With so many bays, inlets, waterways and canals, Helsinki seems more water than city. The harbour is at the heart of this compact destination, but motorhome travel suits Finland perfectly. Unlike its other Scandinavian counterparts, Helsinki never tries too hard. It’s the true point of contact for Finland to the outside world and is both highly cultural and incredibly relaxing.
Handy hints for the Helsinki getaway
Go to a tourist office and get the ‘Ulkoilutkartta’ (outdoor map) free of charge. This has all the camping sites in the Helsinki area marked on them and shows you where you can camp in the forest for free.
If you are freedom camping, please remember to take litter with you.
Accommodation options for your campervan
In eastern Helsinki, Rastila Camping is one of the most popular sites in Finland. With saunas, a restaurant, beach and winter swimming facilities, it’s a great place for the whole family and only a 15-minute ride from Helsinki city.
Nuuksio National Park is about 30km from Helsinki.
You can also camp on Pihlajasaari at weekends, but won’t be able to take your camper. Tents only.
A new generation of restaurants
While the Finnish may not be internationally known for their food, Nordic cuisine has developed quickly to make Helsinki an excellent dining destination and there are a few standouts you shouldn’t miss. With more than 1000 restaurants, there’s something to satiate any palate.
Luomo has a seven-course degustation at rock bottom pricing and uses only the freshest ingredients. Anything with the Parmesan mousse is worth trying.
If you time your stay with crayfish season, you can enjoy the delights of this subtle delicacy on a summer evening. Elite, Seahorse, and Kuu are all restaurants at the higher end of the price scale and will serve you cray. Their dishes are a mix of traditional Finnish cuisine and contemporary techniques. While you may spend a little more, the fare is well worth it.
A blini is like a pancake but thicker. In Russia they are traditionally eaten as a dessert, but in Finland they are served savoury with a number of different toppings including sour cream, fish eggs, pickles, onion, mayonnaise, tomato or shrimp. Try one at Restaurant Lasipalatsi – it comes with sour cream, honey and pickle.
Fish is a staple in any Finnish diet, and served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Head to Hietalahti Market Hall for cold smoked salmon. If you’re a little more daring, try the local favourite of pickled herring.
Don’t think, just jump: Helsinki attractions
Contrary to popular belief, Helsinki is not too cold to go swimming in the many natural waterways. It enjoys surprisingly warm summers and with more than 300 islands and a coastline of about 100km, there is a lot of towel space on the beaches.
They’re not trying to fool you either; it’s a Finnish tradition to go swimming in the nude. Yrjonkatu swimming pool has separate days for men and women.
Just north of modern-day Helsinki city centre is the old city, Vanhakaupunki. At 450 years old, the buildings are still picture perfect. The River Vantaa runs through the town and downstream is a good fishing spot. In the city, hop on Tram No.3 and you will pass most of the important sights around the centre – sometimes they even have Wi-Fi.
The North Esplanade and South Esplanade are elegant thoroughfares lined with beautiful buildings and separated by a pretty park where you can enjoy live performances. Take a stroll and see where you end up. The Post Museumshowcases the history of the postal service in Finland. It may sound slightly tedious, but it’s not! The evolution of the mail service is actually fascinating and parallels the history of Finland itself. Right up the street from the Post Museum is the Museum of Contemporary Art. Helsinki’s giant cathedral towers over the surrounding square. It hosts rock concerts and is very unchurch like.
While you can’t take your camper, there are many islands worth exploring:
Suonenlinna is a group of islands only a couple of minutes away from the harbour. This UNESCO heritage site was once used to defend the city. In times of old, the sea was frozen between the island and mainland so you could walk there by foot. This only happens occasionally now.
Seurasaari is a small island made famous by its Open-Air Museum and nudist beach. A picturesque bridge connects the mainland to Seurasaari, or you can take a boat from the Market Square to the island.
A two-hour boat ride off Helsinki in Sipoo is the island of Kaunissaari – meaning beautiful island. It’s a great place to experience your first plunge into cold water before rushing to the sauna.
Never-ending sunlight - The Weather
Summer in Helsinki is bright. The days are at their longest in the second half of June, when the sun stays above the horizon for 19 hours. Winter begins about November and for three months the mercury sits around -4°C. If you time your camping trip carefully, you could stay under the lights of the Aurora Borealis. It is often seen in Northern Finland and sometimes in Helsinki – but rug up. For you to experience this magic, the temperature will be well below zero degrees.