Think Helsinki hibernates on freezing winter days? Think again. In Finland, winter is the season of snowy escapades and a ton of festive fun. However, with so many activities to choose from, it can be tough to decide what to do first.
To give you a helping hand, we’ve come up with five options that locals love. So, wrap up warm, and get ready to win at winter.
1. Skate like a Finn
There’s tens of ice skating rinks in Helsinki. For an authentic Helsinki winter experience, however, head over to Brahenkenttä.
Located in the trendy district of Kallio, Brahenkenttä sports field is where Helsinki locals come to play ice hockey, skate, or to relax in the cafe with a cup of hot coffee.
Open from 25 November 2019 until 1 March 2020, it costs just €3.50 to enter, and you can rent skates if you don’t own any.
2. Take a stroll on the frozen sea
In Finland, you don’t need a miracle to walk on water. Just wait for winter. From around December to February, the Baltic Sea freezes solid. In fact, the ice is so thick you’ll see people walking their dogs, strolling out with the family, even cruising around on their bikes. There’s also, of course, the chance to practice your newly learnt ice skating skills.
Happily, there’s lots of places to start. Töölönlahti, near Finlandia Hall, is a popular option thanks to its central location.
Alternatively, you can head off to Ullanlinna, famous for its vibrant Art Nouveau buildings and abundant parks, making it a glorious sight to behold from the sea. Then there's the nearby island of Uunisaari, connected to the mainland by a bridge in winter, where you can enjoy the very Finnish pastime of ice swimming. Follow this with a hearty soup at Restaurant Uunisaari, for a winter warming end to your perfect chilled-out day.
3. Sledge while seeing the sights
Nothing says winter fun like flying down a hill on a sledge. In Helsinki, the most popular spot for this is Kaivopuisto Park, right opposite Uunisaari. If you need a sledge, you can buy one in the city centre, a mere 15-minute walk away.
The park with its marvellous hill for sledging offers great views of Helsinki's grand embassies, the Baltic Sea, and the iconic Ursa Observatory.
If you want to combine your sledging with culture and food, Sinebrychoff Park is the place for you. Built in 1836 by entrepreneur Nikolai Sinebrychoff, the park's steep hills are ideal for true daredevils. The park is also home to the Sinebrychoff Art Museum with the Sinebrychoffs’ impressive personal art collection.
Once you’ve had your fill of high culture, you can indulge in fabulous food at the adjacent Southpark restaurant.
4. Get steamy at Harjutorin sauna
Needless to say, you can't fully experience Finnish culture without a visit to the sauna, and what better time to warm up than when it’s minus ten outside.
As the only original wood-heated sauna in Helsinki, Harjutorin Sauna stands out from the crowd of more than 3.3 million saunas in Finland. Built in 1928, this authentic sauna is a public space enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.
Not for the fainthearted, you can step from the 100-degree heat of the sauna into the freezing temperatures of a Helsinki day to cool off and chat with friends.
5. Warm yourself in wonderful winter gardens
If the cold gets a little too much, and you feel yourself craving warmth and colour, head to Helsinki’s Winter Garden, founded in 1893.
Here, the chilly whiteness of Finnish winter contrasts with striking greens and reds of plants always in bloom. Combine this with a summery climate and you’ll see why it’s one of the locals’ favourite spots for a winter picnic.
Another beautiful Wintergarden can be found at Hotel St. George. Inspired by the lush green conservatories of 19th-century country mansions, this welcoming space is a combination of art, Nordic foods and iconic cocktails by the fire.
Many cities shut their doors and draw the curtains when winter comes for a visit. As we’ve highlighted, that’s far from being the case in Helsinki. In fact, it’s often said that Helsinki's at its “hottest” when under half a metre of snow.
To see for yourself, grab your bobble hat and come for a visit.