Northern Europe is where I’m meant to be in the summer.
Calm streets not taken over with tourists like Western and Central Europe, sunny days with cool breezes, and sunlight that almost never ends? Consider me converted.
I spent a week exploring Finland in June over Midsummer and it was one of the best times to visit this country. For some reason, Finland only seems to see big tourism numbers in winter, when people come to experience the aurora, go reindeer or husky sledding, and see “Santa Claus.”
And while I definitely recommend all of the above — I loved my 2016 trip to Swedish Lapland, which I imagine is rather similar — I don’t think anyone should overlook Finland as a fantastic alternative summer destination in Europe.
In fact, I’d argue that Finnish Lakeland is one of the best places to spend summer in Europe. Need convincing? This post aims to do just that!
Note: I visited Finland this summer as a guest of Visit Lahti and Visit Tampere, but all opinions are my own!
Finnish Lakeland grows some of the best strawberries in the world
Perhaps this seems like an overstatement, or at least, a strange way to start a list of reasons to visit Finnish Lakeland.
But when I think about my time in Finland this summer, nothing comes to mind more vividly than eating nearly a kilo of fresh summer strawberries, sticky with juice to the point where they were nearly bursting before you even bit into them.
One of the best places to snack on strawberries in Finnish Lakeland is at Pihamaa Estate near Asikkala, a delicious strawberry farm you can visit and shop at. We left with red-stained sticky fingers, an impossibly large amount of strawberries, strawberry and raspberry flavored ciders and lemonades, and a smile we could barely wipe off our faces.
Cruising on one of Finland’s nearly 200,000 lakes is the perfect lazy day
Another memory that stands out for me from my time in Finnish Lakeland was our morning boat ride and picnic lunch organized by Lehmonkärki, the incredible resort where we spend two nights in Lakeland this summer.
We boated out to Päijänne National Park, parked the boat at small islets to wander through pine forests, marveled at the wildlife, and sat in the sun enjoying a fantastic picnic lunch prepared by the team at Lehmonkärki. The lunch was complete with Finnish donuts called munkki and, this being Finland (the world’s largest consumer of coffee), some freshly brewed coffee.
Oh, yea — Finnish Lakeland has an incredible coffee scene
You may think that in order to get a fantastic cup of coffee, you’d be better off in the capital rather than in smaller cities. But that’d be discounting just how deeply Finns love and value their coffee.
The coffee scene outside of Helsinki is quite vibrant, with local purveyors offering freshly roasted single origin beans. We experienced just this in Lahti, where we visited the roastery at Kahiwa and learned the story behind this enterprise.
The owner, Joonas, started importing beans from Kenya from his grandparents’ neighbors and slowly started branching out from just Kenyan beans to support other small, highly-quality local farms. With the help of one other coffee sourer, he now imports and roasts beans from Kenya, Colombia, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, and Ethiopia.
Finnish Lakeland is embracing a vibrant craft beer culture
Too hopped up from your coffee? Luckily, Finns love a good drink as well, and craft beer has taken Finland by storm, with some 110 breweries operating in this small Nordic country.
We had the opportunity to visit several small breweries during our time in Finnish Lakeland, including Teerenpeli, Kanavan Panimo, Pyynikin, and Plevna Brewery, and we sampled beers from maybe a half-dozen more (… all for research’s sake, of course).
I was especially impressed by the way Finns have embraced creativity within the craft beer scene and used both local and exotic ingredients to conjure up unique and memorable brews, such as the cloudberry saison I adored from Pyynikin, the blueberry gose I loved at Kanavan Panimo, and the mango chile gose from CoolHead Brew which blew me away.
I especially loved doing a brewery tour at Pyynikin, located in Tampere just outside the city center. If you’re a beer geek and you only have time for one brewery, make it this one: it’s well worth it.
Finnish Lakeland’s cuisine is focused on local, delicious ingredients
Those in the know are aware that Nordic cuisine has been making a global resurgence. The last year that I was living in New York, I remember that Nordic cuisine was the new big cool thing, with a handful of new fine dining restaurants redefining what was once thought of as a rather simple and not especially creative cuisine.
Luckily, Finnish gastronomy has been part of this cool new wave of inventive Nordic cuisine, and the restaurant scene in Finnish Lakeland is no exception.
One of my first meals in Finnish Lakeland was also the most memorable — thinly shaved reindeer meat served on mashed potatoes with fresh thyme, homemade tart lingonberry compote, and roasted carrots. It was delicious Nordic food at its finest: high-quality and local ingredients prepared correctly and simply.
You can take part in the thriving sauna culture
There is perhaps no more uniting element amongst Finns than the love for sauna. I mean, this is a country with more saunas than cars.
There’s approximately one sauna for every 2.5 people living in Finland, meaning that nearly every family has their own home sauna. It’s not thought of as something for the elite or the rich — it’s thought of as a standard household amenity, perhaps the way the rest of Europe thinks of a washing machine or dishwasher.
But sauna culture goes beyond the home as well, with a wonderful public sauna scene that is easily accessible for both lcoals and tourists. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Tampere, the so-called Sauna Capital of the World, with more than 30 public saunas.
New sauna concepts are opening up and reviving sauna culture for the modern era, such as Saunaravintola (Sauna-Restaurant) Kuuma, which combines modern and inventive dining, a luxe bar scene, and a public sauna with outdoor plunge pool. Even the popular Tampere craft brewery, Pyynikin, has a sauna room you can rent out in their brewery where you can sip their latest beers while sweating it out with friends!
You can lose yourself in the incredible boreal forest
Finland’s land is about 75% covered in forest, making it extremely easy to get out of the city and into nature without much hassle or planning.
When in Tampere, we spent a morning immersing ourself into the forest in Kintulammi nature reserve, about 30 minutes outside of Tampere. With our awesome wilderness guide, Markus from Boreal Quest, we learned about Finland’s flora and fauna – while battling mosquitos, learning to chop wood with an ax (without hurting ourselves), and ate delicious game meat Markus had hunted himself over a fire that we helped build.
Immersed in the serenity of the boreal forest, looking at one of Finland’s hundreds of thousands of lake as curls of smoke rose from the fire, I understood why the Finns have such an affinity for nature and silence.
Not many people know Tampere, Finland’s third-largest city (and really second-largest, as Espoo is essentially a suburb of Helsinki).
I suspect that will change soon. The city is undergoing an immensely cool revival — craft breweries multiplying rapidly, a modernizing downtown, a delicious food culture that plays to Nordic strengths and ingredients, and a thriving urban sauna culture.
In fact, Tampere is considered the Sauna Capital of Finland (and thus the world, essentially) for its record-setting 35 public saunas — from old-school historic public saunas to new-wave trendy sauna-bar-restaurants for the millennial generation. For that reason alone it deserves a spot on your Finland travels!
