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You’re traveling to Helsinki in winter? Fantastic! I’ve compiled here my local’s tips about visiting Helsinki during the winter months.
Helsinki is packed with wonderful, dare I say, heavenly, things to do in the winter. I’ll show you some of the coolest things around the city.
First, this guide goes through a little bit of weather and packing info and then dives into the activities. The things to do range from peaceful to thrilling, so I hope this list caters to your every need.
One thing you should know before we go further: eating is definitely one of my favorite activities. I hope it is yours too because Helsinki is totally a foodie’s city.
So, whenever I can, I take the opportunity to let you know about a good place to eat or drink.
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Here’s everything this post covers. Grab a cup of your favorite hot drink and let’s explore winter Helsinki!
Table of Contents
- 1 Is There Sunlight in Winter Helsinki?
- 2 Is There Snow in Winter Helsinki?
- 3 What to Pack for Helsinki in Winter?
- 4 Visit Helsinki Christmas Market
- 5 Go Ice Skating
- 6 Relax in a Hot Sauna
- 7 Warm Up in a Free Museum
- 8 Try Indoor Free Flying
- 9 Visit Helsinki Winter Gardens
- 10 Linger in Cozy Market Halls and Restaurants
- 11 Do Extra-Ordinary Shopping
- 12 Warm Up in a Library
- 13 Reindeer in Helsinki (and Other Nature Escapes)
- 14 Forty Indoor Things to Do in Winter Helsinki
Is There Sunlight in Winter Helsinki?
Well, yes. But, the sun doesn’t come up until late, and when it does, it’s only there to set early.
The rest of the day is either twilight zone or pitch black. But don’t worry, the blue in-between moments and darkness definitely have their charm.
Also, there are lovely winter decor lights all over Helsinki, which make the city glittering urban hub.
When your taking photos outdoors, remember that the lighting is the best around mid-day.
The glittering lights of Helsinki by day.
The glittering lights of Helsinki by night (ermm… I mean around 5 pm in the afternoon).
Is There Snow in Winter Helsinki?
There is snow in winter Helsinki but it’s super difficult to know when it will arrive.
The stats of Finnish Meteorological Institute tell that the permanent snow has arrived mid-January at its latest. Usually, there’s at least a bit of snow in Helsinki before Christmas.
If you like stats as much I do, here’s how snowy Christmas has looked in Helsinki since 1911 (see the last graph: “Lumensyvyys = snow depth,1911-2014”).
What to Pack for Helsinki in Winter?
As you probably already guessed, Helsinki is freezing in the winter. Surprisingly, much more so than my hometown one hour north of Helsinki. Why? Because of the crazy cold sea wind in Helsinki. In the Lakeland, we don’t have that.
The coldness doesn’t stop me from loving Helsinki. I just have to make sure I remember that in the wintertime. In Finnish, we have a saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. It’s just a matter of appropriate clothing.”
Here’s how to prepare yourself.
#1 Outerwear. The most important thing to have is quality outerwear. I’m talking about a super warm, thick coat, waterproof winter shoes, proper gloves, a winter scarf, and a reliable hat.
#2 Wool or thermal! Once you have outerwear figured out, focus on wool or thermal underwear set. The middle layer? That’s easy, wear your regular clothes. If you have a pair of trousers that are a bit too big for you, those are the best in winter Finland. They are super comfy and can be easily worn with a pair of leggings (or two) underneath.
#3 Skincare. I can almost guarantee that your skin will let you know how it likes the harsh winter weather. Be ready to pamper it during the night time.
Best Clothes for a Helsinki Winter Vacation
Boots. If your vacation includes both exploring the city and being outdoors, enjoying Finnish nature, I recommend having two pairs of shoes because you can effectively boost the energy level of your legs by changing shoes.
Comfort is the king in Finland. You really don’t see many heals here during the wintertime.
I just love my winter shoes by Merrell (check similar here). They are warm, waterproof, and have a special Vibram-sole, which works even in the worst weather conditions, like walking on slushy ice. That makes this slip-resistant shoe perfect for those warmer winter temperatures here in Finland!
My favorite city winter boots are by Ecco. They are super comfortable to walk in for hours, waterproof and cute! Excellent for any winterly city destination. Shop for similar here.
Winter jacket. When it comes to winter jackets, the most versatile combo is a functional winter parka and a light-weight down jacket. You’ll be wonderfully warm even on the coldest of days but have options for warmer temperatures. Also, if you’re from a warmer country, these jackets will most likely be more useful for you back home than a big fluffy down coat.
Beanie. You’ll definitely need a reliable beanie in Finland. Stay away from anything that says 100% acrylic without a proper lining. The best beanies are cuffed wool-blend or fleece-lined beanies. Personally, I love my beanie with a pompom on top. If you are allergic to wool, a fleece-lined synthetic or cotton beanie is a great option and warm enough.
