The first tufts of grass appear in the parks as hundreds of locals climb the steps of the cathedral to soak up the long-awaited sun. Welcome to Helsinki in springtime!
On a moonlit night in spring, eagle-owls perch on the rooftops of the city. The sound of their deep resonant singing echoes through the night to their likenesses carved out of stone on the Art Nouveau façades, yet not so far as to reach the lovesick wild cats on the zoo island of Korkeasaari, where Helsinki Zoo can be found.
The first tufts of grass begin to appear and earthworms poke their heads out of the soil behind the bicycle racks in the courtyards. The sounds of footsteps crushing the gravel that was spread in wintertime to cover the ice mix with the clopping of high heels as hundreds of locals climb the steps of Helsinki Cathedral to soak up the long-awaited sun that has finally climbed above the rooftops.
Migratory birds returning to the North for the summer descend on the telephone wires, trees and shrubs. Slowly but surely the sound of traffic is covered by a mixed choir or birds that grows in volume, one triller at a time.
Thousands of ducks meet up for blind dates at the Töölönlahti bay, and the skateboard sounds of urban culture fill the square in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. When the frozen sea has melted, the icebreakers Urho, Otso, Sisu, Kontio, Voima and Polaris tie up to the docks at the end of Katajanokka.
Signs of spring in Helsinki
✔️ The singing of small birds
✔️ The appearance of wood anemones
✔️ Sun worshipers on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral
✔️ Picnics on sun-warmed granite boulders
✔️ Sailboats on the sea
✔️ A smile from a stranger
✔️ A ride around town on a city bike
✔️ Coffees outside a canopy kiosk
✔️ Gardeners at work in the allotments
✔️ Flea markets in courtyards
✔️ Fishing boats by the Market Square
The First of May celebrations begin the night before with a tradition that stretches back almost a century as a student cap is placed on the head of the mermaid-like Havis Amanda next to the Market Square. The pedestrian crossings are filled with processions of merrymakers as colourful helium balloons float up into the air, perhaps reaching all the way to Central Europe with a good tailwind. (Please note that Havis Amanda is currently undergoing renovation and the surrounding area is fenced off as a construction site. The renovation work is expected to continue until August 2024.)
On the morning of the First of May, the first cotton candies stick to fingers and the hair of happy fathers on the opening day of the summer season at the Linnanmäki Amusement Park. A traditional workers’ march sets off from the Hakaniementori market square and crosses the Pitkäsilta bridge. In Kaisaniemi Park, Swedish-language students sing a traditional spring song to Kaisa Wahlund, the restaurateur who now lies buried in Hietaniemi Cemetery. Meanwhile in Kaivopuisto Park, the biggest public picnic of the season gets underway on the lawns as tens of thousands of students raise a toast to spring in a tradition stretching back to the days of prohibition.
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.