Tampere is the largest inland city in the entire Nordic region – though it doesn’t feel that way as it’s in the heart of Finnish Lakeland, sandwiched between Näsijärvi Lake and Pyhäjärvi Lake. Water is at the heart of the city, and like every other city I’ve visited in Finland, nature and urban culture meet beautifully everywhere around you. And if you crave an even deeper nature escape, the pristine boreal forest is never far away.
My blogger friend Megan and I spent two days with Visit Tampere this June exploring all that Tampere had to offer. After exploring the city, here are my favorite things to do in Tampere, all of which you can easily replicate for yourself on a trip.
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The Best Things to Do in Tampere, Finland
Visit the palace of former tsars
Several times in this post, you’ll see the connection between Finland and Russia, as Finland was ruled over by Russia between 1809 and 1917. Pikkupalatsi (literally Little Palace in Finnish) is one such historical remnant of this time.
Built in 1898, the palace was originally used as a residence for Russian tsars. After Finland won independence from Russia, the building changed hands a number of times. It is now an events venue and there is a small restaurant in front where you can enjoy a nice lunch.
Location: Hämeenpuisto 7
Stroll and shop around the historic stable yards area
The Tallipiha Stable Yards were first built for the horses and coachmen of the owner of the Finlayson factory, Wilhelm von Nettbeck, in the 1880s.
These adorable wooden houses have been renovated and repurposed for the modern age. Now, these small houses and gardens are home to one of Tampere’s cutest shopping districts, where you can find artisan chocolate, small boutiques, and a lovely café where you can sit with a coffee and enjoy the quiet vibe of Tallipiha.
Location: Kuninkaankatu 4
Stop at Tampere’s cutest chocolate shop
While in the cute Tallipiha shopping district, be sure to make a quick pit stop at Tallipihan Suklaapuoti for some delicious artisan chocolates!
Housed in a gingerbread-perfect wooden house, you’ll find all sorts of chocolates, colorful truffles, wonderful edible gifts, and other treats that make the perfect souvenir or mid-day treat. It’s the sweetest thing to do in Tampere!
Location: Kuninkaankatu 4
Visit the beautiful yellow church
Who doesn’t love a bit of color in their life? This sunny yellow church in the heart of Tampere’s downtown area is one of the best photo spots in Tampere.
It’s called Tampere Old Church (Vanha Kirkko), although in the grand scheme of churches it is rather new, having been built in 1824. It’s interesting for its wood construction and its brilliant color, as well as its cross-like (cruciform) shape.
Location: Puutarhakatu 4
Explore Tampere Central Square
At the moment, much of Tampere is under construction at the moment due to the development of a tram line that will ease up transit within the city and address the growing city’s needs.
Despite the chaos of construction, Tampere Central Square (Keskustori) is still a really beautiful place to visit, and it’s a good place to get an idea of what the rest of the city will look like when the construction stops. It’s also right next to the yellow church so it’s really easy to combine a stop there with a stroll around Central Square.
Location: Keskustori 1
Explore the revitalized Finlayson area
Similar to Lahti, Tampere’s story has an industrial beginning. What is now Tampere used to be centered around the factory of Finlayson, a giant cotton mill and textile manufacturing center.
It was founded in 1820 by a Scottish engineer and quickly grew to be one of the largest factories in the Nordics. It was the largest factory in Finland up until the 1920s, when manufacturing began to decline and eventually shut operations completely in the 1980s.
Now, the Finlayson area has been completely turned over back to the city which grew around it. It’s now home to offices, shops, restaurants, cafés, museums, as well as a cinema. One of Tampere’s most beloved brewery-restaurants, Plevna, is also right in the heart of Finlayson factory area.
See Tampere’s fairytale cathedral (and intriguing murals)
Even though I’m not religious, I love visiting churches and cathedrals on my travels and seeing how each country interprets their religious structures differently.
Churches in the Nordics are extremely different from churches in Western European countries like France and Italy. For one, they’re generally a lot newer and more pared-down, with more modern interiors.
The Tampere Cathedral is a Lutheran Church in the National Romantic style, completed in 1907. While the exterior is beautiful, as if from a fairytale, the cathedral is best known for its slightly controversial frescoes inside.
The interior frescoes were painted by Hugo Simberg, who was commissioned to create versions of two of his most famous symbolist works, The Wounded Angel and The Garden of Death. The frescoes received criticism for their frank depictions of teenage nudity, as well as the winged serpent painted at the ceiling’s highest point.
Visit Tamperetalo for its Philharmonic or Moomin Museum
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit either on my trip to Tampere — even though I stayed only a block away from it! However, for many people visiting the Moomin Museum is one of the main things to do in Tampere – especially for Japanese tourists, who are particularly enamored with all things Moomin – so that’s why I’m including it on this list.
The Moomin Museum contains original illustrations and miniatures created by Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomin books and comics which took much of Europe by storm (America seems to have bypassed Moomin-mania, which I never learned about until I stepped foot into Finland for the second time this recent trip).
Meanwhile, the Tampere Philharmonic (Tamperetalo) is another extremely famous place to visit in Tampere, and it’s right next to the Moomin Museum as part of the same complex. If you’re a fan of classical museum, be sure to catch a show here at the largest conference and concert hall in the Nordics! The complex is also home to restaurant, Ravintola Tuhto.
Location: Yliopistonkatu 55
Check out the Lenin Museum
As a huge history geek for everything communist- and USSR-related (I mean, I did end up moving to Bulgaria), I was still incredibly surprised to learn that Tampere was home to one of the Soviet Union’s most critical historical moments: the meeting of Lenin and Stalin.
These two incredibly important historical figures first met at the Tampere Conference of 1905, the very first conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, which took place at the Tampere Workers’ Hall.
The primary outcome of the 1905 Tampere Conference was the decision to rebel against the legislative branch (Duma) of the Russian Empire and refuse to participate in elections. This eventually led to the uprising against the empire and the October Revolution of 1917 that would usher in the years of the Soviet Union.
The former Tampere Workers’ Hall was converted into the Tampere Lenin Museum in 1949 and was the first museum dedicated to Lenin outside the Soviet Union. Many such Lenin museums once existed throughout Europe, but it’s now the last remaining one outside of Russia.
The museum focuses on Lenin’s life, the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R., and the shared history that connects Finland and Russia. I didn’t have much time to explore the museum in-depth as I was on a city tour, but it seems like it’d be well worth a few hours to fully explore.
Location: Hämeenpuisto 28
Relax at a local sauna
Tampere has a record 35 public saunas, ranging from Rajaportti, the oldest continually-working public sauna in Finland to the traditional Rauhaniemi sauna to the brand new hip sauna-restaurant Kuuma.
