Timo Nieminen
Timo Nieminen

Tourism and recreation

In Finland, everyone has the right to enjoy nature anywhere in the Finnish countryside regardless of who is the owner or holder of the land. Under the freedom to roam, or ‘everyman’s right’, everyone has the right to do the following in nature: walk, ski, cycle or ride horseback; spend time and stay overnight; pick berries, mushrooms and flowers; go boating and swimming; walk on frozen waters; and fish with a simple rod and line or an ice-fishing rod.

Agenda 2030 and national principles for sustainable tourism

The UN  Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development was adopted in 2015, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) came into effect at the beginning of 2016. The goals also apply to tourism in marine and coastal areas. 

Finland’s national tourism strategy

Finland’s tourism strategy, Achieving more together – sustainable growth and renewal in Finnish tourism. Finland’s tourism strategy 2019–2028 and action plan 2019–2023, was published in November 2019. The key goal of the strategy is to double the volume of tourism exports. To enable sustainable growth and renewal in the tourism sector, the strategy identifies four focus areas: supporting operations in line with sustainable development, responding to the digital transformation, improving accessibility in line with the needs of the tourism sector, and ensuring an operating environment that supports competitiveness. 

The strategy serves as a common guideline for tourism operators in their development work. Tourism to Finland is developed at the national level through the Visit Finland regional cooperation model of Business Finland. Tourism marketing and product development are carried out in four regions: the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finnish Lakeland, the coast and the archipelago, and Lapland. The division into four major regions lays the foundation for a strong offering of tourism services and products and the creation of attractive sub-brands. 

Visit Finland has developed Sustainable Travel Finland, a programme for tourism companies and regions, and the Sustainable Travel Finland label, which can be achieved through the programme. The programme provides companies and regions with assistance in adopting sustainable ways of working. The related measures have been divided into the dimensions of ecological, social and economic sustainability, illustrating how sustainable ways of working can be integrated into the day-to-day operations of a tourism company. The companies and regions that have achieved the Sustainable Travel Finland label have access to a continuous development model and the latest information about sustainable development in tourism, as well as marketing support and additional visibility in Visit Finland’s channels.

One of the tasks of the regional councils is to develop tourism and recreational use in their area as part of regional development work. The regional councils prepare tourism strategies for their respective areas.

There is little tourism regulation that directly concerns maritime spatial planning. Tourism regulation mainly concerns tourism companies.

Nature and wilderness tourism

The purpose of the Government Resolution on an action plan for the development of nature-based recreation and tourism 2003 (VILMAT) was to improve the preconditions for nature-based recreation and tourism in state-owned areas, conservation areas and municipal recreational areas, as well as developing the diverse use of forests. Its goals also included increasing the use of cultural and heritage environments, as well as holiday homes and other countryside buildings, for nature-based recreation and tourism. 

An assessment of the implementation of the VILMAT action plan was conducted in 2014. According to the results of the assessment, the goals of the action plan had been achieved only partly. However, a new action plan has not been prepared.

The Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government includes the preparation of a national recreational use strategy. Its preparation will begin in the autumn of 2020. 

Two reports by the Prime Minister’s Office, New ways to develop tourism and recreation in forest and water areas in Finland (VirKein) in 2016–2017 and Current status and development prospects of business models related to the wilderness economy in 2017–2018, suggest several measures to further develop nature-based and wilderness tourism.

Nature-based tourism and recreational services, such as hiking in nature and recreational fishing and hunting, as well as their sustainable growth, are part of the goals of the Roadmap for Growth and Renewal in Finnish Tourism for 2015–2025, the Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy 2025, the National Forest Strategy 2025 and the National Blue Bioeconomy Development Plan 2025. 

The Green Growth Strategy and the Blue Growth Strategy recognise the unused potential in wilderness tourism. Wilderness tourism – that is, fishing tourism, hunting tourism and large carnivore observation and photographic tourism – is primarily an export product that relies on the strengths of Finnish nature tourism: experiences, safety, purity, silence, coldness and darkness.


Everyman’s right and the general right of use of water bodies

Nature-based recreation and tourism are largely based on everyman’s right. Everyman’s right refers to the opportunity to move about and operate in areas that the landowner has not adopted for a special purpose of use that overrides everyman’s right, such as cultivation or a residential yard area. Most of Finland’s area is covered by everyman’s right. Everyman’s right also applies to conservation areas unless the right has been specifically restricted. Under the Nature Conservation Act, Metsähallitus can issue by-laws for a conservation area to determine which activities are permitted, restricted or prohibited. The restrictions may concern access to seal islets or bird nesting islets during specific periods, for example. 

Water areas are used under the general right of use in line with the Water Act and under everyman’s right. The general rights and obligations concerning access to water areas are specified in the Water Act and the Water Traffic Act. Under the general right of use, everyone has the right to move about in a water area and use it for swimming or diving, for example. A water area in a residential yard area is not covered by everyman’s right.

Everyman’s right also includes business operations. For example, people are allowed to engage in nature-based and wilderness tourism operations in an area without permission from the landowner or the owner of the water area.


Recreational fishing and hunting

The goal of the recreational fishery development strategy (2019) is to make recreational fishing a popular and socially respected nature activity that makes sustainable use of diverse fishing waters and opportunities. The vision of the strategy of the Finnish Game Consortium is to create well-being through the sustainable use, management and protection of game.  

