Midsummer in Helsinki – what to do?

 

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!

Anna

 

Open water swimming in Helsinki

Summer’s pretty much ended here in Finland as the weather’s cooling down and nights are falling earlier after the summery white nights. It might not seem like a good time for summing up the beach scene hereabouts, but here I go anyway. Why? Because for an autumn-lover like me this is just about the best time of the year to hit the beaches.

This happens to be a subject I’ve got a huge experience to draw on after decades of open water swimming in every possible occasion. Rare is the day when I leave the house without my swimming trunks and a thin hammam towel so suitable for ex-tempore moments of bathing bliss. Actually it’s more than beaches I’m talking about, much more, as swimming in Helsinki is bound to happen not only from beaches but from rocks and whatnot. (Pools are totally excluded here, although there are fine ones in Helsinki well worth a post of their own, by someone else, as I myself am not much of a pool-type. Hate to feel that chemically purified water, or the thought of it…)

One of the plentiful good swimming spots in Suomenlinna. Photo. Eero Ehanti

Helsinki is a true waterfront city with plenty of designated beaches but also kilometers of open seaside ready for the more adventurous swimmer. Surely, this being the Northern hemisphere and the Baltic Sea, it’s not whitesand beaches by turquoise waters, but more like yellowish gravel on somewhat murky greenish water, which is not even real seawater but brackish water. Definitely no palmtrees. Instead we have lots of pines and spruces and other rich vegetation adorning the shores and providing the shelter for those in search of solitude.

Starting with the official beaches, the best known is the Hietaranta beach, or Hietsu, about which Anna already wrote about in this blog, a long stretch of yellow sand with good facilities, beach volley and occasional parties or other events. It tends to get quite crowded in hot summer days, but that’s what many a beach goes longs for; crowds and games, kind of societal bathing. As everywhere in Finland, the water’s bound to be on the cooler side even in high summer times, hindering effectively swimming urges of many people. Definitely not mine, though. I prefer colder waters because of the extreme refreshing effect one gets afterwards. Anyway Hietsu is a wonderful place for swimming, perhaps some Frisbee or beach volley and definitely a pique nique with friends. We go there from very early spring to very late autumn, and I advise to do the same, as the place very nicely changes within the seasons. Beautiful place indeed!

dsc_0368

Hietaranta beach. Photo: Eero Ehanti

Another old favorite of mine is the beach in Mustikkamaa, just next to the Helsinki zoo, where there’s an open beach area but also more serene small dots of sandy beach sheltered by trees and bushes. It’s a nice bicycle trip from the center, or a bus ride if that’s more to your liking. Take the bus 16 bound for the zoo and get off one stop before the terminus. Good running paths around there as well, and an adventurous climbing park, which together with the zoo very nearby makes this beach a very good option for families.

Another very family-friendly beach is to be found in the beautiful squirrel-filled Seurasaari island, which is known, very deservedly, for the open air-museum with old Finnish folk buildings gathered there from all over the country. The houses are well worth a visit, or several visits, as there’s truly a lot to see and do in that gem of a museum and one of the prides of the National Museum of Finland. The beach is a small one but nicely located in a sheltered place. The Sporty swimmer swims around the island, but if you do so, remember to have a colorful float with you to avoid the risk of getting run over by one of the many boats cruising thereabouts! And if you’re into nudism, there’s a fenced beach area for that with separate sections for men and women.

One of the more urban beaches is to be found in Eiranrata, near to Kaivopuisto. This is a newish setting, a quite nice one, but crowded as well in the sense that there’ll always be people walking by, because it happens to be along a very popular running and strolling route. If you’re looking for more private experience and happen to be thereabouts, you should take the very short boat trip Uunisaari island just a stonethrow away from Kaivopuisto park. (In wintertime there’s a bridge.) A place of natural beauty, it has a nice restaurant and saunas for rent as well as lots of lone sheltered places for those looking for privacy. Lots of birds, too, which is nice for the most part except for the breeding season, when the protective birds might turn your solitude to something more uncomfortable. Still within the Eira/Kaivopuisto area, another option is to take the slightly longer boat trip to Pihlajasaari island, another place of amazing natural beauty. Nudism area there as well. There’s a restaurant and camping possibility, too.

dsc_0377

Photo: Eero Ehanti

I could go on, easily, with these beaches. There’s a fine long one in the eastern suburb Vuosaari, they say, but I haven’t ventured there for a long time. And so on… But at this point, dear reader, I advise you to forget about these official beaches and just dip into the sea wherever suits you. There are places people go to, like Tervasaari or Suomenlinna, where possibilities abound, or best of them all, the so called Missippi rocks. This happens to be my absolute favorite spot in the city, where I go many times a week with my swimming gear and a nice Toscanello for the very rewarding smoke afterwards accompanied with some poetry or other highly complex literature for which I otherwise don’t find the needed concentration nor solitude. A friend’s a good option as well for these moments of somewhat Zenist character. The wherabouts of these rocks? I’m not going to tell you! You’ll find out if you look hard enough, or else you’ll find your own spot for utilizing fully the nature-wonders of our lovely Northern capital. There’s still time before the waters get really cold, so go for it!

Eero

After work at Yrjönkatu swimming hall

yrjonkatu_swimming_pool

Yrjönkatu swimming hall entrance

In stead of traditional after work and drinks we decided to do something different with a couple of my friends last Friday and rented out a cabin from Yrjönkatu swimming hall. It’s the oldest public swimming hall in Helsinki and with a bit of googling apparently it’s also the oldest public swimming hall in Finland! It’s located to Yrjönkatu just behind Forum mall.

You’re not allowed to take photos at the swimming pool (that’s why there’s only one in this post) but I recommend doing an image search for Yrjönkadun uimahalli to see what the swimming hall looks like inside to see what all the fuss is about.

I made a list of things that differ Yrjönkatu swimming hall from other public pools:

  • Amazingly nice architecture
  • Swimming with women only / men only
  • You can swim naked if you want to
  • Having drinks and snack with your friends on the balcony
  • 4 different kinds of saunas, one of them a wooden one

Yrjönkatu swimming hall isn’t the largest public swimming pools in Helsinki, I think it only has 5 or 6 lanes of which 2 are reserved for water runners and the rest for swimmers. The pool is in the 1st floor with wardrobes around it and an electric sauna and showers at one side. And since all the wardrobes can be seen to the pool, Yrjönkatu swimming hall has separate swimming times and dates for men and women. Separate swimming times also allow you to swim naked if you want to, and many people do. One visit costs 5 € for the 1st floor.

The 2nd floor is a bit more expensive but definitely worth a try. With 14 €/2 hours you can rent a changing cabin from the 2nd floor balcony. Besides the cabin it also includes the possibility to swim at the pool, towel and a bathrobe and the possibility to use 3 different saunas upstairs (infrared sauna, steam sauna and a traditional wooden heated sauna, which I personally loved the most). After the swim or sauna you can relax at the balcony and order snacks and drinks from Cafe Yrjö. If you’re tired you could have a little nap in you changing cabin since there’s a small bed in each cabin.

Yrjönkatu swimming hall isn’t a spa but it does have a touch of old spa feeling to it. The atmosphere is very relaxed and calm and to me drinking gin and tonic at the balcony with my friends after a short swim and sauna felt quite luxurious. You can’t reserve the cabins so be prepared to wait – at least on a Friday evening.

I definitely recommend trying this out with your friends or after a long day at the office on your own, too!

Marjo