The Essential Guide to Visiting Helsinki in Winter


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As the capital city of one of the happiest countries in the world, as well as one of the most delightful winter wonderlands, Helsinki is an underrated treasure when it comes to winter travel destinations. While Helsinki in summer painted with endless sun is a delight in a uniquely different way, Helsinki in Winter is truly a snug and welcoming Nordic, winter dreamland.

From blankets of snow under the low Nordic winter sun to hot traditional saunas and decadent hot chocolate, Helsinki is a wonderful option for winter travel, away from the busy crowds of other European capital cities searching for winter bliss.

Read this article further to be prepared and inspired for your own cosy, enchanting trip to Helsinki in winter. Whether your visit to the Finnish capital is a winter destination in and of itself or you’re there for a quick stopover en route to Lapland, you’re sure to fall in love with this wonderful city in the wintertime.

Winter Weather in Helsinki

While it’s no surprise that Helsinki weather in winter is cold and snowy, with the right preparation, clothing, and perspective, it’s a manageable and enjoyable time to visit. In Finnish culture, winter is a season to embrace, and visiting Finland’s capital in the winter is the perfect way to tap into Finnish culture.

Helsinki city experiences a “humid continental climate”, meaning that due to the geographical combined effects of the Gulf of Finland & the Baltic Sea, temperatures in Helsinki tend to be in humid extremes year-round. Summer temperatures are hot and humid, and winter temperatures in Helsinki are cold and damp.

Helsinki in the winter is usually covered under a thick blanket of snow, with a short daylight period of around 6 hours. Throughout the majority of the winter, temperatures are below 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit), and while Helsinki and southern Finland are warmer than the rest of the country (such as Lapland in winter), the bitter cold still packs a strong punch.

When it comes to packing clothing for a trip to Helsinki in winter, layers will be your best friend. Thermal underlayers, wool or merino sweaters, a warm winter coat, scarf, hat, and gloves are a great starting point to keep you warm, allowing you to experience and enjoy Helsinki in its coldest time of the year.

Winter in Helsinki's Old Town
Winter in Helsinki’s Old Town

Which Month to Visit Helsinki in Winter?

Helsinki in December

If you’re traveling to Helsinki in the winter and are searching for a Christmas and holiday wonderland, December is the best time of the year to visit. Helsinki in December is transformed into a dreamland, with the city’s annual Christmas market from December 1st – December 22nd and festive lights and an atmospheric ambiance all around.

Located in Senate Square, the Helsinki Christmas Market is the oldest and most popular Christmas market in Finland and once you experience it for yourself, there’s no guessing why.

The market has all of the classic stalls you’ll find at most Christmas markets in Europe and is a top attraction in the city; such as local products as well as food stalls with classic Finnish foods along with an abundance of hot chocolate and glögi (Finnish mulled wine).

Beyond the latter, you’ll find cosy fires spread throughout the market, along with daily visits from Santa. For a special and unique experience if you’re in Helsinki on December 13th, head to the Helsinki Cathedral to witness a Finnish tradition, honouring the 4th-century Christian martyr St Lucia, where the newly crowned “St. Lucia” descends the steps of the cathedral before leading a procession through the city.

The Christmas and holiday season bring in more tourism leading to higher costs and a busier atmosphere in Finland, and Helsinki in particular. Because of this factor, if you prefer to travel and experience Helsinki on more of a low-key level with a local atmosphere, perhaps visiting in November, January or February is best.

If you prefer the excitement and holiday buzz of the holiday season, December is a prime time to experience a Helsinki winter.

Helsinki Cathedral during Christmas
Helsinki Cathedral during Christmas

Helsinki in January

In comparison to December, temperatures in January drop to even cooler temperatures and the city is much quieter than in December.

If you’re able to manage the bitter cold weather outside, January is a wonderful month to visit Helsinki and dive deeper into Finnish culture and enjoy the events Helsinki has to offer.

For example, Lux Helsinki Light Festival is an annual festival every January in Helsinki where the city’s landmarks and spaces are transformed into works of art by light installations and displays, illuminating the city under a magical winter light.

Due to January being one of the coldest months of the year in Helsinki, I suggest taking advantage of the frigid temperatures to take part in the Finnish ritual of sauna, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find sauna locations in the city and it’s one of the best things to do on a trip to Finland!

Helsinki in February

Helsinki in February is quite similar to Helsinki in January, with cold temperatures and an overall quite and calm ambience to the city, albeit with more snow. February is known to be the snowiest month in February, making it the best and most likely time to visit if you hope to experience it under a twinkling, white blanket of snow.

