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.

Winter love in late summer

On a recent trip to Malta I felt so happy seeing the wildly spilling bougainvillea and rows of prickly pears.  I had forgotten how much I love being around plants and I had the same feeling yesterday at Helsinki’s Winter Garden.

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It’s funny to visit the Winter Gardens when we are having a lovely late summer, but it was well worth a visit to the stunning glasshouses.

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Built in 1893, the gardens were recently renovated and are home to over 200 plants.

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To my delight there is a room dedicated to succulents and cacti, many of which are currently in bloom.

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I just love these plants, they really make my heart sing. I felt so happy wandering around and would love to have some of them growing at home.

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There is also a display of puppets on at the moment, which gives the place a really magical feel.

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In another wing there are beautiful palms and tables set out where you can sit and read or enjoy a picnic with friends.

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Outside there is a beautiful rose garden with views across Töölönlahti.

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I look forward to returning in winter when Helsinki is no longer so green and keeping warm amongst the plants. There’s enough there to warm even the prickliest of hearts.

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Helsinki’s Winter Gardens (Talvipuutarha) are at Hammarskjöldintie 1 & entry is free.

Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden

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A lot of construction goes on in Helsinki during the summer months due to the extreme cold here in winter. Unfortunately this means the grounds of the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden are closed for maintenance, but Miko and I spent a lovely afternoon wandering through the glasshouses recently.

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Also known as the Helsinki University Botanical Garden, this is the oldest scientific plant collection in Finland.  Originally opened in Turku in 1678 they were moved to Helsinki in 1829 after the Great Fire of Turku.

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The greenhouses were originally wooden and had to be rebuilt after they deteriorated. During the Winter War of 1940, bombs smashed the glass and only the seeds of the giant water lily and one cyprus tree survived the cold.

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The greenhouses were rebuilt in the 1990’s and are now automated. There are a series of eight interconnected houses, each home to a different family of plant species.

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I was interested to see they had a Wollemi Pine, an amazing fossil of a tree from Australia. They also had some specimens of New Zealand plants in the Island House. This made me smile as I forget New Zealand is an island nation and tend to think of islands as the many smaller land masses off our coasts.

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There was a cafe in the grounds but we didn’t stop. Somebody’s child (mine) was following me around saying “Can I have an ice cream?” on repeat until I eventually gave in, so he enjoyed that as we made our way home.

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We’ll be back to visit the grounds once they are re-opened but in the meantime the greenhouses are lovely and warm and a good place to visit on a wet, Helsinki afternoon.

Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden