Ever wondered what to do in Helsinki in winter and what are the top places to visit? Did you want to try a traditional Finnish sauna, ice swimming, walk on a frozen sea, visit some unusual churches and monuments, and taste delicious Nordic cuisine? Check out what are the best things to do in the Finnish capital in winter!
The country of The Moomins (high five if you know them!) with a capital of a similar size to Oslo, is great for the weekend trip. Finland is well known for its winter activities and the magical Lapland, and Helsinki in winter is very picturesque. Even if you are going somewhere else in Finland, spending a couple of days in Helsinki is well worth it. You can also extend your stay and take the opportunity to explore a few of the day trips from Helsinki.
What to do in Helsinki in winter? Spend a great weekend in Finland!
Below are my recommendations on what to do in Helsinki in winter to make sure you have an amazing time in Finland. They include traditional Finnish activities, as well as some more unusual ones. Take your pick and have fun spending winter in Finland’s capital city.
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#1 Try traditional Finnish sauna and ice swimming
The saunas are a big part of Finnish culture. With 5 million inhabitants in Finland, there are over 3 million saunas – averaging one per household. Isn’t it crazy? Luckily, Helsinki also has some public saunas for you to try, so you don’t have to invite yourself to the people’s houses (although, that would be a great experience too :)).
The traditional wood-heated saunas in Helsinki include Kotiharjun Sauna, Kulttuurisauna, and Sauna Arla. They typically have separate rooms for men and women and are taken naked.
However, since I was in Helsinki with Alex, we wanted to have a more social experience and we decided to go for the newly established Löyly sauna, located by the coast. Löyly offers two sauna rooms heated by 7,000-kg stoves, a lounge, a terrace, a restaurant, a bar, and, my favorite part, access to the frozen sea.
Cooling yourself down after the hot sauna is what Finnish people often do, so trying ice swimming was a must for me.
And if you want to swim among the ice but still stay warm (yes, it’s possible), then you can try it on this Arctic Hovercraft Experience with Lunch tour, so fun.
It was an amazing and very refreshing experience to take a dip in the frozen sea and then quickly run back to the sauna to get the feeling in my body back, haha. Check it on the video below!
Check out Helsinki in winter (and my ice swimming attempt) on the video:
You can see the whole video, and more, on my Youtube channel.
#2 Travel through the frozen sea to the UNESCO fortress
Fortress of Suomenlinna is a sea fortress, located on a group of islands, located at the entrance to Helsinki harbor. It dates back to the 18th century and is a great example of European military architecture. The islands are so peaceful to walk around with cute cafes located in colorful wooden houses. The ferry trip is very short as it lasts 15 min and costs 2,20 euros. The views from the boat are great and it’s worth taking it even just for those!
There is a guided tour to Suomenlinna, that you can check out here: Helsinki and Suomenlinna 5-Hour Sightseeing Tour.
Read more: What to pack for Norway in winter – applicable also for Helsinki in winter!
#3 Walk on water
In the low temperatures the water in the Töölönlahti bay freezes, which makes it the perfect place for a Sunday stroll, cross-country skiing, ice skating, or unusual “walking on the water” experience.
When you walk around Helsinki in winter remember to dress properly in cozy winter clothes. If you get cold, you can always warm yourself up in the cafe.
There is a cute rust-red wooden cafe located just by the bayside in the Töölönlahti bay, called Regatta. It serves delicious cakes and coffee and offers sausages to be grilled on the outside fire overlooking the bay.
Read more: 6 Best Day Trips From Helsinki
#4 Visit Sibelius monument
Sibelius is an interestingly looking monument dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The structure consists of more than 600 steel pipes connected together in a shape reminiscing a wave.
It’s located in Sibelius park next to the Töölönlahti. It is a bit outside of the city center of Helsinki, but it’s worth a walk. Especially when the park is already covered in snow, it’s magical. If you’re looking for a guided tour of the area, this tour with a local guide can take you there.
#5 Go to the church
Regardless of whether you are a frequent church visitor or not really, visiting a few of the Helsinki churches is an interesting experience.
