Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a seaside city of beautiful islands and lush nature.
Helsinki is one of the greenest capitals in the world: over one-third of the city consists of parks and other green areas. Helsinki (and Finns) might seem somewhat quiet and reserved at first, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll uncover vibrant nightlife, an exceptional design scene, and beautiful architecture.
And all of that while witnessing some of the most magnificent sunsets over the Baltic sea. The Finnish capital is famous for its fabulous midsummer parties, growing foodie destination reputation, and stunning saunas.
Helsinki and Finns are known for their quirkiness, so there’s no shortage of odd events to attend (the ‘wife-carrying’ competition anyone?).
Here’s what you can do in Helsinki at night:
1. Get sweating
Finns are known for their love of saunas. In fact, it is estimated that there is one sauna per household in Finland. In Finland, saunas are places for relaxation and socializing.
Throughout Finnish history, the sauna was the holiest room in the house and one most closely associated with Finnish well-being.
Even the Finnish parliament has its own sauna chamber for MPs to debate in, and all the Finnish diplomatic and consular missions around the world have their own saunas.
Real Finnish saunas are dimly lit, there’s no music or smells except for fresh birch and natural tar.
Try visiting one of the following:
– Arlan Public Sauna
– Kaurilan Sauna
– Löyly Sauna Complex
– Sauna Ship
– Sauna Hermanni
Tip: Visiting a sauna is a great activity when you’re in Helsinki, especially during the winter when it might be too cold for some of the outdoor activities.
2. Bar hop in Kallio
Finns drink the most alcohol in Nordic countries, according to research published by Finland’s Directorate of Health.
This means Helsinki doesn’t lack in cool bars. To experience Helsinki’s bar scene, head to Kallio. Kallio is known as the bohemian district of Helsinki. Kallio is one of those neighborhoods all capitals seem to have (Brooklyn in New York, Shoreditch in London, Kreuzberg in Berlin) known for its artsy inhabitants and alternative shops and cafés. People talk of the “Kallio-spirit”, which consists of solidarity, tolerance, and edginess.
Kallio used to be a working-class neighborhood where artists and students used to live. Due to low rent prices, many restaurants and cafes opened there. Then, young professionals started moving to Kallio, raising the prices. Many oppose gentrification.
In any case, Kallio is the place to be for drinks and fun.
For some DJ music and dancing try Siltanen, Kaiku, Kuudes, Linja, or Ääniwalli.
For laidback and simple relaxing try Pacifico or Club Liberté (live music and pool tables).
For a good look into pre-gentrification Kallio culture, Molotov and Kultapalmu on Vaasankatu have all the characteristics of how much rougher Kallio used to look like.
More cool bars:
– Majava Baari
– Musta Kissa
3. Relax in a park
One of the favorite pastimes in Helsinki is chilling in parks. In summer, the sun doesn’t set until midnight or so, so Finns take this opportunity to stay outdoors.
“Koffari” or “Park Koff” is a favorite summer hangout for the young Helsinki crowd. Located towards the end of Bulevardi, this lush grassy hillside is usually full to the brim with friends hanging out, teenagers drinking, and young professionals relaxing after work.
If you are someone who appreciates a picnic and a chilled-out summer evening, this is the right spot for you.
The atmosphere is very relaxed. Grab some picnic essentials and some wine or beer (if that’s your thing), and head over to Park Koff to experience Helsinki like a local (the actual name of Park Koff is Sinebrychoff Park).
Sledging is a popular winter sport as the hill is high and offers a safe enclosed environment also for children. There is an ancient redbrick tower on top and a cafeteria by the foot of the hill.
You can also head over to Kaivopuisto. Kaivopuisto is one of the oldest and most loved parks in Helsinki. Situated on the southern tip of the peninsula, the park offers varied terrain, long winding paths, old trees, a viewpoint and an observatory. It is so popular that the city has had to limit the number of concerts and other public events in order to protect the park.
4. Go to the beach
Summers are short in Finland, which means that they are enjoyed with zest.
If you are visiting during the summer, the city of Helsinki offers more than 30 public beaches where you can spend some time relaxing in the evening.
Check out beaches such as Hietaranta, Kallahdenniemi, Laajasalo, Marjaniemi, Munkkiniemi, Mustikkamaa, etc.
Most of the beaches in Helsinki are open from June until August each year. Some beaches are busier since they are located in the middle of bustling metropolitan areas while others are on the outskirts of Helsinki.
Tip: Hietaniemi is the most popular beach in Helsinki, but it’s also the busiest..
5. Lounge in a cafe
You wouldn’t think of Helsinki when you think of ‘European coffee capital’, but Finnish people consume more coffee per capita than any nation in the world.
The flipside of Helsinki’s sunny summers, of course, is long and snowy winters. This means Finns have mastered the art of cozy cafes – which there are many of. If you happen to be visiting during winter and you can’t spend so much time outdoors, cafes will be your saving grace.
They’re also a great alternative to bars if you don’t like the bar atmosphere. It’s considered rude to leave a restaurant before everyone’s finished their coffee. For Finns, coffee drinking is very much a social activity.
Helsinki’s coffee scene is bustling. To name a few, there’s Kuuma, Ihana Kahvila, and the sleek Maja Coffee Roastery near the Alvar Aalto Museum (and, of course, don’t overlook Good Life Coffee). Join the locals at Café Aalto or Tyyni. Just off to the side of the new Helsinki City Museum is El Fant, one of hip Helsinki’s favorite coffee spots. In the late afternoons and evenings, try the Lakkakakku (cloudberry cake). Helsinki’s coffee scene is dazzlingly boundary-pushing (get yourself a cacao infused oat milk latte).
6. Nighttime ice-skating
This is another great activity for wintertime visitors. Helsinki hosts a wide variety of outdoor activities during winter, ranging from cycling and ice skating to Nordic walking and ice-swimming.
Helsinki’s Ice Park skating rink is located next to the Railway Station, right in the heart of the city. Here you can rent skates or bring your own. For cozy night activity, get yourself a hot chocolate in the onsite café and enjoy ice skating. The rink is open until 9 pm every evening (Sundays until 6 pm), so you can skate under the moonlight or the stars if it’s a clear night. Skating costs 6 euros for adults; children under 18, students and seniors pay 4 euros.
Another popular one, also with skate rental available, is located in the Kallio neighborhood and known as Brahe Rink.
7. Shop in the Design District
Helsinki’s Design District encompasses a vast area with 25 streets. Today, it is an urban hub featuring around 200 destinations: fashion stores, antique shops, art galleries, and jewelry shops. The design district itself ‘earned’ its name when it won the title of “Design Capital of the World” back in 2012.
Finland has produced many great designers: from Tapio Wirkkala, Alvar and Aino Aalto to Timo Sarpaneva and Kaj Franck.
When it comes to Finnish design, there is something for everyone: from glassware and crockery to clothes, furniture, and architecture. Finnish icons Marimekko, Artek, and Iittala have all recently moved house but are found in and around the main Esplanade and close to the Market Square.
Concept stores are now found everywhere, so you might encounter shops that are at the same time cafes or the other way around. Your credit card might not thank you after this activity, but your eyes will feast.