Kuuma has quickly become one of the hottest places to hang out in Tampere (both literally and figuratively, I suppose)!
Depending on whether you want a more traditional sauna experience or a more funky one (such as a private beer sauna at Pyynikin brewery – yes, that’s a thing!) — there’s a sauna for everyone at in the duly-deserved Sauna Capital of Finland.
While Pispala used to be a poor neighborhood populated by the Finlayson working class, it’s now one of the hippest places to visit in Tampere.
Pispala was one of my favorite neighborhoods I explored in Tampere, both for its beautiful wooden architecture, its quiet yet alternative vibe, and its gorgeous views over the lake and tiny islets dotting the water.
And stop for a delicious, world-inspired brunch!
Café Pispala was a delicious place to stop for brunch while exploring the neighborhood, and I was thrilled with our meal there. The concept at Café Pispala is a seasonally-appropriate yet world-inspired menu.
We enjoyed an affordable combination lunch with soup and a main course for a mere 14 euros (including free tea or coffee) – a great deal in normally-pricy Finland!
Note that Café Pispala is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Location: Pispankatu 30
Immerse yourself in the forest
One of the best things to do in Tampere is to get outside of it a bit! We headed to Kintulammi nature reserve for a relaxing nature walk and forest experience with our awesome and hilarious wilderness guide, Markus of Boreal Quest.
We battled with mosquitos, started our own fire, ate tasty game meat over an open flame, learned to chop wood with an ax without losing a limb, and relaxed in the serenity of the Finnish boreal forest overlooking one of the many, many lakes from our wilderness shelter. It was unreal and I could have happily spent the whole day out there.
Location: Kintulammin Retkeilyalue
Explore the Tampere Market Hall
Like many Finnish cities, Tampere has its own delightful market hall (one of the oldest in Finland, in fact).
It’s full of fresh produce, butcher shops, fish shops, bakeries, and even a craft beer shop which stocks a delicious selection of Nordic brews!
Eat a delicious French-inspired meal at 4vuodenaikaa
Right near the fish section of the market hall, you can’t miss having a delicious meal at 4 Seasons (4 Vuodenaikaa), which specializes in seafood with a French twist. It’s one of the local favorite places to eat and has even won a spot in the White Guide to the best restaurants in the Nordics.
We enjoyed a starter of an array of different fish preparations, from cured salmon to a creamy shrimp salad, as well as an insanely tasty bouillabaisse (French fish stew) with crusty toast and garlic aioli, all polished off with some fantastic Sancerre wine.
Spend some time on one of Tampere’s two lakes
We had hoped to go for a canoe out on Lake Näsijärvi with the team at Hiking Travel HIT. Unfortunately, when we arrived, the weather had other plans and the wind coming from the north was so strong that our canoe blew over before we even got it in the water!
The waves were too strong for us to feel comfortable out on the water, so instead we sat inside and chatted over a coffee with the staff at Hiking Travel HIT and learned about all the different water and ice activities there are to do on the lakes.
I was impressed by what a large variety of outdoor things to do in Tampere exist, without ever leaving the confines of one of the largest cities in Finland. From snowshoeing to Nordic skating in winter to canoeing and paddleboarding and kayaking in summer, there are countless ways to get active in Tampere.
If you’re itching to get out on the lakes (and you have a bit more luck with the weather than we do!) the team at Hiking Travel HIT are the people to speak to.
Location: Kaupinpuistokatu 4 (right by the Kaupinojan Sauna – a perfect match!)
Walk around Tampere’s cool channel area
Tampere is situated between two lakes, and there is quite an altitude difference between the two (18 meters!).
There is a large channel of rapids between the two called Tammerkoski, and the area along the channel is one of the coolest places to walk in Tampere, as there are plenty of cool restaurants and bars around here.
A few to note are Saunaravintola Kuuma, the Pyynikin Brewhouse, and Hook – one of Tampere’s favorite chicken wing joints (apparently that’s a big thing here – who knew?).
Go for a sauna and a swim at Saunaravintola Kuuma
The newest sauna in Tampere, Saunaravintola Kuuma is a new concept, reinventing the public sauna to also be a restaurant and nightlife center as well.
There is a smoke sauna and a stone-heated sauna, and if you fancy a cool down, there’s a wonderful outdoor dipping pool where you can dunk yourself in the Tammerkoski channel. Depending on when you visit, it’ll either be cold or positively icy!
Location: Laukontori 21
Then have a fantastic meal afterwards!
Saunaravintola Kuuma is the first sauna-restaurant in Tampere, and our meal there was phenomenal! They are creating delicious and creative cuisine with Nordic ingredients.
We had two phenomenal starters, a tasty fried cauliflower and an artfully-plated marinated herring, egg, and leek dish. We then each had the beef entrecote with nettle butter (YUM) and finished our meal off with a delicious honey yogurt with rhubarb sorbet and honeycomb.
Location: Laukontori 21
Go for a beer at Pyynikin Brewhouse
Not far from Saunaravintola Kuuma in the hip harbor area, you’ll find the downtown outpost of Pyynikin Brewery, the largest brewery in the Tampere area.
Here, you can try their delicious beer produced just a few kilometers away – my favorites were the cloudberry saison and the red ale!
Location: Verkatehtaankatu 2
… or visit the Pyynikin Brewery for an immersive beer experience
If you’re a real craft beer geek, book a tour of the Pyynikin Brewery! There are a number of beer experiences you can book there, ranging from your standard brewery tour to a tasting to even a beer sauna or spa!
We had a delightful time exploring the brewery and learning about its short but rapidly-growing history, starting in 2013 and quickly becoming the fastest-growing brewery in Finland. The brewmasters here are clearly ambitious and innovative, and the result is some of the most delicious beers – and by far the most fun brewery tour – I’ve tasted and taken in my life.
Location: Kolismaankatu 1
Other Bars + Breweries of Note
If you’re a craft beer geek, be sure to also check out Gastropub Tuulensuuand their beers from Nordic Brewery, Plevna Brewery Restaurant, or Gastropub Nordic! You can also do a craft beer tour of the city.
Where to Stay in Tampere
We stayed at the lovely Dream Hostel & Hotel in the hotel part of the building. It’s a fantastic value accommodation in the heart of Tampere’s downtown, just one block from the Moomin Museum and a 20-minute walk from the hip harbor area.
Dream Hostel has been voted several times as the best hostel in Finland and it’s evident why – from the beautiful Nordic design to the friendly staff who are insanely keen to share their local knowledge, the vibe of Dream Hostel is above and beyond.
