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 I love the Finnish capital so much, I wouldn’t be able to explain it to you in words. But I’m gonna try to tell you what you should do there to love your time in Helsinki as much as I do.
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.
Helsinki wasn’t even the main destination when that first time in Finland happened.
I was there to visit Porvoo first and then explore Helsinki a little bit.
REASONS TO VISIT HELSINKI IN WINTER
- a Helicopter Ride over a Frozen Helsinki
- Helsinki Design Tour
- a Walk along Helsinki’s City Center
- Feeding Reindeer at Sea & Mountain Adventures in Nuuksio
- a visit to Nuuksio National Park
- Exploring Finnish Nature at Haltia
- from the Sauna to the Frozen Sea in a Second
- where to Stay in Helsinki in Winter
My Experience in Helsinki
I already knew a lot about Finland since I have had this obsession with the Nordic countries for as long as I can remember. As a designer, I learned a lot about the design traditions of the country, and I wanted to see a lot of this during the days I was there.
But it was still warm when I visited Helsinki for the first time. That would change quickly since I 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 a slightly different atmosphere from the summer. Of course, it’s colder and darker during winter, but Finnish people don’t care about it.
Everywhere that you walk, people are 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 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. This magical blue light that can be seen around Helsinki makes everything better. You will have to visit it to see it.
So, enough about my experience in Helsinki in winter. Let’s talk about some cool things you can do to enjoy the city’s offers.
A 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 my helicopter ride over the frozen city. It was my first time in a helicopter, and I was excited about that.
I took my place in front of it, next to the helicopter pilot, and I never took so many pictures as I did in those few minutes over Helsinki. It was more special than I thought, and I always advise everybody to try it. Helsinki is a fantastic 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 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 also want to do this, you have to contact 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, Finland is home to one of the best design cultures on Earth. Iittala, Arabia, Nokia, and Fiskars showed the world how Finland designs their way. But Helsinki is unique.
Helsinki became the World Design Capital in 2012, and their love for functional and unique design can be seen on the streets. There, you will find Design District Helsinki, the heart of Finnish design, with many shops, museums, galleries, and design-styled restaurants with some of the most fantastic food I ever had.
I also loved my time at the Design Museum in Helsinki, where Finnish design has been home since 1873. 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 were Ivana Helsinki, where art, fashion, and cinema come together to create a unique brand in every possible way. I also loved World of Tre’s mixture of design products, fashion, and graphic design. Everything is under a roof. Lokal is a concept store run by photographer Katja Hagelstam and home to some fantastic coffee from Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo. You need to try it.
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 know what they are talking about.
A walk along Helsinki’s city center
Helsinki is a city you can enjoy more if you like walking around. Even during winter, you should just gather some courage and walk around. And if it starts getting too cold for you, just enter one of the many shops and cafes and get warm!
Of all the places that you need to visit in Helsinki’s city center, the first one that you need to go to 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. This street 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 enjoyable because of all the trams that go by and the beautiful architecture you can find in the buildings there.
At the end of the street, you can discover Stockmann, one of Finland’s biggest and best department stores. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, Stockmann can be the place for you with its cafes, bookshops, and much more.
Mannerheimintie is also pretty interesting since it connects the center of Helsinki with the northern part of the city. The few blocks between Kaivokatu and Esplanadi are my favorite ones since most of the big shops in Helsinki can be found, many people are walking by, and it feels like the city’s heart. 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 I didn’t feel like that after seeing 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 at 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. You can read what we wrote about Radisson Blu Seaside Helsinki, Scandic Paasi, and Radisson Blu Plaza if you want more options. Maybe it will help you decide where to stay when you visit Helsinki in the wintertime.
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 a unique national park close to the town. So, if you want to take a break from 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 straightforward 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. 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 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.
This experience starts with the building, surrounded by spectacular views of Nuuksio and Lake Pitkäjärvi. When it comes to architecture, you remember why I mentioned Finnish design. Haltia was designed by the architect Rainer Mahlamäki to make 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 life cycle and how nature changes in Finland yearly. All this with video presentations, dioramas, and interactive features perfect for people of any age.
When you visit Haltia, don’t forget to climb to the tower overlooking 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 to Espoo, you have to enjoy being close to the only place in south 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 exceptional.
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 was remarkable and 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 so close to these animals that I had only seen them on TV. This might be it if you’re looking for a unique natural experience.
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 there being more saunas in Finland than there are people! This is how much Finland loves saunas.
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 on an island close to Helsinki called Lauttasaari. You need to be a member to visit it, but I’m sure you can contact them and ask for a special evening for groups or something else.
Helsinki’s Sauna Society is pretty cool, with six saunas from 60º to 130º degrees. They also have the traditional smoke saunas that are famous in Finland, but my favorite thing about them is not the sauna itseSaunaThe 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 who visits the city, in summer or 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 spend 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 have ever seen. You would enjoy your time there even if you don’t care about saunas. The view of the city is beautiful, the food is excellent, and the sauna is jSauna huge plus.
A Lot of Reasons to visit Helsinki in Winter
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 we are in Helsinki.
I visited Helsinki in the winter of 2015 and 2017 as a part of NBE Finland, and we loved everything.