Inspired by an earlier post by Anna about skating in Helsinki, I thought I should share my extensive experiences on the subject.
Let’s start from one early January morning when the weather was perfectly wintery with some -20 degrees celsius and plenty of snow. This was a few years ago when we got to enjoy a couple of true fairytale winters in Helsinki with exceptionally plentiful snow and trees disguising in glimmering white ice. That morning I hastily grabbed the 1950s skates my father used to use back in the day and headed for Eläintarhan kenttä. This is the old nostalgic track & field stadium, where the 400 meters running track is frozen in winters for skaters to enjoy. A very fitting place for some speed-skating exercise, especially in early mornings when you get to be the first to mark the newly frozen ice!
This is one way to enjoy skating in Helsinki, a very good one but not the most typical one. Different, more common and somewhat more idyllic but much less exercise-oriented possibilities are the many small skating rinks in parks next to playing grounds. Helsinki municipal workers very kindly prepare these for kids and whoever wishes to slide a while on wonderful albeit often a bit bumpy ices. Very idyllic indeed, doing so in the middle of Helsinki. Especially good it is with small kids whom you get to teach how to skate. I so love these places!
Then there are of course many more professionally maintained bigger rinks, where you might have to pay a few euros to enter. Ice’s going to be perfect, and if you’re into ice-hockey, bring your hockey stick, as you’re bound to find good games there. Just ask and the guys will let you in the game, where the rules are very simple: scoring only straight from a pass, no contact, no rising the puck. Not much protection on anybody and quite a crowd around you, so care is needed but somehow it all works smoothly and everybody’s extremely happy. I for one find it very, very enjoyable to sense momentary hints of my very much bygone days of junior hockey stardom. (Nice hockey gloves turned to vintage remain to witness those days.) The prime place for these games, for me at least, is Kallio ice rink, which is neatly located in the area where the nicest public saunas are to be found. Needless to say, it is absolutely blissful to go to one of these after a couple of hours of hockey. The most traditional Finnish sauna, and hence the most exotic for foreigners perhaps, is called Kotiharjun sauna, while the more hip persons should perhaps head for Kulttuurisauna, which even has a possibility for dipping into the sea. Not to be missed, that experience! Wherever you choose to take your sauna, why not hit the bars after that? Plenty of those in the area.
Another option is the most natural one: sea ice. This is very easy if you have a pair of those skates with long blades designed for natural ices, with which you can go whenever and wherever conditions allow. But beware! You should find out beforehand if the ice is thick enough and know what kind of places are to be avoided. Going under a bridge for instance might be risky and currents might mean thin ice in surprising places. Always carry proper safety equipment. Naturally this kind of skating means more preparation and special equipment, but it is said to be very enjoyable. Not my cup of tea, though, this kind of skating, but having said that I do enjoy going once in a while to one of the well maintained routes prepared on sea ice in certain place in winters cold enough. These should be skateable even with normal skates. The one most accessible from city center is in Laajalahti in the Munkkiniemi district.
What else… I should perhaps mention the place Anna already wrote about, the Icepark in the very heart of Helsinki, where many tourists choose to give their very first try to ice skating. It’s a nice and well-maintained rink with a good cafe and background music. Not a bad place this one actually for early winter skating when there’s no snow or subzero temperatures but you already feel the itch to start the winter season. Kids seem to love this place, too.
So many options for skating in Helsinki. What’s best depends on the occasion and company, I think. That brisk January morning it was solitude at Eläintarhan kenttä while last Saturday it was hockey with friends in Kallio with the full after-skating program. Anyway, give skating a try while in Helsinki in wintertime, it’s tremendously fun!