As the snow falls, the idyllic summer town is replaced with something completely different, but equally alive with opportunities for a great time.
Helsinki is a compact town, in the best possible way. As the snow envelops the city in an expectant silence, there’s always action around the corner and you never have to trek very far. Here are our top things to do in snowy Helsinki.
Helsinki is a modern, pocket-sized European city known for design and high technology. Helsinki’s attractive and unique character comes from its proximity to the sea, as well as its location between the East and the West.
It’s pretty hard to find a major city that makes cross-country skiing easier than Helsinki. There are almost 200 kilometers of well-kept trails all around the capital. And even the most prosaic sounds, like breathing or the sound of faraway traffic, are filled with a sense of mystery when heard, muffled, in a wintery forest.
Head for Paloheinä Recreational Center, about 9 km from downtown, to rent some skis and take your pick of trails in the wintery forest of Central Park. Paloheinä is the last stop for busses 66 and 66A.
SKATING IN THE CENTER OF TOWN
Once you get the hang of it, skating is definitely one of the most thrilling ways to enjoy the cold. You can go for some of natural calm on Tuusulanjärvi lake or the sea off Vuosaari, or skate in the middle of the city on the Ice Park right by the Central Railway Station. Other popular spots include the rink right next to St. John’s Church in Punavuori and a prominent one at Brahenkenttä field in Kallio, where ice-skate rental is also possible.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT PULKKA IS?
Nothing will make you feel like a giddy little child again quite like sledging. Especially sledging with giddy little children. It’s like tobogganning, but here we use plastic sledges and ad hoc runs can spring up all over the place. One of the most popular places is Kaivopuisto Park. For hundreds of years, people have gone down the hills of this park on pretty much anything that slides on snow.
Sinebrychoff Park, off Bulevardi road, is also very popular and near downtown. You’ll find another good spot on Toinen Linja, in a park near the Helsinki City Theatre. It’s especially popular with the neighbourhood kids and easily accessible by any tram or bus that goes through the Hakaniemi transportation hub.
Do it like the Finnish, and try sledging with a pulkka. Pulkkas can be bought at many bigger stores in downtown Helsinki. There are no rentals available, but the price for a plastic sled is around 10€.
WALK OR KITE ON WATER
Naturally, you can always forego all the adventurous stuff and just go for a stroll. Walking on the frozen Baltic Sea off Helsinki on a beautiful, sunny winter’s day is an experience to remember. The sea around Seurasaari is a popular spot for walks, especially to and from Munkkiniemi, as is the sea off Kaivopuisto. Or if you still have a taste for the extreme, try snowkiting. Kasinonranta beach in Lauttasaari is the most popular spot with local devotees. Whether you walk or kite, just pack a thermos full of hot chocolate to make it perfect.
Safety is important. Be sure to stay on marked paths and if you do not see other people out on the ice, you should probably stay away, too.
OUT OF THE ICE, INTO THE FIRE
Ice swimming offers plenty of health benefits, from improved stress tolerance to flu resistance and blood circulation. If not convinced, you can skip the frozen sea part and just thaw your cold and weary bones in a public sauna after an active day out. Harjuntori Sauna and Sauna Arla are among the best saunas in Helsinki. They are located within blocks of each other in the Kallio neighbourhood and easily reached with trams from the centre. After your bath you can have your pick of cool bars and great cuisine in Kallio.
Also the new public sauna in Merihaka, a short walk from Hakaniemi square, offers a chance to take a dip in the wintery Baltic Sea. Rastila campsite is also easily accessible by metro and has a quality sauna as well as a hole in the ice.
ICE AND SNOW MEET ART
Art Meets Ice is an annual event at Korkeasaari Zoo. It features top ice sculptors from over half a dozen countries. Snow offers everyone the chance to express their inner sculptor, especially if you’re a child or just young at heart. The building of castles and fantasy creatures is encouraged in every park in town.
The city tends to sprout small hills on every corner and yard, most of them are mostly suitable for sledging, but for serious downhill skiing and snowboarding you have to head out of town. Not very far, though: Vihti, Talma and Messilä offer some nice relaxing runs and make for pleasant daytrips away from the concrete jungle.
Another popular daytrip destination is Helsinki’s natural treasure, Nuuksio National Park. Located only 35 km out of town in Kirkkonummi, Nuuksio offers 45 square kilometres of gorgeous forest and lake scenery, complete with marked trails and cooking shelters.
Old Porvoo is one of Finland’s most idyllic districts. The cobbled streets are lined with old, doll-house-like houses and on top of the hill a white stone church looks over the river valley. Wonderful in the summer, magical during wintertime. Only one hour East of Helsinki.