A distinctive landmark in the city’s landscape, the Helsinki Cathedral became a well-recognized symbol of the city. Built on top of a small hill with a set of stairs leading to it, it towers above the surroundings. Its white walls and tall green domes can be spotted from afar. The Cathedral is located around Senate Square, the main destination for most tourists in Helsinki. An admission fee of 5 EUR is voluntary.
I was lucky enough to spot some cycling clubs doing laps around the square and they looked very interesting with a backdrop of a cathedral.
The Kamppi chapel, or a chapel of silence, is made from wood and has an unusual shape of a cone (or a yogurt cup ;)). The interior is very simple and it’s meant to offer a moment of silence in one of the busiest areas of Finland. Free entry.
Kammpi chapel is one of many stops of this small-group walking tour with a city planner guide, who can tell you more about the city’s story, and answer all your questions.
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Temppeliaukio Church is built directly into the solid rock. It has a rounded shape and the light enters through the dome roof around the copper center. The Rock church is one of the most popular places to visit in Helsinki and there are concerts organized in the venue. The entrance fee to the church is 3 euros. It’s worth going inside to admire the combination of nature and architecture, together with a light and sound experience.
Visit Rock Church during this popular 1 hour 45-minute sightseeing tour of Helsinki by bus.
Read more: Tips for traveling light & ultimate carry-on packing list.
#6 Try traditional Finnish food
Different types of fish and meat including reindeer or even a bear, arctic berries, and wild mushrooms in different combinations create unique flavors of Finnish cuisine. Sea buckthorn juice will give you a daily dose of vitamin C, you will find lingonberries in your Finnish vodka shot, eat hot Karelian pasty, and have a dessert of spongy farm cheese in a cinnamon sauce with sour cloudberry jam. Yum! Licorice is also a popular flavor in Finnish cuisine, but not everyone likes it. We went for dinner to Lappi and loved it, highly recommended!
#7 Visit Helsinki markets
Helsinki has several outdoor and indoor markets. We visited the ones next to the harbor, located close to Market Square. The indoor one offers a nice warmth during the walk on a cold day and on the outdoor one you can find everything from homemade food to handmade souvenirs. Visiting the bustling Market Square where locals get their groceries is one of the city highlights, that you can see on this guided city highlights walking tour.
The popular Old Market Hall is open in Helsinki since 1889. You can find almost anything there – from local cheese, jams, bread, or meats to canned bear or arctic berries. There are also several cafes you can warm up at during a cold winter day in Helsinki.
# 8 Explore the Christmas market
If you’re visiting Helsinki before Christmas, you cannot miss exploring one of the city’s Christmas Markets.I loved Christmas Markets in Oslo, Norway and Helsinki also do it well!
One of the popular ones is located in Esplanade Park, where you can find cute little cabins set up instead of the traditional market stalls. Get into the Christmas spirit with this 2-hour Christmas guided walking tour of Helsinki, where you visit the Christmas market, learn about Christmas legends and see the magical decorations around the city.
#9 Go Ice Skating
Ice skating is fun winter activity and something you should definitely add to your things to do in Helsinki in winter list. Back in Norway, I really enjoy ice skating in Norway, so I wanted to try it in Helsinki as well!
Every year in the heart of Helsinki, near the central railway station the Helsinki Ice Park is set up. You can enter it for 6 euros for an adult and 3 euros for a child.
#10 Visit Tallinn
Yes, it is very easy to travel to Tallinn from Helsinki by day ferry. And you can visit another country, Estonia, at the same time. There are a lot of fun things to do in Tallinn, so if you have some spare time for a trip, I can highly recommend it.
HELSINKI IN WINTER FAQ
How to get around Helsinki in winter?
You have several options to get around Helsinki in winter.
# Public transport and walking
The easiest way to explore the best things to do in Helsinki in winter is by public transport and some walking. You can buy a Helsinki City Card that allows you to use the city’s public transport for an unlimited number of trips during a time period of 24, 48, or 72 hours.
