Top five experiences for winter Helsinki

3 minute read

Credits:: Mikko Huotari

The winter season brings a whole new vibe to the capital of Finland

Glistening with lights and covered in calming darkness, Helsinki offers plenty of interesting activities during the coldest months of the year.

Get into the festive Finnish spirit: visit Helsinki’s Christmas markets for a cup of ‘glögi’ (mulled wine) and a ‘pipari’ (gingerbread cookie).
Credits: Jussi Hellstén

Have a piping-hot sauna and an ice-cold swim

The greater Helsinki area offers a variety of saunas at various price points and for all types of users. Nestled in the Merihaha area, Kulttuurisauna only welcomes visitors in pairs or small groups but offers a unique way to get into the steam of things. With separate sides for men and women, it’s a nice way to enjoy the art of sauna. Nearby Kuusijärvi, located on the border of Helsinki and Vantaa, offers visitors the chance to visit smoke saunas. In between dips in the nearby lake, Kuusijärvi makes for a wonderfully relaxing and highly authentic sauna visit. Finally, Sompasauna, located in the former industrial area of Verkkosaari, is as humble as saunas get. Built by volunteers, this is a 24/7 self-service establishment. If you’re looking for luxury, this is not the sauna for you. But for those who want an authentic sauna experience, it’s the perfect spot to try.

As long as you’re not planning to dive, wearing a hat and neoprene shoes is highly recommended for those who’d like to try ice swimming.

Visit cosy Christmas Markets

Starting the first weekend of December, the Finnish holiday calendar is jam-packed with smaller celebrations leading up to the main event, Christmas Eve. While the cultural and religious composition of Helsinki is highly varied and extremely tolerant, Christmas Markets are a favourite winter activity for Finns of all beliefs – and not just because of treats like freshly-baked buns and mulled wine! Christmas Markets are a place to come together and spend time with loved ones while browsing unique handicrafts, homemade jams and Finnish design items. Tuomaan markkinat, the big Christmas market, is held in Market Square for four weeks each year. This long-running favourite features about 100 small and independent artisans, crafters and food vendors lined up by the iconic Havis Amanda statue. Fiskars Christmas Market, held at the traditional handicraft village Fiskars, a one hour drive from Helsinki, offers two events in one fantastic package: the Christmas-themed Maan Maut food event and a local handcrafts market.

Tuomaan Markkinat, held in Senate Square, is Helsinki’s most famous Christmas market.
Credits: Jussi Hellstén

Try cured fish at the Baltic Herring Market

During October each year, fishermen and women from around the country arrive in Helsinki to sell Baltic herring, and visitors can enjoy a seafood buffet of unique delicacies at the restaurants lining the Torikorttelit blocks nearby. First held in Helsinki in 1743, the Helsinki Baltic Herring Market is one the oldest public events in Finland. And buying and consuming Baltic herring isn’t just tasty; it also helps the Baltic Sea, as fishing for herring helps reduce the eutrophication of the waters. Besides fishing boats, traditional sailing boats Albanus, Olga, Vivan and Valborg also drop anchor by Market Square for Herring Market Week. Stop by on opening Sunday, when a local jury gives out awards for the best products.

Cruise the frozen archipelago with a hovercraft

Board a hovercraft for an unforgettable experience through the archipelago. This safe yet thrilling jaunt to the frozen coast offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see another side of the Helsinki region. Wearing survival suits, guests are transported over ice and deep snow into the archipelago. Enjoy a barbecue lunch over an open fire and experience what it’s like to float on ice drafts while you stay safe, warm and dry.

Walking on frozen sea ice is a magical experience! Just remember to make sure the ice is strong enough before you venture out, and always follow marked paths to avoid under-ice currents that can weaken the ice.
Credits: Rob Smith

Let the lights guide you in Helsinki

Helsinki’s annual light arts festival, Lux, happens during the coldest months of the year, making it a wonderful excuse for locals and visitors alike to get outside. This festival attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year to see a range of works from both domestic and international artists light up the city’s winter nights. Through its popular Light Challenge, Lux Helsinki also encourages local residents and businesses to light up their home or building and share the joy of light. After a walk around the festival site, warm up with hot chocolate topped with whipped cream at Café Engel, located opposite the cathedral in the city centre. For those willing to walk the extra kilometre, neighbourhood café, bakery and bistro Way welcomes visitors to pop in for wine and other delicious treats in the heart of Kallio. Make sure to try seasonal delights like fresh-baked buns and mulled wine with raisins and almonds!

Helsinki’s Lux Festival is a one-of-a-kind light experience that takes place during the darkest time of the year. See the buildings come alive with colours and sounds – you might even spot a fog machine!
Credits: Jussi Hellstén