Gay Helsinki: a gay guide to Finland’s capital

The other day I was looking over a travel guide from Germany and found a special section: a list of recommended places that are gay friendly. Since it really is an important aspect for many travellers – for instance, gay tourism from Russia into Finland has increased since Russia’s anti-gay laws were passed – and we haven’t yet talked about that here on Big in Finland, here you have it: a guide for a Gay Helsinki.

A Gay-friendly Helsinki

Helsinki is a member of the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) because its streets and services radiate a tolerant vibe and attitude.

A gay tour in  Helsinki
In Helsinki there are many places, services and guides that are Gay friendly. Source.

The list of places for a great Gay Helsinki experience comes from the city’s official tourism website, Visit Helsinki, since they are definitely much better connoisseurs of the gay scene in the capital. All the recommendations we put in this article (and many more) you can also check out on its website here.

The following list of places for a great Gay Helsinki experience is divided on four categories: hotels, bars, shopping and restaurants. We also add some locations and names so you can easily check them out on Google Maps.

Bars, cafés and night clubs

  • Café Cavalier, at Malminrinne 2-4
  • Hugo’s Room, café, bar and terrace, at the street Iso Roobertinkatu 3
  • Nalle Pub, at Kaarlenkatu 3-5
  • Kulmakahvio – Bear Park Kulma, a little café at Agricolankatu 13
  • Hercules Gay Night Club, right in the center of Helsinki. Concretely at Lönnrotinkatu 4.

A gay guide of Helsinki
A gay Helsinki. Source.

Shopping and hotels

  • EDEL City, where you can find ecologically made objects at Fredrikinkatu 33.
  • The prison-themed hotel Katajanokka.
  • Hotel Albert, at Albertinkatu 30.
  • Klaus K Hotel, hotel which concept and decoration was inspired by the Finnish national epic: the Kalevala. It is located at Bulevardi 2-4

Highlight: the biggest gay club of the nordic countries

We want to highlight the DTM, one of the big gay clubs in Helsinki, open at a new location since February 2013. It is the biggest bar and gay club Finland and the Nordic Countries, and also attracts lots of tourists from Russia.

The DTM won an award last year from the Finnish newspaper City as the best dance floor in town. Therefore, one can pretty safely say that good music is guaranteed. It is located right in the center of Helsinki, at the street Mannerheimintie, 6B.

A Gay Helsinki experience also includes great clubs
A club in Helsinki. Source.

The Gay Parade of Helsinki

On the website Helsinki Pride, they list all the events related to the Gay week of Helsinki. It has already passed this year (it was from the 24th to the 30th of June) but happens every year around those dates. Bookmark their website if you want to be kept up-to-date on Helsinki’s gay scene during that party-filled week.

Have you been to some of these places? Do you have any further gay Helsinki recommendations? Let us know in the comments.

Halloween in Finland – is it a tradition?

I can recall that a year after landing in Finland for first time, the new Erasmus group living there told me that Halloween was a solid tradition in Finland.

I didn’t remember that from my own time on Erasmus, although it is definitely true that I went to my share of Halloween parties. This sparked my curiosity and I decided it was time to find out for myself whether or not Halloween in Finland is truly an important event for the Finns.

A Halloween party in Finland
A Halloween party I went to in Joensuu.

Does Halloween exist in Finland?

Asking my Finnish friends, my number one source of information on Finland, their answer was “not really”. Halloween in Finland is more for young people and an excuse as good as any other to throw a small party and hang out with friends. It isn’t a tradition and the kids don’t go door to door asking for Fazer goodies.

Even so, there is a time where the youngest members of Finnish households go to the street in search of candy. It is not Halloween, but Palm Sunday (something we’ll talk in detail next Easter): kids dress as witches, take around decorated birch branches and use their undeniable charm to get sweets.

What is actually celebrated these days in Finland: All Saints day

For adults, in Finland the whole Halloween idea isn’t about costumes or candy. The tradition is to celebrate – and commemorate – All Saints day.

Finnish people on the cemetetery
This is how Finns celebrate All Saints: they go to a cemetery and light thousands of candles

All Saints day in Finland is celebrated the first Saturday after the 30th of October, and is a great day to go to the cemetery with the whole family, to visit and honor relatives by lighting candles, and to see how everyone else has done the same, making the view of the entire cemetery a very solemn and spectacular sight.

These days the shops are full of candles, and they even have special shelves for them.

Nonetheless – and despite the different nature of these days in Finland -, you might be invited to a Halloween party these days. And the younger you are, the more chances you’re likely have. After all, it’s never a bad time to meet up with friends, right?

Have you been around during Halloween or All Saints time in Finland? How was it for you?

The world’s 5 strangest saunas

The sauna is a place for relaxation in Finland and abroad, and one of everybody’s favorite parts of traveling to Finland (myself included). We can also see that saunas really are something that stretches “abroad”, as evidenced by the fact that sauna is the only Finnish word that has been widely adopted by other languages.

Not long ago we saw the 3 types of Finnish sauna, but today we’ll go further and leave the “normal” saunas aside. Everything that is traditional has its evolution and its extreme homages, that’s why we’ve brought you the world’s 5 strangest saunas, most of them in Finland.

1.- Sauna in a phone booth

A sauna inside a telephone booth
Image: Phonebooth sauna. Copyright: Oktober Oy. Source.

