Welcome to Finland – things to do in Helsinki in winter

It just so happened that we visited Finland for the first time in winter. The land where Santa Claus works from home welcomed us with chilly and short days, fierce wind, plenty of Christmas lights, and a good mood! Here are our favorite things to do in Helsinki, as well as recommended places to see and experiences to live. Prepare a blanket and a cup of tea for our warm guide to Helsinki in winter.

Hietaranta beach, Helsinki, Finland

Go to the Hietaranta beach

If you’re a sucker for beaches as we are, nothing will stop you from exploring one or two Helsinki beaches. Even if it’s winter, the water is cold and freezing at places, and the wind is non-gently reminding you to put your hat and hood back up. There’s no sign of the nice summer photos where Finns go for a swim and actually wear swimming suits, you can send your mind there but your body needs those 10 layers of clothing to survive the cold.

We were in the area of Hietaranta beach and we couldn’t get enough of those views, the frozen sand and the semi-frozen waves. If you decide to visit the beach, have in mind that there is a Cafe & Bistro Hiezu right on the huge sand strip and you can get warm and enjoy the views behind the tall windows with a cup of tea.

Hietaranta beach, Helsinki, Finland

Walk the coast of Lapinlahti Bay

If you stick to following the coastline south of Hietaranta beach, you’ll walk the path with amazing views of Lapinlahti Bay and industrial Helsinki. We met some ducks, swans, and other flying friends who were so comfortable with the weather that they inspired us to keep walking more. The area is also home to Hietaniemi cemetery which is known for military memorials, state funerals, and artists’ graves.

Lapinlahti Bay, Helsinki, Finland

Go shopping

We know it seems awkward to receive go-shopping advice from us. But let us explain a bit – Bistra had to buy a very warm skirt to align with the weather and so we recommend checking out at least one of the many thrift shops in Helsinki. This way you can give a new life to a beautiful piece of clothing and reduce waste in the industry that is a top waste-generator worldwide. I went to a UFF Second-Hand store and there were so many wonderful clothes and accessories which were also quite affordable. And the new skirt was a total blast – didn’t take it off during our time in Finland!

See music at Sibelius Monument

This monument was built in the 60s by the Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen and it has more than 600 steel pipes forming a wave-like shape representing music. It is gorgeous with sunny or cloudy weather and we encourage you to take a closer look at the pipes from below for a new perspective.

If you walk the coast promenade a bit to the south, you’ll reach the picturesque Cafe Regatta and a tiny beach. The views are so magical, especially close to sunset (let’s say after 14.00 in winter). The cafe offers outdoor seating and the famous cinnamon rolls and a bonfire for those who want to roast a sausage or just get warm.

Visit Temppeliaukion Church

Temppeliaukion Church is a unique place nestled into the natural rocks. The church is an active Lutheran church popular for weddings, funerals, christenings, and a known concert venue. The roof is a copper-lined dome and the interior walls are of rock and rubble. It costs 4 euros per adult to visit this architectural wonder of Helsinki.

Temppeliaukion Church, Helsinki, Finland

Circle Toolonlahti Lake

This beautiful 1-hour-long (or more) hike around the Töölönlahti Bay will give you some of the best photo opportunities and nice encounters. Just follow the trail by the water and you’ll see Hesperia Park, an opera house, an amphitheater, Hugo water power generator, cute little wharves, lake flora and fauna, and elegant residences and villas, Töölönlahden Park with its facilities. It’s a great way to experience nature inside the city and both relax and energize.

Enlighten yourself Helsinki Central Library Oodi

The building of Helsinki Central Library is an attraction of its own. But please don’t limit yourself to just a few glimpses from the outside. Explore the library and the community center from the inside – there are many corners and rooms for reading, working, and studying, but also for experimenting and science. It’s a lovely place and accessible for free!

Helsinki Central Library, Finland

Contemplate the Helsinki Cathedral and the Uspenski Cathedral

Two religious monuments that contribute to Helsinki’s unique landscape are Helsinki Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral. Steps lead up to the grand neoclassical Helsinki cathedral, topped with an iconic green dome. Uspenski Cathedral is a hilltop center of the Finnish Orthodox faith with an ornate exterior and lavish interior decoration.

We didn’t enter any of those but the views from outside were so majestic and just passing by gave us a hint of the vast and dynamic history of the city.