Due to the snowy and cold outdoor conditions, February is the perfect time in Helsinki to dive into the city’s fantastic and delicious gastronomic side. From some of the most delicious cafes with set menus to traditional Finnish restaurants, there’s much to be tasted and tried in the Finnish capital.

Furthermore, while Finland and Helsinki specifically become frigid in the winter months, the Finnish aren’t shy when it comes to keeping warm indoors. Contrary to some other countries in the cold, you’ll find the heat indoors in Finland is warm and inviting.

February is also an excellent time to experience some of Helsinki’s top museums and attractions without large crowds.

If you plan to visit a number of places, it can often be worth it to purchase a Helsinki Card. This includes entry into a myriad of sites including the National Museum and the Helsinki Design Museum along with access to public transport to help you get around the city.

Snowy Old Town of Helsinki
Snowy Old Town of Helsinki

Things to do in Helsinki in Winter

Christmas Market and Activities

When searching for things to do in Helsinki in winter, one of the biggest draws for visitors and locals in the wintertime in the Finnish capital, is visiting the classic Christmas market that the city offers.

Every year from December 1st, the Helsinki Christmas Market begins at the city’s Senate Square. Stroll through the Helsinki Christmas Market to discover a world of delights, from handcrafted gifts to delectable Finnish treats. The air is cheerful and festive, with the aroma of warm mulled wine, roasting nuts, and freshly baked goods.

Near the Christmas Market as well as other points throughout the city, you’ll have the opportunity to ice skate in the festive, Helsinki holiday atmosphere. Jääpuisto Helsinki Ice Park is likely the biggest and most well-known artificial ice rink in the city, located beside Helsinki Railway Station.

Here you can either bring your own skates or rent a pair for an affordable price, skate under the twinkling city lights & classic Finnish architecture, and warm up at the Ice Cafe with a decadent hot chocolate (Finland doesn’t mess around when it comes to hot chocolate!).

Christmas Decorations in Helsinki
Christmas Decorations in Helsinki

Finnish Sauna

There are few things more synonymous with Finland, than the famous sauna, and when searching for things to do in Helsinki in winter, spending time enjoying and rejuvenating with this Finnish ritual is ideal.

With evidence dating back to 7000 BCE, sauna is an integral part of Finnish culture and no trip to Finland is complete without visiting a sauna.

Throughout Helsinki, you’ll find varying types of saunas, simply from your hotel or accommodation, to more upscale spa saunas with other facilities, to low-key traditional saunas.

If you’re visiting Helsinki and would like to visit a sauna on the Baltic Sea, with direct access to the water before/after a sauna session, Löyly is a wonderful option. The sauna is located in a modern complex along with a restaurant, terrace and platform areas for cold-water swimming.

For a more traditional experience, Kotiharjun Sauna is the last authentic, wood-heated traditional public sauna in Helsinki, in operation since 1928. You also have the opportunity here to book a hearty scrub, massage, or manicure/pedicure treatment.

Helsinki Food

If you’re in Helsinki during the cold months of the year, you’re set up for the perfect time to embark on a Finnish culinary journey. Finnish food is delicious, comforting, close to nature, and usually with cosy interiors, ideal for a warm escape from the outside wintry temperatures.

From rich and creamy, traditional dill & salmon soup, to warm aromatic cinnamon rolls, Finnish food is as comforting as a stroll under the twinkling Christmas lights or an hour at the sauna.

These are some of my favourite spots for either a warm cup of coffee, a filling brunch, or a traditional Finnish meal:

For coffee, Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo is a cosy coffee shop located in the northern part of Helsinki. From a quirky and unique interior to tasty coffee and cakes, this coffee shop is the perfect spot to take a quick caffeine break from the cold to warm up in a friendly atmosphere.

For a sweet, Finnish treat, there’s no place better than the classic, Helsinki staple, Fazer Cafe. With various locations throughout the city and although it’s not the cosiest option of the bunch, Fazer Cafe is a must-visit for anyone visiting Helsinki. Since opening in 1891, Fazer Cafe has been an iconic spot for locals to gather, enjoy breakfast, lunch or a decadent dessert with a hot drink.

For a special cultural experience and delicious traditional foods, I suggest making a visit to the Old Market Hall, located beside Helsinki Market Square. Satisfying the tastes of locals since 1889, the Old Market Hall is the perfect place for sampling Finnish delicacies and classics in a traditional environment, surrounded by classic Finnish architecture.

