Helsinki always beams with pretty architecture and friendly locals, but during the high-season summer months it’s most alive. Average temps linger in the high 60s or low 70s. When the weather’s nice, take a short ferry ride and spend the day at Suomenlinna, a sea fortress spanning six islands. The UNESCO World Heritage site hosts a mix of locals and tourists for picnics, guided tours, concerts, and plenty of sightseeing.
Maybe it’s all those dark days, or the cold temperatures (December through February are considered warm if they reach the 30s), or the sparse population, but there’s something about the Finnish that makes them just a little offbeat—termed “Finnwacky” by some. Catch a glimpse of this during the spring shoulder season, when Vappu takes place. On April 30, students place a white cap on the statue of Havis Amanda in Market Square, dress up in overalls of their school colors, imbibe more than they should, and party in the streets. The next day, champagne picnics with white linens and candelabras class things up a bit, then it’s on to more partying.
You’ll want to bring that buoyant spirit with you into the winter if you choose to visit during the low season. As the northernmost metropolitan area in the world (population: one million), Helsinki does without much light or heat from the sun, so every night is extra long. This onetime host of the Summer Olympics offers plenty in the way of snowy sports, with cross-country skiing, ice hockey, and ice-skating being a few favorites. Learn about some of the country’s other pastimes at the National Museum of Finland, a chronicle of the nation from the Stone Age to today.