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“Rauma? Why are you going there?” Again and again, Finns asked me this question. Rauma is a nice place, surely, but would you go out of your way to go there?
“Two World Heritage Sites,” I’d reply with a smile. Rauma’s old town is famous for being the largest wooden old town in the Nordic countries and one of the most immaculately preserved wooden old towns in Europe. Besides Old Rauma, just outside town, there’s the burial site of Samallahdenmäki.
Since I was visiting Finland for the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival, I decided to extend my time and visit a few other areas. Helsinki was a given, and Rauma seemed like it would be nice to visit as well.
The World Heritage Sites may have brought me there — but Rauma blew me away. It was the biggest surprise of the summer and one of my favorite destinations in recent memory.
These photos are why you should come to Rauma.
Beautiful Old Rauma
The more I’ve gotten into photography over the past few years, the more I’ve become concerned about light. Bad light can now ruin my day; good light can leave me rapturous.
I woke up to a rainstorm in Rauma, but by the time I headed out with my camera, the sun had come out, veiled behind thin clouds, and the light was absolutely PERFECT.
And the subject matter couldn’t be any better. Look at these incredible wooden houses.
These porcelain dogs are something that you see throughout Rauma. As symbols of loyalty, they were placed facing the outside whenever a sailor in the house was away at sea. When he returned, they would face inward.
Life in Rauma revolved around the sea. Its position on the Gulf of Bothnia left it in a prime environment for sailing to Sweden and throughout northern Europe.
You see the influence to this day — everything in Rauma seems to have a nautical theme. From items in home decoration stores like Kodinonni in the old town to ships in bottles to churches with giant ships perched at the entrance, there’s no doubt that this town was built for and by its hardy sailors.
Rauma’s Maritime Museum was a highlight. It’s filled with incredible artifacts and they’re making it increasingly technology-oriented, with tablets and interactive exhibits.
They also have a restaurant where you can try a popular food for sailors back in the dy: lapskoussi. Lapskoussi is a mixture of beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, and other root vegetables, boiled and mashed together into a blob, served with melted butter on top.
“Don’t worry — it doesn’t look good, but it tastes wonderful,” the Finns assured me again and again. “You’ll like it.”
Well, they were right. It didn’t look good — but it tasted fantastic. I ate every last bite and scooped up the remainder with my bread. I need to learn how to make this!
Arts and Culture
Throughout Rauma, you see wooden sculptures of people peeking up in different locations in the old town and beyond. Most famous is the lady of Rauma, pictured above, sitting on a bench next to her purse.
These sculptures are the work of Kerttu Horila, who has a studio in the old town. You can visit her studio and see her latest works. She also has a beautiful back garden filled with more sculptures.
On the way out of town, you’ll see three ladies in the water running from a frog prince!
I loved this one.
Rauma is famous for its handmade lace, and you see it on display throughout the town.
Every summer, Rauma celebrates Lace Week, showcasing their latest handmade work, and each year, they host representatives from a different European city famous for lace. You might recall that I visited lace-loving Idrija in Slovenia back in July. Well, they hosted lacemakers from Idrija not too long ago!
After visiting both Idrija and Rauma this summer, I’m wondering if I could pick up lace-making as a hobby.
A time-consuming hobby, that is. See the work this lady is doing?
Each of those starbursts takes eight hours to make. Eight hours on a single starburst. And her hands fly.
On the Water
After a day of exploring maritime Rauma, it was time to get out on the water.
Here I was invited to go on a boat ride with my guide Irene and her husband Tuomo — and Nekku, the world’s most adorable dog.
POMERANIAN IN A LIFE JACKET. I NEED NOTHING ELSE TODAY.
One nice thing about experiencing Finland in the summer was seeing how much the outdoorsy, athletic Finns celebrate the warmer months. It’s all about getting out on a boat, or kayak, or on a bike, getting your blood pumping all day, then hitting up the sauna and swimming as the sun goes down.
You don’t need a friend with a boat in order to explore the archipelago. My suggestion? Take a boat to one of the islands! Visit Finland did a beautiful photo essay on Kylmäpihlaja, where you can visit for a day trip or stay overnight in a lighthouse.
As for our group — me, Dylan, Irene, Tuomo and adorable Nekku — we returned to a house on the water, swam and saunaed, ate, and watched the sun go down.
My day in Rauma was filled with beauty and surprises, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
Beyond the lace, beyond the maritime themes, beyond the sculptures and the archipelago and the outstanding architecture, Rauma is just a small city with a really great, friendly vibe.
I’m always on the lookout for cities that are just nice places to stop for a while and relax, hang out, and take long walks. Rauma has that wonderful quality to it, and I wish I could have stayed longer than a day and a half.
When I experience places like these, my mission to visit more UNESCO World Heritage Sites is absolutely worth it. I never would have discovered this wonderful city otherwise.
Essential Info: Rauma is a 3.5-hour bus journey from Helsinki. You can take express buses either from downtown Helsinki or Helsinki Airport.
Admission to Rauma’s Maritime Museum is 9 EUR ($12 USD) for adults.
I had excellent 3G coverage throughout Finland thanks to Three‘s Feel At Home data plan, which includes unlimited data in 18 countries, Finland included. As someone who uses the internet as much as me, it simply rocks.
Many thanks to Visit Rauma for hosting me in Rauma. Special thanks to Irene for being a wonderful guide and Tuomo for taking us out for a boat ride. All opinions, as always, are my own.