Everyone needs to see the Aurora Borealis once in their lives, right? So began the journey to Oulu, the southernmost city of northern Finland. Oulu is located in the subarctic region and it’s pretty close to the geographical centre of the country. That makes it a great city for Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland.
Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Oulu
My photographer friend and I had started chasing the Aurora Borealis a few days earlier in Helsinki. After spending the day in the Kemi Snow Castle in Finnish Lapland, it was time for us to hop on a bus. Roughly two and a half hours later we were in the largest city in the Subarctic region of Finland; Oulu.
We had prearranged a host in Oulu who was doing her second Master’s degree at the Oulu University. Our host, Anna, had lived in many different places in the world and had some interesting views on daily life in Finland. We had planned to meet her at the university, so from the bus station we need to get a local bus. We had considered walking, but even though it was only a couple of kilometres, the cold was getting too much for me. Oulu has a super modern fleet of buses. The cost of riding one reflects that. It’s €3.50 for a one zone ticket. That ticket lasts for as many rides as you like within that zone for 60 minutes, or 80 minutes for multiple zones.
We may have prematurely exited from the bus, but we were still in the general vicinity of the university. This meant we got to walk through some of the winter wonderland that is Oulu in Febrary.
The snow didn’t just cover the ground, it literally stopped watercourses from running too! Some creative soul had decided to put some lights on what would’ve been the banks of a canal. With all the white everywhere, a little bit of colour was quite a welcome sight.
It wasn’t the only place in town where someone had decided to add some coloured lights.
But these ones changed a little bit. There’s nothing I like more than watching lights move. I mean, that is the whole reason I had tormented myself with a trip to Finland in the winter!
Oulu City Centre
We were getting quite used to seeing snow everywhere by this point. So when we encountered a paved area with no snow, we were a little perplexed.
How could this small patch of ground between two other patches of ground that were snowed over be snow-free? We were so obviously confused by it that a lady walking past us stopped to tell us that the ground was heated. Well, that makes sense. But then we wondered why it was just that patch and not all the paved areas in the city centre.
It really was better not to think too much about that one, so we just kept walking and came across this guy. He is a monument to the Finnish Police. I didn’t see any police the whole time I was in Finland, so I can neither confirm nor deny if they look anything like this portly policeman.
Getting Around Oulu
As I mentioned earlier, the local bus services in Oulu are rather pricey. €3.50 for one zone and €5.80 for two zones. We worked out pretty quickly that things were going to get very expensive. We were staying in Martinniemi, a small village about 40 minutes out of Oulu. That meant we would need to spend €11.60 a day just to get to and from Martinniemi. That’s not including transport within the city.
We opted to get a multiple day ticket, which ended up being much cheaper than buying separate tickets. As you can see on the Oulu transport site. The only problem was, we couldn’t buy these tickets anywhere in Martinniemi. So we ended up having to purchase them through the Oulu Transport App (Oulu Joukkoliikenne).
Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day One
We had scoured over our maps for hours to choose a place that wasn’t too far away from where we were staying. It wasn’t that we minded walking but the cold was really affecting us. The place we chose was only 700 metres from where we were located. As we got closer we started to realise that even though the map had indicated there was a path to the spot we’d picked, it actually wasn’t accessible from where we were.
We had however, ended up in a huge open area with a perfect view of the sky to the north. A completely cloudy sky. There was no way we were seeing any lights that night, so we headed back home. It was only a minor setback. We still had two nights.
Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day Two
We got back to looking at our maps to find a better vantage point. But this time we were smart and decided to check out the suitability and accessibility of the place during the day.
On the way we saw an abandoned house. Our curiosity got the better of us and we went inside. As you would imagine, the house had been stripped bare and the inside was pretty much just snow and graffiti.
But it did have a nice view of the outside world.
Once we finally made it to a tiny frozen-over marina we knew that we had chosen well this time. It was interesting to see all the small boats that would normally be docked there, dry-docked on stands near the car park. We noticed a few small cabins there too.
Walking on Water
Not long after we got there, a guy drove in and parked his car. He proceeded to get a gas bottle and a box out of the car boot. They were placed on a small plastic thing with a rope attached to it. He started pulling it along the snow covering what would be the water of the bay in the summer.
From what we figured, he had a cabin on a nearby island. As the water was frozen solid, the only way to reach it was by walking.
Second Time Lucky?
When we returned that night there was a bitingly cold wind blowing. I grabbed my phone to check what the time was and saw a warning I had never seen before; a flashing thermometer. Then that was it. My phone that had over 50% charge an hour beforehand just died. Then my friend looked at his two phones and they both had the same problem. That, the wind and the cloud cover were signs for us to leave.
Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Finnish Lapland – Day 3
This was our final chance to see the lights. The Aurora app we had downloaded informed us that there was a great chance of spotting Auroral activity under clear conditions. This made us hopeful. Given the phone issues of the day before, we made sure to keep our phones out of the cold as much as possible.
We sheltered in this cabin for a bit after the wind got too much for us. We were surprised to find that it had electricity. It also had some kind of stove in the centre. We surmised that it must be for people to use if they get stuck at the marina due to bad weather.
Once we ventured back outside we realised that there was too much cloud cover to see anything. But there was definitely something going on behind that cloud cover.
There were no buildings in that area that could be causing such bright lights, so it must have been the Auroras. Damn cloud cover!
Nallikari, the Place for Summer and Winter Activities in Oulu
Just before we made our way back to Helsinki on an overnight bus, we decided to see if we could get some kind of winter activity in before we left Oulu. Nallikari, which is a beach area in the summer, seemed to be the place to go.
According to the internet, they had all types of snow activities happening there. Except of course when we went. All of their normal activities had been halted for one reason or another. They told us we could come back in a few days but that wasn’t really going to work for us.
We explored the area for a little bit. It was quite amusing to see beach shacks on snow. Although the coolest thing we did that day was stand on the sea. Well, what would have been the sea if it wasn’t frozen over.
I guess that meant it was time for a selfie with our host while people walked on the ‘sea’ in the background.
Just in case you’re wondering, that’s a look of pain on my face. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t feel my hand at that point. I’d had to take a glove off to unlock my phone so this picture could be taken.
We jumped on our night bus back to Helsinki not long after. Then flew out of Helsinki back to London where I was supposed to get a flight home 2 days later. That flight got cancelled and I was stuck in London for an extra two weeks. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, my host Anna messaged me with a picture of the lights just after we left. She’d seen them as she was getting off the bus near her house!
At least I can tick ‘visiting the Subarctic region in winter’ off my list, but the Aurora Borealis will have to wait for another time in another country.
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