One of the most fun things to do in winter is to go sledding! We helsinkias do sledding a lot – with kids, teenagers and with friends. During last seven days I have tried two different sledding hills in down town Helsinki and can recommend both for you.
First one is in Punavuori district, in the end of Bulevardi in the Park Sinebrychoff. The same place is one of my favourite places around the year – I have written the place before. In Park Sinebrychoff there is simply a great sledding hill, you can go very fast but it is also suitable for kids. Also surroundings are very nice with many old buildings. Here you see families as well as groups of friends having winter fun. There is also a small restaurant ”South Park” where you can have brunch, dinner or just some hot chocolate to warm up as well as art museum (yellow building in picture below). So you can actually spend a perfect winter day in the park eating, sledding and enjoying art!
Another great place for sledding is Park Alppipuisto near Pasila railway station. There sledding hill is not as wide as in Park Sinebrychoff but if you are not afraid you can enjoy sledding from very high and steep hill. I think Alppipuisto has more ”natural” feeling and you can enjoy winter scenery there in addition to sledding.
I as well as other Finns have sled at home. However, if you are just visiting Helsinki, you have to buy or borrow a sled. For buying I recommend visiting XXL sport store in Kluuvi (in Aleksanterinkatu). I guess hotels don’t have sleds to borrow but if you are staying in AirBnb you host could borrow you one if you ask. You can also always go to Park Sinebrychoff and ask to borrow sled from someone (more people there, that is why it is best place borrowing one).
ps. yesterday was pretty cold so hot chocolate was very much needed after some sledding
One of the best ways to enjoy Helsinki during sunny winter days is walking on ice. So – if you are in Helsinki and sea has frozen you should definately do that! You don’t anything special expect normal winter clothing. Don’t worry, it is totally safe as long as you see other people doing the same and you follow routes many others have walked before you.
Today I walked late afternoon from work to home and walked on ice of Töölönlahti. Enjoying sun, snow and beautiful scenery I took these pictures. I also decided to walk tomorrow to work if sun shines – surely it is the best way to start your day.
Most common places for Helsinkians to walk on ice is Töölönlahti (go to Finlandia-talo and you will find the place) and in front of Kaivopuisto. In latter case you can also walk from island to island.
Suomenlinna Fortress must be one of the most well known islands on Helsinki archipelago. However, during the past couple of years some of the islands that used to belong to Finnish Army have been opened to the public. Anna wrote about Lonna last year and this summer we got yet another interesting island to visit when Isosaari island was opened.
Isosaari island situated about 4 kilometers from Helsinki center and it takes about 30-40 minutes to get there on a boat. The boat costs 15 € and it leaves from Helsinki Market Square (or Kauppatori) next to Suomenlinna fortress ferries. During the summer (until 14 August) you can get there from Tuesday to Sunday and until 3 September during the weekend on Saturdays and Sundays. Mondays are reserved for golfers so if you are into the game I recommend trying out the peculiar 9 hole golf course that’s built on Isosaari.
Like I mentioned, Isosaari (or Mjölö in Swedish) used to be a military island and some of my friends have actually served their military service (or at least some part of it) on the island. There are still marks of that era such as an old shooting range and barracks. The old Officer’s Club has been re-opened serving light snacks, hamburgers, fish soup and beverages for visitors.
On a warm day you can also bring your own picnic basket or spend the day on the beach swimming. or even spend the night in your own tent on the camping area. There’s also a couple of saunas you can rent out for a larger group or just enjoy the public sauna that’s warm from 10 AM to 6 PM every day (during summer season). Just be prepared that it’s a public sauna for both men and women.
However, my favorite thing about this island is the beautiful nature and tranquility on the island. Even though it’s situated quite close to Helsinki mainland, the island is very quiet and peaceful. I think Isosaari is worth the day-trip: a bit of nature during the day and then heading back to the center for a nice glass of wine at Kauppatori at Allas Sea Pool for example.
