For lovers of all things sport, Finland is an excellent destination that provides a balance between renowned sports such as ice hockey and football, and entertainment for locals and newcomers alike with games such as bandy and pesäpallo.
If you are thinking of making the trip to Finland and witnessing their unique variety of live sport, this sports guide to Finland will give you the lowdown to make the most of your sports adventure.
Participant Sports & Activities to Try in Finland
1. Cross-Country Skiing
Whist downhill skiing is possible in so many mountainous resorts, one sport I recommend trying one time, and in Finland, is cross-country skiing.
Finland has some cross locations for trying out cross-country skiing and it’s really a very different experience from downhill skiing.
You can find cross-country ski tracks in just about every part of Finland including in the suburbs of the capital Helsinki.
Furthermore, everyone can ski cross-country and as long as you dress up appropriately, it costs very little to ski cross country.
You can learn more here about cross-country skiing in Finland.
Dog sledding is another very cultural sporting opportunity you should consider if you are planning to visit Finland.
This outdoor activity is particularly popular in the Lapland region but there are a number of areas in Finland where you can book a dog sledding experience.
It is not the cheapest activity but it’s really quite a unique experience and the two main ways to book this are:
- To book by the hour, i.e. a dog sledding experience for an hour or two
- Or to book a 7 or 8-day dog sledding holiday (see HeyHuskey for some options)
3. Ice Karting
Another fantastic cultural sporting activity that Finland provides you with the chance to experience, is ice karting.
Think of go-karting but on ice and you have the idea! It might seem a little crazy but if you are an adrenaline junkie then ice karting is certainly something you should try.
Spectator Sports Events in Finland
If participating in sports is not for you, you might be interested in attending a sporting event in Helsinki or another part of Finland. The main opportunities for spectator sports in Finland are as follows:
1. Liiga (Ice Hockey)
If you want to experience Finnish passion then I highly recommend going to a live ice hockey game as I did when I lived for 6 months in Helsinki (see my experience of Finland on the Sports Tour page)
Finland is considered one of the Big Six, for being one of the strongest ice hockey nations in the world. Indeed, Finland has an enviable amount of exciting homegrown talent.
While some of the best inevitably make their way to the National Hockey League in the US and Canada, the Liiga (Finnish Elite League) is nevertheless a very entertaining competition and one of the strongest in Europe.
During the regular season, the 15 Finnish teams play 60 games each on the march towards the 8-team playoffs. The top 6 teams automatically qualify with the following four teams fighting off in a wildcard round.
The average attendance at a Liiga match is around 5000 people with HIFK one of the best-supported teams and with 7,000 fans often at each game.
Given their base in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, HIFK is often the best place to catch a domestic ice hockey game as a visitor to the country.
I highly recommend seeing a game. It’s the equivalent of going to a live baseball game in the U.S. or going to watch a football (soccer) game in England.
If you are traveling around Finland, you will have many opportunities to catch a local game, especially if you are in the southern half of Finland.
The perennially successful Karpat, based in Oulu, is the northernmost team in the league.
2. SuperPesis (Pesäpallo – Baseball)
Pesäpallo is a hybrid game of baseball that has been enthralling local crowds since the 1920s. Pesäpallo continues to grow and change with the times, which has created a steady increase in popularity over the years.
We could write an entire article about the differences between pesäpallo and baseball, but the major difference is the way that the ball is pitched.
The pitcher stands next to the batter and throws the ball vertically, giving the batter more time to control power and the ball’s direction.
Overall, this allows the offense more ability to control how the game is played and from there, a slew of interesting tactics come into play.
The best way to witness this fascinating homegrown sport is to attend a game in the SuperPesis, the elite Pesäpallo league in Finland. There are 15 men’s and 13 women’s teams fighting it out for the title, with the constant threat of relegation.
Pesäpallo is very popular in rural areas and smaller cities, where large percentages of the local population show up to support their favorite team. The stadiums may be small, but the passion of the crowd creates a unique atmosphere and an insight into everyday Finnish life.
You can learn more about Pesäpallo here.
3. Bandyliiga (Bandy)
Bandy is a team sport played on ice in the winter using a mix of ice hockey and field hockey, with a touch of football. The ice field is roughly the same size as a football field, with eleven players on each team working their way towards the goal over two 45-minute halves.
Based purely on the number of participating athletes, bandy, after ice hockey, is the most popular winter sport across the world.
Bandy first made its way to Finland towards the end of the 19th century, with the first national championships occurring in 1908. This championship has taken place every year since then until it was replaced by the semi-amateur Bandyliiga. Overall IFK Helsingfors (HIFK), founded in 1907, is the most successful bandy club in Finland with 17 championships. Yes, the same HIFK that’s found similar success in Finland’s ice hockey league.
Despite only winning the Bandy World Championship once, in 2004, Finland has the honour of being the only nation besides Russia and Sweden to ever bring the title home.
Bandyliiga crowds are quite small, but as you travel around Finland, it is worth keeping an eye out for a local match. The season runs from late November through to the middle of March.
4. Veikkausliiga (Football)
Unlike many European countries, football is not the most popular national sport. However, the Veikkausliiga belongs on every sports traveller’s itinerary as they venture around Finland.
The Veikkausliiga is the top-flight of Finnish football, featuring 12 professional teams. The league occurs throughout the warmer seasons of spring, summer and autumn to avoid the harsh Nordic winters.
HJK Helsinki is one of the biggest teams in the league with consistent crowd numbers of around 3500 fans.
For an added sense of occasion, time your visit with the end of the Finnish Cup, Finland’s version of the FA Cup. Over 100 teams sign up to compete in the knockout competition that has been running since 1955. The crowds of around 4000 people sound like triple that number on the back of raucous support.
The Finnish Cup begins in March with finals occurring throughout April, with the championship match taking place in early May.
Major Sporting Events that Take Place in Finland
A range of sporting events take place in Finland and some of the best are as follows:
1. Rally Finland
Because of Finland’s incredible success in the World Rally Championship (they are the most successful nation), the biggest annual sporting event in the country is when the WRC comes to town.
The Neste Oil Rally Finland brings in around a half million fans every year to see homegrown and international talent go to work. Rally Finland is often rated as one of the best rallies on the international calendar while simultaneously being one of the most difficult.
The annual date of the rally varies, but you can head here for tickets and up-to-date information.
The popularity of rally driving has spawned several amateur competitions the biggest and most hilarious is Folk Racing.
This competition is just for the Average Joe, as no car can be over 1400 Euros in price and the tracks limit the car’s top speed to under 80 km/h. Once the race is over, any driver can place a bid on another car and quickly have a new set of wheels.
2. Helsinki Olympic Stadium
Built for the 1952 Summer Olympic Games, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium is the largest in Finland, with a capacity of over 36,000. Over the years, it has held many of the country’s national championships from Bandy to the final of the Finnish Cup.
The stadium is also home to the location of all Finnish international football games. Click here for or up-to-date schedules
You can take a tour of the historic stadium, including a visit to the iconic tower that offers unbeatable views of the Helsinki skyline.
For tickets to international football games, Veirkkausliiga, Ice Hockey, and Superpesis you can head to Ticketmaster.com. Because of limited crowds, purchasing a ticket at the gate is always an option and creates more room for spontaneity as you travel around Helsinki and roam the Finnish countryside.