While my hostel days are more or less behind me (I value a good night’s sleep far more than saving money), I’d happily stay at Dream Hotel again. The staff, design, and tasty included breakfast all made my stay really unforgettable.
NOTE: A huge thank you to the team at Visit Tampere and all of our media partners for organizing a great time in Tampere! All opinions and unbridled enthusiasm for eating and drinking my way around the city are entirely my own.
If Lahti was in any other part of the Nordics, it’d surely get a lot more attention, but Finnish cities with the exception of the capital seem to coast under the radar. It’s as if most people’s knowledge of the country stops after Helsinki and Lapland.
But in between those two extremes, there are countless unique cities, literal hundreds of thousands of lakes, and thousands of kilometers of boreal forests to explore — and hardly any tourists to share these endlessly beautiful landscapes and buzzy cities with.
Lahti is where green forests and ever-changing blue lakes meet friendly urban planning seamlessly: where the border between city and nature blurs beautifully.
It’s a place where you can eat and drink hyper-locally, meeting the farmers, brewers, distillers, and baristas who are passionate about bringing high-quality ingredients to your everyday table.
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful city on the cusp of Finnish Lakeland is a mere 90-minute drive from Helsinki, but here it is.
If you’re planning to visit Lahti, you may find yourself without too much information on the city, as it’s still emerging as a tourism destination. But it’s on its way to making a bigger splash in Finnish tourism, and I’m here to share with you all the best things to do in Lahti so that you can have as fantastic as a trip as we did!
Our trip was organized by Visit Lahti, who hosted my friend Megan and I during our stay; however, I’ve ensured that every activity on this post is something that independent travelers can do when visiting Lahti. While this post focuses on the city of Lahti, I will also cover the larger Lahti region which includes Vääksy, Päijänne National Park, and Asikkala.
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13 Best Things to Do When You Visit Lahti, Finland
Explore the renovated harbor area
Lahti’s history, compared to other Finnish cities like Turku and Helsinki, is rather brief. Development of Lahti began in 1870, when it became an integral part of the railway connection with St. Petersburg (as Lahti, and the rest of Finland, were part of the Russian empire from 1809 to 1917).
This railway connection spurred the development of Lahti, and the harbor area was the birthplace of Lahti’s booming industry for a hundred years, primarily for its gorgeous woodwork and wooden furniture.
However, as the manufacturing era waned, Lahti’s once-thriving industry fell into decline. In 1985, Lahti politicians decided that the harbor area should be converted in dual recreation and living space and given back to the people of Lahti.
The harbor area is now considered Lahti’s “summer living room” for the plethora of bars, cafés, restaurants, and free public areas where you can simply sit and enjoy the gorgeous views of the lake.
Gaze out on one of Finland’s 187,888 lakes
I truly pity the person who had to do the counting on this one, but Finland is home to nearly 200,000 lakes.
The lake near Lahti is called Vesijärvi (a truly redundant name, as in Finnish, it means “The Water Lake”). It covers 111 square kilometers and spans 25 kilometers at its widest point. Two major towns and cities are based on the banks of this lake: Lahti and Asikkala (which we’ll explore later in this article).
No matter where you go in Lahti region – a beautiful lake will never be far away (this is Finnish Lakeland, after all!).
Have a fantastic meal at the harborside restaurant Ravintola Casseli
One of the first things we did when we arrived in Lahti was checking out the beautiful harborside area, which has been transformed from an industrial wasteland to a utopic cityscape over the past few decades due to the determination of Lahti’s politicans and citizens.
There are countless places to eat in Lahti’s harbor area, but we ended up at the delicious Ravintola Casseli, which was a wonderful way to start our visit to Lahti.
We enjoyed a fantastic meal of reindeer with tart lingonberry jam and roasted carrots. I mean, when in Finland, right?
Address: Borupinraitti 4, 15140 Lahti
Marvel at the stunning Sibelius Hall
Sibelius Hall (Sibeliustalo in Finnish) is the heart of Lahti’s harbor area, and one look inside should tell you why. It’s named for the most famous Finnish composer of all time, Jean Sibelius — you’ll also find memorials to him in Helsinki as well as the Sibelius Museum in Turku.
While from the outside, Sibelius Hall looks like a simple modernist glass building, it’s a more complex structure than that. The main wooden concert hall is encased in glass, and it’s merged with brick architecture which pre-dated the construction of the hall and forms the main entrance to the building. The interior is a whole different story, mimicking Finnish Lakeland’s beautiful natural surroundings. The building as a whole combines brick, glass, and wood in a way that works beautifully.
Sibelius Hall was completed in 2000, and it was the biggest wooden public building built in Finland for more than a century, and the first in independent Finland. It’s the permanent home of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, but it also plays host to various musicians throughout the year as well. Classical music critics have declared Sibelius Hall to be one of the best in the world for its acoustics, which
While you can only go inside the concert hall proper if you have a ticket to see a show, which unfortunately we were unable to do during our stay, it’s still worth a visit when in Lahti, as it’s the city’s most famous landmark. The interior public area of Sibelius Hall is extremely impressive and photogenic.
The so-called “canopy” room is especially gorgeous, inspired by the forests which make up 70% of Finland, pillars forming “trees” which branch into the ceiling.
We didn’t get to see this because it was midsummer when we visited and bright all day, but during the darker hours, there are cut-out, lit-up star constellations in the ceiling to complete the forest in the middle of nature effect.
Address: Sibeliustalo, Ankkurinkatu 7, 15140 Lahti
Make a loop at the Lanu Sculpture Park
Olavi Lanu was one of the most famous Finnish sculptors, who exhibited at the Venice Biennale and won prizes for his work.
He spent most of his life living in Lahti, which is why the sculpture park dedicated to his work is set in Lahti.
Lanu Park (also known as Kariniemi Park) features an easy-to-walk loop of 12 sculptures in Olavi Lanu’s signature style, which uses materials like concrete to mimic forms found in nature such as wood, moss, and grass.
The setting of them in the forest park is intentional, as Lanu’s desire is for nature to overtake and change the look of the art over time, merging once again with the nature the art is mimicking.
Address: Kariniemen Puistotie, 15140 Lahti
Have a fantastic cup of coffee and pick up some beans at Kahiwa Coffee Roastery
One of the best things to do in Lahti is visit the Kahiwa Coffee Roastery just a bit outside of town. While this is primarily a coffee roastery, you can buy a cup of coffee prepared however you like it and chat with the friendly founder, Joonas, about the coffee you’re consuming.
The philosophy of Kahiwa is that “every coffee has a story.” Joonas has been importing coffee for the past five years, starting in Kenya where his grandparents have been living for the past 60 years. He noticed that their neighbors, who were coffee farmers, were struggling to make ends meet due to the lack of transparency and huge number of middlemen in the coffee industry.
