Out of the way, off the beaten track, here are spots where you can cool off in the hot summer heat.
We all know Helsinki is unique but it’s especially unique in that it’s one of the few cities where swimming is not restricted to beaches and public places. A lot is being said about pollution in the Baltic Sea these days but the water is still clean enough to be bathed in almost anywhere along the shoreline.
Being an avid swimmer myself, I’ve sought out places where I can cut through the blue with few other people around, one of my favourites being Mustikkamaa. With all its facilities it can be pretty popular on hot days but you can generally find a time when you’ve got the place to yourself. For those who want a little more action, there’s a restaurant, tennis courts and a hiking and jogging trail. It’s pretty accessible being only 5 km from the city with a bridge that links it to Kulosaari.
A bit more complicated to find but worth the trek is KivinokkaKivinokka Beach in the protected but wild outdoor park on the other side of the freeway that takes you to Kulosaari. The residents who live close by have fiercely fought to retain this as a natural area. There’s a beach with a playground for kids and it’s very seldom packed with people.
Right at the end of Hakaniemi you’ll find the Kulttuurisauna and while you might like to use this facility there’s also a safe place to dip in with concrete wave breakers to protect you from the heavy boat traffic in this area. There are steps at the end of the jetty to pull yourself out of the water but don’t do what I did, dive in without checking whether they are in place! You might find yourself using the ones reserved for sauna guests on the other side and skirting your way along the wall only to climb over the fence to get back to your towel!
Katajanokka is a fairy tale of architectural wonders and the gardens at the far end are kept immaculately clean and mown by the City of Helsinki. Right near the enormous ice breakers, there’s a platform traditionally used for washing carpets. Can’t miss it, they’re hanging over the wooden rails for the sun to dry them. The steps at the end of this pontoon make it easy for you to alight when your swim is done. Plenty of grassy lawns to stretch out on in this verdant enclave at the edge of the island.
Seurasaari & Pihlajasaari Island
Nude bathing simply does not have the same connotations here in Finland as it might do in other countries. Most of these beaches are occupied by old people drinking in the summer sun that shares its warmth with us for just a few months of the year. At Seurasaari, men are separated from women by a barrier. An entrance fee for this unique Finnish experience is charged. At the far eastern end of Pihlajasaari Island, men and women can bathe together. A water taxi takes you there from the jetty close to Carusel Café. On this same island, linked by a wooden bridge to the more popular ‘clothed’ beach, there’s even a barbecue area where anyone can start a fire with the logs provided. However, if your modesty does not allow you to rip off your togs, then the main island is the place to be. The ubiquitous primary rock of Finland warms up really nicely in the sun for you to lie on after your refreshing plunge into the Baltic. It’s easy to get away from the rest of the crowds here by just walking a few hundred metres further along through the magical forest.
But if the urge just takes you and you’re close to water, you can jump in just about anywhere making sure that there aren’t too many boats to collide with and of course knowing that you can get yourself out when you’re done. If the water looks like green soup it means there’s algae which besides not looking too inviting, might be harmful. Use your common sense and you’ll be just fine.
But don’t take my word for it! Helsinki has over 130km of shoreline. Take a look at #yli130km or visit the exhibition at Laituri from 5 June until 12 September to see for yourself.