Six Reasons to Visit Helsinki in WinterIt's not that hard to survive winter in Finland and enjoy everything that Helsinki has to offer
Most of my friends think I’m crazy when I mention how much I love visiting Helsinki in winter. As I write this, I have been to Helsinki six times and I was there during winter twice and I loved Helsinki more every time that I went there. But if you ask me why do I love the Finnish capital so much, I wouldn’t be able to explain to you in words. But I gonna try to tell you what you should do there to love your time in Helsinki as much as I.
The first time that I was in Helsinki was back in September 2014. It was my first time in Finland and I wasn’t aware that I would love this country so much. When that first time in Finland happened, Helsinki wasn’t even the main destination. Fotostrasse was there to visit Porvoo first and, then, explore Helsinki a little bit.
My Experience in Helsinki
I already knew a lot about Finland since I have this obsession with the nordic countries for as long as I can remember. As a designer, I knew a lot about the design traditions of the country and I wanted to see a lot of this during the days that I was there. But it was still warm when I visited Helsinki on my first time. That would change in a short time since Fotostrasse was invited to visit Helsinki, Turku, and Espoo during the winter of 2015 for NBE Finland. Some of the things I saw and did during this first winter trip to Helsinki can be seen below.
Helsinki in winter has an atmosphere is a little bit different than the one in the summer time. Of course that it’s colder and darker during winter but it seems that Finnish people don’t care about it. Everywhere that you walk, there are people running around. Helsinki doesn’t stop just because it’s a little bit chilly. Life continues like winter is just another time of the year and, I’m not sure why I love this.
What about the darkness? You may be wondering about that and I didn’t mind it at all during the two times that I visited Helsinki in winter. It’s pretty odd to see a sunrise around 10 in the morning but the sky looks so beautiful that you forget about it later. The same thing happens during sunset. There is this magical blue light that can be seen around Helsinki that makes everything better. You will have to visit it to see it.
So, enough about my experience in Helsinki in winter and let’s talk about some of the cool things that you can do to enjoy what the city has to offer.
An Helicopter Ride over a frozen Helsinki
My first time in Helsinki in winter was pretty special and I can say that it was all because of the helicopter ride that I did over the frozen city. It was my first time in a helicopter and I was more than excited about that.
I took my place in the front of it, next to the helicopter pilot and I never took so many pictures like I did in those few minutes over Helsinki. It was more special than I thought and I always advise everybody to try to do it. Helsinki is an amazing place to enjoy it from the air. The city is covered in snow and the frozen sea looks magical from the top. The ice moves in different ways, making beautiful textures with its different shapes. Also, since it’s winter, sunrise happens later so you can do like I did and enjoy a late sunrise from the air.
If you want to do this as well, you have to get in touch with Rotorway, the company that showed us how Helsinki looks from above. If you need more reasons to convince you to do that, you can read what we wrote about it in February 2015. There are a lot of pictures there and you will be convinced. Trust me.
Helsinki Design Tour
In Finland, design is not a luxury. For them, design is a lifestyle. As a designer myself, Finland is home to one of the best design cultures on Earth. Iittala, Arabia, Nokia, Fiskars showed the world how Finland does design in their own way. But Helsinki is special.
Helsinki became World Design Capital in 2012 and their love for functional and unique design can be seen on the streets. It’s there that you will find Design District Helsinki, the heart of Finnish design with a lot of shops, museums, galleries and design styled restaurants with some of the most amazing food I ever had.
The Helsinki Design Tour is filled with visits to amazing places. My favorites were the Artek shop where I learned a little more about this design furniture company founded by the amazing Alvar Aalto. I also loved my time at the Design Museum Helsinki, the place where Finnish design has its home since 1873. There you can see where Finnish design came from and everything that made it one of the best in the world.
When it comes to shops, my favorite ones where Ivana Helsinki where art, fashion, and cinema get together to create a unique brand in every possible way. I also loved World of Tre with its mixture of design products, fashion, and graphic design. Everything under a roof. Lokal is a concept store run by photographer Katja Hagelstam and home to some amazing coffee from Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo. You need to try it.
But Helsinki Design Tour is not only about shops and museums, there is also food and the best place for this is called Juuri. This restaurant is focused on sapas, the Finnish version of tapas. The food is wonderful and shows how interesting and tasty the Finnish cuisine can be.
I did this tour twice, once in 2015 and now in 2017 and it’s more than worth it. The guys from Happy Guide Helsinki are great and they really know what they are talking about. Get in touch with them and mention Fotostrasse, I’m pretty sure they will take good care of you!
A walk along Helsinki’s city center
Helsinki is a city that you can enjoy more if you like to walk around. Even during winter, you should just gather some courage and walk around. And it it’s starts getting too cold for you, just enter one of the many shops and cafes and get warm! From all the places that you need to visit in Helsinki’s city center, the first one that you need to go is called Esplanadi. This park stretches between the market square where you can take a ferry to explore the islands around the city like Suomenlinna.
Parallel to Esplanadi is where you will find Aleksanterinkatu, a street that connects the square where Helsinki Cathedral is to what I consider the main street in Helsinki’s city center: Mannerheimintie. A walk in Aleksanterinkatu is something interesting because of all the trams that go by and because of the beautiful architecture that you can find in the buildings there. In the end of the street, you can find Stockmann, one of the biggest and best department stores in Finland. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, Stockmann can be the place for you with its cafes, bookshops and a lot more.
