Dinner in someone’s backyard, a giant flea market spanning the city, a guided climb to a clock tower, and midnight bonfires. Helsinki has a line-up of annual events, ranging from quirky to boisterous to cultured, that manage to bring locals and visitors together in fun, engaging and innovative ways. Before you book your flights, Helsinki accommodation and a boat tour of the fjords, make sure to plan your visit around one of the city’s fantastic annual events.
Restaurant Day is the brainchild of three friends from who were frustrated with the strict Finnish regulations about opening a restaurant. Shortly after starting to serve tapas from bicycle in the street they went on to encourage their fellow citizens to become restaurateurs for a day. The result is Restaurant Day, an event held on four Saturdays throughout the year, in February, May, August and November, on which anyone can prepare and serve food anywhere in the city.
In the two years since its inception, the event has spread to other countries and cities but it’s still at its strongest in Helsinki. There is hardly any yummier time to visit the city than during one of the four Restaurant days. Locals set up food stalls in the streets, parks and gardens selling snacks and refreshments, while pop-up restaurants appear in shops and private residences, among other locations. You can sample traditional dishes in people’s backyards, try out someone’s secret family recipe for cake or you can even savour food from around the world.
Restaurant day celebrates food and cuisine with a lot of gusto, so mark the dates on your calendar and forget about your diet for one day.
Come June, Finns prepare for a much loved national holiday – the Midsummer celebrations of the Midnight Sun. The summer solstice is marked with huge bonfires, boisterous festivities, music, dance, outdoor games, drink and food. A lot of citizens leave Helsinki to retreat to their countryside homes and villas for the holiday, so the city can look a bit deserted, but according to some it has its own unique, mysterious charm during that period.
Those who stay in the city celebrate in their own fashion. In Helsinki, the biggest celebrations are held on the island district of Seurasaari. Locals light bonfires, perform folk dances and engage in a whole lot of other activities suitable for both young and old. In nightclubs and other venues around the city, young people celebrate by dressing up in funky old-fashioned attire and making merry till wee hours. The white nights and balmy weather are quite inviting to celebrating around the clock, so make the most of it.
Later during the summer, in August Helsinki welcomes thousands of visitors eager to hear their favourite bands and singers perform during the Flow Festival. This hugely popular music fest is held over the course of three days – a time when local and international bands entertain the crowds with rock, pop, indie, electronic and club music.
Manic Street Preachers, Outkast, Kanye West and Björk are just some of the big names who have performed at Flow in the past. Besides awesome music, Flow is also a time to enjoy a range of other entertainment, visual arts, film screenings, and to sample the fantastic food served by local restaurants and food vendors.
While Midsummer marks the white, warm days, Lux brings brightness to the dark polar nights. During the festival, local and international artists dot the city with their imaginative light art installations. Anyone can see these works that grace public spaces and buildings and are hence free for all to enjoy. From animations projected on brick walls and entire buildings bathed in multicoloured lights, to giant clusters of lamps and sculptures with flickering bulbs. For a couple of months, Helsinki is lit by a mesmerising variety of lights, making the polar night quite the rainbow event of the year.
Helsinki Cleaning Day
Siivouspäivä or Cleaning Day (new site coming soon) has little to do with cleaning and a lot more to do with recycling, donating and eco-friendly activities. Held on a Saturday in May and August, Cleaning Day allows citizens from all ages and backgrounds set up stalls around town and sell their unwanted stuff. You can come across practical finds or quality bargains while browsing the innumerable stalls that dot the city. You might spot a quaint antique or cheap second-hand designer goodie but even if you don’t you get to mix and mingle with locals and see Helsinki through their eyes.
Open House Helsinki
The event that originated in London in the 90s has spread to many European capitals, and Helsinki is no exception. Usually held on a weekend in September, the Helsinki edition of Open House allows visitors access to buildings and spaces usually closed to the public. Previous years have opened doors to such iconic locations as the Clock Tower of the Central Railway station and the offices of the prime minister.
Other places that can be visited range from traditional wooden houses to modern glassy skyscrapers. The Marble Palace, built by architect Eliel Saarinen, is one of the most luxurious private residences in the city, and a visit can quickly make you wish you could spend the night there. While you cannot do that, Helsinki has plenty of excellent hotels,