If you’re planning a memorable trip to Helsinki in winter, you’re in the right place. In this guide, I’ll share all the best things to do in Helsinki in winter, plus all of my top tips for visiting during this time.
Overlooking the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Bursting with abstract architecture and innovative art, it’s also one of the most futuristic and unique.
While Finland’s capital is an exciting city all year round, winter in Helsinki is a magical time. It’s cold, of course, but so long as you are prepared, it can be one of the best times to visit.
Crowds are fewer, prices are lower, and the Helsinki winter scenery is a dream. Not to mention all the exciting winter activities in Helsinki that make this one of the best winter city breaks in Europe.
So with all that said, let’s get to it and plan your perfect winter trip to Helsinki!
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Why Visit Helsinki in Winter
There are a few reasons why visiting Helsinki in winter might be a good idea.
Another reason is that you might find good deals on flights and accommodation since demand is much lower. Helsinki is renowned for being an expensive city, so this can really help.
Or, perhaps, like us, you have planned a winter trip to Lapland. Since you’re likely to have a connecting flight in Helsinki, it makes sense to spend a day or two exploring the city.
Winter in Helsinki Essential Info
With Helsinki being such a unique and exciting city, you’ll find it difficult not to have an incredible time. However, the tips and tricks below can help you make the very best of your winter getaway.
- Save money on public transport, attractions, and restaurants with a Helsinki card.
- Book a hotel or hostel here or check out these best air bnbs in Helsinki.
- Stay connected in Helsinki with a portable wifi hotspot or a local sim card.
- Get to know the city on a best-selling Helsinki tour.
- Don’t forget travel insurance – World Nomads is our go-to choice for cover.
Best Time to Visit Helsinki in Winter
Helsinki’s cold season tends to last longer than most European cities. It starts to get very cold as early as the middle of October and stays that way until the middle of April.
It is not unusual to see snow at any point during the cold season. However, if you visit from December to February, you can pretty much guarantee there will be snow on the ground.
We visited Helsinki in March, and whilst there was no snow, that enchanting wintery vibe was still in the air. The only thing missing was Christmas markets and mulled wine.
To experience the joyous Christmas festivities around the city, you’ll need to visit from December through to early January.
Regardless of when in winter you visit, you will need to wrap up warm. Stick around for my Helsinki winter packing list further down the article.
Helsinki Winter Temperatures (Avg)
How Long Should I Stay in Helsinki?
Helsinki is a relatively small and compact city. You can easily cover most of the main attractions over the space of 2-3 days.
Since we stopped off on our way to Lapland, we only had just over one day in Helsinki. We managed to cram a lot into this time but wished we’d had another day or two to explore.
Also, bear in mind that daylight hours will be limited if you visit Helsinki in the depths of winter.
Getting Around Helsinki in Winter
Since Helsinki is a relatively compact city, getting around the main attractions is easily done on foot. We loved exploring the city this way as there are many interesting sights to see.
If walking isn’t an option (it is winter after all) or if you want to travel further afield, you can take advantage of the reliable public transport system.
Local taxis are also easy to find, and both Uber and Bolt operate in the city.
As I mentioned earlier, Helsinki is renowned for being a pricey city. In fact, it is one of the most expensive capital cities in Europe.
The minimum you can expect to spend is approx. £50/$60 a day. This would mean staying in hostels, cooking your own food, and taking advantage of the free things to do in Helsinki.
It’s easy to spend much more than that, as accommodation, restaurants, alcohol, and local attractions tend to be expensive.
Helsinki Winter Tours
Some might say that taking a guided tour is the best way to experience Helsinki.
We always use Get Your Guide when we book tours. They have an endless selection of tours in locations worldwide, including Helsinki. Check them out!
Where to Stay in Helsinki
A diverse and forward-thinking city, there is no shortage of great places to stay in Helsinki.
Sure, you may pay a little bit more than you would in other cities, but you get what you pay for. In our experience, accommodation here is top-notch.
I recommend this article if you want a rundown of the best neighbourhoods to stay in. But, honestly, with such a well-connected public transport system, I wouldn’t worry too much about the area.
I’ve made some hotel and hostel suggestions further down, or you can compare Helsinki accommodations using the map below.
