Exploring Helsinki in autumn takes you through the rich colours of foliage, beneath fireworks, to stormy winds and urban culture. Welcome to Helsinki in autumntime.
Flocks of migratory birds sweep across the turquoise sky of September. Their shifting arrowheads fly south over the Suomenlinna sea fortress in huge formations of cranes [screech], barnacle geese [hoot], brent geese [toot] and Canada geese [honk].
The darkening evenings drive locals outside to watch the exploding star bombs and pinwheels along with the brilliant sparklers and fountains. Huge firework displays traditionally take place at the start of autumn in Helsinki, including the one that celebrates the end of another season at Linnanmäki Amusement Park.
After enough cold and warm, sunny and rainy days, the plants release their anthocyanins and change from greens to yellows, oranges and reds. The same colour tones can be seen in the wasps that buzz around the outdoor terraces, diving with reckless abandon into coffee cups and onto your cinnamon buns.
The boats along the shoreline are hoisted one by one out of the water for winter storage, while giant seagulls perch on the remaining buoys. If you imagine a musical stave between the floating buoys, the shoreline’s autumn ode would be a long steady hum.
Gusts of wind blow debris from the trees onto the paths and along the tram lines. Locals await the annual low-pressure systems with nervous anticipation. Traditionally, storms have been named after the name days on which they arrive – Aarno, Mauri, Manta and Alli having been previous visitors – but who will wash over the Market Square this year?
On grey days, when the sky drops down to the eaves, the golden domes on the Orthodox cathedral disappear from view. Locals still fumble their way through the fog to the annual Herring Market, which has been held each year in October ever since the 1700s.
It’s no point yearning for the summer that has disappeared behind the motorways leading west. The darkest time of the year in Helsinki is lit up by thousands of candles in the cemeteries and by brilliant gigs, performances, exhibitions and other events that invigorate the mind just as the chilly weather does the body.
Signs of autumn in Helsinki
✔️ autumn storms
✔️ falling leaves
✔️ trees in foliage
✔️ gardeners raking their yards
✔️ fireworks over the city
✔️ foggy days
✔️ mushrooms along the roadside
✔️ first snow
You can read more about Helsinki's annual rhytms and other tips for urban explorers in Helsinki in Meiju’s book Olet tässä (Helsinki) published by Avain in 2008.