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

Feel the vibes of Market Square

Walking down the lovely-decorated Esplanadi park, we reached Market Square which was turned into a cheerful Christmas market. One could try traditional delights from Finland, warm up with some alcoholic or nonalcoholic glögg (the Finnish mulled wine), shop for warm socks and clothing, or just browse around and absorb the cheerful atmosphere.

Even if you visit the harborside market outside the winter season with the heated cafe tent, you can still enjoy the food stalls, handicrafts, and the market vibe of what is also kind of a place to get together with people. The market is open all year round.

Hop on the ferry to Suomenlinna Island

Nearby Market Square, you can take the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. The World Heritage site is an open-air museum of history, architecture, and nature and is full of cannons, tunnels, a dockyard, museums, a brewery, restaurants, and cafes.

We spent half a day just walking around the island, absorbing the views, following the “blue” train to the Royal Gate of Suonemnlinna Fortress. Be careful not to get lost in the tunnels of Gyllenborg Bastion or not to freeze on the Suomenlinnan uimaranta (a lovely sandy beach).

Follow the locals – the Finnish sauna

As spa aficionados, there was no need to be explained the positive effects of the sauna. If you want to benefit from the sauna the Finnish way, Helsinki has a huge array of public and private saunas to choose from. Most of the hotels have their own saunas. The sauna we tried was how we knew the Finnish works – there are different saunas and changing spaces for men and women. And bathing suits are completely forbidden!

We noticed a very hot steaming pool with a wow-view, in the open, at Allas Sea Pool, so you can check out their sauna, fresh and seawater pools to enjoy spa and Helsinki views together.

See Helsinki from above from SkyWheel Helsinki

SkyWheel is a 40-meter Ferris wheel to offer panoramic 360-degree views over the Helsinki skyline. You can choose if you want to observe the city in the light or in the dark. We chose the latter and enjoyed the lit Helsinki. If you want to pamper yourself with a glass of champagne, there is the option of this add-on to the regular ticket.

Helsinki skyline from SkyWheel, Finland

Where to stay in Helsinki

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We stayed at two places in Helsinki. If you don’t mind paying a bit more and indulging in a bit of luxury, we recommend staying at Crowne Plaza Helsinki – Hesperia. They offer an amazing buffet breakfast (which even included Finnish superfoods), a swimming pool with a sauna and a gym, and the location is within walking distance of Hesperia Park and Toolonlahti Lake.

If you’re on a budget visiting Helsinki, we highly recommend Hostel Diana Park. It’s located at the very heart of Helsinki, a short walk from the Helsinki Train Station and Market Square. They offer double rooms and dorm rooms with shared bathrooms and breakfast. The building itself was designed in 1899 by Usko Nyström – a specialist in art nouveau architecture and you can spot the beautiful details.

Christmas decoration in Esplanadi Park, Helsinki, Finland

Where to eat and drink

Our favorite places for eating and drinking out in Helsinki go as follows. The Levant is a chain that caters to those in love with Middle-Eastern cuisine. Not only you will lick your fingers, but also your wallet won’t suffer as these restaurants are some of the most affordable in the city.

We love the food and the drinks at Cafe Bar 9. Not only was it just next door to our hostel, but it offered huge portions of international cuisine, including vegan options, at a very good price. Plus they had a variety of craft beers.

Cafe & Bistro Hiezu has a weekend brunch buffet to go with the great views, but most importantly – affordable and tasty (vegan) burgers!

As the subtitle suggests, you head to a Hemingway’s bar (there are several of them throughout the city) for tales, ales, and cocktails. And we proved those all are tasty!

We can’t finish this section without mentioning the cozy atmosphere of the Christmas Market at Market Square. You can try local food and drinks in the warm tents, or sit outside and enjoy a concert in the evening!

Transportation in Helsinki

For getting around the city, we recommend using public transport – trains, trams, buses, even ferries. A single ticket in the central (A & B) area costs 2.8 euros, and a ticket to/from the airport is 4.10 euros. You can buy single, day, or season tickets with the HSL app, easy and trouble-free.

You can also use Uber or rent scooters and bikes to get around.

Christmas decoration and trams on the streets of Helsinki, Finland

Those were our favorite things to do in Helsinki, on our first visit to Finland. We also included a day trip to Tampere in our itinerary. What would you recommend us to put on our bucket list for next time in Finland?

Things to do in Helsinki in winter

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