By simplifying the supply chain and working directly with farmers he had personal relationships with, he was able to ensure a fair livelihood for his farmers and a stellar product for his customers in Finland. Joonas personally sources all the coffee from Kenya and Colombia and maintains relationships with the family-run farms he sources his beans from.
He works in collaboration with a fellow coffee wholesaler based in the Netherlands with a similar business ethos of cutting out middlemen and providing fair trade prices for the beans they source. Due to this partnership, Kahiwa also roasts beans from Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. In total, Kahiwa offers single-origin coffee from seven different countries.
We were able to try three different delicious coffees: a light-roast Nicaraguan, a medium-roast Guatemalan, and a dark-roast Brazilian. We tried each brewed in a Chemex so we could best appreciate the differences between each of these beans. All were fantastic, but I couldn’t help leaving with both a bag of Brazilian coffee and another one of Nicaraguan coffee!
While at present, Kahiwa is primarily a coffee roaster, you can grab a cup of coffee and hear his story during its public hours, Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM.
However, Joonas is in the process of opening up a specialty coffee shop in the center of Lahti and anticipates it will be open as early as January or March of 2020!
Address: Telakkakatu 4, 15140 Lahti
Explore the Wood Architecture Park
Lahti has long been famous for its woodwork, and while the cultural and economic landscape of Lahti has shifted dramatically over the past century and a half, the city still pays homage to its roots.
The Wood Architecture Park is composed of several pieces which have been commissioned to be built in public areas around Sibelius Hall.
Address: Several throughout the city – this is just one of them!
Check out Lahti’s first whisky distillery
Your mind probably doesn’t go to whisky when you think of Finland, but you’d be ignoring some of the fantastic work that local distillers are doing behind the scenes!
Teerenpeli is a small but fantastic whisky distillery operating since 2002 out of the basement of the restaurant Taivaanranta. They host distillery tours – with tastings, naturally! – for 25 euros per person (minimum group size of four) which you can book online here.
It’s incredible what they are able to produce in such a small space: 160,000 liters a year of single malt whisky. The whisky is all local ingredients: the barley they source for their whisky comes from less than 100 kilometers away, and they use local fresh groundwater which is as pure as can be.
It was fascinating to tour the facilities and learn about how whisky is produced. I know a bit about the fermentation process from winery and brewery tours, but whisky was a new one for me!
I got a kick out of learning that the whisky is aged mostly in old sherry barrels from Spain, which give it an extra layer of oaky flavor that just adds to the complexity of the whisky.
Oh, and they make gin and craft beer as well!
Teerenpeli isn’t only about whisky and distillates — they also produce a delicious selection of craft beers, which you can enjoy in the restaurant or bar.
Teerenpeli actually has several bars throughout Finland which distribute their beers: Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Lahti, Lappeenranta, Tampere, Turku, and one coming up in Oulu. So keep an eye out for their name if you are taking a larger trip throughout Finland!
Address: Rautatienkatu 13, 15110 Lahti
Have a phenomenal meal at Taivaanranta
The restaurant in which the Teerenpeli is based out of is actually a fantastic place to have a meal in Lahti’s center.
I had a delicious leek and potato vichyssoise with truffle cheese toast as my starter and an even more fantastic risotto with duck and rhubarb jam as my main. I’m drooling remembering that risotto as I type this!
Address: Rautatienkatu 13, 15110 Lahti
Eat strawberries & drink berry wine at Pihaama Estate
My friend Megan always raved about how delicious strawberries are in the Nordics — and I never really got it. How could a summer strawberry up North taste that much better than a summer strawberry anywhere else?
But oh. my. god. I don’t know if I can ever appreciate another strawberry again, because these ones are delicious
We also got to sample some of their phenomenal berry wines and ciders, for which they are widely known.
I was obsessed with their cloudberry wine, which tastes just as magical as you’d imagine. We also got to try some of their fruit ciders — I loved the strawberry cider, naturally, but the raspberry cider was also a treat. I strongly recommend picking up a six-pack of them when visiting Lahti region!
Don’t drink alcohol? Their fruit lemonades are a fantastic summer treat, as well.
Address: Siltatie 12, 17240 Kalkkinen
Opening Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM, seasonally
Try the award-winning sours and goses at Kanavan Panimo
Checking out the local food and beverage scene was one of the themes of our trip to the Lahti region, and everywhere we turned we were more and more impressed!
Kanavan Panimo is quite unique as they are best-known for their sour beers and goses, which are unusual for Finnish craft beer which tends more towards porters, ales, and lagers. We tried a few that were brewed with different local flavorings and they were all so tasty, but my favorite had to be the raspberry (vadelma) gose!
It’s a rather new brewery – only opened in 2016 – but they have big ambition and a ton of creativity.
Address: Meijeritie 1, 17200 Vääksy
Rest and recharge at Lehmonkärki Resort
Lehmonkärki Resort is up there as one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in my travels. The facilities in our cabin, Villa Tuuletar, were just marvelous – I mean, who can complain about an 8-person cabin with its own lake-facing hot tub, fireplace, the kitchen of my dreams, and a personal sauna?
We were just a five-minute walk to the best place to catch the sunset over Lake Päijänne, which was so calm and peaceful at that hour it seemed nearly impossibly perfect, like an oil painting.
But what stood out above all was the level of personalized service at Lehmonkärki. Our hosts, Ari and Marjo, went above and beyond to ensure we had a fantastic trip and anticipate our needs before we even knew we had them… whether that was pre-stocking our fridge with a selection of beer and cider, packing a delicious picnic lunch complete with donuts and coffee on our boat trip to the lake, or delivering our final meal with them to our cabin (talk about room service!).
I loved my stay at Lehmonkärki so much that I’m already plotting to get a group of friends together to rent out a cabin sometime in the future and staying for longer – two nights was fabulous, but I could have very easily stayed an entire week.
Lake Päijänne and Päijänne National Park are a must when you visit Lahti. The best way to explore, of course, is via boat, as the national park is mostly made up of lakes and small forest islands.
We organized a boat tour via Lehmonkärki and had a fantastic time, and if you are staying with Lehmonkärki, that’s what I would recommend you do.
There are some other ways to get there, such as water taxi, boat excursions, or boat cruises. The best place to find all the different companies offering these excursions and transfers is via the National Park’s website, which you can find here. The best options are via Lehmonkärki, Lakeland Outdoors, and Kiuasniemi.
Note: A huge thanks to the team at Visit Lahti for arranging a fantastic media trip, as well as all of the wonderful small businesses who partnered with them to make our trip to Lahti region a memorable one. That said, all opinions expressed (and beer/strawberry cider weight gained) are entirely my own.
