10 Things to Do in Helsinki in Winter

If you visit Helsinki in winter, then you have to take advantage of unique experiences such as floating on ice, enjoying a sauna bath or getting to know the winter gardens - I'll tell you all about it!

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Things to Do in Helsinki in Winter

The Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden |©Anubis=

Helsinki is a magical destination in winter, as cold weather and festive atmospheres flood every corner. From December to March you can expect average temperatures ranging from 7° to -11°. At this time snowfall is also common and slides down the trails and even freezes the Baltic Sea. Additionally, the low season starts, so you can take advantage of the most coveted attractions without crowds.

If you want to take advantage of the best activities in Helsinki, you can enjoy a typical sauna bath, taste a hot glass of glögi, appreciate the city illuminated by the LUX Festival or visit the winter gardens. In the Finnish capital there is also the Reindeer Park, very similar to the one in Lapland. Other fun plans include visiting an ethical husky farm, floating on ice in a hovercraft or taking advantage of the skating rinks.

1. Don't miss out on Suomenlinna's winter activities.

Winter in Helsinki. Suomenlinna|©sbally.
Winter in Helsinki. Suomenlinna|©sbally.

Suomenlinna is an area where winter snowfalls have the greatest impact, so take advantage of all its entertaining plans. It is a fortress just fifteen minutes by ferry from Helsinki, which will not leave you indifferent. From the moment you set sail and enter the Baltic Sea, it is impossible to ignore the winter landscape covered with Christmas decorations, typical of the first weeks of the season.

During the trip you will feel the crash of the boat against the pieces of ice, product of the freezing of the sea. However, it is part of the experience and there is nothing to worry about because the trip is short. Upon arrival I recommend heading to the local markets to warm up with a Finnish glögi, a kind of spicy mulled wine unique to this season.

Later, take a walk through the most emblematic places to see the old buildings completely covered with snow. You can delight yourself with the covered landscapes through the marked trails, try to avoid the wastelands because you may slip and not find timely help.

Additionally, you can not miss the opportunity to play in the snow, taking advantage of the fact that there is plenty of it all over the island. If you prefer to keep warm, you can visit the Suomenlinna Museum, where you can see an old Finnish submarine. You can enjoy this activity on your own or join the best excursions from Helsinki.

Book a guided tour of Helsinki and Suomenlinna

2. Take shelter from the cold at local museums


Helsinki' s best muse ums are an excellent choice for entertainment at any time of the year, allowing you to learn while having fun. In winter they become an ideal blanket to protect you from the bitter cold. Considering that temperatures sometimes reach -4°, it is not a bad idea to have covered plans where you can spend the day.

Another reason to visit museums during this season is that most of the winter they are usually illuminated with Christmas decorations and LUX festival exhibits. In addition, some are included in the Helsinki Card tourist card valued from 64 euros, which offers free admission to major museums and various attractions, as well as unlimited use of public transport. Here are the most emblematic museums that are embellished with winter touches and you can not miss:

  • Ateneum: it is one of the most centrally located museums, with the most important collection of classical art in Finland.
  • Kiasma: if you want to see a contrast to the previous museum, you have to go through its halls of contemporary art, where special exhibitions are prepared for Christmas.
  • Design Museum: it is a marvel with national and international works, focused on industrial design, fashion and graphic design. It is also one of the many attractions exempted by the Helsinki Card, which is a tourist pass that allows you to save a few euros during your trip.

Buy the Helsinki Card

3. See aurora borealis in Helsinki

Northern Lights|©Timo Newton-Syms
Northern Lights|©Timo Newton-Syms

The Northern Lights are a colorful and visually appealing phenomenon, but unfortunately they can't be seen from just anywhere. The Nordic countries and those around the North Pole belt are privileged, although it is difficult to determine the exact time and where they can appear, in Helsinki they are quite common in winter.

In fact, it is the reason why many tourists venture out in this season. To increase your chances of catching one, you can subscribe to weather alerts such as Aurora Alert Realtime which tells you when they are strongest and most visible, as well as upcoming dates with high sighting statistics. Another option is to check the Finnish Meteorological Institute which offers an overview of the weather in all cities in the country.

