Helsinki probably isn’t on everyone’s bucket list of places to go in the world. And I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s not warm enough, not far enough away or just thought of as too similar to other Scandinavian cities.
Either way, I’m going to prove to you that the capital of Finland is absolutely amazing – even when Jack Frost is biting off your buttocks.
I studied at the University of Helsinki in 2016 for six months from January to June. Being there from winter to summer was in itself quite extraordinary, as you during the winter would ask yourself, if you would ever see the sun for more than a few hours, but in the summertime, the sun never seemed to set.
The extremities of hours of sun are also found in the weather and the Finnish culture – which is why I would recommend everyone to always bring a swimsuit and a warm jacket. No matter what month you go.
Snow in May is not unusualAnne M. Lykkegaard
You haven’t been to Finland without going to sauna
Finland rhymes with sauna. With a population of 5,3 million people, you have 3,3 million saunas, and the Finns are mad about their saunas. They even have a sauna at the Finnish parliament in which the MP’s can debate in. For instance, former president Urho Kekkonnen used it to negotiate with the Soviet diplomats during the Cold War.
Whether you go to Helsinki during the summer or winter, I will recommend that you pay a visit to Kuusijärvi just a little north of Helsinki. Here you have electric saunas and a variation of classic smoke saunas placed just by a small lake where you can cool off after you’ve sweated like a pig.
Kuusijärvi is mainly a place locals go, so it’s a good way to experience the Finnish sauna culture in its purest way, which involves silence and birch branches.
A good few hours at Kuusijärvi will without a doubt make you built up an appetite. Take the bus back to the city, get off at Sörnainen Metro St. and walk to Torkelsgatan, where you will find Mäkikupla. This little, bodega looking place makes the best pizzas and will for sure send you in a state of pure happiness after a trip to Kuusijärvi.
Rainbow colored architecture
Helsinki is located on the southeastern tip of Finland and roams about 1,4 million inhabitants. Just grand enough to give you the big city feeling, but still with the coziness you would find in a smaller town.
Helsinki in itself is absolutely beautiful from an architectural point of view. The buildings around the city center comes in a variation of pastels, coloring the city on a rainy or snowy day.
If you want a particularly good view of the architecture, you should take a stroll in the southern neighborhood Eira, and while you are there take a walk alongside the ocean filled with tiny islands.
In Eira, you should also pay a visit to the Moroccan inspired restaurant Sandros. It’s really charming and their big plates of delicious hummus, falafels or slow cooked lamb will easily make your stomach full and satisfied.
To some, it might come as a surprise that Finland is only celebrating 100 years of independence this year. Finland has been ruled both by Russia and Sweden throughout the times, and a good place to see the remainders of history is at the fortress island, Suomenlinna.
From Suomenlinna you get a spectacular view of the skyline of Helsinki, while you can explore the old fortress.
If the weather is a little treacherous, Suomenlinna can be a rather harsh place to go. Instead, you can seek refuge in one of the market halls, located either at the harbor, where you would catch the boat to Suomenlinna or at Hakaniemi.
In the market halls, you will find everything from vegetables, fresh fish and meat, bakeries, cafés and shops selling reindeer in various forms.
Another nice place to go is the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma, which is located right by the train station.
Party with the Finns
In Helsinki – or Finland in general – the weather can be a bit of a trickster. Snow in May is not unusual and if the weather forecast says sun, prepare for that and snow. So, remember to pack something warm to wear. And if that and the saunas doesn’t help, you should try the Finnish trick: alcohol.
I’m not sure if it is the combination of ice cold winters, where the temperature can drop down to -28 degrees in the capital region, and the missing sun in the winter months that has made the Finns heavy drinkers, but they are. Even though it’s crazy expensive.
If you are looking for cheap beer, you should go to the area called Kallio. Here you’ll find a lot of bars, pubs, and nightclubs. Including places where you can sing karaoke.
A really ‘hisptery’ place is Kuudes Linja which hosts a Vietnamese restaurant in daytime and a bar in the night. Moreover, you’ll find the nightclub Kaiku just in the backyard.
If you want to drink fancy gin and tonics, go to Steam Helsinki in the city center. This place is magical. The interior is inspired by steam punk with huge bronze kettles, cozy lounge furniture, and a dim lighting. And they only play electro swing and electro jazz.
You might remember that Finland surprisingly won the Eurovision back in 2006 with the cartoonish metal band Lordi. Finland is known for its metal music, and if you want to experience Finns in their right musical element, you should check out the bar The Riff which plays hard rock and metal until early in the morning.
As a midnight snack, I can recommend the falafel chain Fafa’s. It might be a bit pricy, but they make the best falafel-filled pitas with sweet potato fries on the side.
The calmness of Finland
A night of heavy drinking in Helsinki can knock out everyone. So, if you just want to spend your day with hangovers by sitting somewhere, having a coffee and a cinnamon roll while staring into nothingness, you should go to the cutest little outdoor serving Regatta.
The red shed, from where coffee and homemade buns are served, is located right by the water and actually gives you 1 cent back if you ask for a refill. I can’t imagine another way to recharge by marveling at the Finnish archipelago and be calmed by the noise of the waves.
If you want to cure your hangovers the Finnish way, bring a cold beer to the nearest private sauna. That should do the trick.