With thousands of islands in
the Turku archipelago alone, picking just one to visit is an overwhelming
prospect. Luckily, on my visit to Turku in partnership with Visit Turku, they
were able to point me in the right direction: I found myself on the island of
Seili, a beautiful island with an intriguing and complex past.
About two hours away from
Turku via the M/S Norrskär, you’ll find Seili island. This island is also
called Själo in Swedish, as many people in this part of Finland have Swedish as
a mother tongue. Many people originally thought the name came from Swedish, “the
island of souls” – in actuality, its name is more close to “the island of seals,”
as it probably was an important place for seal hunting many centuries ago.
Seili is located in Nagu, part of the southern Airisto Sea, a quiet part of the Turku Archipelago. With a population of only 50 summer residents and less than a dozen in the winter, visiting Seili is enchantingly peaceful. There’s one main road, a handful of historic houses and buildings (many of which have been turned into accommodations), a few dozen cows, and some sheep.
Despite how small it is, Seili
welcomes a fair number of tourists each summer. It’s part of the Short
Archipelago Trail which connects a number of islands via trail, bridge, and
ferry throughout a hundred kilometers of the Turku Archipelago. As a result,
many cyclists pass through Seili for a half day or so on their way to complete
the loop, though there are several places to stay on the island in case you get
enchanted into a longer stay.
Yet while a visit to Seili is a beautiful way to while away a few hours on a midsummer day, many decades ago, being sent here was effectively a death sentence.
The History of Seili Island
The island of Seili is actually
rather new, geologically speaking: emerging from the Ice Age a mere 5,000 years
ago. It was used as an anchor spot by the Vikings, and archaeological evidence
suggests that the island was first settled during the Iron age.
The island makes its first appearance in historical texts in 1540, as a small island with one village numbering five houses. But by the 1600s, the island would become inhabited by quite a few unfortunate souls: lepers who were sent to Seili to finish out their lives outside of the public eye.
Seili became a convenient
place to ship people with leprosy, who were shunned not only because of the
contagiousness of their diseases but also the perceived sinfulness of those
afflicted with it. Leprosy was often viewed as a punishment from God for having
committed some offense or the other: as a result, those who had it were often
shipped away from the cities, so as not to corrupt the rest.
A small farm and several
buildings cropped up during the 17th century to feed and home the
patients and staff. Many of those buildings no longer remain, and the oldest is
the so-called “White House” which now hosts students and tourist guides in the
summer and dates back to the 1800s.
Actually, the island of Seili used to be two distinct islands: “the island of the sick” being where they sent the lepers, basically left to their own devices without much in the way of medical care. Occasionally, unlucky elderly people, poor people, and the mentally ill would be sent to this island as well.
Interestingly, the primary
treatment for ill people back in the days of Seili’s leprosy colony days was
alcohol. Patients were treated with booze until 1730, when it started to cause
a lot of problems and it was forbidden. Funny enough, there’s a Finnish
expression that refers to this bit of sordid history: “to be in full Seili” in
Finnish means to get blackout drunk.
But the reality is that life
expectancy was incredibly poor for people who got sent to Seili: typically,
only 1-3 years. The situation was so dire that people who were sent to Seili
were asked to bring their own coffins – not a great prognosis. All in all, some
663 lepers died here; the burial site still remains unknown on the island.
The last leper died on the island in 1785, but the island had already transitioned to a new kind of outcast: the mentally ill. The island became the first mental hospital in all of Finland. The mental hospital here was for women – men were sent to Karelia. It was meant to be a one-way ticket here: once you arrived on Seili, you’d likely die there.
Treatment of the mentally ill
was pretty harsh, as was common for this time period. Electroconvulsive therapy,
medically-induced comas, and “hot/cold” therapy were used, where they’d fill a
helmet with alternatingly hot and cold water, to supposedly “cool down” the temperament.
While lobotomy was never performed in the mental hospitals of Seili, they often
received lobotomy patients from other parts of Finland who were no longer able
to care for themselves.
In the 1960s, the mental
hospital closed abruptly, and the 41 patients remaining on Seili were sent to
various hospitals around Finland.
The Present of Seili Island
Today, you can visit Seili with a local guide who will tell you the history of all the buildings you pass. While there is some signage explaining the history of the island, I don’t think I would have learned a fraction as much of what I did about Seili without a local guide. The history of the island is its most interesting part, so I strongly recommend contacting Visit Seili and arranging for a guide to give you a walking tour and explain the island’s history to you.
One of the most interesting
parts was visiting a treatment room from when the main building used to be a
mental hospital, left basically as-is so you could get a sense of what the
people who used to live here experienced. The room is strangely decorated with
earthy tones and geometric squares on the walls, as both were thought to bring
peace to troubled minds. A straightjacket laying on the bed reminds you of the ugly
reality of this place’s history.
The island of Seili is now
one main “village” area, which used to house the mental hospital and the
caretakers for the mentally ill. There’s also a restaurant which serves a
delicious lunch buffet and an a-la-carte dinner menu. There’s an inside part of
the restaurant and also tables in the courtyard where you can enjoy your lunch in
Some of the buildings today were designed by the famous Finnish architect C.L. Engel, including this beautiful red building which was used as a residence for maids and nurses.
wooden church on the former “island of the sick” is one of the most interesting
places to visit on the island, and I recommend visiting the sparse but
beautiful wooden interior (this’ll be included if you do a guided tour,
otherwise there is a small admission fee).
Seili is now primarily
inhabited by a few local residents and a rotating student population, mostly
students of geology and biology who spend a few weeks at a time living on Seili
and studying its unique flora and fauna. Many of the old buildings have also
been converted into accommodations and guesthouses where tourists can stay when
they are doing the Short Archipelago Trail or just want an escape from the
bustle of city life.
Should You Visit Seili?
Admittedly, Seili is quiet. There’s not a lot going on in terms of activities, besides learning the dark history of this beautiful place, going for a walk amidst the beautiful nature, admiring the church and buildings, and saying hello to the friendly resident cows if you can spot them while they’re out to pasture.
For a short day trip from Turku, it’s a perfect way to spend a few hours. The boat leaves at 10 AM, drops you off right before noon, and picks you up again around 4:30 PM, returning by 6:15 PM.
That’s just about the right amount of time to explore Seili on foot with a guided tour, see the church, have a long lunch and cup of coffee, and walk back to the port at a leisurely pace.
It’s also right along the Short Archipelago Trail, a 100-kilometer loop connected by bridge and ferry throughout the Turku archipelago. If you’re doing that trail, visiting Seili is a perfect way to break up the journey and get a good night’s rest before continuing onwards on your trip.
If you’re a fan of peace, beauty,
isolation, and a hint of dark tourism: Seili is the perfect island to visit in
the Turku Archipelago for you.
