Helsinki Cathedral

Pint-sized Helsinki has quite the reputation as a quirky city. This 16th century metropolis is Finland’s capital and biggest city. It comes with an abundance of lakes, a tortured coastline of bays and inlets, an archipelago of 330 islands, splendid “human modernism” architecture created by designer Alvar Aalto and the general ability to excel in the world of no-fuss design.

Why visit Helsinki in the Spring

Helsinki Carnival

Helsinki Carnival (c) Anneli Salo

There’s only a very short Spring window in Helsinki and it is heralded by clear skies just about long enough for the city to replenish its large stretches of grassy green parks and trees to finally shoot out their leaves. It’s expansive Central Park just outside the city centre is particularly beautiful at this time. Temperatures begin to reach 10°C (50°F) or even more.

On May 1st the Vappu festival takes place – not just in Helsinki but throughout the country. It’s the Memorial Day of Saint Labor and students and ex-students don their white student hats and make a lot of noise with whistles, wear baubles while drinking the traditional non-alcoholic Sima (Mead) and nibble Finnish fritters traditionally eaten on May Day.

Get there in early June and you may think you are in Rio. The city has its own Carnaval with a samba parade, dancers and music akin to the Carnaval in Brazil.

June 12 is Helsinki-päivä (Helsinki Day). If you happen to be there at this time expect to become embroiled in the city’s birthday celebrations of concerts, performances, some exhibitions and tours – and a cuppa with the mayor.

Things to see and do in Helsinki

Why visit Helsinki in the Summer

(c) Angelo_Giordano

Summer in Helsinki (July and August) is peak time for holiday-makers. Temperatures can reach a comfortable 20 °C (68 °F) and café culture is at its height and the beaches and parks are dotted with humanity.

Generally lasting two months, at this time the sun sets very late and even as the day turns into dusk and then into dawn, the hues don’t change that much.

Hotel deals in Helsinki

Why visit Helsinki in the Autumn

Helsinki park in Autumn

(c) Kimmo Räisänen

As the trees shed the foliage, known locally as “ruska” in September the autumnal reds, browns and yellows bring 90 days of natural colour to the forests.

At Mustikkamaa, also known as the “Edible Park” (Syötävä puisto), you will also be able to taste the berries and mushrooms that grow naturally there and even pick some to take away.

Why visit Helsinki in the Winter

Lux Festival: Helsinki Cathedral

Lux Festival: Helsinki Cathedral (c) kerttu

Helsinki is located in the northern reaches of the world and it’s seriously cold at this time of year. In January and February temperatures can dip minus 6 °C (22 °F) but as the Helsinki peninsular just out into the sea, it feels colder – sometimes −20 °C (−4 °F) because of the wind chill and humidity.

There’s often a drizzle of snow which turns into slush particularly in November and December, less so in January and February where it’s still cold but at least the sun breaks out from time to time. Still the days are short.

But it’s not all grey and gloom. January sees the cheery light installations of Lux Helsinki   that brighten up the city from 5pm to 10pm for several nights. In 2018 the stage for the event will be in the district of Kaartinkaupunki.

Then in February there is the Helsinki Burlesque Festival. Many turn up in fancy dress to watch both men and women and their saucy stage entertainment.

Ice skating is particularly popular at this time. The ice rink is in the middle of the city right by the Central Railway Station but there’s also one on the Tuusulanjärvi lake and another on the sea off Vuosaari.

Perhaps the highlight of a winter break in this city is the opportunity for cross-country skiing. About 200 kilometers of defined trails have been created around the capital but imagine the magic of the experience in the snow-laden wintery forest of Central Park.

In short, wear the right clothes though and enjoy this particularly atmospheric time.

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