• Helsinki in wintertime. (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

Helsinki in wintertime

You would think that Helsinki would be lulled to sleep by the cold winters and dark nights. In fact, far from hibernating, Helsinki becomes arguably more active and alive, even when covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Popular winter sports

Swish, swish, swish – the sounds of skis gliding across the snow can be heard everywhere in wintertime. Helsinki is perhaps the only capital city in the world where you can bump into cross-country skiers practically in the city centre. Groomed trails and even downhill skiing centres can be found in and around Helsinki. At Paloheinä, for example, you can rent skis and other equipment. Do like the locals do and pack a couple of chocolate bars and a thermos of warm juice in your backpack and you’ll be fine!

Icepark next to the Central Railway Station (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

Right in the centre of town next to the Central Railway Station you will find the Icepark, where you can rent skates and practice your figures to the beat of the music. You can also warm up with a nice cup of hot cocoa inside the café. There are plenty of other great places to skate in Helsinki too, including many local rinks where you can skate on natural ice.

Adventures on the ice

When temperatures drop well below zero, this is your opportunity to get out and see Helsinki from a completely new perspective! The frozen sea is ideal for skiing, skating and walking across while admiring Helsinki’s skyline. Some people also like to fish through holes they drill through the ice, huddling on their stools as they wait patiently for a bite.

Safety is important. Be sure to stay on marked paths and if you do not see other people out on the ice, you should probably stay away, too. Before heading out onto the ice, it’s always good to check the conditions. The Finnish Environment Institute SYKE publishes bulletins about the thickness of the ice.

Remember also to dress warmly and wear sunglasses. Ice claws are also recommended if you plan to venture far from the shoreline.

Wintertime in Helsinki (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

Fun in the snow

Local kids – and grownups too – love sledding in wintertime. Even if you don’t have your own sled, you can slide down using a plastic bag. If you head for Paloheinä or Kaivopuisto you won’t be alone, especially during the Shrovetide holidays when the hills are taken over by hoards of students!  

Sledding in wintertime (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

When planning a nice long winter’s hike, you don’t have to head inland. The shoreline and islands are wonderful places to breath in the fresh air and marvel at the views. Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki, is also an excellent destination in wintertime. Hop on the municipal ferry – which operates year round, ice or no ice – and get ready to explore the bastion walls, listen to fascinating stories about the historic fortress and marvel at the pack ice around the islands and the bright white horizon across the open sea.

Ferry to Suomenlinna (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

If you have never been in the forest before when the trees are covered in snow, you won’t know what real silence sounds like. Uutela and Keskuspuisto are ideal for exploring the woods and unwinding in the crisp winter air. Maybe you can identify some of the animal tracks in the snow?

Christmas Path at Seurasaari in December (c) Jussi Hellsten/Visit Helsinki

The Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden in the centre of town is magical destination in wintertime. The illuminated greenhouses shine like diamonds in the soft snowy twilight. In the park outside you might come across squirrels in their winter furs. They are also very fond of Seurasaari, the popular recreational island that you can walk all the way around. Each year in December there is a special Christmas Path on the island that can be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.

Updated 04/11/2016