While the thought of Finland may conjure images of snowy, barren wastelands and the gray austerity of its capital city, the reality is that Helsinki — and the rest of the country — come alive in unique ways during every season of the year. After all, there’s a reason Finland is called the Land of the Midnight Sun and Helsinki has been dubbed the Christmas City. Its versatility, charm, and rich culture delight visitors no matter the time of year.
If you’re looking to visit Helsinki but aren’t sure of when you’d like to go, peruse our seasonal guide to the Finnish capital.
The arrival of summer in Helsinki is cause for celebration — after all, the city has just braved a long and icy winter. The start of this season also marks the return of the sun — and a lot of it. The city receives 24 hours of sunlight a day during the nearly two months of summer (July and August).
While you can enjoy Helsinki’s extra light however you choose, many take to the lakes and beaches near the city to bask in the warm waters under the Midnight Sun. Popular beaches include Kivinokka, Pihlajasaari, Uunisaari, Pikkukoski, and Seurasaari, all of which can be accessed by either bicycle or public transport from Helsinki’s downtown area.
Hiking opportunities abound in the Finnish capital as well. Attempt the Trail 2000, which stretches 70 miles (110 kilometers) and originates in Helsinki’s Laakso neighborhood, or opt for an hour-long journey to either Nuuksio or Sipoonkorpi National Parks (both of which are accessible via public transportation) to survey their stunning views.
And, if you’re splash-happy, you’re in luck! Due to its position on a peninsula, Helsinki is a prime location for paddling and kayaking. Whether you take to the Baltic Sea or the picturesque Vantaajoki river, you’re sure to have a lovely time afloat.
Attend a Midsummer Party
Celebrated on the fourth Saturday of June (roughly), Midsummer is a traditional Finnish celebration that welcomes the start of the country’s favorite season. Pagan in origin, the celebration honors Ukko (the god of thunder) and began as an attempt to appease him and ensure a plentiful rainfall for the following year.
To celebrate this time of year, many Fins travel to remote waterside cabins and enjoy the great outdoors and the beautiful weather. But, if you’d rather celebrate inside the city itself, your first stop should be Seurasaari, a forested island within Helsinki’s confines. There, you can enjoy a host of activities, including blazing bonfires, traditional dishes, kantele (a harp-like instrument) music, Finnish games, homemade goods, and — of course — dancing.
While the arrival of autumn heralds the beginning of spectacular foliage, it also signals the end of Helsinki’s fleeting summer warmth. Most Fins greet fall with a mixture of excitement and sadness. Still, it’s a beautiful time of year to visit the city of Helsinki, and there’s plenty to do in the Finnish capital from September to November.
Go on a Food Tour
There’s no better way to explore Helsinki than by taste-testing your way through the city. Download the Helsinki Food Tour Map, and explore its color-coded districts (including local favorites such as the Hipster District, Green District, SOPA District, and Historical District) via restaurant, bar, café, or food stall. Whether you’re interested in Michelin-starred restaurants, Helsinki’s rich food history, or the best local coffee shops, you’ll find everything you could ever want on the map. Eat up — or, as the Fins say, “Hyvää ruokahalua!”
We’ll be the first to admit, foraging for your own food may not appeal to every traveler. But, for those environmental enthusiasts who crave an actual taste of autumn in Helsinki and love eating locally, there’s no better place or season for foraging. The dense forests around the city are abundant in heavily laden apple trees, robust mushrooms, and berry bushes bearing raspberries, bilberries, lingonberries, and golden berries.
See the Foliage
Whether you head to the shores of Lake Tuunsula (just 25 miles, or 40 kilometers, north of the city), the peaks of nearby Nuuksio National Park, or the tree-lined boulevards of the Finnish capital, you’re sure to see some spectacular fall foliage while visiting Helsinki. So, get outside, breathe in the crisp air, and don’t forget your camera. A Finnish fall isn’t something you’ll soon forget.
Finland’s coziest season offers a host of wintry experiences for residents and tourists alike. So, be sure to pack an extra coat, get out your gloves, and take to the snow-laden streets of Helsinki for some winter fun.
Enjoy the Sunlight
The never-ending days of summer culminate in Helsinki’s fall season, and daylight rapidly decreases at the start of the winter months. In fact, if you visit Helsinki between November and March, you’ll notice that the sun barely ascends into the sky at all before dipping right back down across the horizon. Although this might not sound like the greatest winter perk, the plus side is that you’ll be able to catch some truly beautiful sunrises without needing to set an alarm.
Take a Dip
If you can drag yourself away from the cozy confines of the sauna, try taking an icy dip in the Baltic Sea — a practice that Finns believe boosts your immune system like no other. But let it be known: this is no picnic, and it will certainly be bone-chilling. That said, it’s an experience unlike any other! If you’re not sure how to access the frozen Baltic, consider visiting the Sauna Society for a traditional — albeit freezing — end to your sauna excursion.
Take a Helicopter Tour
There’s no better view of Helsinki than that from above. From the skies, you’ll be able to spot the complex string of islands that comprise this unique city. If you’re not fearful of heights, consider booking a ride with a local piloting company, such as Rotorway. Tours last about half an hour and offer eager flyers the opportunity to snap stunning shots of Helsinki’s snow-covered cityscapes.
Visit a Sauna
As the Finns will tell you, there’s no greater tradition than the sauna. But these wooden rooms also happen to be the perfect place to warm up after a day of exploring in Helsinki’s snowdrifts. While many hotels or homestays provide guest access to the building’s sauna, you can also venture to a public sauna nearby for a truly Finnish experience. If this sounds like your cup of tea, embrace history and visit Kotiharju, one of the city’s last remaining wood-heated saunas that remains open to the public.
The end of Helsinki’s long winter is heralded by the appearance of blooming flowers, longer hours of sunlight, singing birds, and the slow trickle of melting ice. Spring has sprung in the Finnish capital, and here’s what you need to know!
Attend a May Day Celebration
If you’re planning a visit to Helsinki during the spring, make it a point to attend one of the city’s many May Day celebrations. Come the first of the month, the city’s famous Havis Amanda statue is crowned with a student’s hat, Finns flood the streets, and colorful balloons abound. The first of May also marks the summer opening of the Linnanmäki Amusement Park, as well as the start of the workers’ march from Hakaniemen tori square to Pitkäsilta bridge. Once you’ve reveled with the rest of Helsinki, head to Kaivopuisto Park, where an enormous annual public picnic will be underway.
Rent a Bike
Come spring, there’s no better way to celebrate the warming weather and the natural beauty of Helsinki than by hopping on a bike and cycling along the streets and trails of the city. The western side of Helsinki is home to charming and diverse islands that you can explore easily on two wheels. Use this website to determine a scenic bike route, or maybe opt for a bike tour to familiarize yourself with the different areas of the city.
Get a Taste of Helsinki’s Coffee Culture
It’s almost impossible to love coffee as much as the Finns seem to, but you can certainly partake in the national obsession by sampling as many cups as possible during your stay. If this is your plan of action, you’re in luck — Helsinki is home to an arrayof charming cafés offering delicious brews and an introduction to Scandinavian coffee culture. For a fantastic cup and an even cozier atmosphere, head to Good Life Coffee, Fratello Torrefazione, or Kaffa Roastery, though it’s hard to go wrong with any of the city’s cafés.
Header photo by Chi Pham