We’re beyond the 63rd parallel here, so southern Finns class Vaasa (Swedish: Vasa) as ‘The North’. But the city has three universities, a thriving art scene and has long been a popular family destination – it’s anything but a one-reindeer town.
Just 45 nautical miles from Sweden, Vaasa embraces the culture of the country that’s visible across the Gulf of Bothnia. A quarter of the population speak Swedish as a first language and you’ll hear conversations in restaurants and bars switching deftly between Finnish and Swedish, often in the same sentence.
The 17th-century town was named after Swedish royalty, the noble Wasa family, although a mere 200 years later it had fallen into Russian hands. The old town burned down in Vaasa’s Great Fire of 1852 – caused by a careless drunk trying to light his pipe – and the new city was built from scratch, 7km away from the cinders.