“Nobody in their right mind would come to Helsinki in November. Except you, you badass. Welcome.”
These are the actual official words of Finland’s tourism board in 2016 and I have to say… they aren’t entirely wrong.
Helsinki in winter is rough, significantly colder than my previous forays into Nordic winter travel when I visited Stockholm in the winter. And winter in Helsinki was dramatically colder and wetter than Tallinn, where I had just come from via ferry.
However, Helsinki residents are hardly fazed by the rough winters, and the city goes about business as usual even on the darkest and iciest days of the year. Plus, there are plenty of lovely indoor things to do in Helsinki (and some cool sights worth braving the cold temperatures for) so you’ll be able to escape the cold periodically.
The best tip I have for surviving Helsinki in winter is to make like a Finn and drink all the coffee and take all the saunas. There’s a reason that Finnish people drink the most coffee per capita in the world, and that reason is winter. Also, there are more saunas than cars in Finland – yes, seriously. There are 2 saunas for every 5 Finns, so yea, this is definitely a country that takes its saunas seriously!
Without further ado, here are my tips for surviving – and even enjoying – Helsinki in winter.
What to Do in Helsinki in Winter
Day-drink some glögi at the Christmas Markets
Like many countries in Europe, Finland has joined in on the Christmas market fever.
Unfortunately for me, however, I just happened to miss out on it arriving in the last week of November. You see, I attended the opening night of the Christmas market in Tallinn the week before, so I assumed mayyyybe I’d be able to see the Helsinki market when I arrived there later that week.
Nope – no dice. The Helsinki Christmas market has one of the shorter running periods, open only from December 1st to December 22nd. Still, if you happen to be in Helsinki in December, this is one of the top things to do!
Considered one of the oldest events of its kind in Finland, the Christmas Market starts on December 1st, a day known as Little Christmas in Finland.
This is the perfect time to go shopping for unique trinkets and handmade goods, as well as traditional Christmas-y foods and drink – especially hot mulled wine, called glögi in Finnish.
Winter in Finland is not kind and because of this, Finns clearly love having something to celebrate in the winter — hence all the Christmas cheer and love for their Christmas markets, should you happen to be there on time for one!
Take a frosty day trip to Suomenlinna
While Helsinki is f*#(ing freezing in the winter and I’m sure you want nothing more than to bury yourself inside a museum or a coffee shop, I can’t recommend that you go to Helsinki – in winter or otherwise – and not visit Suomenlinna.
Finnish history is marked with conflict and brutal survival against the odds, and this UNESCO World Heritage Site is proof of it. This historic sea fortress was used since the mid-18th century and was one of the key assets against many invasions in the past. Composed of 6 linked islands, the fortress combines manmade defensive walls and artillery with the natural formations of the islands to create a defensive wall protecting Helsinki from would-be invaders.
If it’s not too cold out, you can enjoy the walking trails that connect the park areas between King’s Gate Drawbridge and other interesting sights. If you need to warm up, you can hop into the Suomenlinna Museum or check out Submarine Vesikko, where you can get inside a restored submarine from the 1930s. But if you really really need to warm up, hit up the Suomenlinna brewery right next to the ferry terminal, where some dozen or so beers are on tap.
Suomenlinna is very easily accessible, even in winter, with regular ferries from Market Square. Be sure to give yourself at least a few hours, if not half a day, to explore this UNESCO site. You can go independently, but you’ll get a lot more out of a guided tour, who will give you extensive detail about the historical site and help with transportation. I recommend this tour, which includes a guided tour of Helsinki via bus as well as a tour to Suomenlinna plus roundtrip ferry tickets.
Helsinki is beloved for its design and one of my favorite examples of design in the city is Helsinki Cathedral, an excellent example of Neoclassical architecture in the city. Interestingly, while the word cathedral makes most think of Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, Helsinki’s Cathedral is actually part of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran sect.
Constructed by the famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel, it’s an essential part of the Helsinki skyline. Even though it has changed names a few times since it was built in the mid-19th century, it has become a defining symbol of the city.
Relevant to winter travelers, the Helsinki Cathedral is interesting to see at night (which feels likely basically all day in winter) as it is often lit up with interesting displays during the Lux Festival in January and makes a fine subject for night photography.
Tip: Want to see a different side of Helsinki with a local’s guidance? Customize a private walking tour with a local to see a hidden side tot he city, catered to your specific interests. Find more details here!
Take a traditional Finnish sauna
Going to a Finnish sauna is a very special thing to do and clearly, if you go to the trouble of visiting Helsinki in the winter, you should at least get to enjoy this traditional piece of Finnish culture.
I had never been to a Finnish sauna before, and it’s quite different from infrared saunas if that’s what you’re used to. Finnish saunas use either smoke, wood, or electric sources of heat; most commonly, you’ll find wood and electric stove saunas.
I stayed in an Airbnb which I shared with my host and her husband and they invited me to join them at their local sauna which was a great experience. However, if you are staying in a hotel or hostel that doesn’t have a sauna, or don’t have a local Finnish friend or host who can bring you to their sauna, you’ll want to find a public sauna you can visit.
I haven’t personally visited Löyly, a new sauna and health center in the heart of Helsinki, but if I were to go back to Helsinki in winter without Finnish guidance I would surely indulge in a day here. The sauna is public, with separate locker rooms and showers but a shared sauna room (mixed gender) – therefore, bring appropriate swimwear.
A two-hour sauna session costs 19 euro and includes a towel, seat cover, soap, and shampoo. It is recommended to book in advance online; however, walk-ins are available if there are spare lockers.
Catch both sunrise and sunset
One of the good things about visiting Helsinki in winter is that it is easy to catch both sunrise and sunset on the same day, offering ample photography opportunities without insanely early wake-up calls.
In December, sunrise is roughly between 9 AM and 9:30 and sun sets around 3:15 PM. Therefore, it’s actually reasonable to catch sunrise and sunset, and if you are at all able to I suggest doing so as you’ll want to maximize your sunlight hours or risk getting your Circadian rhythms totally out of whack as I did.
Stroll around Senate Square
While you don’t want to be outside for too long in the Helsinki cold, Senate Square is certainly worth braving for a short visit, even on the darkest and coldest of days. Whether you visit independently or as part of a city tour it’s worth a visit for its history and atmosphere.
Senate Square in Helsinki has been an important trade center for centuries and is still the heart of life in Helsinki’s center. In winter, it’s mostly Christmas markets and then a few vendors after the Christmas market is over (and, of course, some coffee to buy to keep those hands warm while you browse!). Still, more people visit the market hall (below) in the winter because it’s, well, freezing out.
