Every Helsinki resident lives within ten kilometres of the shoreline, yet it could be argued that the city’s maritime nature is not as visible in the daily lives of locals as it could be. Many enjoy the sea by lounging on one of Helsinki's magnificent beaches or hopping on the Suomenlinna ferry, but how many have explored Helsinki's shoreline from the sea? Paddling provides an excellent opportunity to explore maritime Helsinki, and renting a kayak or joining a paddling club does not require owning a boat or taking an archipelago boating course. Maybe this summer is the right time to rent a kayak or take a basic paddling course at one of Helsinki's many paddling clubs?
It is often said that viewing Helsinki from a kayak opens up a whole new world. The green shoreline, rocky landscape, old villas, marinas and camping islands provide an archipelago atmosphere to the Finnish capital that may not be noticeable from the land. At the same time, you can enjoy a unique urban paddling experience, especially if you pull up at the Market Square in the city centre for a coffee or paddle through Ruoholahti Canal to see all the passenger ships.
It could almost be said that paddling provides access to the collective summer cottage of all Helsinki residents without ever having to worry about renovations! The camping islands off the coast of the city have campfire sites, cooking shelters, toilets and saunas. All you need to bring with you is a nice picnic, appropriate clothing and camping equipment if you intend to stay the night.
Paddling is also an affordable and ecological way of getting around that is often also suitable for people with reduced mobility. It is a multifaceted hobby that offers various forms of recreation and exercise. Those who seek natural peace and solitude can paddle to the middle of nowhere, while those who prefer socialising can meet new people and tourists around a campfire. Especially during the pandemic, paddling has enabled safe recreation in the heart of nature, either alone or together with others.
Safety first when paddling
Whenever you are out on the water, it is important to pay attention to safety and to be aware of the risks. For example, even in warm weather, there is a risk of hypothermia if exposed to water. Life jackets should always be worn. It is also recommended for inexperienced paddlers to not go out alone and to remain close to the shoreline at first. Keep your cell phone in a waterproof bag in case of an emergency. Even if you do not have to call for help, someone else may need it.
It is also worth reading up on the rules of the water. A good rule of thumb is that smaller boats must give way to larger boats. Accordingly, kayaks must give way to motorboats and sailboats, for example. Boat channels should be crossed by the shortest possible route, in other words at right angles. Before doing so, make sure no other boats are approaching along the channel. A basic paddling course will teach you the essential rules and skills, and, rental companies can provide information about boat channels and other safety aspects.
Private Nuuksio Canoe and Hike Adventure
Paddling is more than just camping and cooking outdoors
Paddling is an umbrella term for different types of canoeing and kayaking. For many people, paddling is done in large sea or touring kayaks measuring 4 to 6 metres in length. These kayaks can hold a lot of supplies, such as a tent, hammock, picnic, portable stove and clothes. This type of paddling usually involves longer daytrips or overnight trips. The most dedicated paddlers can kayak thousands of kilometres a year.
Other forms of paddling include fitness and competitive kayaking and canoeing, as well as rafting and even canoe or kayak polo. Competitive kayaking and canoeing involves paddling hard in narrow boats. Rafting involves navigating rapids, and in Helsinki the best place for this is the Old Town Rapids (Vanhankaupunginkoski) in autumn and spring, when the water flow is sufficiently fast. Canoe or kayak polo is like handball, only in boats. Yes, you read that right! You can find out more about canoe or kayak polo here. These specialised versions of paddling require more training in terms of fitness and skills, and the best way to get started is by joining a paddling club that offers the form of paddling you are interested in.
How to get started
The easiest and fastest way to get started in paddling is to rent a kayak, but in the long run it will be cheaper to join a paddling club. In most clubs, the membership fee includes the right to use different kayaks, and some clubs also offer a sauna and ice swimming. Paddling clubs require taking a basic course, and it is worth signing up early in spring, as they fill up quickly.
Paddling clubs and rental centres in Helsinki
Drumsö paddlarklubb (Lauttasaari)
Drumsö Kanotister (Lauttasaari)
Helsingin Jyry melojat (Pukinmäki, Vantaanjoki)
Helsingin kanoottiklubi (Töölö)
Helsingin melojat (Töölö and Mustikkamaa)
Itä-Helsingin melojat (Vuosaari)
Marjaniemen Melojat (Marjaniemi)
Joining a club is not a prerequisite for enjoying paddling, as some clubs also rent kayaks to the public. You can also rent a kayak from rental centres for a few hours or even overnight.
Rental centres in the city centre
Rental centres outside the city centre
Where to paddle to
From the city centre, you can paddle either east or west. You can also paddle south, of course, but getting all the way to Tallinn demands extreme endurance and experience. Many great recreational islands can be found to the east and west that are easily accessible by kayak. In addition to these islands, you can head for any of the cafés and restaurants along the coast and pull up easily on shore nearby.
Paddling destinations along the Helsinki shoreline
The rocky “Snake Skerries” are a daytrip and overnight destination in Southwest Helsinki, west of Lauttasaari. The skerries offer beautiful views to the open sea and comprise an eastern, northern and western islet. Camping areas for tents, a cooking shelter and toilets can be found on the western and northern islets.
Länsi-Villinki is a little-known gem between Jollas in East Helsinki and Santahamina. The island exudes an atmosphere of old-time villas, and paddlers should definitely take the time to circle all the way around the island. Kristallilahti (“Crystal Bay”) is a secret paradise that lives up to its name and can be found on the southwest side of the island.
The island of Pikku-Leikosaari off the coast of Vuosaari in East Helsinki has a wonderful small wood-heated sauna, camping areas for tents and campfire places. You have to provide your own water for the sauna, but wood for heating the sauna can be found on the island.
This canal in the Ruoholahti district offers an urban paddling experience that you can access from the Jätkäsaari harbour, but keep an eye out for the massive passenger ships and the waves they create.
The “Summer Archipelago” can be found west of Helsinki in Espoo. Some of the islands are accessible only by boat. From a paddling perspective, the most interesting islands are Pentala, which has a local museum and naturally sandy Diksanden beach, and Rövaren, which offers views to the open sea. For lunch, stop by the local Saaristokauppa shop.
Further information about paddling routes and recreational islands in and around Helsinki:
Article was written in collaboration with the Ruskeat Tytöt Media.