Summer in HelsinkiJul 24, 2016 - Thomas
If you are planning a trip to Helsinki and want to maximize your possibilities to experience some nice weather, aim for July. June is normally cold (and I mean jackets and scarf kind of cold), and during August the weather sadly already takes a turn towards autumn with more volatile temperatures and colder nights. So opt for July. Like now. With temperatures hitting almost 30c every day this week some are already complaining it's too hot (not us though).
Salsa Sundays in Töölö Park
OK, so you have arrived to Helsinki, it's July and warm and sunny (phew, you got lucky), now what? Below we are listing some of our favorite things to do around here when the weather permits us to be outdoors. We hope that it will help you experience the city we love in a way a local does, because Helsinki can be one awesome city and deserves all the attention it can get.
1. Enjoy the sea!
Helsinki is surrounded by sea, and even though it is not world famous for it's beaches they DO exist (and some of them are actually really nice). If you don't feel like tanning yourself on the beach, you can always catch a ferry to some of the numerous islands around the city. NOTE! One side effect of warm summers are some nasty algae. The Baltic Sea is pretty badly polluted, and the poisonous blue-green algae uses the excess energy and sunlight to its benefit. Always remember to check up on possible warnings before taking a swim (same advice goes for all the countries surrounding the sea).
Suomenlinna is one of the biggest attractions of Helsinki. If history and forts are your thing, we definitely recommend a trip here. There is also a small beach and some nice cliffs for a picnic and a swim. As there are people living on the island you will find no lack of amenities like a couple of cute cafes/restaurants and a small grocery store. Ferries to the island leave frequently from Kauppatori (can be boarded with normal mass transit ticket).
The Riviera of Helsinki offers it's visitors several beaches looking towards the city and fantastic smooth cliffs facing the open sea. There is also a nudist beach on the other side if you like to go all out when enjoying the sun. Cute and colorful changing booths line the beaches and showers & toilets can be found on several spots. There is even a nice little cafe on the island. This place is one of our absolute favorites, and there you can be sure to escape the hordes of cruise tourists and enjoy some authentic Finnish summer atmosphere. You can access the island by boat behind Cafe Karuselli in Kaivopuisto. The fare costs 6 eur per adult and takes around 15 min. Boats leave every 15 min during summer months.
This pretty little island is located just outside Kaivopuisto and features a nice little beach and some beautiful cliffs (and a restaurant). Nearby Liuskasaari is the home of the now famous pizzeria Skiffer, and is definitely worth a trip just to taste their excellent fish pizzas.
The zoo of Helsinki is located on a beautiful island east of the city. It can be accessed either by boat from Hakaniemi or by a combination of metro and bus. Next to the zoo you also have the pretty little beach of Mustikkamaa and surrounding forest park with several paths for walking. Find more info at the zoo website.
Seurasaari is a bit further away from the center (see location here), and offers some great paths for walking and an open air museum. Swimming is also possible from a small sandy beach (not the best one in the city, though).
A full list of the beaches around Helsinki can be found here.
1. Pihlajasaari. Enjoy both sand and cliffs at this beautiful island 10 out from Helsinki.
2. Mustikkamaa. Our local beach where we often bike from Kallio. Small and cute, with good showers and toilets. Only complaint is the view over the oil silos on the opposing shore.
3. Hietaniemi. The most popular beach in Helsinki, and the go-to spot for the young and sexy. Go here for beach-volley tournaments, music and a younger crowd.
2. Visit Linnanmäki
Our fun park might not be the biggest or nicest in the world, but it is strategically located on one of the highest points of the city, giving you splendid views over the center and nearby neighborhoods. Linnanmäki is definitely worth a visit even if you are not into the actual rides, as the surrounding cliffs are a great place to watch the summer sun set behind the city (in July the sun sets around 22-24 o'clock).
View from the cliffs under Linnanmäki
Where: Linnanmäki is located in Alppila, about 20 min walking from the train station trough the beautiful Töölö park. You can see the Paris wheel and the old water tower all the way from the train station. More info at their website.
