Oulu rises from the ashes and heads toward the future

Since prehistoric times, Oulu has been moving forward. From the beginning, the city has been a significant trade and transport hub, bringing people – and opportunities – together. In the past centuries, Oulu has burned down ten times, but the city has always risen from the ashes towards new possibilities. 

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Early signs of life 

The Oulu area was inhabited already in the stone age although Oulu became a city only hundreds of years later. Since the beginning, Oulu has brought people and opportunities together: Oulu and the river Oulujoki were a transportation route for fishing and trade. Both the Carelians and Vikings have travelled through Oulu, and some of them must have stopped here as well!

The Varjakka island got its name from the Vikings

Trading, fighting and urbanisation

In the 14th century, it wasn’t quite clear which state Oulu belonged to, and that led to some fighting. In the end, Oulu ended up being governed by Sweden and received trading permissions from King Gustav Vasa in 1531. The history books tell us that the city of Oulu was founded in 1605. That created a good amount of buzz and Oulu soon became a centre of tar and salmon trade. The first signs of industry and investments into education were seen in the 17th century, as Oulu’s population doubled from 400 to 800. 

Boats were being built in Pikisaari already in the 17th century

Rising from the ashes

Oulu has burned down ten times. The city has gotten up and continued towards growth and progress, time after time, with determination. In the 18th century, with the new port and staple town rights, Oulu’s position as a trading town grew even stronger. The most important export goods were tar, timber, salmon and butter. Tar became a significant export product, livelihood and tourism magnet for Oulu – which it is, to some extent, to this day. At the end of the 18th century, Oulu was the capital of the Oulu province and the second biggest city by population in Finland, after Turku.

Have a coffee at the ruins of the Oulu Castle

Towards the war through reforms

A couple of important things happened in Oulu in the 19th century. An elementary school started operating, the city’s first newspaper began publication, the railroad was built, and damaged in yet another fire, the city’s cathedral was re-built.

The war years were reasonably easy on Oulu. In the 1918 civil war battle, the Whites won, and the Reds, taken captive, ended up prisoners in the Raatti island prison camp. In the WWII  continuation war, Oulu was far from the actual front. The biggest destruction was caused when Russia bombed the city in February 1944. In the mid-20th century, Oulu’s population was over 35 000. 

The Cathedral, rebuilt in the 19th century

Industrial development and growth

The University of Oulu was founded in the middle of the 20th century, which had a significant impact on the growth of industry, service jobs and population in Oulu. A noteworthy story began in 1973 when Nokia built its factories and industrial facilities in Rusko, Oulu. This was the beginning of a speedy journey of Oulu developing into a hub of high technology.

The population of Oulu reached 100 000 in 1990, making it the 6th largest city in Finland. After municipal amalgamations in 2013 Oulu became Finland’s 5th largest city by population, with 190 891 inhabitants.

The Bobby statue arrived in the 1980’s

Living in the now, eyes on the future

Today, Oulu is a versatile tourist destination, the Capital of the North and the future European Capital of Culture. Looking into the future with its head held high but feet on the ground, Oulu continues to develop and grow as the industrial hub of Northern Finland, a university city, a city of events, and maybe just a bit as the ‘sh*tty town’ it’s lovingly called by the locals – always in balance with the northern nature.

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A smiling girl dressed in an old-fashioned role costume. In the background is the Museum of Northern Ostrobothnia.

Northern Ostrobothnia Museum

Luotolainen tikkuri on kaunis perinneneule

Luotolainen Tikkuri - exhibition

A happy girl is playing that she is fishing.

Playroom Leikkilä


Go Arctic activities - Stories from Oulu


Guided transportation from Oulu airport to Oulu

Pikisaari island from air.

Wooden old town in Pikisaari Island

Farmyard. A red log building in the background.

Turkansaari Open Air Museum

People resting in Finnish woods

Let's Breathe the Forest!

Turkansaari museum church.

Turkansaari Museum Church

Old lighthouse in Marjaniemi.

Minivan trip to Hailuoto

Oulu market square and market hall.

Oulu Market Square

Oulu market square policeman.

Oulu Market Square Policeman statue

Row of pastel colored houses in Raksila with autumn foliage.

Pastel-coloured wooden Raksila

Ilmakuva, iso hirsirakennus lammen rannalla, metsäisessä maisemassa, taustalla joki.

Kierikki Stone Age Center

Northern lights.

Restaurant Nallikari

Varjakka island fire station.

Varjakka industrial heritage site and nature trail

Cathedral in Oulu.

Oulu quickly

Oulu cathedral from outside.

Oulu Cathedral

Inside Oulujoki church.

Oulujoki Church

Maikkula Mansion´s courtyard.

Maikkula's Manor the Charter Restaurant

Rantakortteli block seen from above.

Historical Rantakortteli blocks of Oulu

Tähtitorni cafe.

Tähtitorni Observation Tower

Kuusiluoto presents heritage of wood building in Finland.

Many layers of history in Kuusiluoto

Science center tower.

Tietomaa Science Centre Tower

Old wooden houses in Karjasilta.

Wooden Karjasilta from the reconstruction era

Policeman Statue in front of the Market Hall.

Oulu Market Hall

Walking tour with a local guide

Guided walking tours in Oulu

View from Oulu City Hall to Cathedral.

Guided bike tour from Nallikari to Oulu city center


Meeting Day at the Maikkula Mansion

people laughing and listening to storytelling at a fantasy tavern

Spirits of Hearth and Home - Tonttu in Finnish Folklore

Tar boat in Turkansaari.

Minivan trip to Turkansaari Open Air Museum