If you go down to the woods today – The 6 best nature destinations around Helsinki
Finland is the most forested country in Europe, meaning that you don’t need to venture far from central Helsinki to go down to the woods. Here are six places within easy reach of the capital where you can experience the Finnish forest at its peaceful best.
Time spent in nature has been proven to reduce stress and muscle tension, as well as make you more creative.
As little as 15 minutes in the forest is enough to improve your mood, boost your immune system, and reduce your blood pressure.
Perhaps the fact that Finland is nearly 80% covered in forest is the reason why, according to The World Happiness Reports 2018 and 2019, it also hosts the happiest people in the world.
To test out this theory and feel the force of the forest, check out our favourite outdoor destinations.
1. Nuuksio National Park
One of Finland’s 40 national parks, Nuuksio National Park is located in Espoo, about 45 minutes away from Helsinki. This natural wonder of the metropolitan area is a fabulous combination of forests, lakes, rocks and ravines. It has suitable trails for everyone, whether you’re hiking, pushing a stroller or a wheelchair, or riding a horse.
A full day of fun in the forest is completed by a picnic at the communal log barbeque. For those who enjoy sleeping under the stars, there are camping areas and forest shelters.
Highlights: The silence… the only sounds here are the wind whispering in the primeval forest and the birds singing to their hearts’ content. And, if you’re lucky enough, you might spot a flying squirrel whizzing its way from tree to tree.
How to get there: A combination of a train and bus will take you to the park via public transportation, you can check the route at HSL Journey Planner. Should you prefer to hire a car, you can park in one of the several designated areas near the trails.
2. Helsinki Central Park
Central Park is Helsinki’s answer to New York’s eponymous green space. This vast woodland covers an incredible 10 square kilometres all the way from Töölönlahti Bay in the urban centre to the river Vantaa at the northern border of the capital
Maunula Park with its hazel groves is a Zen-like haven of calm, and Haltiala showcases Finnish forest in its magical, primeval state. The running trails and sports facilities in Pirkkola and Paloheinä are ideal for getting fit in the forest, whatever the season.
Highlights: There’s no better way to marvel at Finnish summer nature than on horseback at Ruskeasuo stables, followed by a dip in the outdoor swimming pool of Pirkkola. In winter, you can head to Paloheinä and hire a pair of cross country skis or race down one of the city’s favourite hills in a sledge.
How to get there: You can reach Central Park from the city centre on foot or city bike past Töölönlahti Bay or by tram or bus along Helsinki’s main thoroughfare, Mannerheimintie.
3. Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari islands
Vallisaari, the island next door to the UNESCO world heritage site of Suomenlinna, and Kuninkaansaari connected to it via a narrow isthmus, make a superb summer’s day saunter. The islands, which used to be the property of the Finnish Defence Forces, were only opened to the public in 2016.
Today, they offer a fascinating mix of unspoilt nature and military history. In 1937, Vallisaari was the site of Helsinki’s deadliest ever peacetime incident, the explosives accident of the Valley of Death that claimed 12 lives. During Finland’s war against Russia in the 1940s, a vast cave network in Vallisaari’s Torpedo Bay served as the ammunition warehouse of the Finnish Navy.
You can explore Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari on marked trails around the islands, along which you’ll find cafés, public toilets, water fountains, and a boat harbour for visitors.
Highlights: The cannon-dotted fields and the rocky meadows are home to over a thousand different butterfly species, and protected bats come out at dusk too. The green haze of the linden trees and the amazing views to the sea at Alexander Battery are ideal natural remedies for stress.
How to get there: JT Line and Suomen Saaristokuljetus boat services connect Vallisaari and the Market Square from May to September. In high summer, you can also catch the JT Line boat from Hakaniemi.
4. Uutela recreational area
Uutela, located in east Helsinki, is a combination of allotments, beautiful countryside views, forest and the sea. Lovely lagoons and shallow beaches are within easy reach of the marked nature trails. Wildlife spotting opportunities abound around the marchlands near the historic Skata Farm and at the Särkkäniemi nature reserve.
Highlights: The Skata peninsula is the picture-perfect picnic spot after a walk on the nature trail, so pack your rucksack with snacks, your favourite book and a rug. A swim in a secret lagoon is an unexpected treat at just 30 minutes from the heart of the capital city.
How to get there: Uutela is about one kilometre away from Vuosaari metro station at the eastern end of the line. The rest of the journey can be covered on foot, or by bus to Aurinkolahti. Parking is available near the Aurinkolahti beach, next to the allotments, or on the north side of the Skata Farm. For cycling enthusiasts, there are brilliant bike lanes all the way from city centre to Vuosaari.
5. Viikki and the Old Town Bay
The largest nature reserve in Helsinki is particularly popular with bird spotters, but the scenery alone makes the short journey from the city centre worthwhile.
In Pornaistenniemi on the western shore of the bay, you can explore a black alder forest, and duckboards through the reeds take you from Arabia to the idyllic island of Lammassaari. Kivinokka on the eastern shore boasts a popular beach and primeval spruce forests.
Highlights: The view from the Mölylä rocks is a feast for your eyes, while the freshly baked buns of Kivinokka summer café will sate your stomach. The grey herons nesting in the treetops in spring and the lambs grazing on Kuusiluoto, an islet off Lammassaari, provide close encounters with Finnish fauna. For budding biologists, the Viikki arboretum has a comprehensive collection of the local tree species.
How to get there: The east side of the Old Town Bay is within easy reach of Herttoniemi and Siilitie metro stations. The west side is well served by a variety of buses and tram 6 from Hietalahti, which drop you off in the vicinity of the romantic Old Town rapids. The journey by city bike takes half an hour to an hour, depending on your pace.
The rocky nature reserve of Mustavuori (Black Mountain) in Vuosaari is a treasure trove of military history, with a First World War Russian fortress as well as trenches, tunnels, and caves. To make the most of these, don’t forget to pack your wellington boots and a quality flashlight.
Highlights: The old stone-paved pathways are made even more atmospheric by the relentless background music of birdsong. The mind-blowing May spectacle of flowering anemone is as unmissable as the walk to Vuosaari mountain peak, where you’ll feel literally at the top of the world.
How to get there: Your first port of call is the metro to Itäkeskus, followed by bus 93, 97, 841 tai 870 along the Itäväylä road. For convenience-lovers, getting a taxi or a rental car cuts the journey shorter, with plenty of roadside parking available. Mustavuori can be reached in around an hour by bicycle, but be warned – the trail to the mountain peak is seriously steep.
If you’re looking to go wild in the woods in Helsinki, you really are spoilt for choice. Why not pack your rucksack, go forth and explore?