Forests, sea, and an archipelago with hundreds of islands make Helsinki a perfect location for authentic nature experiences. May to September is the best time to visit as the days are long thanks to the northern latitude. Don’t be surprised to see the sun shining at 10 pm and barely setting all night! Here are 15 outdoor activities and things to do in Helsinki in the summertime.
- 1. Suomenlinna sea fortress
- 2. Vallisaari
- 3. Seurasaari
- 4. Pihlajasaari
- 5. Iso Vasikkasaari
- 6. Paddling Helsinki
- 7. Picnic in Esplanad park
- 8. Nuuksio national park and Finnish nature center Haltia
- 9. Swimming stadium
- 10. Allas sea pool
- 11. Bicycling along the coastline
- 12. Linnanmäki
- 13. Free concerts and festivals
- 14. Free exercise classes in the parks
- 15. Seaside restaurants and cafés
1. Suomenlinna sea fortress
It would be impossible to write about Helsinki as a travel destination without mentioning Suomenlinna. The sea fortress is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most popular attractions in Finland. Suomenlinna is accessible around the year by ferry from the market square with a regular public transportation ticket. The market is a perfect spot to buy some Finnish berries and peas from to take along.
The construction of the fortress was started in the 18th century. If you’re interested in learning more about the special history of the island it could be a good idea to join one of the guided walking tours that are organized in the summer in different languages.
Suomenlinna church is quite unique as it’s also a lighthouse. At night time you can see the signal blink Morse code for the letter “H” for Helsinki. Especially on Saturdays in the summer it’s very busy with weddings.
There are lots of nice places to set up a picnic, for example at the rocks at the southern point of the island (no picnic tables though so it’s best to bring a big blanket along). There is a small grocery store close to the ferry pier but for a wider selection, you might want to pick up something at the city center for example at Stockmann Deli. Bring a bottle of wine along if that’s something you’d like to enjoy on your picnic as there isn’t a bottle shop on the island.
If you’d rather eat in a restaurant there are many options to select from, for example, Bastion Bistro has a charming atmosphere and is located close to the main ferry pier and has nice outdoor tables on the terrace. Suomenlinna toy museum has a cozy small café worth visiting even if you don’t have kids. For an upscale gourmet experience, Restaurant Walhalla serves traditional fine dining in the southern end of the island.
Vallisaari was a military island closed from the public until a few years ago. From May to September the island is accessible by JT-Line ferry connection from the Market Square.
The nature of the island is diverse and the scenery beautiful. In the past, there was an ammunition warehouse explosion and therefore it’s important to stay on the marked paths to be on the safe side. In case you get hungry there’s a small café serving delicious pancakes. It’s also possible to go island hopping and visit Suomenlinna, Vallisaari and neighboring Lonna in one day.
Seurasaari island is open every day of the year but most of the services are available only in the summertime. Entrance is free (except during Midsummer Eve Bonfires festival, making it the place to go if you happen to be in the city on Midsummer Eve). The island is in western Helsinki, about 5 kilometers from Helsinki city center. It’s easiest to arrive there by bicycle, by bus or tram (need to walk about 10 minutes).
Seurasaari has been a public park since 1890 and is connected to the mainland by a bridge that was built 2 years after the opening. The islands services include a barbeque place, kiosks, café, restaurant and an open-air museum that includes old Finnish cottages and other buildings brought to the island from all around Finland.
It’s like time travel to see what life in Finland could have looked like a few hundred years back!
Pihlajasaari is known for one of the best beaches in Helsinki so it’s a great place to spend a warm day. Keep in mind that the sea is usually cold (under 15 degrees). The island is accessible by ferry connections from Merisatama, next to Café Carousel (from mid-May to beginning of September) and from Ruoholahti, next to Restaurant Faro (mid-June to mid-August).
Colorful bathing shelters were built to the west beach in 1930’s for changing clothes. There are a few old villas on the island and one of them operates as a restaurant. There’s also some barbeque places and it’s possible to go camping on the island during the weekends.
5. Iso Vasikkasaari
A nice day trip destination in Espoo Iso Vasikkasaari.
From Helsinki city center take the metro west and about 20 minutes to the last stop “Matinkylä” and you arrive in Iso Omena mall from where it’s just about 1km walk south to the Nokkala ferry pier. There’s a nice modern café Nokkalan Majakka that has amazing views to the archipelago from the roof terrace.
The ferry takes only about 5 minutes and you arrive at a small island that is all recreational area except for the north-west corner which is private and where you might spot a pavilion imitating Poseidon’s temple. There are smaller beach coves and the best time to arrive would be earlier in the day when the sun is shining on the south-east side of the island. There’s a big grass field where it’s possible to set a picnic and catch some late afternoon sun.
Next to the grass field is one of the islands barbeque places. Further ahead there’s a small idyllic summer restaurant Gula Villan with some lambs in their yard.
6. Paddling Helsinki
Ferries to the islands are a good way to see Helsinki from the sea but if you are adventurous paddling is an excellent option. Many places rent kayaks including some seaside cafes but if you don’t have much previous experience it may be a good idea to go on a guided tour.
For example, Natura Viva paddling center in Eastern Helsinki organizes courses and guided paddling trips.
7. Picnic in Esplanad park
The Esplanad park is in the heart of Helsinki and a popular place for people to get together and have picnics.
On the Espa Stage in the Market Square end of the park, there are free performances daily (except Sundays) from May to September, especially Jazz. Restaurant Kappeli is located next to the stage and has a nice terrace to enjoy a cool drink.
