A small but bustling city, Helsinki presents a great lifestyle for expats. Whether expats want to spend their hard-earned cash on designer goods, learn about local culture at one of the city’s museums or get the adrenaline pumping on the ski slopes, there’s a lot to keep travellers and expats of all ages entertained, kids and young students included.
Shopping in Helsinki
Helsinki is a shopper’s delight. Expats looking for designer furniture, the latest fashions, antique jewellery, healthy organic food or a particular foreign delicacy will be able to find whatever they need in the city.
Expats can visit Helsinki’s Design District and Kämp Garden to find streets brimming with eclectic jewellery shops, design collectives, antique stores, fashion boutiques, quaint museums, art galleries and showrooms. The city is also home to open-air markets which are fun places to shop at for traditional foods, sweet treats, handicrafts and souvenirs while enjoying a unique relaxed atmosphere.
Arts and culture in Helsinki
Helsinki is home to more than 80 museums and galleries, so there’s no reason for expats to get bored on weekends. The most popular venues include Amos Rex, Ateneum Art Museum, The Bank of Finland Museum and the Helsinki City Museum.
The city also has a prominent theatre scene. The Finnish National Theatre presents all sorts, from historical plays to more experimental productions. There are also many smaller high-quality theatres and independent show houses scattered throughout the city.
Eating out in Helsinki
The Finns enjoy showing off their culinary skills by giving contemporary twists to traditional favourites, and Helsinki’s restaurant scene is said to be one of Europe’s best. Locals favour poultry and fish dishes, especially Baltic herring and vendace. Expats looking to sample the local flavours will be suitably awed by Helsinki's take on New Nordic Cuisine, with many restaurants rivalling the best that the lands of the Vikings have to offer.
New arrivals to Finland may be surprised to find out that reindeer are more than just part of Christmas lore, but are quite delicious too, often with served with mashed potatoes.
Those looking for a taste of home will also be able to find an array of international foods in the city.
Nightlife in Helsinki
Helsinki may not be known for its nightlife compared to cities such as Copenhagen, but expats looking for a night out won't be disappointed. Certain areas and streets, especially the city centre along Uudenmaankatu, are popular for clubs and bars.
Bars get busy around 9pm and although alcohol can be pricey, there is always an interesting atmosphere, music and a friendly crowd. Those into the club scene have plenty to choose from and can dance to music of all genres, electronic, techno and rock. Clubs attract all crowds and occasionally have live music performances and DJs.
Live music festivals pop up throughout the year and are common in summer months, drawing both local and international musicians and artists. Many festivals expose not just music but also urban art appealing to a wide variety of tastes.
Sports and outdoor activities in Helsinki
Helsinki has lots of recreational areas where outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy pursuits such as golf, mountain biking, wildlife watching and running. Although routes around the city have relatively flat terrains, there are many hills perfect for hiking and picnics. As the city is coastal, fishing is another outdoor activity in Helsinki that anyone can try out, provided they carry a permit. Expats can enjoy the best of what Helsinki has to offer from their urban spaces to nature scenes and waterfront views.
During winter, active expats can hit the slopes in ski resorts just outside of the city, and there are several gyms and fitness centres too.
Kids and family in Helsinki
Finland, and particularly Helsinki, is exceptionally kid friendly, with plenty for the whole family to get up to in their spare time.
Harakka Nature Centre
Situated on an island, visitors have to travel by boat to the centre where they can view wildlife in the seashore meadows and marshland. Entrance is free and tours are led by knowledgeable staff.
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
For a bit of history, visitors can learn about traditional Finnish lifestyle at the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, which is made up of many buildings scattered across a forested landscape.
Home to around 150 species, animals are carefully selected and cared for to ensure they can survive Finland's climate. The zoo is among the oldest of its kind in the world, and animals from habitats as diverse as the Amazon rain forest to the Arctic tundra are on the cards and are sure to leave youngsters suitably intrigued.
Theme parks in Helsinki
We recommend buying season tickets to bring down the costs of these parks. Linnanmäki is one of the most popular amusement parks in Finland, while Serena Water Park in Espoo is fun for all ages with both indoor and outdoor pools.
Helsinki City Museum and Children's Town
The Helsinki City Museum is enjoyed by big and small: parents can learn more about the city in which they live, while their children do the same in the museum's newest section, called Children's Town, where Helsinki's history is imparted to them through play and joint activities.
►Find out more about getting around in Helsinki
"I believe that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is an important mindset. You can create a positive cycle in your life by learning local culture, being open to meeting new people, being active to get information and finding the positive sides of the country."
Daiki is a Japanese expat in Finland. Check out his interview with Expat Arrivals where he talks about his experiences in Helsinki.
Are you an expat living in Helsinki?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Helsinki. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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