Mannerheimintie is pretty interesting as well since it connects the center of Helsinki with the north part of the city. The few blocks between Kaivokatu and Esplanadi are my favorite ones since it’s where most of the big shops in Helsinki can be found, there are a lot of people walking by and it feels like the heart of the city. I just love walking around there.
Where to Stay in Helsinki in Winter
Before I visited Helsinki for the first time, I thought that Helsinki was a pretty expensive place. But I have to say that I didn’t feel like that after visiting the city a few times. But, accommodation can be a problem for those traveling on a budget.
If you are looking for a comfortable bed in a great part of the city with a reasonable price, I have the place for you and it’s called Forenom Helsinki City Aparthotel. Prices start around 88€ a night for a two person apartment with a living room kitchen, fast wi-fi and even a big flat screen tv for those curious about Finnish tv.
If you are wondering why Forenom Helsinki City Aparthotel can be so cheap, I have to try to give you an answer. Since there is no reception in the building and no staff on site, prices get a little bit better. But don’t worry about not being able to enter the building. Forenom Helsinki City Aparthotel is part of the future of hotels and they can be contacted via telephone and e-mail 24/7 and they’re amazing.
Every time that I visited Helsinki I stayed in a different place. If you want to have more options, you can read what we wrote about Radisson Blu Seaside Helsinki, Scandic Paasi and Radisson Blu Plaza. Maybe it will help you decide where to stay when you visit Helsinki in the winter time.
A Visit to Nuuksio National Park
The people that live in Helsinki are lucky to live there. Their city is one of my favorite places on the planet and they also have an amazing national park pretty close to the city. So, if you want to take a break from the city life, Nuuksio is the best place to do that.
Technically speaking, Nuuksio National Park is closer to Espoo but Espoo is so close to Helsinki that I decided to add everything under the same roof here. And, since Espoo is really easy to reach from Helsinki, you wouldn’t even know about this detail if I didn’t mention it here.
Moving on… Nuuksio National Park is where I walked with snowshoes for the first time in my life. It was complicated but it was more than necessary to be able to enjoy the beautiful nature that surrounded me in the park.
Exploring Finnish Nature at Haltia
Close to Nuuksio National Park is where you will find Haltia, a new place that brings all of Finland’s nature under one roof. This is the place to go to experience nature from all over Finland.
And this experience starts with the building itself that is surrounded by spectacular views of Nuuksio and Lake Pitkäjärvi. When it comes to the architecture, you remember why I mentioned Finnish design. Haltia was designed by the architect Rainer Mahlamäki in a way of making man and nature come together in a peaceful and harmonious way.
Haltia houses several exhibitions showing Finnish nature from Lapland to the Lakes, from the islands around Åland to the northern lights. The exhibitions show an annual cycle of life and how nature changes in Finland throughout the year. All of this with video presentations, dioramas, interactive features that are perfect for people of any age.
When you visit Haltia, don’t forget to climb all the way to the tower that overlooks Lake Pitkäjärvi. The view from there shows well how magical this place really is.
Feeding Reindeer at Sea & Mountain Adventures in Nuuksio
Since I just brought you over to Espoo, you have to enjoy the fact that you are close to the only place in the south of Finland where you can feed and pet reindeer. Since those animals are usually found only in the north of the country, the fact that a place like Sea & Mountain Adventures exists is more than special.
There you will meet Oskar, the alpha male reindeer that is a dick head and wants to eat before any other reindeer. There was enough lichen for every reindeer but Oskar is special and he wanted to eat before everyone. He only cares about himself and this is why we called him a dick head.
This was the second time I saw reindeer in my life and it was pretty special for me to be able to be so close to these animals that I only saw on tv. If you’re looking for a unique natural experience, this might be it.
From the Sauna to the frozen sea in a second
The first thing most people think about when Finland comes to mind is a sauna. It’s almost a Finnish obsession and they just love it. I even heard stories about the fact that there are more saunas in Finland than there are people! This is how much Finland loves saunas.
Most hotels and apartments have saunas and there are a few public saunas in Helsinki as well like Kotiharjun and Arla, both located in Kallio. Even the Burger King in Helsinki has a sauna, believe it or not.
Each time that I was in Helsinki during winter I went to a different sauna. My first experience was at Helsinki’s Sauna Society, a members-only sauna located on an island close to Helsinki called Lauttasaari. You need to be a member to visit it but I’m pretty sure you can get in touch with them and ask for a special evening for groups or something else.
Helsinki’s Sauna Society is a pretty cool place with six saunas that go from 60º to 130º degrees. They also have the traditional smoke saunas that are famous in Finland but my favorite thing about the saunas is not the sauna itself. For me, the best thing about a sauna evening in Helsinki is going for an icy dip in the frozen Baltic Sea. The experience is unique in every way and, at least for me, it was invigorating.
On my second time in Helsinki during winter, I went to Löyly Helsinki for a sauna evening. This beautiful wooden sauna is the newest one in Helsinki and it’s a must see for everybody that visit the city, in summer or in winter. You don’t even need to visit the sauna since the place was built as a way of making people meet each other and spent time together. They also have some saunas inside, which is a plus.
Löyly Helsinki is beautiful and offers a unique architecture made of wood that sets it apart from everything I ever saw. Even if you don’t care about saunas, you would enjoy your time there. The view of the city is beautiful, the food is great and the sauna is just a huge plus.
If you have any tips about things to do and places to visit in Helsinki during winter, drop us a comment below and we will be glad to try it out the next time that we are in Helsinki.
Fotostrasse visited Helsinki in winter 2015 and 2017 as a part of NBE Finland and we loved everything.