Updated: Apr 22, 2020
Known for their picturesque white winters, the city of Helsinki is the ultimate spot for travellers who thrive amidst the beauty of snowfall. Wanderous Affair's editor-in-chief, Emily Fata, delves into some of her favourite spots to uncover during a snowy week in Finland's capital, both indoors and out!
Even with a deep love for sunshine for the warmth of summertime, I've recently discovered just how much I love to travel to colder climates in the winter: this January, I travelled to both Edmonton, Canada and #Helsinki, Finland. Actually, it wasn't even a shock to my system. Helsinki averages between a high of -1°C (30°F) and low of -9°C (15°F) in the month of January; this isn't a far cry from my hometown of Toronto's weather, which averages between 0˚C (32˚F) and -5˚C (23˚F) at this time of year*.
Whether you're a winter go-getter or someone typically afraid of exposure to colder climates, this stunning Nordic city has something to offer every traveller.
(*A pro tip I have to offer you: Stock up on Lumene products to keep your skin hydrated during your stay! Trust me, this is a must-have, especially for people like me, whose skin tends to get painfully dry). Some of my favourite products include the Arctic Hydra Care [ARKTIS] Intense Hydration Ritual, Glow Refresh Hydrating Mist, and Invisible Illumination Lip Balm. I even grabbed some to take back home with me, to survive winter in Canada!)
Without further ado, here are some of the best things to do while visiting Helsinki in the winter, both indoors and out!
Discover the Rich History of Suomenlinna
Construction of Suomenlinna (originally Sveaborg in Finnish) was initiated by Sweden on the Susiluodot Islands in 1748. Finland re-claimed it in the year following its independence, renaming it 'Suomenlinna' (meaning ‘Castle of Finland’).
The island is highly walkable and offers visitors many opportunities to learn about the sea fortress (and the city of Helsinki)'s history, including the Suomenlinna Museum and Toy Museum. While meandering around the island, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés to pop into for a sit-down meal or quick bite to eat.
As if this wasn't enticing enough, during my trip to Helsinki, I was informed that there is a belief the house-like structures on the island served as inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbiton as he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. While writing the novel, Tolkien was studying Finland in detail, heavily basing the Quenya (High-elven) language off of Finnish. In reality, these fort-like structures were once used to store artillery, the chimneys added for the comfort of patrolling soldiers, ducking away from the cold for a short while to enjoy the warmth of a small fire, within a sheltered space.
Roam Around a Museum
Helsinki offers a plethora of museums and galleries well-stocked with beautiful and fascinating exhibits; this includes a large number of rotating exhibits, as well! With so much to explore within their walls, lovers of the art and design world, or tourists simply afraid of the snow outside, can find solace within the warmth of these buildings.
In addition to exploring any one of the Finnish National Galleries, there are also an abundance of other artistic treasuries including The Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki City Museum (which always has free entry!), Helsinki Art Museum (pictured above), and the Design Museum. Each of the city's museums are unique, offering a fresh perspective of Helsinki and all that it had to offer historically, and continues to provide into the modern day.
Uncover one of Helsinki's Many Neighbourhoods
There is certainly no shortage of intriguing neighbourhoods to discover in Helsinki, each with their own unique set of attractions, restaurants, shops, and architectural façades to fall in love with.
There's Kluuvi, kept alive with 640 residents and 24,000 workers. Not to mention its notable buildings, like Helsinki Central Station, Ateneum Art Museum, the National Theatre, and many of the University of Helsinki's buildings.
Another neighbourhood of note is the Kamppi District — located centrally in downtown Helsinki, you can not only find the amazing restaurant Lasipalatsi (more on that later), but notable buildings such as the Tennis Palace and aforementioned Helsinki Art Museum (HAM). This neighbourhood is also home to the Kamppi Shopping Centre, where you can find an array of wonderful shops and boutiques to fulfill all of your shopping desires.
Though these are just two of sixty neighbourhoods in Helsinki, it is a small taste of the endless adventures you can have wandering through the city under the magic of snowfall during your next winter trip.
Fluctuate Your Internal Temperature at Allas Sea Pool
Dating as far back as 7000 BC, saunaing being a substantial part of Finnish culture. With this in mind, it seems to be the ideal way for even visitors to unwind, as well. There are five million inhabitants in Finland and over three million saunas, averaging an astonishing one sauna per household. These wonderful wooden structures are places for entire families or groups of friends to gather, typically in the nude, so that they are enjoying the experience free of restrictions.
A stand-out experience, Allas Sea Pool allows patrons to have the ultimate saunaing experience: soaking in their 27°C (80°F) thermal pool, followed by a leap into their 0°C (32°F) frigid sea water pool, and then migrating straight into their 80°C (176°F) indoor sauna. The idea is that your body is not only made to withstand such drastic temperature changes, but that it thrives whilst doing so. Truth be told, when I finished that final sauna, I was in complete relaxation mode. I just wanted to sit down, close my eyes, and breathe slowly… it was an almost meditative encounter.
Thanks to the temperature of the sea water in the winter, this is one experience you can't quite replicate in the summer.
Find a New Place to Eat
Regardless of how long it's been since you've left Helsinki, it's near impossible to shake the thought of the city's amazing food from your mind. There are tonnes of amazing places to eat in Helsinki, each with its own unique set of flavours, ingredients, and personal flair; in fact, one of the many aspects that make you feel right at home are the endlessly amazing restaurants, cafés, and bistros that you can choose from on a daily basis.
Much like their affinity for incredible design and innovation, Finnish cuisine incorporates that undeniable talent into their culinary creations — dishes full of flavour, artisan ingredients, and undeniable passion.
Three truly stellar restaurants that I enjoyed during my stay were Ultima, Juuri, and Lasipalatsi; visiting any of these eateries will give you a true sense of the delicious flavours that Helsinki has to offer.
Check out a compilation of my favourite dining spots in Helsinki by clicking here.
Take a Day Trip to Tallinn, Estonia
By booking a roundtrip ride across the Gulf of Finland with one of Tallink's incredible shuttles, only a short two hours each way, brings you to Estonia's capital of Tallinn. Nestled in the heart of this seaside city is a town of medieval origin, perfectly preserved against the sleek, streamlined appearance of the modern age. Whether you have a handful of days or just one to spend in this magical city, you can uncover Tallinn's incredible history for yourself; this ranges from Europe's oldest pharmacy, original KGB prison cells, the medieval restaurant of Olde Hansa (housed in what used to be the home of a wealthy merchant, circa 1475), or simply wandering amongst the historical back alleys connecting cobblestone streets.
Whether spending a handful of hours exploring the Susiluodot Islands and the awe-inspiring Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, discovering one of Helsinki's sixty neighbourhoods, dipping into a thermal pool, or anything in between, this city has it all. Winter truly brings out the best in this already-picturesque city, made all the more magical under the enchantment of ice and snowfall.
Visiting in January, I truly had my eyes opened to just how much fun travelling to the Nordics in the winter can be. No doubt, I will return again soon — maybe this time, to try it all again in the sunshine of the summer months.
To read more of our posts on Helsinki, click here.