14 Ways Helsinki offers people the freedom to breathe

Aerial view of a small, dark lake shaped like a thumbprint, surrounded by trees in Nuuksio national park.
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Although Helsinki is a lively city, you always have the option of taking some time out and reconnecting with nature here. It really is a place where you can just breathe.

1. First things first: the air is clean.

One of the first things people often notice when they visit Helsinki is that our trams display information about the city’s air quality on their screens—and that we’re almost always in the green. In 2019, the air quality in the centre of Helsinki was considered ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ 91% of the time. For a capital city, that’s pretty impressive. If you’re interested, you can track the city’s air quality in real time on the HSY website.

2. And that’s an internationally recognised fact.

In 2019 IQAir, a website that tracks air quality in cities around the world according to particle data, ranked Helsinki as the capital city with the fifth best air quality (pdf). This data is based on target limits formulated by the World Health Organisation WHO. The ranking includes 85 capital cities from all over the world.

Within Europe, Helsinki scores even better. According to research carried out by British pharmacy service Treated.com, Helsinki is the city with the second best air quality in Europe. Using data obtained from Numbeo, HPI ThinkTank, World Population Review, World Bank Group, and Index Mundi, Treated.com lists Bern as the only European capital city with better air quality than Helsinki.

3. And so is the water.

Water in Helsinki is safe to drink. In fact, it’s among the cleanest in Europe. According to the same Treated.com report, Helsinki is the European capital city with the highest quality of water.

Viewed from the opposite side of Löyly's terrace, partially overlooking the sea to the right, two people climb out of the water having dipped after sauna. Under an overcast sky, the rocky shore stretches to the Eiranranta shoreline in the distance.
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4. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that the city is filled with delightful swimming spots.

Helsinki has 123km of shoreline and comprises 27 public beaches. My favourite swimming beach is Hietaranta, a shallow beach in the heart of Töölö. In the summer it even attracts ice cream vans, food trucks, and musical performers.

5. Even in the winter.

There are 13 winter swimming spots in the city, too. These winter swimming spots are maintained throughout the winter, meaning that any ice that forms on the surface of the water is broken to allow people to swim.

If you’re just visiting the city, you can give winter swimming a go at Löyly, but if you’re around for longer you should look into signing up to a winter swimming club. For a fixed fee, you’ll get access to a maintained swimming spot as well as a sauna, which really helps if you’re going to be submerging your body into near-freezing water!

6. Helsinki is a city that’s full of green space.

Did you know that green areas managed by the city make up 40% of Helsinki? It’s the perfect city for anyone who enjoys spending time in nature. One of my favourite green spaces in the city is Uutela, a naturally diversified recreational area in eastern Helsinki. The nature trail is well worth checking out, and it even includes cooking shelters for walkers who remember to pack sausages with them!

7. And there are plenty of quiet spots to be found in the city’s forests or along its waterfront.

I love Töölönlahti, a bay in the heart of the city that offers Helsinki locals a spot to stop and take a deep breath, while taking in the beauty of their surroundings. 

Half a dozen Lupins stand on a grassy bank in the foreground, while a metro train passes by on the left of the picture under a sunny, blue sky.
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8. The city is designed such that access to nature is quick and easy.

There are two national parks that are easily accessible by public transport from Helsinki. Nuuksio, which is located in Espoo, is filled with delightful walking trails and in the autumn it’s a mushroom picker’s paradise. And Sipoonkorpi, which is located in Vantaa, is equally lovely. It’s even home to a smoke sauna beside Lake Kuusijärvi, which is well worth visiting if you’re looking for an authentic sauna experience.

9. And everyman’s right means people have access to lots of land.

Everyman’s right refers to a Finnish law, which says everyone is free to roam the forests and wilderness regardless of who owns the land. It means that in Finland, including in the capital city, you can walk, ski, or cycle wherever you like in the countryside, as long as you don’t stray into people’s private gardens or enter areas of nature that you might damage. In other words, it makes the opportunities for seeking out adventures endless.

Cycling away from the camera, a woman rides her bike down a street, carrying freshly picked flowers on her bike's rear rack. It is a grey day, the car to the right is using their headlights.
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10. The city is small enough that you can walk and cycle everywhere…

Helsinki’s roads are well maintained and the size of the city means that locals often opt to walk instead of drive. In fact, about a third of all journeys made in Helsinki are carried out by foot.

What’s more, there are 1,200km of maintained cycle lanes in Helsinki and people really do use them. From May until October, the city provides rentable bicycles for the use of residents and tourists alike. In other words, there’s no need to sit in traffic breathing in car fumes here.

11. And it encompasses plenty of islands that’re free to explore in the summer…

My favourite is Lonna, a tiny island just minutes away from the city centre, that comprises a restaurant, sauna, and coffee shop. Then there’s Vallisaari, a gorgeous spot for daytrips and home to one of my favourite swimming beaches in the city; Isosaari, an island on the outer archipelago that’s perfect for a walk along the rocky shoreline; and Harakka, a tiny island with an artist’s residence, a nature centre, and enough bird-watching to keep you busy all day. And don’t forget Katajanokanluoto, one of Helsinki’s most charming islands and home to an excellent pizzeria. It’s adorable: Katjanokanluoto is so small that you can walk the entire length of the island in under a minute

12. As well as a few that remain open throughout the winter months too.

The ferry to Suomenlinna runs year round, and you also can walk to Uunisaari, Mustikkamaa, Lammassaari, and Seurasaari in the winter, too. But my favourite winter island is Rajasaari, an island specifically designed for dog walkers (yes, really). 

A man is walking a medium sized grey dog up a hill in the woods of Alppipuisto Park
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13. Helsinki is the perfect city for dog owners.

The city contains 92 dog parks and you come across lots of good dogs in Helsinki. And with all the green space around the city, it makes perfect sense: why not?

14. If you’re craving peace and quiet, you’ll always be able to find it in Helsinki.

Helsinki is full of quiet areas, which are perfect for escaping to when you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. I recently discovered Viikki arboretum, a 20 hectare part of the city that contains 250 different kinds of trees and shrubs from all over the world.

Although Helsinki’s is a lively city, you always have the option of taking some time out and reconnecting with nature here. It really is a place where you can just breathe.

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Helsinki is one of the few capital cities in the world where the real nature is so close to its inhabitants. The local nature offers lots of attractions, each one prettier than the next, that all visitors to Helsinki should experience.

 

Finland is the most forested country in Europe, thus ensuring that you can reach greenery and the calm of nature within minutes without venturing too far even from the Helsinki centre. Even though Helsinki is the biggest city in the country if you wish to go down to the woods there are plenty of places you can easily reach where you can experience the Finnish forest at its peaceful best.

In Finland we believe that nature is good for you. Being in nature has a positive influence on your physical and mental health, lowering your blood pressure, reducing stress and soothing your mind. Helsinki is one of the few capital cities in the world where the real nature is so close to its inhabitants. You can easily move around the city by bike but the metro is also a great way to get from the city centre out into the nature.

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Although Helsinki is a lively city, you always have the option of taking some time out and reconnecting with nature here. It really is a place where you can just breathe.