8. Nuuksio national park and Finnish nature center Haltia
Nuuksio is one of Finland’s smallest national parks, but easily accessible as a day-trip from Helsinki. Although it’s in northern Espoo just 30 kilometers from the city center it’s easy to imagine being in a much more remote location when you’re surrounded with the peacefulness of forest, lakes, swamps and rock formations that developed in the ice age.
Finnish nature center Haltia is a good place to start or end your visit to Nuuksio. It’s located next to a lake and offers nice views from the restaurant (free entry for the restaurant, a fee for visiting the exhibitions). You can get maps of the national park’s trails from the info desk. Haltia is reachable in about 1 hour from Helsinki by public transportation: take a train from Helsinki to Espoo Centre and continue by bus to Solvalla sports institute.
Entry to the park is free and there are walking paths of different lengths. For the first-time visitor, the 4km Haukankierros loop could be a good option. In the middle of the summer, there could be mosquitos so it’s a good idea to take some repellent along.
It’s possible to stay overnight in the Nuuksio national park. For the most authentic experience, there are designated camping areas where you can set up your tent. Nuuksio resort offers a range of different accommodations from cottages to hotel rooms at Hotel Nuuksio. For a unique experience in nature, you can rent a tent set up in the trees and experience ”Night in the Trees”.
9. Swimming stadium
Helsinki Swimming stadium is one of the favorite places for the locals in the summertime (open from early May until mid-September). It was originally built for the 1940 Olympic Games, which got canceled due to the outbreak of world war II. It finally hosted the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952. There’s a 50-meter pool, diving pool, and children’s pool.
There are water running belts available for borrowing. Services in include a small kiosk at the entrance and a café in inside the stadium that is open weather permitting.
You can find another municipal outdoor swimming pool in Espoo Leppävaara that was opened just a couple of years ago.
10. Allas sea pool
Allas sea pool offers outdoor swimming pools floating on the sea. It’s located right next to the Market square with wonderful views to the sea towards Suomenlinna. You can swim in a 25-meter pool heated to +26C, as well as go for a refreshing dip in the seawater pool and relax in the sauna.
There are a café, bistro dinner restaurant and Helsinki’s largest rooftop terrace.
11. Bicycling along the coastline
Rent a bicycle and head west from Helsinki through Lauttasaari to Espoo Westend where you reach the waterfront walkway Rantaraitti that offers an about 30 km long walking and cycling path along the coast. There are nice seaside cafes along the route.
Linnanmäki is the most popular amusement park in Finland. The outdoor amusement park is open from April to October. It was opened in 1950 and is owned by a non-profit foundation for child welfare.
Entrance is free but tickets or an all-day access wristband are needed for the rides (except the free rides for little kids). Panoraama rotating observation tower is free and a nice way to get an overview of Helsinki. There’s an outdoor stage where it’s possible to watch different performances.
13. Free concerts and festivals
Helsinki hosts quite a few concerts and festivals in the summertime and some of the best events are free of charge!
World Village Festival is an ethnic event at the end of May with over 20 free concerts and activities.
Helsinki day is celebrated on 12th of June and an outdoor concert is one of the most popular events of the city’s birthday.
Kallio Block Party is an urban music and art festival organized in the streets closed from traffic for the day in early August. Lots of people are flocking to the streets to enjoy a variety of concerts and street food.
In the end of August it’s time for the Helsinki Festival. It lasts for two weeks and includes cultural activities around the city, many for free. One of the main events is the Night of the arts.
Espoo day is celebrated in the last weekend of August with lots of free events.
14. Free exercise classes in the parks
Free outdoor workouts are organized in the Kaivopuisto park from June to August every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 pm. Thursday evenings in July there’s also free yoga classes in the Sinebrykoff park.
15. Seaside restaurants and cafés
New restaurants and cafés have popped up along the coastline to compliment the traditional favorite spots, making it even more fun to take a break during a day out and about Helsinki. Here’s a couple of picks not to miss – one long-time favorite of both locals and tourists and a newer modern option that’s not only a restaurant but also an architectural sight.
Café Regatta may be small from the interior but full of charming quirky character. Take a break here with a cup of coffee and a traditional cinnamon roll or blueberry pie. The café is very popular so be prepared to wait in line but it’s worth it. If you drink regular filtered coffee and ask for a refill you get 5 cents back! There’ s a large outdoor seating area in the yard, and you can cook buy sausages and cook them on the firepit. Regatta is a nice place to watch the sunset. It’s also possible to rent a variety of water sports equipment such as stand-up-paddling, kayaks, canoes, rowing boats…
Löyly is a seaside restaurant that quickly became famous for its special modern wooden architecture. It’s located in in the southern edge of Helsinki and its specialties include a large wooden terrace, a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, and two wood-heated saunas. It is possible to take a swim in the sea, also in winter if you don’t mind walking past the terrace which can be crowded with people in their party outfits – goes without saying it’s best to remember to bring your swimming costume! In the summertime yoga classes are organized on the rooftop terrace on Thursday and Saturday mornings. The city is still amazingly peaceful at 7.30 am and the gentle flow yoga truly wakes you up to the day feeling relaxed and refreshed.
These were some recommendations to exploring Helsinki and enjoying the huge number of outdoor adventures awaiting those who aren’t frightened of a fresh breeze!
Have we missed any Helsinki tourist attractions? Let us know in the comments below!