Things to do in Helsinki while the sun shines…

Summer has arrived in Helsinki so it’s the perfect time to be out making the most of the city. Being a very seasonal place, what visitors may not realise is that many things will close for winter.

While there are many things to do here over winter, these are the ones you should be sure to do before summer ends….

Hernesaaren ranta

I’m not sure when this beachside mecca will close but I can’t imagine it operating over winter. Part of the magic is you can arrive by boat, so get there before the water freezes. (What it is:  beachside location offering a good range of food & drink, deck chairs, tables & dance floor)

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Linnanmaäki

Even if it’s years since you’ve been, you’ve got to go before it closes for winter. Helsinki’s amusement park has rides for everyone and the view from the Panorama is spectacular. Closing night is usually in October and is worth attending for live music and light shows. (What it is: amusement park with free entry & some free rides)

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On the ferris wheel

On the ferris wheel

Kahvila Tyyni

This cafe at Töölönlahti will stay open as long as the weather stays good, which they hope will be until the end of September. (Many places will close even if the weather is good, because they are bound by licensing restrictions and timetables). So grab a spot in the sun or a stand-up paddle board from the shed next door. (What it is: bayside cafe selling coffee, cold drinks, pastries and sandwiches).

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Visit Pihlajasaari

Just a short boat ride from Helsinki, this island is beautiful to walk around. As well as 1950s changing sheds there are lovely old buildings that are great to photograph. The last ferry from Ruoholahti has run this season but the one from Merisatama goes for two more weeks. Check the JT Line website for details. (What it is: an island with swimming beaches, playgrounds, grills and sauna).

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Skiffer

This island is one my favourite places in summer. The 30-second boat ride will cost you six euro but once on land, the pizza is delicious. It’s also a great place for a drink in the sun and great views back to Helsinki. (What it is: outdoor pizza bar on a small island. Open till mid-late September but they do have a city venue too).

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Terraces

Before the chairs are pulled in and the tables folded make the most of eating & drinking outdoors at the various terraces around the city. Some places, such as Matto Laituri,  close entirely, as all their seating is outdoors. We love Cafe Birgitta to be near the water and if we are in the city, we like to go to M Bar.  (What it is: cafes and bars made entirely of or including large areas of outdoor seating).

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Picnic in Kaivopuisto

Kaivopuisto is beautiful in winter and a great place for sledding. Last year, we even saw a one-horse open sleigh. I couldn’t stop singing Jingle Bells all day. But a picnic last weekend reminded me how beautiful it is in summer. Just look out for squirrels trying to sneak your food. (What it is: a large parkland near the water not far from the city centre).

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Kiosks

Although you can eat ice cream all year round in Finland, the little kiosks that sell coffee and ice cream in the parks will close for winter and it will be BYO. Take advantage of the chance to visit places like Karhupuisto (Bear Park) or Espalanadi for ice cream in the sun. There’s even one that only sells salmiakki (Finnish salty liquorice). (What it is: various kiosks open in summer selling ice cream, coffee, cold drinks).

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Visit the Old Towns of Porvoo (Finland) or Tallinn (Estonia)

You can visit both these places in winter but they are especially lovely in the summer months. Porvoo is one-hour by bus from Helsinki, while Tallinn takes around two hours by ferry. Either way  you can go for lunch and still be home for dinner.

Porvoo

Porvoo

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

There are so many more things to do in Helsinki and some great new opportunities will open up in winter. Just remember that anything to do with cycling, boating or eating outdoors however will soon become harder due to the change in season and opening hours. In the meantime, I feel like I could keep adding to this post but we are heading outdoors ourselves to make the most of summer in the city.

Where a dragon guards a ship near the sea

According to Helsinki’s official tourism website, “Kaivopuisto is one of the oldest, most beautiful and popular parks in Helsinki.” So far it’s definitely been one of our faves and like most things in Helsinki, very easy to get to.

Kaivopuisto playground is guarded by a large dragon

Kaivopuisto playground is guarded by a large dragon

Miko and I were in the city and caught the number 3 tram from Aleksanterinkatu to the park. A short walk later and we spotted the dragon we had been told would identify the playground. Wooden seats and tables were spread out under the trees and not far away was another play area for younger children.

Miko atop the mighty dragon

Miko atop the mighty dragon

The dragon is great fun for climbing on and there are crocodiles  set in the ground too which are great accessories for pirate adventures on the large ship-like fortress.

Looking for pirates

Looking for pirates

The ship-fort has lots of fun accessories like binoculars and a steering wheel as well as slides and ladders. Nearby is a crows nest which Miko used as a look-out spot for sharks.

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Kaivopuisto (Kaivo park) itself is very large and a very popular place in summer. It is the favourite spot for May Day picnics and where we spent Vappu. It’s a short walk to the sea as the park borders the Gulf of Finland and the surrounding streets are home to many of the international ambassadors to Finland. Apparently the largest hill in the park is a very popular place for tobogganing in winter which will make this a park we can use all year round.

Tiring work this captaining

Tiring work this captaining

Kaivopuisto Playground

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www.visithelsinki.fi

Hyvää Vappua!

The only May Day I’m familiar with is the distress call made by captains of marine vessels as they face disaster at sea. And by ‘familiar with‘ I mean I’ve watched them on TV from the comfort of my couch. So it was with pleasure that I experienced my first May Day and it wasn’t a disaster at all!  

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A sea of white caps converges on Esplanadi for the capping of Havis Amanda

Vapuu is a variation of the name ‘Walpurgis Night’ (Walpurgisnacht), a feast observed in Germany for Saint Walpurga since the 8th century. The celebrations being on 30 April and carry on into the 1 May which is a public holiday in Finland and signifies the start of Spring. It is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar, up there in significance with Christmas, New Years and Midsummer.

Students start celebrating from the week before and their area of study is identified by the colour of their overalls

Students start celebrating the week before and their area of study is identified by the colour of their overalls

On the 30th April, crowds converge on Market Square in white caps, identifying them as university preparation school alumni. The festivities really kick off at 6pm when a white cap is placed on the head of the statue of Havis Amanda by a group of students raised high in a cherry-picker. As her new ‘crown’ was placed on her head this year a large cheer went up from the crowd, a huge glitter bomb went off and the sound of many bottles of sparkling wine opening could be heard all around.

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Other statues don’t have to feel they’ve missed out on a cap either

As well as sparkling wine, people drink sima, an alcoholic drink similar to mead, although the honey used in production is now comonly replaced by sugar. The alcohol content is generally so low it is considered okay for children to drink and is usually accompanied by munkki (doughnuts) or  tippaleipä (funnel cake).

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Sima and tippaleipä

Helium balloons are common accessories and sellers can be seen on nearly every street corner from the morning of the 30th April. There doesn’t seem to be a particular theme; we saw champagne bottles, life-size superheroes and of course the ever-present Angry Birds characters.

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The next day it is customary to have a picnic in the park and we were lucky enough to watch the crowds in Kaivopuisto from the warmth of Ravintola Kaivohuone (Kaivohuone Restaurant) as the temperature dropped down into the low single-digits. We heard there was a sauna set up in the park but the rain drove us back from exploring further. After the company brunch we caught the tram back to our apartment with some friends who helped us drink sima, sparkling wine and eat doughnuts in true Finnish style into the early evening.