Like the Danish term hygge (meaning a feeling of coziness, comfort, or warmth) or the Swedish word lagom (meaning not too much and not too little), the Finnish expression juoksentelisinkohan evades a direct English translation but taps into a universal feeling. For the etymologists among us, the word takes the root juoksennella (meaning “to run around”), uses the conditional form with isi, morphs it all into a question with ko, and adds a sense of hesitation with han. The result?
I wonder if I should run around aimlessly?
It’s a sentiment we can all identify with. Who among us hasn’t, at some point, found themselves standing at the center of a park or perched at the edge of a field with nothing but an open, grassy expanse ahead of them and become overwhelmed with the urge to just run, be free, and feel the wind against their face as they move endlessly toward the horizon?
In Helsinki, you’re guaranteed to sense this urge creeping up on you from time to time. With a variety of parks, arboretums, and natural areas, you’ll never be more than 10 minutes from a calm and serene setting, an environment that might just have you itching to break free and fly. Here are five spots to add to your itinerary if you’re looking to capture a sense of juoksentelisinkohan during your Helsinki adventure.
Known to locals as Espa, Esplanadi Park is a beautiful urban esplanade and green space located in the heart of downtown Helsinki. Situated between the Erottaja and Market squares, Espa offers a rectangular oasis of grassy lawns, colorful gardens, and shady trees for a quick reprieve from the summer sun. Feel free to stroll the main boulevard, on which you’ll find quaint cafés, eccentric street performers, and, come December, lively Christmas markets. With its regular crowds of both locals and tourists, it’s the city’s ultimate spot for people-watching — so grab a coffee or an ice cream, take a seat on one of the park benches, and see if you can spot those affected by a sense of juoksentelisinkohan.
Like its Manhattan counterpart of the same name, Helsinki’s Central Park cuts a large swath of rich forest through the middle of the city. Beginning at Toolonlahti Bay and stretching six miles (10 kilometers) north to the River Vantaa, the park offers protected areas of primal, often untouched woodlands in which you can take a leisurely stroll, practice your cross-country skiing, or even stop in for a pick-up game of ice hockey or a quick round of golf. The vegetation is thick and lush, and the diversity of wildlife is rich, with a variety of animals such as elk, fox, arctic hare, and muskrat calling the area home. Whether you want to gather up some picnic supplies and spend an entire day within its expanse, or just make a quick detour through nature en route to your next destination, no trip to Helsinki is complete without an outdoor adventure in Central Park.
Accessible year-round by a public ferry from Market Square, this 18th-century sea fortress and natural area off the southeastern coast of the city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and for good reason. The island stronghold was used as a defense for Sweden, Russia, and eventually, Finland — but today, it remains a seaside escape you can wander on your own or explore via guided tour. A salty medley of hypnotizing seascapes, meandering cobblestone paths, and underground tunnels, the fortress offers ample space to run free and enjoy the constant sea breeze blowing in off the glinting ocean. If you get a chance, you can even cool off by climbing down to the rocky coastline and letting the frigid Atlantic tides wash over your toes. And while you’re there, don’t forget to check out the Submarine Vesikko, a restored WWII vessel accessible only during the summer.
Another playground for nautical explorers, Seurasaari is situated west of the city, in the midst of Laajalahti Bay. It’s home to the popular Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, an idyllic collection of cottages and farmsteads that highlights the romanticism of traditional Finnish history. But the beauty of the island extends well beyond the famous tourist haven. As you cross the white wooden bridge onto the island, you’ll be greeted by a dense forest of birch and pine, warm sunlight, and a cavalcade of critters including swans, geese, ducks, and squirrels. On the south bank of the island, you’ll find the Kalevalakehto Installation, a wooden, boat-shaped building constructed by architecture students and intended for quiet reflection — a perfect space for relaxation following a juoksentelisinkohan-inspired jaunt. If you’re feeling truly adventurous, be sure to check out the island’s nude beach (though don’t drop your trousers on Wednesday or Sunday — those days require clothing!).
Meaning “Sheep Island” in Finnish, Lammassaari is actually a bit of a misnomer — not only are there no sheep to be found there (for that, you’d have to trek to nearby Kuusiluoto Island), but it’s actually a peninsula, not an island. Regardless, Lammassaari remains another haven of outdoor beauty in Helsinki. Crisscrossing the peninsula is a latticework of duckboards, narrow walkways made with wooden planks, which you can traverse in your exploration of the region’s sun-soaked fields and charming woodlands. Be sure to stay on the provided routes, though — much of the island is private property. Despite the freeing pull of juoksentelisinkohan, sometimes, you have to stick to the established path.
Enjoy your time running around aimlessly in Helsinki!
Header photo by Carlos Santos