by Sonja Venäläinen
It is long believed that being in nature has a positive effect on us -- it's good for both our soul and our body. Just a short visit to the woods can strengthen our immune system, improve concentration, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure. The Japanese even have a name for the practice of visiting the nature called "forest bathing," or shinrin-yoku.
For a full-on forest experience, I recommend hopping on a plane to the country with the densest forests in the world if you’re looking to soak up precious oxygen. Did you know that Finland has around 22 billion trees? When you land at the capital city airport, you land in the middle of a huge forest.
Here are some places to immerse yourself in the nature of Helsinki while still being within a reachable distance from the city center.
This beautiful bay area is an 8-minute metro ride and a 15-minute walk from the metro. Get off either at Kulosaari station or Herttoniemi station on the Eastbound metro. When you get to Kivinokka you can follow the walking paths or get lost in the woods, your choice. You also have beautiful views of the bay area here and on a still day the reflections of the water make for a stunning photo.
Every summer the area of Kivinokka is filled with environmental art by various local artists. You can find these hidden creations throughout the woods with the help of a map (which you can you can ask for in the local kiosk) or, alternatively, you can elect to just stumble upon them.
HELSINKI CENTRAL PARK
Now, even though the name implies it being a Central Park, it is neither central nor a park. It’s basically a big strip (10 kilometers long) of green on the map of Helsinki. It stretches from Töölönlahti Bay until the the river Vantaa in the north, covering a thousand hectares.
The beauty of this place is that it fully experiences all four seasons and the contrast between them is quite significant. The forest areas can be really dense and it’s most definitely easy to get lost here (I have every single time I’ve been there) but there are walking paths, maps, and indications throughout the park.
The more north you go, the wilder the surroundings get. Haltiala in the north of the park offers a 300 hectare area of wilderness where the vegetation is luxurious and the trees grow over 30 metres high. The Haltiala primeval forest has been growing untouched by the human hand for almost a century.
The archipelago of Finland is the world’s largest. The city of Helsinki is surrounded by ocean on three sides and provides views to more than 300 islands and public transportation to some. You can catch a ferry to many of these islands at the Market Square.
Suomenlinna is historically the most interesting island to see in Helsinki. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes an old sea fortress built on six islands in total, connected with bridges or sandbars. It’s one of the main tourist attractions in the summer but still a nice little escape from the city to the sea. If you get an especially cold winter you can make your way there by foot on the frozen Baltic sea.
ABANDONED VILLAS IN KRUUNUVUORI
A short bus ride away in Eastern Helsinki you will find what used to be a very extravagant area of villas about a hundred years ago, though over the past decades they have been left inhabited for nature to take over. Tree branches come through windows and in the air you can sense a lingering feeling of what this place used to be. For about ten years after the Second World War, the villas were a summer retreat for the communists. It is said that during those times, life in Kruunuvuori was wild and free, but ended in July 1955 when well-known businessman Aarne Aarnio bought the land, wanting to transform it into a large residential area. Though he tried several times to complete the city, he was refused every single time until his death in 2013. The area has not been touched since the 1960s.
It’s not the easiest place to get to and the journey there takes about half an hour, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Take the metro Eastbound and get off at Herttoniemi station. There you take the bus 88 towards Kaitalahti until it reaches the last stop and then walk your way into the abandoned villa area. It’s not easy to find but a quick Google search will provide you the exact location of the villas. Enjoy this urban trek!
**Barcelona-based photographer Sonja Venäläinen grew up in gorgeous Finland. She shoots exclusively in film and is one of the kindest, most magical humans we've ever met.