Summer vacation in Finland is not complete without spending time at a summer cottage by the lake. We Finns drive to our cottages for hours, only to spend weekends and summer holidays in complete peace and solitude. The most popular cottage season starts at Midsummer in late June and lasts until the end of the summer holiday season, end of July.
Finnish summer cottages are shared only between family and close friends. Private space and peace is so important that the view to the neighbor’s cottage must be blocked at least by a small patch of forest acting as a fence. It’s considered quite rude to visit somebody’s cottage without an invitation.
For foreigners, such self-isolation may sound strange, but the Covid-summer of 2020 proved that spending the summer vacation with only the closest family members might not be such a bad idea. Couple of weeks at a Finnish summer cottage is a superb way of self-quarantine!
Sauna and barbecue – the cornerstones of Finnish cottage culture
Spending time at a Finnish summer cottage is casual life with family (and often relatives or friends): sauna, swimming, barbecuing, reading books on the pier and fishing. At the cottage, days can be almost boring – and in a way, that’s the whole point. When internet connection is breaking down and there’s nothing but previous year’s women’s magazines on the bookshelf, mowing the lawn or chopping firewood begins to feel like a meaningful task.
Firewood is needed, as perhaps the most important part of cottage life is the sauna, which is usually heated every day. From the 80-100 degree sauna, take a dip in the lake to cool off – yes, swimming in the lakes of Finland is completely safe. Although the water is not always clear (or warm), it’s very clean, and in many lakes even drinkable. In winter, you can make a hole in the ice and take a dip – or simply jump from the sauna to a heap of snow.
The Finnish sauna is traditionally enjoyed without clothes, but this depends entirely on your company. For example, a towel or swimsuit is worn among relatives, and when a group of friends go to the sauna, men and women often have their own sessions – it’s not common to have a mixed nude sauna with a large group.
Another shrine in a Finnish summer cottage is the barbecue. A traditional charcoal grill is made of red bricks and due to smoke stands on the edge of the yard. Nowadays increasingly common is a man-sized gas grill that has been raised to the honorary spot: it covers half of the terrace.
The barbecue is the kingdom of men; even if the alpha male of the family isn’t otherwise interested in cooking, it is a matter of honor to grill steaks, ribs and sausages for your family and guests. In the meantime, someone else may fix the salad and set the table, because the Grill Master doesn’t have time to do everything!
Fishing, berry picking and mushroom hunting at the cottage
Most Finnish cottages are located by a lake or the sea. Almost every cottage is equipped with a rowing boat, which allows even a beginner to watch the scenery from the lake. Remember to wear a life jacket!
A boat also provides access to the nearest fishing spots. Finnish lakes are reasonably easy to fish for perch, pike, or zander with rod and reel or a traditional wire fish trap. You need to get a permit for lure fishing, which costs only 15 euros for a week. Permits are also required for wire traps and fishing nets.
A typical Finnish cottage is so far from urban areas that you can often enter the forest right from the backyard. In the summer, many cottagers spend their time wearing rubber boots and waving off mosquitoes, because in the middle of the forest await treasures: blueberries, raspberries, lingonberries and dozens of different mushrooms, the most prized of which are chanterelles and porcinis.
Thanks to the tradition called “everyman’s rights” or “freedom to roam”, berries and mushrooms can be picked from any forest by anyone without the landowner’s permission, as long as you stay away from other people’s backyards.
Cottage culture in Finland’s neighboring countries
Cottages and cabins are loved in Finland’s neighboring countries, too. The Swedish “summerstuga” is quite similar to the Finnish cottage: unnecessary details such as running water or an indoor toilet are not found in every summerstuga, but hey; the idea is to break away from city life for a while!
Russia’s “dacha,” on the other hand, is a completely different case. A dacha is usually a fairly simple little house located on the edge of a forest rather than by a lake. Anyway, the mental difference to Finnish cottage is huge. At a Russian dacha people don’t curl up in their private relaxation bubble, just the opposite: days are filled with tinkering in the vegetable garden, mushrooming like maniac, and nonstop socializing with neighbors.