From cheese, fish and cakes to restaurants with Finnish classics such as salmon soup, it’s difficult not to find something to satisfy your tastebuds at the Old Market Hall.

Old Market Hall
Old Market Hall

Helsinki’s Museums

Winter in Helsinki is the ideal time of the year to take advantage of the many museums in the Finnish capital. From modern design to Finnish history, Helsinki and Finland in general hold art and culture deep in the national identity, and this is reflected in the large number of museums in the city.

National Museum of Finland

The quintessential location to learn further about Finland’s rich history and culture, is at the National Museum of Finland. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to find yourself in captivating exhibits showcasing centuries of Finnish history, from prehistoric artifacts to modern innovations.

Kiasma

If you’re interested in modern and contemporary art, make sure to visit the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum showcases an array of thought-provoking exhibitions by global and local artists. Its distinctive architecture and unique displays promise an inspiring visit, making your time in Helsinki a stimulating and inspiring experience.

Ateneum

For a deep dive into Finland’s artistic heritage in the heart of Helsinki, the Ateneum is a great option. This famous museum boasts a wide collection of Finnish art from the 18th century to the modern era.

There’s no better way to better understand a country’s history and heritage than by following its’ story of art and spending time immersing yourself among masterpieces by renowned Finnish artists is the best way.

Finnish National Museum
Finnish National Museum

Day Trips from Helsinki during Winter

Perhaps you’re on a winter trip to Helsinki and have the itch to get out of the city and explore a different town or even a taste of Finland’s serene nature. The surrounding area of Helsinki has much to offer, and these day trips from Helsinki are prime options for enhancing your trip to the Finnish capital.

Day Trip to Nuuksio National Park

If your interest is more angled towards getting out into Finnish nature, I suggest heading to the Nuuksio National Park in Espoo. In around an hour with public transportation, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered deep into Finnish nature, far away from the city.

Visiting in the winter is a particularly special time to visit the park as the winter activities are endless, from snowshoeing to visiting the reindeer park or even just taking part in some winter hiking and staying warm in a Kota (traditional Finnish teepee) drinking hot chocolate.

To reach the park from Helsinki, you’ll first take a train from Helsinki Central Rail Station to Espoo, and from there, the final leg of the journey is a 25-minute bus to Nukksio. You can also take a guided tour.

If you’re keen to extend your day further, I recommend spending time in the city of Espoo as well, exploring museums such as the Haltia Finnish Nature Centre to gain a deeper understanding of the pristine Finnish nature through interactive exhibits.

Day Trip to Porvoo

Located about 50 km outside of Helsinki, the city of Porvoo is the second oldest city in Finland with a quaint atmosphere, from cobbled streets to charming shops and cafes on just about every corner of the center.

Porvoo is an idyllic city drenched in history and is even more remarkable in the winter, settled under a blanket of snow. Spend time wandering around Porvoo’s old town, and stopping in traditional shops such as Brunberg Chocolates, a chocolate and traditional Finnish sweet shop dating back to 1871.

For a deeper look into the history of the town, head to the Porvoo History Museum in the main square to walk through history while learning about the region and Porvoo over the centuries.

While there isn’t train transport from Helsinki to Porvoo, there are regular bus routes year-round to Porvoo in just under an hour from Helsinki’s Kamppi Station, making it an easy and enjoyable day trip from the city. You can also take a guided tour.

Porvoo in winter
Porvoo in winter

Where to Stay in Helsinki

Bob W Kluuvi – If you’re after a mid-range option while on your winter trip to Helsinki, this hotel is a great choice. They have a number of cosy rooms to choose from, breakfast available in the mornings and a great location for exploring the Finnish capital. Click here to see their availability

Hotel Mestari – This luxury hotel is a great choice for those looking for a bit of opulence during their winter stay in the Finnish capital. They have a range of lovely rooms to choose from, plenty of great amenities and a great location in the centre of Helsinki. Click here to see their availability

The Yard Hostel – Budget and solo visitors heading to Helsinki in the wintertime will love this highly-rated hostel. They offer both dorms and price rooms along with great self-catering facilities, excellent common areas and a fantastic location. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Helsinki hotels!

To many, Helsinki isn’t the first city that comes to mind when planning for a winter getaway, but with its friendly locals, charming atmosphere, unique culture and delicious comfort food, it’s safe to say Helsinki is a fair contender for one of the best winter trips in Europe.

Are you planning a winter trip to Helsinki? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.

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