Shop and sample at the Old Market Hall
The Old Market Hall has been around since the last years of the 19th century, but it’s been renovated very recently to renew its splendor. It’s conveniently located very close to Market Square, and it’s a place to find some of the finest Finnish gourmet items.
There are numerous vendors for all sorts of freshly caught fish from the Baltic Sea, Finnish soups to warm you up from the cold, as well as imported fruit and vegetables. There are also unique and unusual items for sale, such as moose meat and reindeer gloves, that have a distinctly Finnish feel!
Warm up in the Helsinki Design Museum
Over the last few decades, design has become synonymous with Scandinavian and Nordic countries, and Helsinki is no exception to this rule. Aesthetics are simply big in Helsinki and so it follows that there would be a museum dedicated to Helsinki’s crush on design. And it makes sense. Just like Danes love their hygge, Finns also have to be indoors for a large portion of their winter so they might as well be indoors in a delightfully cozy and aesthetically pleasing environment.
This museum is one of the most unique ones in Helsinki, mostly because of its strange and wonderful collection of hundred thousand photographs and tens of thousands of items and drawings. The building was constructed in the late 19th century by architect Gustaf Nystrof to be a study collection for arts and crafts, but in the late 20th century, it transitioned into a full-fledged design museum.
Helpful Tip: Planning on visiting several museums and attractions in Helsinki? They’ll add up quickly, so I recommend using a Helsinki Card to save money and encourage you to sightsee more.
By spending the money in advance and having it as a sunk cost, you’ll be less likely to skip worthwhile sights in order to pinch a few pennies, which will improve the quality of your time. This card includes a free sightseeing bus worth €32 – great on cold days – plus free entry to the city’s major museums and sights. It also includes free public transportation and discounts on restaurants, shops, and additional tours. You can buy it in 24, 48, or 72 hour increments. Check details here!
Explore the Helsinki Art Museum – in or outside its walls
You could say that the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) is one of the largest in the world, because HAM calls itself a “museum the size of Helsinki.” With nearly half of its 9,000-piece collection spread throughout the city in key locations, that is a fair claim to make!
Possibly one of the most unconventional museums in the world, HAM doesn’t have a singular dedicated building. That’s because its works are proudly displayed all over the city, with the idea that the people actually own the works. With literally thousands of works displayed across parks, offices, streets, libraries, and more, this museum presents Finnish art both in and outside of the museum walls.
While you definitely could technically “see” the Helsinki Art Museum without ever stepping into its walls, the central building is definitely worth a visit and the 12 euro admission charge, especially if it means getting warm!
Head out to Nuuksio National Park
One of the best things about Helsinki is how close to nature the city is – not only is it right on the Baltic Sea, but it is close to a stunning national park as well as lovely Finnish Lakeland.
The gorgeous Nuuksio National Park is located very close to Helsinki, and it’s one of the most ideal places to get a taste of the Finnish snow-covered landscape without straying too far from the city. Even better… you can meet reindeer here!
From Helsinki, you can simply catch a regional train to Espoo and then head onto the national park either independently or on a guided tour. If you want to meet some adorable friendly reindeer, be sure to visit the southernmost reindeer park in Finland at the Nuuksio Reindeer Park – you can even feed them, enjoy a snack by the fire, and get a touch of Lapland in southern Finland! Check out reindeer tour details here.
Or do a day trip to Porvoo
If you want to visit one of the most picturesque towns in Finland, you should add a day trip to Porvoo to your Helsinki winter itinerary. An old and historic town merely 50 kilometers from Helsinki, Porvoo has been an inspiration for Finnish artists over the centuries, and when you visit, you’ll see why.
It’s hard to say what’s the most charming about Porvoo: its crooked and peculiar cobbled streets, its lovely red shore houses painted in honor of King Gustav III of Sweden, or the way nature and landscape meld together as if a painting.
You can easily visit by public transportation, which costs 5 euro to 9 euro each way when booked in advance online. However, you can also take a guided day tour from Helsinki, which may be more convenient for some people who prefer a little more guidance when it comes to understanding the history and top sights of the town. Check tour details and more information here.
Or head to Tallinn for a day trip for even more winter magic
One of the incredible things about Helsinki is that you are just a 2-hour ferry ride from the capital of another amazing country, Estonia. Tallinn has one of the best-preserved medieval Old Towns, and so it has a certain charm to it that Helsinki can’t quite replicate – especially when Tallinn is coated in snow.
As I mentioned earlier, Tallinn also has earlier Christmas Markets, so if you are a little too early for the Helsinki markets, it can be a good day trip to make!
But even if it’s out of Christmas market season, Tallinn is worth visiting for its stunning colorful buildings, its unique sense of preserved history, the interesting museums, and the vibrant street art on the streets of hipstery Kalamaja. Plus – it’s decidedly cheaper than Helsinki (I wouldn’t blame you for bringing some beer back with you over to Finland like the Finns often do!) so it is a great day trip if you are on a budget.
The ferry is affordable and runs frequently. You can easily book your ferry tickets online via GetYourGuide if you plan to visit Tallinn independently (book online here) or you can opt for a day tour that includes a guide (which you can find here).
Budget: Want a cheap option but also to feel like a little bit of a baller with a free morning sauna? Look to Eurohostel, which offers wallet-friendly dorms, singles, doubles, and triples – perfect for a variety of budget-seeking travelers! Located in Katajanokka, Eurohostel is an easy walk or tram ride to all of Helsinki’s main points of interest. It’s also great for onward travel, as the Central Railway Station is just 20 minutes away and it’s less than a 5-minute walk to the Viking terminal which can take you to Tallinn or Stockholm. Rooms are clean, minimalist, and you can expect all the typical hostel amenities.
Mid-Range: I’ve stayed at a number of Scandic Hotels in the Nordics and I always find them to have a fantastic price to quality ratio. There are a handful of great-looking Scandic options in Helsinki, but the best location in my eyes is Scandic Simonkenttä, located in Kamppi in the city center, a short walk from Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square. It has a gorgeous boutique design in the lobby and common spaces, spacious rooms, elegant room decor, and yes – free sauna and gym access. It’s also a certified environmentally-friendly hotel, so you can stay green during your time in Helsinki.
Luxury: For a sleek, boutique 5-star hotel, look to Hotel St. George Helsinki in the trendy Kamppi area. Finnish art adorns the walls of this beautiful design hotel. The building dates back to the 1840s and has been renovated beautifully to feature tons of lush amenities like on-site restaurants, bars, and even a bakery, plus a sauna, indoor pool, gym, and spa. The bathrooms feature marble floors, a rain shower, and luxurious free toiletries. Some of the suites have perks like balconies or terraces (though in winter this may not be so useful!) and the St. George Suite even has a private sauna — though the prices for this suite may make you sweat!