Summer in Helsinki – Five Awesome (and cheap) Things Worth Doing

Helsinki is an excellent city, and perhaps even the most livable place in the world (whatever that means). It’s clean and safe. It’s got cool architecture and a fascinating albeit short history.  It’s very walkable, and when you don’t want to walk, the public transportation is extensive and the trains run on time.

But of all those attributes, the best thing about Helsinki is how it transforms into a near utopia during June, July and August.  Some of the best days of my life have been spent zigzagging across the city map, going from park to beach to sauna to pub and so forth.

And while it’s a fairly expensive city (like all Nordic capitals), it’s completely possible to do Helsinki on a shoestring budget.  With that in mind, here are five of my favorite (and cheap) things to do during Helsinki summers.

1.  Go to the top of Linnanmäki’s Panoraama for a great view of the city

If you’re new to the city, perhaps the best way to get your bearings is by seeing Helsinki from up high. The cheapest way to do this is from atop Linnanmäki amusement park’s Panoraama ride.  There’s no entrance fee for entering Linnanmäki, and it’s also free to take the Panorama ride all the way up for a 360° view.  Here’s a panorama from Panoraama. And even if you’ve been living in Helsinki for a while , it’s still worth making the trek up Linnanmäki hill at least once per summer in order to see your city holistically and reflect on the big picture.

Linnanmäki_from_air_2
Source:  Wikipedia, which got it from this guy’s really neat Flickr album

2.  Bike ride around the coast of Helsinki

Despite being an urban area with 1.2 million people, there is a ton of beautiful coast line and nature all around.  When I need a bit of rigorous exercise and fresh air, I’ll race across the city, trying to reach my favorite spot to catch the sun before it sets.  Other times I’ll set out from my neighborhood with no particular destination in mind, and wander into new neighborhoods while discovering quirky things, like these old houses in Käpylä or this mansion in Karhusaari.

Additionally, if you enjoy riding along the coast, Helsinki has a nice amount of it:

helsinki bike ride
Here’s a nice 30km-ish ride with lots to see along the way.

And if you take a step back even further, you can see how inexhaustible the entire region’s coastline is for this sort of thing.  Tons of islands, bays and bridges everywhere.

3.  Unique beaches – Hietsu, Mustikkamaa, or Kivinokka

When most people think about beaches, they envision palm trees, white sand and warm waters.  Well, Finland doesn’t really have those things… but what it does have is pine trees, and incredibly long sunsets… which is a unique but pleasant experience on its own.  My favorite thing to do after work during the summer is meet up at a beach with friends, and then lay in the sand while talking about nothing important until the sun finally sets well after 10pm.

Hietaniemi (or Hietsu as the locals call it) is the most famous beach in Helsinki, and is easily accessible from downtown.  From Hietsu, you can watch the sun set behind the pine tree horizon across the bay.  Some of my other favorite off-the-beaten-path beaches can be found in Kivinokka and Mustikkamaa.

Hietaniemi_from_air
Hietsu beach near central Helsinki.  Photo source:  Wikicommons

4.  Play mölkky in the park, or don’t play mölkky, but still go to the park

I wrote about this silly Finnish game called mölkky in a prior blog post.  The game itself is OK as far as games go, but the best part about it is the atmosphere experienced from playing it in these random parks that speckle the city.  Let’s look at the city map again, this time zooming in on my favorite neighborhood of Kallio:

kallio map
Green spaces = parks

As you can see, in Kallio, there’s something like 15 different parks sprinkled across the map.  And that’s just one single neighborhood.  In Helsinki, it’s hard to walk 200 meters in any direction without running into a park of some sort.  And on warm summer days, you’ll see loads of Helsinkians playing mölkky and having picnics in these park.  There’s something magical about crowds of people dropping all other concerns and duties and going outside in order to soak in every photon they can before the summer fades.

5.  Check out summer festivals and happenings

During the summers, there’s a lot of cool random events happening all over the place. Every year that I live here, I discover more of them.  For example:

  • American muscle car cruises – on the first Friday of every month during the summer, Detroit’s greatest masterpieces cruise along the streets of downtown Helsinki, eventually coalescing at Kauppatori.
  • Siivouspäivä – On “cleaning day”, people congregate in the parks buy and sell their second-hand goods. It’s like a yard sale on steroids, and great for finding vintage clothes and media if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • World Village Festival in Kaisaniemen puisto. Good food and much to see.
  • Kallio Block Party – pretty much just a block party, but on a large scale.  Worth checking out.
  • Ravintolapäivä – On “restaurant day”, hundreds of people set up their own restaurants for the day all across the city.  Good way to check out new cuisine and new neighborhoods.

And that’s just a few of the dozens of public events happening throughout the summer. My advice is to get outside, and have an adventure exploring this awesome summer city. Many of your best experiences in Helsinki will be unplanned ones that you were lucky enough to stumble upon 🙂

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