Helsinki City Card offers you also free sightseeing tours, free entry to the city’s major sights and museums, and discounts and benefits on dining, shopping, and tours. It’s definitely worth an investment!
And when you are not using public transport, I recommend walking to some of the sights. You will be able to see real city life happening in front of you.
# Hop on – hop off bus
The gives you free public transport access, but you can also explore the city with the hop-on-hop-off bus. The bus drives around the main attractions and you can use it for a 24-hour period. Check Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour here.
# Helsiki tours
Another convenient way to explore Helsinki is by taking an organized tour. If you can’t be bothered checking everything yourself, if you are short on time or would like to see a city from a different perspective with a local guide, tours are great! My favorites are usually food tours, but there is many more to choose from.
Where to stay in Helsinki?
The stay in Helsinki was a gift from my boyfriend to me, so this time we stayed in a very nice luxury hotel, Lilia Roberts. If you want to treat yourself, that’s the place to do it. The rooms are very unique, the hotel is full of art and their breakfast is just amazing! Check prices and book here.
Other options to stay in Helsinki:
$ Budget: CheapSleep Hostel Helsinki – located only 3 km from the train station it offers good accommodation for a cheap price. Check prices here.
$$ Mid-range: EasyHomes Helsinki – great location and good price for studio apartments close to the city center. Check prices here.
What to pack for Helsinki in winter?
As to other Nordic countries in winter, pack warm clothes. You can find a lot of inspiration in my post about Norway winter clothing post. Here are some of the essentials to pack for Helsinki:
- Thermal underwear like merino wool tops and merino wool bottoms.
- Mid-layer – fleece or woolen sweater
- Top layer – Parka jackets or Windproof and waterproof outer shell jackets.
- Warm hat covering ears – a woolen hat or a hat with fleece lining is the best for the weather in the Nordics in winter.
- A scarf
- Gloves – I usually have thin thermal glove liners that I put underneath the bigger woolen mittens.
- Wool socks – I prefer merino wool, so they are not itchy, keep me warm or cool me down when needed. Here are similar ones to the ones I have.
- Reflective bands
- Additional batteries + chargers – in the cold the batteries lose power much quicker
- Power bank
- Flask to carry around warm tea or coffee – Finland is expensive. The budget trick is to make coffee/tea in your hostel and take it with you to always have something warm around. You can find tons of colors of flasks here.
Read more about Helsinki and Finland:
- 6 Best Day Trips From Helsinki
- Norway winter clothing – what to pack for Norway in winter, applicable also for Helsinki in winter
Would you like to visit Helsinki in winter? Do you have any other ideas about what to do in Helsinki in winter? Share in the comments!
Published: February 2018, Updated: November 2022.
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39 thoughts on “What To Do In Helsinki In Winter – Traditional & Unique”
The ice swimming looks totally insane. How did you do it? I guess if you have a sauna to get back to, it makes it a little easier.
Haha, yeah, it’s easier when you have a place to run back to 😉 I just literally jumped in! 😀
Wow, Helsinki looks GORGEOUS! I love the idea of the dip in the frigid water after a hot sauna. I bet that must wake you right up!
Oh yeah, that was an instant refresher, because I typically feel quite sleepy in the warm and cozy sauna 🙂
Where do I begin…I generally hate the cold however Helsinki in the winter looks amazing. So I love a crazy adventure so I think I would try (Probably only once!) the ice swimming as long as the run back to the sauna wasnt too far!
Love the Rock Church too. What an amazing structure! Did you try Reindeer or Bear? That would definitely be a bucket list food to try in Finland for me!
Haha, yeah, fortunately, the run back to sauna wasn’t too far! 🙂
I didn’t really want to try the bear and I only saw it in the tins (very expensive!), but I’m sure it’s something different.
What great ideas for a winter weekend trip to Helsinki Poland! I haven’t been to much of Europe yet but this sounds like fun. I would definitely like to check out the saunas and then do some ice swimming like you did.
You should definitely try it!
Helsinki looks beautiful! Had no idea you could go ice swimming!
