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Did you know that you do not have to travel to the Far North to have an authentic Finnish winter experience? You can have it right in Helsinki, the southern city and capital of Finland. Let me share with you the local tips on how to enjoy winter pleasures in and around Helsinki.
You can start the journey in the city of Espoo, which is just an hour away from Helsinki in the Finnish Capital Region. Actually, Espoo has Nuuksio National Park - a true nature-gem! Here, you can take a hike in the snowy forest and visit the Reindeer Park meeting Santa helpers - the mighty reindeer. You can learn why reindeer's eye color can change or how their horns can grow 2 cm every day and many more peculiar things about these forest inhabitants. You can feed them lichen and take a forest break sipping a hot coffee by the campfire in the wilderness. It is a magical Lapland-like experience!
Making your way back to Helsinki, you might want to visit Löyly, a great place that will introduce you to many local specialties - Nordic architecture, Finnish national food flavors, and, of course, a sauna with some ice swimming. This might sound extreme, but it is a widespread activity in Finland. You can take a swim in ice-cold water or just dip yourself in the ice hole for a few seconds. Ice swimming is a healthy activity, and paradoxically, it helps with staining the cold weather. Löyly is a lovely place for warming up after outdoor activities. It is a modern building right on the seashore. In Löyly, you can taste local flavors such as reindeer meat and salmon soup. The prices here are not the highest, and the view is the loveliest. It is also a great place to experience Finnish sauna the way locals do: plunge in an ice hole after steam!
After a good meal and a traditional sauna, you can get to the very center of Helsinki - Helsinki Railway Square and do something of a local experience, for instance - ice-skating in the heart of the city. You can come with your own skates or rent some. For those who might try ice skating for the first time, Jääpuisto Ice Park offers helmets and sleds for free, and for those who want to rest their bones, there is a small cafe with hot beverages.
If you think of a perfect and warm way to finish your day, walk through the central streets with their winter lights towards a Fazer Cafe. This is an exceptional place for me since instead of famous Swiss and Belgian chocolate I prefer Fazer and so do many Finns! I do not know what is their secret ingredient, but if you are somewhere near a grocery store, grab a "Fazerin Sininen", the "Blue Fazer", that is how we call the simplest and most beloved dessert in Finland. Of course, visiting a Fazer Cafe is even better. Here, you can find all possible chocolates Fazer ever produced in candy, in a cake, or as a hot drink. Fazer Cafe on Kluuvikatu Street opened in 1891 and has been a favorite meeting point for many sweet teeth. The cafe is known for its delicious bakery and candy-like chandeliers. If I were you, I would not miss that one.
Many people who come to Helsinki in winter might feel sorry for not visiting Lapland on their way. But as you can see, many Lappish-like experiences are easy to find in the Helsinki region. Take a day to have an authentic Finnish winter experience. You can find reindeer and wintry forests in Nuuksio National Park, strengthen your immune system with ice swimming and taste local delicacies in Löyly and enjoy winter activities and tasteful places to warm up in the very city center of Helsinki.
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