When I saw the movie-documentary Miesten Vuoro, I was impressed with this sauna-booth. And, as every phone booth worthy of its name, you could see what was going on inside.

This sauna can contain two people at a time, and it brings the word “public” to a whole new level: the transparency of the booth ensures that everyone passing by can see you having a sauna. You can also transport it everywhere, since it has a couple of wheels to move it around easily.

2.- Underwater sauna

The Under water Sauna
Wet inside and outside.

Usually saunas – at least the ones you can find next to a mökki, a Finnish cottage – have a view of the forest or a nearby lake. Apparently, someone thought “why not make the view from the sauna some beautiful underwater scenery?” And so they built it.

In this sauna the walls are made of glass. One goes down a ladder and reaches the heating room, which has a breathtaking view. You can see people having a swim or fishes outside the sauna walls, all while enjoying the steam and relaxing. This underwater sauna is located in Gothenburg, Sweden.

3.- The Ice Sauna

A sauna made with ice
The entrance of this ice sauna. Source.

High temperatures plus walls of ice. Why not?, they thought. The walls and the floor of this sauna are made of ice, but the creators had the good sense to stick with tradition when making the seats, which are made out of wood. There is no sauna stranger than this: it has an expiration date, since it only lasts some sauna sessions before it melts and must be re-built.

One of the great characteristics of ice is that it is a great insulator – that’s why igloos are made out of ice – and therefore, this sauna can keep the hot temperatures inside. The steam that comes out of this sauna, combined with the coolness of the surrounding materials, must make for a very special sensation. The temperature inside is a bit lower than in the traditional saunas – around 70 degrees Celsius. There are some of them in Finland, such as the one in the photos, which is located in Ruka, Lapland.

Ice Sauna
The inside of the Ice Sauna. Source.

4.- The sauna in the Hockey Stadium

Sauna inside a stadium
This is how you see Helsinki’s Hartwall Areena from the sauna. Source.

I think the majority of us have never been inside a VIP skybox at a stadium. When I was younger I worked in Real Madrid’s stadium bar so I could see the matches for free, and I was already thrilled about that. But when your VIP Skybox has a sauna inside… well, that’s definitely in another league.

This is what happens in Finland, and one of the skyboxes of the Hartwall Areena – Helsinki’s ice hockey stadium, where big concerts are also held – has exactly this. There’s nothing like seeing your favorite team or band while throwing water on the sauna stones.

5.- The Sauna-boat

A sauna-boat
Diving on the water after a sauna session doesn’t get better than this. Source.

This is a sub-category of mobile saunas (I have seen a sauna on a car trailer more than once) but this is the strangest form because the transport and the sauna are joint together in one: a boat. And I am not talking about a sauna inside a cruise ship: I am talking about a boat that has a sauna and not much else at all.

These kinds of ships usually also have some of the things that make a sauna great: plenty of water to dive into on all sides less than a meter away (some boats even have a slide on them) and a barbecue to grill some makkara, the classic Finnish sausage. In Finland, and specifically in Helsinki, one can board the M/S Saunaship Helsinki to have this experience. But these Sauna boats are also available in many other parts of the world; I’ve seen them in Stockholm and Berlin as well.

What’s the strangest sauna for you? How was the weirdest sauna you’ve seen or you’ve taken?

Autumn in Finland: the Ruska and its colors

The beginning of the autumn is a great time to be in Finland. Whether you’re looking out a window, walking through the streets or simply standing in a forest, intense colors are all around you. The Finns call it the Ruska, but there is a lot more to this period of the Autumn in Finland than just a word.

Autumn in Finland

The Autumn in Finland

At this time of year, all the deciduous trees are shaking off their leaves to get ready for the winter. In Finland, a country covered with trees, this is quite a big deal.

This is also noticeable in the cities, which are also covered with vegetation; when the Autumn in Finland arrives the process of the leaves changing color begins. The trees and bushes show different shades of red, bright brown and yellow and make the country seem like a magical place.

Train Tracks

What is the Ruska

During autumn in Finland, you can use the word Ruska to describe the colored leaves. The word describes their vibrant colors, as well as the very moment of the Autumn. This is a special time in the country since there is still plenty of daylight to enjoy and the temperatures are still above freezing. The Ruska is the last reminder to enjoy the days before the winter comes and lays the snow all over the country.

Since Finland is full of wilderness, as we mentioned before, this can be seen everywhere. Every corner of the country will be special for the many shades of color that it displays: some streets will be mostly red, while others more yellow, and others brown or purple. Every day will be slightly different than the day before, and the falling leaves make a colorful carpet on the cities and forest.

Ruska in Joensuu
The colors of the Autumn in Finland.

What I like about the Ruska is that in Finnish language you only have one word – and avery short one, at just five letters – to describe the phenomena. Other languages have two or three words for it, or an perhaps even an entire sentence. It is said that this period of the Autumn in Finland is especially beautiful on the northernmost part of the country, Lapland. I saw the autumn in Joensuu and Helsinki, and I have to say that if it’s even better in Lapland, it must be truly unbelievable.

The perfect moment for seeing the Ruska is the end of September and the beginning of October, although every year is slightly different and it usually arrives in Lapland one week before the rest of the country. If you want to see more photos of it these are all the images on Flickr tagged with this word. For instance:

Autumn in Finland: the Ruska

Have you experienced the Ruska in the Autumn in Finland? What did you think and feel?

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