One of my favourite things in August is probably harvest season. Lots of fresh veggies in stores, local fruits (mostly apples) and of course wild berries and mushrooms. My parents just got back from Lapland and brought back a buckets and buckets full of cloudberries (called hilla or lakka in Finnish) which they had picked from swamp – and I absolutely love them!
Since we have this cool thing called everyman’s rights in Finland, you’ve got the right to enjoy outdoor pursuits regardless of who owns or occupies an area anywhere in Finland. This means that you are allowed to gather wild berries and mushrooms from the forest free of charge and you do not need the landowner’s permission for it. However, there are still rules that apply so I’d recommend reading them before going to the forest for the first time. For example Environment.fi has them written down quite simply on their website.
Cloudberries are mostly found from Lapland (even though I have heard someone found them from Southern Finland, too), but blueberries grow everywhere in Finland and you can also find wild raspberries and sea buckthorns around Helsinki area. A bit later in the autumn (around September) you can pick lingonberries as well.
Berries are quite easy to recognize but with mushrooms I’d be more careful and only gather the ones you know for sure. I usually stick with chanterelles, funnel chanterelles, ceps and different sorts of boletes. Best way to get to know them is to go to the forest with someone who already knows how to recognize them.
Usually the season starts already in July when blueberries are ripe. However, this year has been a bit exceptional since the summer has been somewhat cold. Most of my friends usually go picking berries and mushrooms to their summer house but one option is to take the bus to Nuuksio national park (Eero wrote about camping in Nuuksio two summers ago, too). It will take a bit of time to get there on public transfer but it’s still doable. I would also recommend trying out Porkkalanniemi in Kirkkonummi to which I would recommend renting a car) or even taking a walk to Helsinki central park.
My favorite park for picnic in Helsinki is Park Sinebrychoff (also known as Park Koff, in Finnish Koffin puisto). Maybe it is my favorite since I live near by – however for sure it is very popular park for picnic or just sitting and enjoying summer among locals. Location is great, near to see in the end of Bulevardi, so easy to walk there but also tram 6 passes by. Also city bike station is very close by. Exact address for park is Sinebrychoffinkatu. Park is quite big so you can always find a spot for you and your picnic blanket. Need something to bite? Then head for big grocery store S-Market near by (I wrote about this grocery store before). You can also find restaurant South Park in the park if you aren’t up for picnic and want to have a proper table instead.
For art lovers I recommend Sinebrychoff Art Museum which is in the park (the address is Bulevardi 40) and seen above picture (yellowish old building).
There is great playground for kids nearby – just walk the hill up and continue maybe 300 meters and you see the playground (ask somebody if you don’t find it).
And then – sometimes it starts to rain just when you are enjoying your day at park. That happened me last Thursday. When I realized rain is definitely coming I collected all my stuff and run to Hietalahti Markethall (Hietalahden halli). There is this great historical feeling of markethalls – you can feel there have been selling and buying for many, many years before you have been born. You can buy lunch, best milkshakes in town as well as meet, vegetables and souvenirs. Markethall is not open in the evenings (except Saturday and Sunday, opening hours below) – it is more place for lunch and ice-cream. So great place I recommend you to pay a visit there even not raining! In front of Hietalahti Markethall there is great flea market to wonder around – recommend that as well!
Today 23.6.2017 we have midsummer celebration here in Finland. This midsummer celebration is called Juhannus in Finnish. It will last all weekend and target is to enjoy summer and sun shining through the night. Since I am supposed to tell you what locals do during Juhannus I do it right in the beginning: almost all locals (I would say more than 70 % of Helsinkians but this is just wild guess) will travel out of Helsinki. We Finns believe right place to celebrate Juhannus is in summer cottage. Helsinki will be very empty and very different from normal during this weekend. So, this time I will tell you what tourists can do during Juhannus if in Helsinki. These things are of course also things what those few Helsinkians might do if in Helsinki during Juhannus weekend. And then – I am also traveling outside Helsinki this afternoon but I did some running first in the morning. There in Kauppatori (the big market square just opposite the President Castle) I saw former Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen. So after all, some very essential Helsinkians are spending their Juhannus here!