Scarf. Nobody does a chunky scarf better than Acne Studios. The color palette and quality of their Canada scarf makes me cry happy tears. Do you know how some scarfs leave you covered with threads?! These don’t.
I’ve worn my luxurious cream-colored oversized one everywhere from Lapland to Helsinki Opera house to a long-haul flight. The material is miraculous; it never gets any makeup stains. The skinny version is perfect if you don’t want a chunky look. Oh, and if you walk in Helsinki and wonder what’s this beautiful big winter scarf Helsinki ladies are wearing – yes, it’s this!
Gloves. You’ll need water-resistant, warm, windproof gloves for winter activities. Something like these. Side note, do you know what is tiny and life-saving? Silk glove liners – they are the perfect addition of extra warmth. Keep one pair in your pocket.
Wool or thermal underwear set. Perfectly-shaped wool leggings are cute and comfy. Hanging long-johns are not only ugly but uncomfortable with the other trousers you’ll be wearing. Icebreaker undershirt and leggings are my favorites for quality, fit and cuteness. If you are allergic to wool, buy a thermal underwear set.
Socks. Cotton socks are not enough for Finnish winter. You’ll need either proper wool socks on top of the cotton ones or wool-blend socks.
I used to skimp on socks, but then I tried these cushioned wool-blend socks by Falke, was walking on lukewarm clouds for a day, and now I have five pairs of them. My hubby has these, too. Quality wool-blend socks do wonders to your aching feet and circulation. Falkes are worth every penny.
Tried and Tested Cosmetics that Protect Your Skin
You wouldn’t go on a beach holiday without sunscreen, right? In winter Helsinki, you’ll definitely feel the freezing cold on your skin.
If I would get to choose only one beauty item for the winter weather, I’d pick Elizabeth Arden’s 8-hour cream. It has been my SOS cream for over ten years, and I have yet to find a better product. In desperate times, I use it all over my face and hands and go to sleep like a balmed mummy, waking up all fresh the next morning.
Want more beauty tips? Read my detailed article about winter beauty essentials.
But now, let’s dive into my favorite winter activities in Helsinki.
Visit Helsinki Christmas Market
If you’re in town between December 6th and 22th, visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Helsinki Christmas Market is mandatory. This Christmas wonderland takes place in front of the Helsinki Cathedral and you can visit Santa every day there.
Go Ice Skating
Next to the railway station, you’ll find the Helsinki Ice Park. It is a great place to test your skating skills, and especially adorable in the evening lighting.
Naturally, there are skates to rent. I usually wear double socks (wool!) when ice skating to keep my feet warm.
Relax in a Hot Sauna
I’m a Finn, so you probably guessed that there was no way I’d write an article without mentioning the sauna. Yep. It’s a must to try the sauna when in Finland. Here are three public saunas in Helsinki where you can have a one-in-a-lifetime sauna experience.
Löyly is a modern sauna & restaurant on Helsinki’s waterfront. You can do the classic repeat combo of sweating in the sauna and swimming. The Baltic Sea is definitely freezing, but the sensation after the dip is sensational.
A hidden sauna gem in Helsinki is Kulttuurisauna, which offers an esthetic and truly relaxing sauna experience without the hassle of modern life. Please read the instructions on their home page carefully.
If you want to enjoy the gentle warmness of the last public sauna in Helsinki, head to Kotiharju sauna. This sauna of traditional wood-burning style has been warming up since 1928 in the boho Kallio district.
If you’re now wondering what’s this thing with the sauna and the Finns, check out my helpful post about the Finnish sauna etiquette.
Warm Up in a Free Museum
Helsinki City Museum is always free and has a huge, whimsical lounge to rest your tired feet. Their “Children’s Town” permanent exhibition is a guaranteed hit with kids. Walk indoors past the shop museum, and you’ll discover El Fant, a cute coffee shop.
If you love to admire the architecture and enjoy the feel of museums rather than spending a lot of time in the exhibitions, I recommend popping into the lounge and museum shops of the following museums in the city center area: Kiasma, HAM, Ateneum and Design Museum.
When it comes to regularly fantastic exhibitions, my favorites are Amos Rex, HAM, Design Museum, and Ateneum.
You can get free or discounted entrance to these museums with the Helsinki Card.
Note that all state-funded museums (pretty much most museums in Finland) are always free for kids under 18, which is fantastic. I happily pay taxes for stuff like that.
The incredible exhibitions of Amos Rex museum are underground.
Try Indoor Free Flying
If museums are not your cup of tea, what about indoor free-flying close to the city center?
Just take the metro and hop off at Kalasatama metro station. Next to the station, you’ll find a place called Fööni.
They have a free flight tunnel, and I was beyond excited when I got an invitation to test indoor flying with them.* At its best, the stream of air flows at 300 kilometers per hour. The audience gets to observe the flyer through a glass wall.
