Air guitar. We’ve all done it. Our favourite song comes on the radio and before we know it we’re strumming along with the best of them. My personal favourite is actually air drumming, but that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, if I was going to ask you how air guitar and Oulu were connected, you might not know. I sure didn’t. Until I visited, and learnt that Oulu is the home of the world air guitar championships. Yes, that is a thing. No,unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it because we visited at the wrong time of year. But yes, I did get to perform my very own air guitar solo whilst in Oulu. More on that shortly. Let’s talk a bit about what to do in Oulu in Winter. But first:
Where’s Oulu and Why Would I Visit in Winter?
Oulu is up on the north-west coast of Finland, on the shores of Bothnian Bay, the most northerly part of the Baltic Sea, and is the fifth largest city in Finland. In addition to being world famous for air guitar, it’s also Finland’s technology capital, with the city serving as home to many tech firms and Finnish innovators.
If the lure of technology and air guitar don’t blow your mind, here are some more ideas for passing some time in Oulu.
What to do in Oulu in Winter
1. Visit Tietomaa, the Science Centre
Oulu is home to Tietomaa, a large science museum with a focus on hands-on interactive exhibits. We learnt about everything from oceanography to the Northern Lights, and had a lot of fun in the process. We were even issued with a wristband when we arrived, which let us track our scores on all kinds of tests throughout the museum, to see how we stacked up against the rest of the world. I seem to have lost my results, but I am fairly sure they were good.
The highlight of course was the music area which featured, naturally, a booth for performing your very own air guitar solos. Even better, you can record videos of yourself performing and then broadcast them to the world via social media. I didn’t quite go so far as that, but I did have a bit of fun strumming along to some air guitar worthy hits. Thankfully there are no photos of this.
If you’re interested in science, interactive exhibits and the like, then this is a very worthwhile stop. And if you have kids, they will definitely love this one as most exhibits are very family-friendly.
2. Hit the Beach
Given the fact that there was significant snow and freezing temperatures when we visited Oulu, we didn’t actually make it to the beach. It just didn’t feel exactly… beachy when we were there. If you’re hardier than us though, or visit at a more clement time of the year, then you might want to take advantages of one of the 15 beaches of Oulu, where you can ice swim in Winter, or do more normal beach type things in summer.
One of the more popular beaches on the Baltic Sea is Nallikari, which has a gorgeous stretch of golden sand, as well as plenty of activities and dining options for everyone. There are even camping and lodging options in and near Nallikari if you want to get away from the bustle of the city.
3. Go Bird Watching at Liminganlahti Visitor Centre
Liminganlahti Visitor Centre, overlooking the Bothnian Bay National Park, is a fantastic spot both for a bit of bird watching and also to learn about the all the species that pass through here. Open year round and with free entry, the centre is situated 35km south of Oulu, and can be reached either by public bus or car. See transport instructions here.
Neither Jess nor I are what I would exactly describe as avid bird watchers, but we both very much enjoyed visiting the centre and having a tour of the various bird watching and feeding stations. You don’t even need to bring your own binoculars – the centre has both telescopes and binoculars that you can borrow, and the views of Bothnian Bay are excellent. It’s also the best place to see and learn about the annual crane migration in Autumn.
4. Visit the Bobby Statue and Marketplace
By the Oulu seafront you’ll find, should you visit at the right time of year, the Oulu marketplace, which will be filled with food stalls and vendors featuring all kinds of local produce.
Even if the market isn’t happening because you are visiting in the depths of Winter, you’ll want to come down here to take a look at the famous Bobby Statue, who stands guard here come rain or shine, in honour of the bobbies who used to patrol the marketplace. There are also some gorgeous old wooden buildings, and the old market hall itself is very photogenic.
5. Eat Tasty Food on an Artistic Island
We had an amazing meal at the Sokeri Jussi tavern in Oulu, a restaurant which is wonderfully set inside an old timber store house on the island of Pikisaari. Fear not though, it’s about a two minute drive from downtown Oulu, or a ten minute walk via bridge – the island is found in the river estuary rather than far out at sea.
This was one of the best meals we had in Finland, with tasty and perfectly cooked reindeer and lamb on our menus. Also recommended are the elk meatballs, although we didn’t manage to fit those in on our visit, a decision I slightly regret! This is also a good place to try local berry wines, such as blueberry, cloudberry, and ligonberry wines.