Right picture above you see something very essential of Juhannus – kokko in Finnish, bonfire in English. It is burned in the Friday evening. This kokko I took picture is situated next to Cafe Ursula. The address is Ehrenströmintie 3, that is by the see in Southern Helsinki, maybe 2 kilometers south from Railways station. Very nice walk from downtown – many parks. Kokko will be burned 9.30 pm and Cafe Ursula will be open during Juhannus weekend – so it is a great place to find some Juhannus feeling! Another great place to sense traditional Juhannus feeling is Seurasaari. There will be bonfire and old Finnish celebration traditions today from 4 pm until late night. Tickets there are 23 euros (kids under 12 years are free). Seurasaari doesn’t really have an address since it is small island. Google so you’ll see where it is. It is like 5 kilometers from downtown Helsinki. You can take bus number 24 to travel there.
Probably most “Helsinkian” thing to do in Helsinki today and tomorrow is to go to this dancing event – Juhannustanssit in Finnish. It is not disco dancing but more like fox, twist, Finnish disco and some new Finnish hits as well. My guess is (never been but sounds fun!) that there are lots of 25-50 years old downtown people who go there every year. This happening is organized by We love Helsinki -collective and it is situated in Kallio district at Kuudes linja and Kaiku (address Kaikukatu 4). Juhannustanssit is happening both Friday and Saturday from 9 pm until 4 am. Even you absolutely can’t dance I still recommend it!
And what about Saturday and Sunday? Most shops will be closed and town continues to be very empty. My recommendation is to visit Allas Sea Pool (picture below but very bad quality – in reality it looks a lot better!) which is combined restaurant and outside pool. You find there also saunas and it will be open during Juhannus. Great views of Helsinki when swimming in (warm) pool – I highly recommend that!
It seems to take quite a long time for spring to arrive to Helsinki this year – even though the sun is shining, the temperature seems to be just a few degrees above zero. But since it was Easter just this week and to me Easter is a definite sign of spring, we decided to get a kick start for the season and visit Kaisaniemi Bothanic Garden.
The Bothanic Garden is a part of Finnish museum of natural history, Luomus of which I wrote about some time ago when thinking about what to do with kids on a rainy afternoon in Helsinki. Bothanic Garden is situated in Kaisaniemi so it’s a short walk or two tram stops from central railway station. Like most museums, it’s closed on Mondays but exceptionally they kept their doors open for Easter also on Monday. Tickets for adults cost 9 € for evergreen glasshouses but if you are a proud owner of a Museum Card you can access the garden for free. However, outside gardens are free to everyone all year round.
I haven’t really visited that many bothanic gardens outside of Helsinki so I can’t really compare much to other gardens – and to most people the plants in the garden are probably very common outside of Finland. However, I think it’s an excellent way for a quick getaway from a cold winter’s day and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about exotic plants. Some of them are also very popular houseplants in Finland (for example snake plants and saintpaulias).
One of the bothanic gardens attractions is their Waterlily Room’s Santa Cruz waterlily which, according to the museum, has survived the bombings of World War II. They don’t usually survive our dark winter so the new plants rise again after March.
During the summer this is a nice area just to walk around the outside gardens or have a cup of coffee at next door cafe Viola. At least I added this to my to do -list for next summer!
This week we have enjoyed first snow here in Helsinki. There isn’t (yet) too much snow but enough to have this great feeling of coming winter. I feel like Christmas is coming – almost singing “White Christmas”… You can’t yet go to cross-country skiing nor ice skating but those hobbies will be available in near future.