In Norway, the most simple mountain cabins (“hytte tur”) are high on open fells, and reaching them with a car packed with shopping bags is a pointless fantasy. Only the thickest-skinned nature freaks thrive in these wilderness cottages. Of course, the Norwegian coast also has modern luxury cottages that compare to Norwegian townhouses.
Are summer cottages in Finland safe?
Of course, cottage life isn’t all about sunshine and lounging in a paradise. According to a proverb “Finnish summer is short but at least there isn’t much snow”. This means that around Midsummer, in late June, the temperature can be anything between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. In the worst case, a gust of summer storm will knock down the buffet table – unless the drunken host does it first.
There is no need to be afraid of venomous snakes or wild beasts at a cottage, but smaller nuisances are quite enough. Fortunately, Finnish mosquitoes do not spread diseases, but they are still very annoying, as there are really a lot of them in some places. Ticks, on the other hand, are relatively rare elsewhere than in the archipelago of southwestern Finland, but with extreme bad luck, a tick bite can lead to Lyme disease. However, the risk is much higher in many other European countries than in Finland
Every summer, more than one hundred holidaymakers drown in Finnish lakes. Sadly, the reason is often alcohol: drunken people go swimming too far from the shore, or go boating without life jackets.
How to rent a cottage in Finland?
Cottage is one the most authentic ways to taste Finnish way of life. It’s easy for tourists, too, as there are thousands of rental cottages in Finland.
Some of the cottages can be rented for the whole summer or for a weekend only, but the most common booking period is a week (usually from Saturday to next Saturday). Many summer cottages are modestly equipped, for example not all have running water or an indoor toilet. The washing water is carried in a bucket from the lake, and there’s a dry toilet in a separate hut. Electricity and a wood-heated sauna can be found in every cottage.
Of course, some cottages are of a higher standard than average. Luxuries like a indoor toilet, bathroom with a shower, and a dishwasher are not rare at all.
The easiest way to find a rental cottage is through an online reservation service. Lomarengas is the oldest and best-known cottage booking service in Finland, with a portfolio of about 4,000 cottages around the country. You can find cottages on Booking.com, too.
If you can’t find a suitable cottage – or just want to try a sauna, swimming in a lake or picking berries for a couple of days – an easy alternative to traditional summer cottages are lakeside resorts, where you can find both private cabins and normal hotel rooms.
Where to rent a cottage in Finland?
An excellent area for renting a cottage is Lakeland Region in Central Finland, where you can drive by car from Helsinki within a few hours. The region is home to some of Finland’s largest lakes – such as Lake Saimaa and Lake Päijänne – but also countless smaller lakes.
However, it’s good to remember that this area is also the favorite of Finns – many have bought a cottage for themselves from a place that is easily accessible from Southern Finland. Therefore, it is worth looking for a cottage in more remote areas as well.
There are plenty of lakes in Lapland and Eastern Finland, too, and on top of all that they are more tranquil and clear than in the south. Believe us: a week in a simple cabin on the shores of a small wilderness lake is a magical experience!
Renting a cottage in Lapland in winter
Spending time at a cottage in winter is a special experience. During the day, skiing, snowboarding and other outdoor activities in the snowy landscape. Even fishing is possible through a hole drilled in the thick ice of a lake. When the evening arrives it’s time to light the fireplace and heat up the sauna. Maybe there will be northern lights later?
Most of the cottages in Southern Finland will be packed for winter in the autumn, as their level of comfort is not quite enough for challenging winter conditions. Who would want to spend a vacation in a freezing cottage with no central heating, running water or an indoor toilet?
Fortunately there are winter-equipped cottages, and they are available for foreign tourists, too. Especially around the large ski resorts in Northern Finland (Ylläs, Levi, Saariselkä, Ruka) there are hundreds of high-quality and well-equipped cottages for rent, because that’s where Finns like to spend their winter holidays, too. The best time for visiting Lapland in winter is February-April, when there is enough snow but the days are long and bright.
Read more: Lapland in Winter – Best Winter Activities
Video: 5 things to do at a Finnish summer house
Map of Finland’s best travel attractions
The map below shows the best tourist sights, museums, family attractions, hiking trails, outdoor activities, wildlife safaris and ski resorts of Finland.
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