6. Visit the Park and Castle Ruins
It’s quite remarkable how much of Oulu is made up of islands. Another easy island to visit in the centre of the city is Linnansaari, which is worth visiting because it’s both a pretty park and nice to wander around, and also because here you can see the remnants of Oulu Castle.
Admittedly, there isn’t a great deal of actual castle to see, after being destroyed by both the Russians and a bolt of lightning it was sort of given up on as a viable defensive location. It does however serve as the site for the Oulu Observatory, which was built on the ruins of the powder room in 1875, and has been serving as a warm weather cafe since 1912.
7. Head out of town and visit the Koitelinkoski Rapids
If you want to experience more of the great Finnish outdoors, then you might want to head out to the Koiteli region, and specifically, visit the Koitelinkoski Rapids.
Only 24km from Oulu, these rapids on the river Kiiminki are very pretty, and a great spot for fishing, hiking and canoeing. When we visited, admittedly, you’d need nerves of steel to tackle most of those activities, with temperatures well below freezing, but we certainly saw the potential!
When to Visit Oulu
With a year round average temperature of around 3 degrees C (37 degrees F), and as Finland’s most northerly large city, Oulu isn’t exactly a tropical destination. Although, no-one really comes to Finland seeking palm trees. This is a place for getting outdoors and enjoying yourself.
With that in mind, Spring and Fall are likely going to be the best times to visit, when the days are a longer and warmer, attractions are going to be open, and you can really explore the outdoors without freezing. If you visit in Winter, like we did, prepare for Arctic weather conditions, and perhaps use Oulu as a stopping off point for heading to somewhere like Iso-Syote, where you can experience the best of Arctic Finland.
Where to Stay in Oulu
We stayed in the centrally located Scandic Oulu, a mid-range business oriented hotel where we had a nice corner room that offered great views across the city and river. If for some reason that’s not right for you, then we can recommend the following tools for booking your trip and getting the best accommodation deal, whatever your budget:
- Our current favorite way to find the best deals on accommodation is with Booking.com. These guys let you search over 100 booking sites at once, including booking.com, Agoda and TravelPony, and nearly always get the best price.
- Alternatively, if you prefer an apartment or more of a hosted stay, then I recommend AirBnB. I’ve tried all the others, and AirBnB consistently has the most options for locations around the world. Plus, if you’ve never used them before, you’ll get a $25 discount on your first booking with this link!
How to Get to Oulu
The easiest way to get to Oulu is by air, with around twenty flights a day from Helsinki. There’s a bus from the city centre to the airport, or a variety of car hire services at the airport.
If you don’t want to fly, it’s around a six hour direct train from Helsinki on the express train, or there’s a sleeper train option which takes nine hours. Train tickets are cheapest if booked in advance in Finland, with the cheapest fares available two months in advance (the furthest in advance you can buy tickets). Train tickets in Finland are available via vr.fi (English version).
Buses also run from Helsinki to Oulu, as well as from other destinations in the country, and take 9 to15 hours, with prices around €75. Bus services in Finland can be booked on the Matkahuolto website (English version).
Further Reading for your visit to Finland in Winter
We’ve visited Finland a number of times in both summer and winter, and have written a number of posts to help you plan your trip.
- To start with check out this post Jess wrote, that details the top 15 Winter Activities in Finland you have to try!
- Next, you’ll probably be wondering what to bring with you. We have a guide to what to pack for winter in Finland to help you out.
- If you’ve ever wanted to take a multi-day husky sledding safari, this post shares what that experience is like
- If you’re thinking of visiting Helsinki, we have a guide to spending 1 day in Helsinki to help you plan your visit, as well as a guide to things to do in Helsinki and a full review of the Helsinki Card
- Want to visit more towns in winter? Check out our guide to visiting Rauma in winter for more inspiration!
And that’s it for my experience visiting Oulu in winter! As always, we’re open to your comments and feedback, just use the comments box below to share your thoughts.
So you know: Our trip to Finland was covered by the Visit Finland tourism board, who covered our accommodation, transport and food, and provided us compensation for our time. Content and opinions remains our own.