3. Expand your views and visit some of the nearby neighborhoods
Kallio Flea Market
Helsinki center is definitely nice, but also remember to visit some of the other areas of the city. The quiet streets of Punavuori, magnificent villas of Eira, sleepy Töölö and vibrant Kallio are all worth a stroll. We live in Kallio, and are obviously biased towards our own, but the main point is that you get out from the bustling center into the quieter streets where you just might get a glimpse of a more authentic Helsinki (this is especially true for Hakaniemi and Kallio). P.S. Kallio Block Party will be arranged next weekend (2.8.2014), do go there if you just get the opportunity! It is a fantastic street event where the whole neighborhood comes alive.
Where: All neighborhoods are accessible by foot from the center. Helsinki also boasts an extensive network of tram routes that will take you to most places. The metro takes you from the center to Kallio (stop at Sörnäinen) in a couple of minutes. You can also follow our walking route from last year if you need some inspiration.
4. Walk or bike around and experience Helsinki's lush parks and cute cafes
One thing that there is no lack of in Helsinki is parks (and forest). So rent a bike or go walking, we promise you wont regret it. Töölö park is one of our favorites (and we are not the only ones) that shines especially on summer evenings when you can take a casual stroll around the lake and stop at some of the most inviting cafes in Helsinki (Sinisen huvilan kahvila and Kahvila Tyyni). Just remember to watch out for all the joggers and some pretty aggressive geese!
Other examples of great parks to visit are Kaivopuisto (huge park by the sea), Karhupuisto (a tiny park in the heart of Kallio), Alppipuisto (a hidden gem in Alppila, behind Linnanmäki), Hietaniemi (there is a fantastic seaside stroll that leads up along the sea from Hietaniemi beach connecting you with the Sibelius Monument) and Katajanokka (not technically a park, but there is a road around the island that is amazing).
5. Eat well
Blueberry milk has been the hit of the summer
Recent years have witnessed practically an explosion in the restaurant scene of Helsinki, with new places opening up every other week. The city now offers amazing opportunities for great food, all the way from painfully expensive (and obviously good if you can afford it) fine dining to street food. Last summer we wrote a small, but epic, guide to the places we love. It still stands true for most parts, but here are some additional places we recommend! Just remember that July is holiday seasons, and some of the places might be closed during that time.
Ihana kahvila, a small pop-up container cafe by the sea! Great for those sunny days, although it might be a bit tricky to locate.
Cafe Regatta, one of the most charming seaside cafes in Helsinki. Be prepared for long lines!
Puttes Pizza, ok pizza&bar right in the Center. Perhaps more recommended for overall hip atmosphere, although the food also is totally eatable.
Trocadero, Algerian French lunch with amazing salad buffet. Normally closed in July.
Cafe Balzac, great pasta and salads in this small hidden gem on Iso Roobertinkatu.
Beefy Queen, a lunch diner classic close to the center. If you like your steaks in an authentic diner atmosphere you simply can't go wrong here. Go and clog those arteries!
Pueblo, good for an evening taco & cocktails.
Pelmenit, authentic food from Ukraine in a more than authentic setting (read: not very fancy). Closed this summer for renovation!
Cholo, great take-away burritos.
Food markets, Hietalahti and Kauppatori food markets have both been renovated in the past years and now offers nice opportunities for food. Try Soppakeittiö for soup or Roslund (in Hietalahti) for amazing burgers.
We rarely do fine dining, but based on what we have heard Luomo, Spis, Muru, Aito, Chef & Sommelier and Ask are all worth a visit (reserve well ahead).
6. Travel to near locations
Helsinki is great, but sometimes you just also need to get out. Good alternatives are the lovely summer city of Turku (2 hours with bus or train, prices are cheap if you just remember to book in advance), Hanko (about the same), Porvoo (45 min with bus or car) or Tallinn (1.5 - 2.5 hours depending on the boat). Neighboring "city" (it's really more like a big suburb) of Espoo also offers a great group of islands to visit (Suvisaaristo).
We hope you enjoyed our little guide to Helsinki. Obviously we only scratch the surface here, but the main point is to get out and around (and now we don't refer to sightseeing buses, although those are great too) to really get a feel of this wonderful city.
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