Europe & Britain | Destination Guides

What to do in Helsinki: Summer in the Outdoors

Recently updated on January 22nd, 2020 at 07:12 pm

With an extraordinary abundance of lush parks and urban woodland, Helsinki has justifiably been named a Green City. And with its 100-kilometre coastline, it’s just a short boat ride over to small wooded islands – of which there are more than 300 – where the region’s heritage, wildlife and celebratory customs can be experienced. Follow our guide on what to do in Helsinki to make the most of summer in the city’s great outdoors.

The Green City

What to do in Helsinki

Throughout Helsinki’s warmer months, visitors and locals alike spend as much time as possible in the city’s parks and market squares, at open-air cafes and by the water’s edge. Of Helsinki’s many green spaces, Central Park is one to set aside plenty of time to see. Stretching across 10 kilometres from Töölönlahti Bay in the south to the northern edge of the city, the park is home to pristine wilderness, split into four different protected areas. Visitors can stroll through primeval rainforest and alongside rapids, while looking out for woodland wildlife.

What to do in Helsinki

The more urbanised green space, Esplanade Park, is a popular place to soak up the sun with a picnic at the heart of Helsinki. Here, the Espa Stage is the setting for regular live performances, including a Jazz-Espa concert series in July. Kaivopuisto Park, meanwhile, is the oldest and best-known park in Helsinki, situated at the southernmost point of the city; this is one to visit for lawns to laze on while looking out to sea. Töölönlahti Bay is another of Helsinki’s coastal parks, made unique by a walking trail that circles the bay, with historic wooden villas lining its shores.

What to do in Helsinki

Right in the centre of Helsinki – by the Central Railway Station – is another pocket of greenery called Kaisaniemi Park, which encompasses Helsinki University Botanic Gardens and its glasshouses, while Sibelius Park stands out for its monument erected in honour of composer Jean Sibelius. This huge sculpture has become one of Helsinki’s most famous sites, with over 600 pipes incorporated into its steel structure.

What to do in Helsinki

In addition to its parks and gardens, those wondering what to do in Helsinki should visit the many open-air markets, where local food and handicrafts can be found. The most famous of these is Helsinki Market Square, located in the South Harbour by Esplanade Park. To get between the markets, parks and harbours, many people travel by bicycle, with rental stores located across the city and a City Bikes scheme being introduced in summer 2016. Both pedestrians and cyclists use the disused railway line, the Baana, which is just one section of Helsinki’s 1,200-kilometre network of cycle paths.

Discovering Helsinki’s Islands

What to do in Helsinki

One of the great attractions of Helsinki is its proximity to so many small islands, which each have their own unique appeal. While some are the setting for scenic restaurants – like Luoto, which is home to Restaurant Saaristo, an Art Nouveau-style summer restaurant serving up Scandinavian cuisine – others are known for their heritage. The UNESCO World Heritage Suomenlinna sea fortress was built in 1748 and is now one of Finland’s most famous tourist sites. Arts events take place within the expansive grounds, including Viapori Jazz festival in August.

What to do in Helsinki

For cultural insight, make the short journey across the water to Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. Cottages, manors and homesteads from the past four centuries have been relocated from across Finland to the island, where folk dancing, traditional performances and workshops in Finnish handicrafts, customs and folklore complete the cultural experience. With time left to unwind, the island of Pihlajasaari is hard to beat for its old wooden villas set amidst the rocks, rugged woodland and beautiful beaches, perfect for swimming.

Visit Helsinki in Finland on the Cossack Explorer, Capitals of the North and Best of Finland, Russia and The Baltic States.

Image credits: Cover photo of restaurant boat Flying Dutch © Visit Finland / Jussi Hellsten. Esplanade Park © Visit Helsinki / Lauri Rotko. Helsinki Festival 2015 © Visit Helsinki / Jussi Hellsten. Vallisaari © Visit Helsinki / Kalle Kataila. Helsinki Market © Helsinki City Media Bank / Lauri Rotko. Restaurant Saaristo Helsinki © Visit Finland / Jussi Hellsten. Midsummer in Helsinki © Visit Finland / Juho Kuva.

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