Summer in Finland: 3 great swimming tips

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Summer in Finland is in full swing. One of the most enjoyable things about summer in Finland is swimming. Finland sure provides the opportunities for it. Here, we give you 3 great tips that help you find the best places for swimming in Finland. Our tips also help make those trips safe. 

Tip #1: Where to go swimming in Finland?

Want to go for a swim? You’re in luck. There are about 300 official public beaches in Finland. The exact number varies a bit from year to year. Each municipality decides what are their official beaches, and the designation depends on the local resources. Designation as an official public beach means that the water quality is officially monitored throughout the summer. Entrance to public beaches is always free.

Most of these 300 public beaches are lake-side beaches. Naturally sandy beaches are rare in Finland. Public beaches may have sand but most often it has been brought there to cover the naturally muddy shores. This becomes clear as you step into the water. 

Instead of sandy bottoms, the lake shores are often muddy and include slippery hard stone. In public beaches, the bottom of the swimming area may have been covered with a thick fabric of sorts on which there is a thick layer of sand. Sometimes you may feel the fabric under your feet, raising up a bit from the bottom. It’s nothing to be alarmed about. It just tells you that the beach has been improved a bit.

The municipalities publish a list of their official beaches on their websites. This list includes the classification of the beach and a note describing the nature and quality of the water. Google “uimaranta” and the name of your town. In the results look for the official site of your town. You’ll find a list of the official beaches there.

Unofficial public beaches and other beaches

In addition to these official beaches, some municipalities also have unofficial small local beaches that are open for public use. The water quality of these beaches is not monitored officially. 

In many municipalities, such beaches may also have saunas that are heated up a couple of times a week by local village activists. Those are also open for everybody, but using the sauna may mean that you’ll have to pay a small fee. Small here means a couple of euros per person or per family. 

If you live in a village or town that has these available, they might be a good way to meet your neighbors and local village activists. But, to tell you the truth, depending on the people who operate them, they can also be somewhat daunting. Especially if you are a private person and don’t appreciate being asked a ton of questions about your connections to the area and to the people there. 

Another possibility for a summer swim are the beaches and saunas owned by the hundreds of Finnish associations of one sort or another. Finnish trade unions often own lake or seaside cabins they either rent or keep open to their members. Some huge companies also may own these. In recent years, may associations and companies have sold these off and there are less of these types of membership perks around. But it’s worth checking if your trade union or the association(s) you belong to have such saunas. 

Tip #2: Well, is the water warm enough to go for a swim?

Ok, so now you’ve decided where you want to go for a swim. But is the water warm enough for a swim?

As swimming and boating are important past-times in Finland during the summer, weather forecasts often also report water temperatures around the country. The Finnish environmental administration monitors the surface water temperatures from 80 different locations in Finland. Here is a link to the site where they report the temperatures. This site is only in Finnish, but you can see the locations of the monitoring stations on the map and see the list of locations with temperature readings. 

In southern Finland, surface water temperatures in lakes are on average 16-18 degrees Celsius on Midsummer, and in Lapland, they are on average 13-15 degrees. Surface waters warm up further as the summer goes along. 

Ordinary citizens also enter water temperature readings to the Järviwiki. Because of this, it has readings from more places than the environmental administration site. The English language version of the site has a curious mixture of Finnish and English, but the readings are still understandable. 

Municipalities may also publish surface water temperature data for their public beaches. These might lag behind a day or two, but they do give you at least an idea of what the water temperature may currently be.

Helsinki has an online service that allows you to check water temperature readings from eight popular beaches in the city. They have automated sensors on these beaches that provide the temperature readings every half hour. The website then publishes those. The site is only in Finnish at the moment, but the site is easy enough to decipher. It has the name of the beach, the temperature reading, and the time that has elapsed since this reading was taken.  

A water temperature reading on a public beach in Finland

Tip #3: knowing if the water is safe for swimming

Official public beaches in Finland in general have excellent water quality. This makes swimming in Finland quite safe. 

In fact, in 2019, the water quality in 92 % of Finnish public beaches was good or excellent according to EU standards. About 96 % of lakeside beaches were actually of good or excellent quality while about 80 % percent of seaside beaches were the same. In EU standards, seaside beaches have stricter limits than lakeside beaches. Thus seaside beaches have a harder time to qualify for the best categories than the lakeside beaches. 

Municipalities publish water quality reports on their websites and also on beach notice boards. They close the beaches down if necessary.

A report on the water quality on a public beach in Finland together with the beach classification

The problem with the water quality of Finnish public beaches is not normally different types of gut bacteria, but the occurrence of the poisonous blue-green algae once the summer moves ahead and surface water temperatures rise. 

Blue-green algae can cause allergic skin reactions, nausea, stomach problems, eye and ear infections, and other general symptoms such as fever and headaches. Symptoms usually occur within a few hours after exposure to the algae. You should not go into the water if you suspect the presence of blue-green algae and you should not let your pets in either. 

You shouldn’t use that water in the sauna. Nor should you wash yourself, your pets, or your dishes with water that you suspect is contaminated with blue-green algae.

The same Järviwiki that you can use to check water temperatures is a great resource for the algae situation as well. Use that to check what the situation is at your local beach. 

Making swimming safe: How to recognize blue-green algae yourself

As the blue-green algae are so poisonous, it’s important that you learn to recognize it yourself. If the water surface is covered with a green floating mat of stuff there is no mistaking it.

Water surface covered with blue-green algae

But it can be difficult to know for sure if there is less of the algae in the water. There are a couple of good tips for this, however. 

One way is to take water from the lake or sea into a glass and let that sit for an hour. If there are green flakes on the surface after an hour, it’s blue-green algae. 

Another is to take a stick and poke that into the algae. If the algae don’t stick to the branch but dissipate into the water as small flakes, it’s yet again blue-green algae. 

There is now also a home testing kit you can use to test swimming waters. A Finnish company developed the test in collaboration with the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd and the University of Turku. It’s sold widely. 

Safe swimming!

We hope our tips help you find your favorite place to swim.

Swimming is great fun, but remember to be careful when you go into the water. Particularly if you don’t know how to swim or are not very good at it. Unfortunately, there has already been a number of tragic accidents in Finland this summer.

Remember these rules:

  • Don’t go swimming alone.
  • Swim along the shoreline, not away from the shore.
  • Alcohol and swimming don’t mix.
  • Don’t jump headfirst into the water when you can’t see what’s underneath the surface.
  • The sign below warns of unexpectedly deep dips in the bottom.
“Warning: watch out for expectedly deep dips in the bottom”

And always, always watch your kids like a hawk even if they know how to swim!

Have a wonderful and safe summer swimming in Finland!

Learn more about Finnish nature and all the things it can offer you. The course includes a 30-page recipe booklet to help you enjoy the offerings. Get our “Your Neighborhood Nature in Finland” online course from our online store.

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