There are those who believe that you need to go far away from the city to see one, but there are places within walking distance with the right conditions to witness this phenomenon. Among them are:

  • Helsinki's docks: they are key observation points, especially those located in Kaivopuisto and Eira. The contrast of the winter landscape with the frozen Baltic Sea and the undulating colors of the auroras is simply breathtaking.
  • Nuuksio National Park: although the reindeer are its main attraction, this remote and free of light pollution place is ideal to contemplate all the colors of the auroras.
  • Local observatories: the most prominent is the Ursa Observatory, although the Tähtiorninmäki Observatory has a privileged location in the hills that favors the views of this phenomenon. If you prefer, you can join the best tours of Helsinki to participate in a guided search.
  • Suomenlinna Island: a guided tour of Helsinki and Suomenlinna increases the chances of witnessing this phenomenon, as the island of Suomenlinna is located far from the city lights, which facilitates the sighting.

Book a guided tour in Helsinki and Suomenlinna

4. Take advantage of Helsinki's Lux Helsinki or Luminous Arts Festival

LUX Helsinki|©Mika Laitinen
LUX Helsinki|©Mika Laitinen

The Finns are looking for a way to balance the darkness during the winter to encourage a festive atmosphere in the capital. As a result, each year the city is filled with bright lights that wallpaper the main streets and landmark buildings. In addition to the twinkling Christmas decorations, you can find the LUX Festival or the Festival of Luminous Arts, which takes place between December and January, after the winter solstice.

You can find interactive exhibits in the streets of the city, for example those simulating natural phenomena such as the northern lights. Generally, most lightings are available for 5 days and start every night after 17:00. The most emblematic places that are usually decorated are the Senate Square, the Esplanade Park, Korkeasaari Zoo and different galleries or cafes in the city. Note that there are free exhibits, but some require admission.

If you want to understand the history of this event and marvel at the most amazing locations, then I suggest joining the best Helsinki tours. This way, you can enjoy a customizable experience with nightly schedules, which allows you to explore the whole city to the fullest and find the most beautiful illuminated spaces.

Book a private tour

5. Have fun with a traditional visit to a husky farm with a sleigh ride

huskies with sleigh ride|©Ioannis the graecum
huskies with sleigh ride|©Ioannis the graecum

Of course, you can't miss a visit to an ethical farm where you can meet Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, Alaskan Malamutes and Eurohounds, Nordic breeds known for their fondness for the cold and energetic athletic body. These animals enjoy playing, running and exercising, so they will be your faithful companions during a sled ride in the snow. In charge will be a musher, a driver who directs the dog crew, although you can also receive advice on how to drive yourself.

You will learn how the dogs are trained, their lifestyle and feeding behaviors. You can also explore the snow-dappled forests and other winter scenery typical of Helsinki. It is one of the best things to do in the city, but it is essential to opt for those where the animals are treated humanely with veterinarians, routines suited to their abilities and breaks. This way, you can enjoy a sustainable tourism experience.

6. Marvel at Helsinki's Reindeer Park

Nuuskio national park|©karsten1605
Nuuskio national park|©karsten1605

Nuuksio National Park is a popular winter destination, ideal if you plan to spend at least 3 days in Helsinki. It was founded in 1994 and offers spectacular natural surroundings starring escarpments, lakes, forests and different animal species.

Add a touch of magic to your vacation with its Nordic landscapes, where you can feed reindeer, try the typical Finnish coffee and bun combination, keep warm with a spiced wine and roast sausages on a campfire. Of course, if you plan to visit Helsinki for Christmas you can enjoy the unique reindeer parks, with educational tours that take you to learn about the history and importance of this mammal to Sami culture.

Siberian birds and flying squirrels are also very popular, just watch out for the latter because they are playful and may steal your stuff. Overall, you will feel like you are at the North Pole and can enjoy the beauty of the reindeer without hurting them. Other fun activities in the park include fishing in the frozen sea, climbing in the nearby mountains, picking fruit in the forest, taking advantage of boat rides in Helsinki and cross-country skiing in the snow.

Admission usually starts at 25 euros for adults and from 10 euros for children.

