Helsinki is an attractive, contemporary and super stylish city; an easy to navigate collection of pretty architecture and fashionable outlets, broken up by parkland and a boat port which can transport you to the neighbouring islands, such as Seurasaari, in a matter of minutes.
Compact in size but not short on attractions, city wandering is a must, yet it’s all too easy to focus on the heart of a capital and forget about the wider area that surrounds it. In some capitals, the outer city is just a mash and sprawl of residential areas, but Helsinki conceals a treasure trove of green areas, tucked away parkland and vast conservation areas.
Helsinki isn’t your average overcrowded, polluted and traffic jammed city, but Finland’s National Heritage Services has noted an unfamiliarity of urban residents with nature, especially in Helsinki. Tourists too, gravitate towards the city centre.
Luckily, just a few kilometers away is an outer green belt of the city with some hidden natural gems, which visitors can easily access alongside the locals. Being able to cycle over 22km outside of this much loved Scandinavian capital meant embarking on a proper adventure.
Biking has always my favourite means of wider sightseeing – a hobby I started in Asia – biking for seven hours to the Beng Mealea temple outside of Siem Reap, cycling to the villages and fields outside of Mandalay and seeing an entirely different side to bustling Bangkok on a tour to its outer provinces.
It only takes a few kilometers and an active few hours to see an entirely new persona of a capital city. The trip I took with Bike Tours Helsinki, as part of my ‘Outdoors Finland’ adventure with Visit Finland, was a slight variation of the ‘Green Trail Ride’ tour that they currently offer, except we finished at the Vuosaari Paddling Center to embark on some midnight kayaking, instead of returning to the city. Here are some of the highlights…
Halkolaituri and Merihaka
Our meeting point was Luotsikatu street, not far from Kauppatori Market Square (where you’ll find the fish market and tourist boat docks). From here we cycled around the area of the central city that’s a little hidden and easily missed, stopping at Halkolaituri to see the long ships and the ice breakers, then over to an area called Merihaka, which is well known as the spot where people wash and dry their giant rugs (easier to clean, quicker to dry…no one steals them!). This area also attracts a young and hip crowd who can be found chilling on the small wooden decks, hosting small gatherings, some of which are known for their parties!
Kivinokka Nature Path
Not many people (outside of local circles of course) know about the Kivinokka nature trail, but this tree-lined environmental haven lined with cycle paths and walkways makes you feel like you are miles away from the city. Hilly, narrow pathways with an air of mystery lead to a viewing point of the Viikki nature reserve, overlooking fields of grain and a large expanse of water. This is a must-visit spot for wildlife and bird watching enthusiasts – although the wasps preferred to hunt me down!
I don’t come from a country where you find a ski jumping ramp in the middle of wood swooping down into a field flanked by neighbourhoods and leisurely parkland. But this is Finland, and all manner of outdoors activities are easily accessible, and deemed completely normal.
Sadly, we missed some people testing their skills, but still climbed this creaking wooden structure to test our bravery with the sheer height and take a peek at the adrenalin-fuelled journey down! The storm soon dashed our daredevil endeavours and we had to quickly get down, which left us even more pumped with adrenalin! And to think I grew up thinking swings and roundabouts were outrageously fun!
Helsinki has a beach. Really – a small, sandy one with smooth rocks to climb all over. Marjaniemi beach is one of the hidden gems of Eastern Helsinki and is a great resting spot with views looking out across the Helsinki archipelago. Go and find this scenic residential hideout.
One of the most popular spots on Hailuoto, it was the perfect place to rest up as we looked out to sea. If you have more time, you can stroll. Karri from Bike Tours Helsinki even gives you biscuits!
Vuosaari Paddling Center – Biking Isn’t Enough
The outdoors lifestyle is at the heart of the Finnish ethos, so if you think the day is done after cycling, you are not doing it right. The summertime is perfect for exploring the waterways of Helsinki, and with Natura Viva Vuosaari Paddling Center we embarked on a night tour of the surrounding archipelago, leaving the mainland at around 10pm. This was a magical experience, kayaking in the moonlight, with no sounds except the pull of the paddles in the calm waters, our giggles of excitement, and whispers in the dark. With our head torches (and expert leader) guiding the way, we stopped on one of the islands to indulge in some Finnish snacks and treats, before returning to our starting point around 2:00am the next morning.
An ideal combination of city sightseeing and nature trailing.
Do you want to see Helsinki differently?
Things To Know:
- The ‘Green Trail Ride’ costs 60Euros person and runs at 3pm every day (subject to reservation 24 hours before). The price includes the guide, bike, helmet, binoculars and a snack. The tour lasts for 4-5 hours
- For further information on the outdoors life in Finland, check out this comprehensive resource where you will find guides you to the best hiking, cycling and canoeing trails in Southern Finland. At the moment portal covers Southern Finland, but in the future it will expand to cover the whole Finland
- Helsinki is a great starting base for wider travel in Finland, and whether you need to prepare for the unique Finnish personality or to understand Sauna culture and other cultural nuances for your journey ahead, its worth reading this quick fix guide of Finland in ten steps, written by a local.
- Here you can find all published route guides. Here you can find information how to download free topographic maps of Finland to a GPS devicees to be published soon. Also German and Russian versions will be published this autumn