in stages over a distance of about a kilometre. But the volume is impressive and the Tammerkoski rapids are one of the bigger falls in southern Finland.

The water was used to drive grain mills but became really important with the foundation of a cotton mill in 1820 by Glaswegian entrepreneur James Finlayson. This was the beginning of the industrial revolution in Finland. The rapids still churn through the heart of the city, and their inexhaustible energy seems infectious. Today Finlayson’s is still a key name in Tampere, though it’s a cultural buzz that now drives the vast mill complex, which has been made over to accommodate a diverse collection of bars, restaurants, shops and galleries, as well as one of the off-the-wall museums in which Tampere seems to specialise.

This is the Spy Museum, skulking appropriately in the basement and no doubt reflecting Finland’s uneasy position during the Cold War as the only ‘Western’ nation to share a lengthy land border with the Soviet Union. Adults and kids alike will relish the collection of gadgets and the chance to take a ‘spy test’. And it’s probably no coincidence that its phone number ends ‘007’.

Also harking back to Finland’s position between East and West is the Lenin Museum, said to be the only museum in the world dedicated to one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. In the early years of the 20th century, Finland was a semi-autonomous state within the Russian empire and often provided a refuge for revolutionary figures. The museum is housed in the Worker's Hall, where Lenin and Stalin first met in 1905.

Hard by the rapids, the Vapriikki mills house general historical collections and two more unusual museums: one dedicated to shoes and the other to Finland’s national obsession with ice hockey. A few minutes further north is Särkänniemi, an amusement park that also boasts a children's zoo, aquarium, dolphinarium and planetarium. There’s also a 168-metre observation tower, Näsinneula, which naturally gives fantastic views of the city and the tapestry of lakes and forests that surrounds it – which may well tempt you to book a lake cruise (summer season only).

For the young and young at heart there’s one more port of call not to be missed. Behind an unobtrusive entrance under the City Library is Moominvalley, which reveals the fantasy world of the Moomins created by Tove Jansson. Many of Jansson’s original illustrations can be seen and there are numerous models of scenes from the stories, dominated by the two-metre tall Moominhouse.



Where to stay

Sokos Hotel Tammer: grand hotel overlooking the rapids

Cumulus Hämeenpuisto: comfortable hotel just west of centre

Holiday Club Tampere: hotel with spa in well-converted old mills on shores of Näsijärvi

Where to eat and drink

Panimoravintola Plevna: brew-pub in the Finlayson Complex

Harald: good robust Finnish produce: just don’t take the ‘Viking’ theme too seriously

Coffee House: good coffee and cakes on the central square



I'm a writer and photographer based in Garstang, Lancashire, UK. I specialise in landscape, travel and outdoor pursuits. I founded my career on photographing Lancashire and the Lake District, but I've now travelled and photographed in more than 30 countries and have written travel guides to Finland and to the Baltic region. I have also written guidebooks for walkers, climbers and cyclists. I also write extensively about photography.