You can, it’s pretty cool 🙂
That rock church looks incredible! I am hoping to go to Finland later this year and although the cold worries me a little I am also very excited! Maybe I will even consider ice swimming… 🙂
I think you should try at least once – it’s something different and exciting!
This looks stunning! I’ve visited Helsinki in the autumn but this really make me want to head back and explore in the winter. We didn’t have time for a traditional sauna but it sounds amazing. Absolutely adding to my bucket list for a return visit.
Thanks, Alice. Saunas are great and I really liked visiting Helsinki in winter, so I’m sure you’re gonna love it
I cannot imagine the feeling of walking down the path in my bare feet on frozen land… and then taking a dip. I would be running to that sauna!! Looks like an amazing winter destination!
Haha yeah, the walking was the worst part actually! I recommend taking the flip flops if you have them with you. I didn’t even have a proper swimsuit as you can see from picture, so I wasn’t very well prepared, but I survived 😉
Girl! Have did you managed to do that? Swimming in icy water? I wouldn’t even be able to go out without wearing 5 layers!
I have to say Helsinki looks amazing with all this snow. Although I’m allergic to countries that have below zero temperature, I would love to visit Finland.
After staying in a hot sauna this was quite refreshing 🙂 Helsinki is beautiful and I’m sure it would be good to visit it also in spring/summer when the temperatures are a bit higher, so it’s worth to give it a try!
Having only been in Helsinki in summer I can imagine it’s super different in winter! I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to get into those icy waters though! Ice swimming looks invigorating but oh my gosh also very very very cold!! I haven’t read about Suomenlinna before, that looks like a colourful and interesting place to visit. Of the other sites, I’m drawn most to the Kamppi Chapel, it looks like a really beautiful and “warm” structure.
All of the places you mentioned are great for a visit and Helsinki in winter have definitely their own charm 🙂
I’ve only been to Helsinki in summer but would love to see in the ice. Though I don’t think I would be swimming
Haha, yeah, it’s quite hard to decide to do it, but once you’re in, you can quickly jump out 😉
eek! Girl this is awesome! Finland is on my bucket list and I really want to go! Your pictures are awesome and you sure sound like you had a great time.
Thank you! I hope you will be able to visit it soon 🙂
These photos are so artfully composed and alluring! Love them. I jumped out of my seat when I saw the rock church. Turns out I visited it as a teen, many years ago, and had totally forgotten. Thank you for bringing back good memories!
Thanks, Lillie 🙂
This is what I was looking for, That’s some amazing stuff. Keep posting.
Brrr that looks cold. I’ve only ever visited Helsinki in summer when everyone stripped off to cool down. Winter looks like a fairytale kind of land. I’d love to explore the city in winter when everything looks so crisp and clean.
I think it’s very different experience to see it in winter and definitely worth it 🙂 I have to come back in the summer!
oh my goodness! barefoot on the ice and snow and into the frozen sea! You are BRAVE! The rest of the itinerary looks fabulous to me, but it needs to be above 25C for me to consider seawater!
Thanks, but that was fun though! 🙂
I live in Helsinki, and winter here is a lot more fun than some people might think! You give awesome ideas here, including my favourite winter possibility: walking across Töölönlahti when it’s completely frozen over. 🙂 Great article – I really hope you enjoyed your visit to Helsinki!!
Thank you, I really did 🙂
I’ve already commented on here once, so hello again! I wanted to let you know that I linked to your article in my latest one on Helsinki Side Quest: https://www.helsinkisidequest.com/five-helsinki-articles-from-the-travel-blogger-community/ Keep up the awesome blogging! 🙂
Hi Linda, thanks for that! 🙂
Loved this post! The little restaurant is too adorable, and I love the Finnish Sauna concept. Cannot wait to go back on my next trip!
It’s worth coming back for it 🙂
lovely Pictures! ice swimming in winter is next to impossible… very nice article ,enjoyed reading it
It just amazing. I took a lot of inspiration from your blog and added some of them in my bucket list. Thanks for your amazing post