The Best of the Helsinki Day Festivities

The residents of Helsinki celebrate their city and the beginning of midsummer annually with Helsinki Day, even if the weather is unpredictable. Just the week before, people were basking in the 30-degree heat, but when I was in town sunshine alternated with rain and even hail. Still, that can’t dampen the spirits of people who endure long dark winters.

A myriad of activities was lined up for the whole week, but 12 June is always the highlight. The specials that year included free admission to public swimming pools and a Yurt-style sauna, and I picked a few that suited my packed schedule.

What I saw on Helsinki Day 2013

The morning began with an address by the mayor at the City Hall, followed by the cutting of a rug (weather permitting) and breakfast of rhubarb cake and coffee. I was late and didn’t catch the first two, but the cake was good if a bit thick. But who am I to complain about free food when folks are sharing their city with me? Red and white balloons filled the courtyard and bands played music while friends chatted with one another.

Helsinki Day breakfast
Coffee and rhubarb cake in the City Hall

Out on the street of Sofiankatu (opposite the unmissable Tuomiokirkko), a couple of restaurants set up stalls and gave away tasty morsels to passers-by. This one served up a delicious spelt bread with quark from a vintage truck.

Helsinki Day
Pop-up food trucks

Ladies in period costumes gave out fliers for restaurants in the vicinity of the Hullulun Helsinki (Mad About Helsinki) show, which was also on the same street. The exhibits looked at the city through the eyes of former, current and significant residents, and past and present landmarks and icons were featured.

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One of the places that don’t exist now was the Hall of the Mermaids, The mermaids were dunked into the water if someone hit a target with a ball from a distance, as these kids attempted to do. They weren’t allowed inside when the mermaids went topless in the evening. Needless to say, this exhibition is family-friendly – returning later for another “free show” would be pointless.

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Later in the day, as I explored the city, I encountered this lady in period dress at the Harvis Amanda fountain.

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I was about to ask her what she was doing there when the answer arrived in the form of a walking tour. She was joined by 3 other actors while she talked in Finnish about the statue’s significance and cracked jokes.

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The group soon moved on and joined another actor at the Runeberg statue in the Esplanade green. (Runeberg wrote the lyrics to the national anthem and many great poems).

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In the street adjacent to the park, tables were set up in a single row that was possibly 300m or longer for a picnic under the midsummer sky. I’m told it was fully booked within hours, but it got off to a slow start due to the rain. Those who arrived early still seemed to have fun and added their own decorations. It was like Dine en Blanc without the strict colour code and pretentiousness.

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Later in the evening, my friends and I attended the music concerts held in Esplanade and Kaisaniemi. I didn’t understand most of the songs, of course, but great music transcends language barriers. Summer may be short in this part of the world, but Finns know how to have fun while it lasts.

I'm not sure if these guys were part of the programme too but they made good noise.
I’m not sure if these guys were part of the programme too but they made good noise.

Visiting Helsinki at some other time of the year? Check out this itinerary for anything from a brief layover to four days in the city and its neighbours. If you’re staying in Europe for the summer, drop by the Ghent festival and St Dominic’s Fair.

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