These pictures are mainly taken from Esplanadi (next to Stockmann, Esplanadi is a park between Etelä-Esplanadi and Pohjois-Esplanadi) and Ruttopuisto which I’ve written many times before. By the way, for those who are in to Pokemons, Ruttopuisto is still perfect place for Pokémon hunting and now it is snowish Pokémon hunting!
As you can see, we still have some autumn colours around – snow came some weeks before we normally have our city wearing white so autumn is still around. For those who are planning trip to Helsinki in near future I need to tell that it is possible we’ll still lose snow before Christmas. It is interesting to see what kind of winter we’ll have this time.
Last picture you can see Helsinki Cathedral from a bit different angle than often in pictures. You can also see Bank of Finland on right.
Enjoy winter and snow. And remember to wear enough clothes – it is cold out there.
Can you see Northern lights in Helsinki and when should you travel to see the lights, are the most common questions from my foreign friends. Yes, you can see them also in Helsinki and other southern parts of Finland.
You should travel to see Northern lights when evenings get dark. Finland is famous of nightless nights summer so wait until autmun and winter for darker nights. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, four nights out of five are illuminated by Northern lights in Northern Lapland (Kilipisjärvi-Utsjoki area). However, in order to see the lights the sky needs to be also cloudless. Further South you go, the probability of seeing Northern lights decreases. This doesn’t mean you wouldn’t been able to see them in Helsinki at all, there are just less evenings and nights to see them.
According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the best months to see Northern lights are from February to March and from September to October and the best time during the day is between 9pm and 1am local time. If you are in a city, try to find a spot that isn’t disturbed by city lights or reflections. In autumn and especially in winter the nights can be cold also in Helsinki so remember to wear warm cloths and shoes for Northern lights spotting.
So, if you came to Finland just to see the Northern lights then book a trip from Helsinki to Northern parts of Finland to ensure better probability to see the lights. If you are visiting only Helsinki, keep looking in the Northern sky in the evenings to get a glimpse of the colourful lights.
Check out also the Auroras Now service for Northern lights alerts.
And for clouds in Nordics, you can visit Finnish Meteorological Institue’s cloud satellite service.
You can try Observatory Hill (in Finnish Tähtitorninmäki or Tähtitorninvuoren puisto) for spotting the Northern Lights if you are in Helsinki. In case you don’t manage to see the lights at least you’ll visit one of the nicest parks in Helsinki. You can get there either through Tähtitorninkatu (tram number 10’s final stop and through Kasarmikatu to Tähtitorninkatu) or through Unioninkatu.
See also thee northern lights Sky Cameras
Northern lights in Helsinki by Kimmo Niemelä
Northern lights in Helsinki by Kimmo Niemelä. Follow Kimmo and his beautiful pictures from Finland at Instagram ›› or contact for any queries: Kimmoniemelaphoto@gmail.com
Want to see Finnish archipelago and enjoy delicious food but can’t travel far from Helsinki? I have a best spot for you: Island called “Lonna” and restaurant there! Island is very tiny – easy to wonder around in few minutes – no cars or even bikes there. It is a perfect place to enjoy Helsinki skyline and archipelago before dinner. Restaurant is very popular so you have to book in advance. Food is very Finnish and delicious – fish, root vegetables and berries. There is also café in the island – there you can just stop by. Lonna is very popular with locals – not (yet) so much found among tourists. The island and restaurant have web-pages only in Fínnish but this page you can make reservation in English. Island is open only during summer time, however there are still few weeks left – it will be closed 17.9.2016 (and it will open again in May).
You can take ferry to this tiny Island from Kauppatori Market Place (ask somebody where is Kolera-allas in Kauppatori since ferry leaves there). It takes only 10 minutes by ferry so it is really close to downtown. However, when you enter to island you feel like you are far away from city – in the middle of countryside. I think this is one of many reasons we locals LOVE this place – so peaceful and “faraway” even so close.
Lonna is also one of the best places to enjoy sunset, sea and Helsinki skyline – admire these pictures,