The flying was fantastic! It is so much fun and surprisingly easy. The crew is very professional, and you feel safe in their hands, literally.
Children above five can fly, too. Actually, they were better than us adults in our group. The place is super kids-friendly, and if nobody is flying, children can go into the flying space to play with flying balls as the power is on gentle idle mode. Fööni uses wind electricity to be environmentally friendly.
I also loved the easiness and attention to detail, from gear to hair bobbles. You don’t have to pre-book and the price includes everything. Even a video of you flying.
*My Fööni test fly was free of charge.
Visit Helsinki Winter Gardens
I love visiting the indoor gardens in the winter. In Helsinki, there are two lovely glasshouse gardens to explore.
Helsinki Winter Garden (Talvipuutarha in Finnish) is free of charge, and a charming seaside stroll away.
They have an area with tables and chairs, and you’ll spot local families having a picnic there.
Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden is super close to the railway station. It’s peaceful and beautiful collection of glasshouses full of fascinating plants.
I love the palm room, and it’s my dream place to read a book. Don’t miss the water lily room, either. Right at the entrance of the garden, you’ll also spot a beautiful 20th century inspired cafe, Viola.
Linger in Cozy Market Halls and Restaurants
Make it a mission to see all three market halls of Helsinki.
The Hakaniemen halli (Hakaniemi Market Hall) is full of locals. The restaurant stalls of Hietaniemen market hall offer delicious lunch. Vanha Kauppahalli (Old Market Hall) mesmerizes you with its detailed wooden interior and location just next to the Helsinki Market Square.
Now, when it comes to restaurant recommendations, I have so many delicious ideas for you. That’s why I made two very detailed and neatly organized food posts for you. Do remember to pay attention to the days of the week when you’re planning your restaurant visits as I mention in the post.
Or, are you looking for the best coffee spots in the city? I’ve got you covered – 15+ Iconic and Adorable Cafes in Helsinki by Neighborhood.
Do Extra-Ordinary Shopping
Finnish Fashion & Accessories
I’m so happy that we have a dedicated place for Finnish fashion brands. So, without further ado, head to Kämp Galleria Mall and their top floor, which is called “Garden.” Browse through Finnish clothes, accessory goodies, and home items to find your favorites. Cafe Kuuma is a lovely place to grab a coffee and a snack.
The top floor of Kämp Galleria Shopping Center is dedicated to Finnish fashion.
The Best Food Store of the City
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I go to a foreign city, I always want to visit the food store in the town. I love to see all the local things they are selling, and I love to, well… low-key stalk people there. (Please let me know in the comments if you have the same hobby, so I don’t feel completely weird.).
But back to Helsinki now. The food store you should visit is Herkku Food Market, and it’s situated on the basement floor of Stockmann, the department store.
If you go hungry or get hungry while walking there, the fish soup of their bistro has all Helsinki dwellers on their knees. Utterly delicious!
The Bistro of Herkku Food Market offers mouthwatering fish soup.
Warm Up in a Library
If you want to find locals, walk into one of the libraries in Helsinki. We Finns just love libraries.
The crown jewel of them all is Oodi, close to Helsinki railway station. This building screams Nordic minimalism, in a good way. The top floor is a must. Oh and if you need to distance work in Helsinki, this is the place to do it.
Admire the space, watch the quiet but bubbly local lifestyle and take a coffee with ‘pulla’ (Finnish cinnamon bun) because, *drumrolls*, there’s a coffee shop. Actually, there are two cafes, one on the ground and one top floor but I recommend the top floor because of the views.
Library Oodi is a must for both adults and kids.
Reindeer in Helsinki (and Other Nature Escapes)
Good news! If you hope to see reindeer but aren’t going all the way to Lapland, you can see them in Helsinki area too. Head to Nuuksio Reindeer Park situated close to Nuuksio National Park. While you’re there, be sure to walk some of the amazing forest paths of the park too.
Helsinki is foremost an archipelago destination and enjoying its winter landscape on a sunny day is a tradition for Finns. You cannot be indoors if there’s sunshine and snow outdoors. Here are lovely island escapes in Helsinki: Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Seurasaari and Lammassaari.
Forty Indoor Things to Do in Winter Helsinki
Curious for more? Here are over forty indoor things to do while you’re in Helsinki. Psst… This infographic is perfect to save on Pinterest.
What else would you like to know about Helsinki in winter? I’d love to know in the comments!
I have a couple more posts about Helsinki and the area nearby. If you’re planning a trip, you’ll definitely want to take a look at these!
Warm wishes from Finland,
After Finnish Culture Compass course, you’ll…
feel connected with the Finnish culture (even if you aren’t in Finland) and Finnish communication style (even when it’s filled with silence).
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