7. Sail over the ice in a hovercraft

hovercraft|©Семён Ельницкий
hovercraft|©Семён Ельницкий

Floating on ice is an extraordinary and out-of-the-ordinary experience, which takes place in the depths of the frozen archipelago of the Baltic Sea. You will be able to venture into the arctic waters, without ending up frozen, as the activity is designed so that you can have a good time in a heated cabin. Keep in mind that a hovercraft is an amphibious craft that allows you to travel over land, sea, snow, ice and sand. Therefore, during the tour you may make stops to walk on ice, preferably thick and solid.

You can also float on ice in a raft, wearing a special wetsuit to keep you warm. Of course, it is important to do this type of visit with professionals and never on your own. However, the only way to reach such depths of the Finnish sea is if you decide to join the best excursions from Helsinki.

8. Taste a warm glass of glögi at the winter markets

glögi Helsinki|©willehardGD
glögi Helsinki|©willehardGD

Cheers! Glögi is a traditional drink whose history dates back to the 1500s, when it was brewed for messengers traveling through Finland's snowy landscapes to withstand the relentless cold. At some point in history, it was even believed to have healing properties. Another curious fact is that it almost disappeared during the Nordic era, when alcohol consumption was banned, but the Finns managed to create a berry juice-based version.

It is now consumed exclusively in the cold winter months, especially at the Christmas markets that are set up in Helsinki and several nearby regions. It is usually accompanied with a pipari, a type of gingerbread cookie prepared in northern Europe. There are variations but the traditional one has spices, grapes and blueberries. Some have rum, vodka, madeira wine, berry juice or almond juice added. Here's where you can find a delicious hot cup of this drink:

  • Christmas markets: the most famous is the market in Helsinki square, better known as Kauppatori. At this time of the year, the tradition is to have a cup of glögi and then enjoy a fresh fish dish.
  • Hvitträsk: this is an old mansion, where you can taste the original version of this wine.
  • Festivals: at most outdoor events, people order a glögi to keep warm.

If you plan to visit Helsinki in summer, you can take advantage of other traditional drinks such as lonkero, a refreshing treat made from gin and grapefruit juice.

9. Enjoy a bath in a sauna

Löyly sauna|©VILLA LKV
Löyly sauna|©VILLA LKV

Don't forget a bathing suit if you go to Helsinki in winter, although it may sound crazy, you will need it to live one of the most incredible experiences of the season. Sauna culture in Finland is all about relaxing your body and mind outdoors while admiring the winter scenery, or soaking in dimly lit cabins with dreamy views. Unlike traditional steam baths, here a dry environment is created without water or steam, with humidity between 5-20 % and temperatures ranging between 80 and 100 ºC.

Undoubtedly, it is one of the best activities in Helsinki, among the most outstanding options are:

  • Löyly: is a seaside restaurant with modern sauna facilities for all tastes, you can choose between public wood-fired saunas and private booths.
  • Kuusijärvi: is a café near the lake, which offers electric saunas. Here you can find a fusion of classic and Nordic saunas, they are called Finnish smoke saunas and are meticulously prepared. Before you enter the room, they will burn wood inside to create a steamy backdrop with a pleasant aroma.

There are a couple of general recommendations, the main thing is to respect silence, Finns are very friendly but prefer a quiet atmosphere during sauna evenings. In any case, there are private experiences, but it is fun to enjoy the cultural diversity that public saunas offer.

Additionally, these experiences are not suitable for newborns or people with health problems, especially those with heart problems. Be aware that it is common to be offered to shake a couple of birch branches to purify yourself, or to be asked if you would like a beer.

10. Visit the Helsinki Winter Gardens

Kaisaniemi Botanical Garden|©Henna K.
Kaisaniemi Botanical Garden|©Henna K.

The winter gardens are a must-see exotic beauty, which unfortunately sometimes go unnoticed. In its greenhouses you will find educational experiences through different botanical themes. Its cozy indoor spaces will keep you warm while you explore the exquisite local flora. You have two options:

  • Kaisaniemi Botanical Garden: it belongs to the local university and in winter offers workshops, seminars and lectures. In addition, you can see lichens, mosses and Arctic flowers through its winter landscapes.
  • Helsinki Winter Garden: it is free and is located next to a harbor facing the sea. Its age makes it a local gem, as it was built in the 19th century. Its winter activities and exhibits are very interesting. It also has a rose garden on the terrace.