Best Things to do in Helsinki in Winter
Now we’ve prepared you for your trip, let’s look at all the best things to do in Helsinki in Winter.
1. Christmas Festivities
If you plan on visiting Helsinki in December through early January, the first thing to look out for is all the Christmas festivities.
Actually, the celebrations start as early as November with the opening of Christmas street. The official Christmas street is Aleksanterinkatu, and the lights turn on at the end of November.
Once it gets to December in Helsinki, the city is overcome with Christmas markets. The biggest and most famous is the Helsinki Christmas Market in Senate Square.
Esplanade Park is another favourable spot to go for impressive decorations and lights. There’s also a Christmas market here, where you can stop for a mulled wine and other festive treats.
For children, Christmas paths like the one on Seurasarri Island are a fun and festive thing to do. These events are free of charge and centre around Finnish traditions and the Christmas spirit.
This is just a taster of what you can expect during Christmas in Helsinki. Other events to look out for include traditional events like Lucia Maiden, carol singing, window displays and more.
2. Helsinki Ice Park
A popular winter activity in Helsinki for all the family is ice skating. While there are several rinks around the city, there’s none better than the Helsinki Ice Park.
Surrounded by stunning architecture and featuring an on-sight bar, it’s a truly atmospheric place to be. It’s also one of the more affordable activities at 6 euros for adults and 3 euros for children.
Located next to the central railway station, this outdoor ice rink is usually open from December until March.
Unfortunately, it’s been closed in recent years due to the pandemic. But there are high hopes for its return in 2023.
3. Traditional Finnish Sauna
If you want a genuine cultural experience in Helsinki this winter, you cannot miss the opportunity to try a traditional Finnish sauna.
Sauna culture was born in the countryside but is now prevalent around the country. Most family homes will have one, and they are considered a necessity for a happy and healthy life.
The most popular saunas in Helsinki include Allas Sea Pool and Löyly. You’ll pay a premium at these spots, but you can expect an authentic experience.
If you’re feeling brave, you should try the local tradition of a hot sauna followed by a cold water dip. This practice is said to have many health benefits.
You may want to read up on sauna etiquette before entering Finnish saunas, so you don’t get any surprises. I’ll give you a hint: Being naked is not uncommon.
4. Museums & Art Galleries
An obvious choice is the city’s plentiful museums and art galleries when looking for the best things to do in Helsinki in winter.
You needn’t be a history buff or art lover to appreciate them, either. After all, this country is famous for its innovative design and architectural works, so you’re sure to be impressed either way.
There are over 80 museums in Helsinki. My favourites include the National Museum of Finland, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Amos Rex Museum.
While most art galleries are free to enter, museums can be a little on the pricey side. If you plan on visiting a few during your trip, investing in a Helsinki card will be worth your while.
5. Cafe Regatta
You might be familiar with this next stop, as it’s one of Helsinki’s most famous Instagram spots.
Cafe Regatta is a charming little cafe set in a red wooden cabin. Perched along the waterfront with an enchanting Christmassy vibe, it brings a touch of Lapland to the city.
Grab a beverage, and a cake from the tiny shack, then find a cosy spot outside around the fire. The cinnamon buns, coffees, and hot chocolates are a winning choice.
Naturally, this spot is trendy. It gets particularly busy during the winter months when it’s surrounded by snow. So if you want a photo without the crowds, you should arrive early.
5. Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral
Regardless of whether you visit Helsinki in winter or any other time of the year, Senate Square is one of the top things to see.
Located in the oldest area of the city, Senate Square is surrounded by jaw-dropping architecture. The most famous is the Helsinki Cathedral, otherwise known as the ‘white jewel’ of the city.
Designed in a traditional neo-classical style, the 17th-century cathedral stands in stark contrast to the contemporary architecture seen elsewhere in the city.
Other notable buildings around Senate Square include the University of Helsinki, the National Library of Finland, and the Government Palace.
6. Oodi Library
Another spot to get cosy during the cold winters in Helsinki is the Oodi Library.
Otherwise known as the Helsinki Central Library, the striking architectural masterpiece opened to the public in 2018.
It combines modern and traditional Finnish architecture to create one of the most unique library buildings I have ever seen. It’s free to enter and well worth a visit.
