The young seagulls grow bigger, run along the rooftop terraces and try out their wings. Welcome to Helsinki in summertime!
At last the sun warms up the sea water along the shoreline that stretches over a hundred kilometres, at least enough for paddling in. The rose bushes burst into colour, while the fruit trees gain fragrant white veils on their branches. Here and there lilac bushes are in blossom, indicating the places in old gardens where once a cottage stood.
Whereas a hundred years ago the summer saw the gentry travel by steamships out to their villas in the archipelago, these days it invites people to relax in their local parks together with their sweethearts, a guitar, a book or even a bottle of beer under their arms.
The city is the venue for a multitude of summer events, when the parks, markets and pedestrian streets are filled with music, food stalls and stylishly dressed locals. The summer celebrations begin in the Roihuvuori district, where the annual Hanami Festival takes place among colourful kimonos and cherry blossom right in the middle of East Helsinki. The World Village Festival in turn attracts musicians from around the world to Kaisaniemi Park, and Helsinki celebrates its birthday each year on 12 June, when you can climb the steps to the top of the tower at the Erottaja Fire Station and enjoy the view from a seagull’s perspective.
The longest day of the year is on 22 June, when the sunlight lasts for a full 18 hours and 56 minutes. A couple of decades ago, Midsummer in Helsinki would have meant deserted streets and the evening sun casting long shadows of tourists wondering where everybody disappeared to, but these days the summer solstice festivities can be seen in all the bonfires at Seurasaari and in the allotment gardens, as well as in the summer dances and gatherings of friends along the shoreline, including at the Sompasaari sauna.
If the visitors have discovered Suomenlinna and its historical sea fortress, locals take the waterbuses to the islands of Pihlajasaari (note the old changing huts by the beach), Lonna (perfect for a picnic), Kaunissaari (where you can camp out in your tent all summer long if you choose) and Vallisaari, where the rocks, battlements, meadows and walking paths are used by people and badgers alike.
Summer also brings new sights to the city centre. Stand-up paddleboarders paddle their way across the Töölönlahti bay, thousands of plants – including the giant water lilies – burst into flower at the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, the Olympic Swimming Stadium and Kumpula Outdoor Swimming Pool attract lines of swimmers, and locals in casual summer clothing sit outside the classic canopy kiosks.
And what about all the city animals? Flocks of geese take over the parks and shorelines, while the young seagulls grow bigger, run along the rooftop terraces and try out their wings.
One of the last big annual events of the summer is Night of the Arts, which is the perfect occasion to end the summer. Soon afterwards the schools reopen, the migratory birds begin to head south and locals take to wearing scarves around their necks. But before the arrival of autumn, let’s enjoy the white light and warmth of summer, as well as those moments when a sharp sea breeze blows a hat across the road!
Signs of summer
✔️ Sun worshippers in Kaivopuisto Park
✔️ Visits to the Hietalahti Flea Market
✔️ A drink on a summer terrace
✔️ Guitar strumming in Sinebrychoff Park
✔️ A day on the beach
✔️ A four-leaf clover you find in the grass
✔️ Tan stripes on arms
✔️ A day at the Swimming Stadium
✔️ Ice cream in the Market Square
✔️ A concert on the stage in Esplanade Park
✔️ A young couple sitting together on the rocks at Suomenlinna
✔️ Blossoming willowherb
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.