Metsähallitus is responsible for the organisation of general and special fishing and hunting rights in state-owned water and land areas. Rights are granted either free of charge or against a fishery or game management fee. The permit revenues are used to improve the habitats of fish and game. Fishing and hunting permits can be obtained from the Eräluvat (Wilderness Permits) service of Metsähallitus. According to the Fishing Act, everyone aged between 18 and 64 must pay the fishery fee if they engage in types of recreational fishing other than angling, ice-fishing or fishing for Baltic herring using a line with multiple hooks. Completion of the training required for a hunting licence is required for hunting, as well as permission from the landowner. Section 7 of the Hunting Act offers opportunities for hunting in public water areas and the exclusive economic zone.

Metsähallitus manages around 2.8 million hectares of marine areas – that is, more than 50% of Finland’s territorial waters. Most of these are state-owned public water areas, but many conservation areas also include water areas. In addition, in the marine area in the inner archipelago, there are private water areas where regulations concerning fishing and hunting differ from those followed in public water areas.


National parks

National parks are large conservation areas intended to safeguard biodiversity, as well as providing people with opportunities to enjoy nature and relax in a natural environment. National parks have marked routes, nature trails and campfire sites. It is also possible to stay overnight in national parks, as they have camping areas or buildings intended for overnight stays. Finland has five Maritime National Parks: the Bothnian Bay, Bothnian Sea, Archipelago Sea, Tammisaari and Eastern Gulf of Finland National Parks. 


Planning the management and use of conservation areas

The Nature Services department of Metsähallitus prepares management and use plans for national parks, hiking areas and Natura areas. These 10–15-year plans are prepared based on legal requirements and also whenever necessary. The plans are used to coordinate goals related to nature conservation, recreation and other uses. The plans are prepared in cooperation with stakeholders. 


Municipal recreational areas

Most recreational areas are maintained by municipalities. Municipalities have also established recreational area associations to acquire areas for recreation and hiking. Areas owned by municipalities and recreational area associations are located in coastal areas and the archipelago, and their use is mainly based on rights and obligations under everyman’s right.


Leisure accommodation in coastal areas

Leisure accommodation and other uses of shore areas are guided by the Land Use and Building Act.  The provisions of the Nature Conservation Act and the Antiquities Act must also be followed. The content requirements for plans, as well as the national land use goals, require the consideration of various aspects to the necessary extent. Such aspects include water protection and recreational needs, as well as values related to natural and cultural environments and reports concerning these, for example. The use of shores is guided by means of regional plans in the various regions and by means of general plans and town plans in municipalities.

A town plan or a general plan intended for construction management is required for construction on the shores. A deviation decision is needed if there is no plan. The purpose of planning is for construction on the shores to take into account nature and landscape conservation, the recreational use of the shore and the equal treatment of landowners. In addition, plans clarify and reduce the processing of deviations in construction on the shores. 



Antikainen, R., Mickwitz, P., Seppälä, J., Virkamäki, V., Leppänen, M., Hujala, T., Riala, M., Nummelin, T., Paavilainen, L., Vihinen, H., Kurppa, S., Kitti, L., & Thessler, S. (2013) Opportunities for green growth. Prime Minister’s Office Reports 4/2013.

Hänninen, J. (2020) Development of Finland’s tourism policy from the perspective of the state administration. Publications of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 2020:11.

Jarva, A. (2005) Rantojen maankäytön suunnittelu [Land use planning in shore areas]. Environmental guide of the Ministry of the Environment 120/2005.

Jokamiehenoikeudet ja toimiminen toisen alueella [Everyman’s right and activities in someone else’s area] SY 30/2012 

Fishing Act (379/2015)

Hunting Act (615/1993)

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2008). Kalastusmatkailun kehittämisen valtakunnallinen toimenpideohjelma [National action plan for the development of fishing tourism] 2008–2013. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2012) Finnish Game Consortium Strategy 2012–2016.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2016) Kasvua vesiosaamisesta ja vesiluonnonvarojen kestävästä hyödyntämisestä. Suomen biotalouden kansallinen kehittämissuunnitelma 2025 [Growth from water expertise and the sustainable use of natural water resources. Finland’s national bioeconomy development plan].

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2019) National Forest Strategy 2025 (updated). Government Resolution, 21 December 2019.

Pohja-Mykrä, M., Matilainen, A., Kujala, S., Hakala, O., Harvio, V., Cannon, H., Kurki, S. (2018) Current status and development prospects of business models related to the wilderness economy. Publications of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities 40/2018.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (2014) Sustainable growth from the bioeconomy – the Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy. Edita Prima Oy. http://www.biotalous.fi/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Suomen_biotalousstrategia_2014.pdf

Tyrväinen, L., Sievänen, T., Konu, H., Aapala, K., Ojala, O., Pellikka, J., Reinikainen, M., Lehtoranta, V., Pesonen, J., Tuohino, A. (2017) New ways to develop tourism and recreation on forest and water areas in Finland. Publications of the Government’s analysis, assessment and research activities 88/2017.

Government Resolution on the promotion of nature-based recreation and tourism, 13 February 2003, VILMAT

Agenda 2030: the UN action plan for sustainable development, 25 September 2015