Inside, you can find an endless collection of books, magazines, and other resources. It also features various working hubs, open spaces, and quiet rooms where you can come to study, read, or relax.
7. Temppeliaukion Rock Church
For another example of impressive and unconventional architecture in Helsinki, don’t miss the Temppeliaukion Rock Church.
Again, this church is unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It’s been engineered directly into the rock face and features an impressive copper dome.
Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll struggle not to be impressed by the remarkable design of this church. There’s a small fee to enter, or it’s free with a Helsinki card.
8. Helsinki Winter Garden
The Helsinki Winter Garden is the perfect place to escape on a rainy or gloomy day.
A small botanical garden featuring a realm of tropical plants, plant lovers especially will be in their element.
The gardens boast over 200 different plant species across three separate rooms. With a tropical climate throughout, it proves a nice contrast from the cold outside. It’s also completely free to enter.
9. Take a Sightseeing Boat Cruise
One of the best ways to experience this picturesque city is on the water.
With its beautiful shorelines and diverse archipelago of islands, a boat cruise provides an entirely different experience than exploring the city on foot.
This 90-minute canal cruise, for example, takes you to some of the most unique attractions in the city. The onboard commentary also lets you hear about Helsinki’s fascinating history.
10. Take Lots of Photos
With its distinctive architecture, quirky structures, and beautiful nature, Helsinki is a dream for photographers. Perhaps even more so in winter, with its moody atmosphere and snow-capped scenery.
As always, the best time for taking photos is early morning. Not only does the morning light make for magical photos, but it’s your best chance to capture the hotspots without the crowds.
Some of the best photo spots in Helsinki include The Helsinki Cathedral, Regatta Cafe, Oodi Library, and Huvilakatu Street.
11. Indulge in the Local Food
I love Finnish food culture. The Finns pride themselves on using fresh, local ingredients resulting in healthy and delicious cuisine.
Staples of the Finnish diet include reindeer, fish, vegetables, and grains. In winter, you’ll find all kinds of delicious soups and hearty stews alongside freshly baked bread.
For local culinary delights, be sure to stop by some of the city’s top restaurants. We recommend trying Savotta, Lappi Ravintola, and Sea Horse.
12. Visit the Helsinki Islands
Did you know that Helsinki is made up of 330 islands? Each offers a unique experience, from lush green forests and sandy beaches to historical landmarks and cultural heritage.
The Helsinki wintertime isn’t the best time to visit most of the islands. Actually, many are only open to visitors during the summer. The few that are accessible, however, are well worth a visit.
Suomenlinna Island is the most popular one to visit. The famous sea fortress provides a wonderful combination of nature and history. To get here, take the municipal ferry from market square.
Another island worth visiting in the wintertime is Seurasaari Island – a vast open-air museum and nature hotspot. You can reach this island on foot since it’s joined to the mainland via a bridge.
13. Take a Day Trip to Tallinn
If you’re stuck for things to do in Helsinki in winter, why not take a day trip to Tallinn?
Estonia’s capital is just a 2-hour ferry ride away, and it’s a very common thing to do when visiting Helsinki. Even locals will visit Tallinn quite regularly.
Tallinn is famous for its charming cobbled streets and medieval architecture. With a climate similar to Helsinki, you can expect enchanting scenes during winter.
If you’re visiting between late November and early January, don’t miss Tallinn’s famous Christmas market. Regarded as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, it’s like something straight out of a fairy tale.
14. Visit Lapland
If you find yourself in Finland during the winter, I urge you to include Lapland as part of your trip.
Visiting Lapland in winter is an extraordinary experience. A magical winter wonderland that feels like a childhood dream come true.
The perfect combination of adventure and romance, Lapland deserves a spot on everybody’s bucket list.
Helsinki Winter Packing List
Having the right winter gear is essential for making the most of your trip. Exploring this beautiful city will be no fun if you get cold or wet.
This list covers the bare essentials for most people visiting Helsinki in Winter. Depending on your itinerary, you may need a little more or less.
Enjoy your winter trip to Helsinki!
So there you have it, our ultimate guide to visiting Helsinki in winter. I hope it’s got you excited about your trip.
If you have any questions or anything to add, please drop us a comment below or message us through our contact us page. We love hearing from you!
Finally, check out the rest of our Finland series to help you with your travel planning.