Visitors flock to Finland for its natural beauty, Christmas markets, and to catch a glimpse of the wondrous Northern Lights. Nightlife in Helsinki, Finland's largest and capital city, may not be one of your initial reasons for wanting to visit this Nordic country, but it will be by the time you leave.
Helsinki experiences extreme seasons, and nightlife in the city adapts to the climate. Visiting during the cherished Finnish summer means all of the bars set up outdoor terraces and patios, since Finns know how to take advantage of their brief warm months. The midnight sun is a spectacular phenomenon to enjoy from one of the city's rooftop bars. But winter nightlife offers its own magic as well, and the Finns don't let the cold weather prevent them from having a good time. Regardless of the time of year you visit, the one-of-a-kind nightlife scene will change the way you see Helsinki.
Helsinki nightlife may lack the international recognition of its Scandinavian cousins, Stockholm and Copenhagen, but the bars are by no means lacking in creativity, style, or quality. The city is teeming with trendy bars that serve craft cocktails and locally brewed beers, which you can enjoy outside on a warm summer day or inside a heated bar to escape the cold of winter.
The Finnish government taxes alcohol purchases, so be prepared to spend more on going out for drinks compared to other European countries.
- Goldfish: The craft cocktails prepared at the chic Goldfish bar rival those made in even the swankiest lounges of London or New York. The drinks are expertly crafted using premium liquors, fresh aromatics, and natural ingredients. The kitchen serves food with a Mediterranean flair throughout the evening to accompany your beverages.
- SpåraKoff: Also known as the "pub train," this is undoubtedly one of the most fun ways to sightsee around Helsinki. This bright red tram is similar to hop-on, hop-off buses in other cities, but serves alcoholic beverages as well. Sip on Finnish beers, ciders, or traditional liquors while also getting a tour of the entire city center. The pub train only runs in the summer months, from early May to early September, and no reservations are necessary. Just show up at the Mikonkatu stop and wait for the red tram to pull up.
- Teerenpeli: One of Finland's first craft breweries, and still one of its most popular, Teerenpeli started making beer in a small town about an hour outside of Helsinki. Today, you can visit their microbrewery in the center of Helsinki's Kamppi district to try one of their locally brewed beers or ciders.
- Ateljée Bar: Atop the Hotel Torni sits one of Helsinki's most famous bars, the Ateljée, offering a panoramic view of the entire city. On summer evenings and nights, watch as the sun just hovers above the horizon. If it's a particularly clear day, you may even be able to get a view of Estonia across the water. The drinks are a bit pricey, even by Helsinki standards, but the view is well worth a couple of extra euros. The bar closed down for renovations in December 2019 and opens again in 2021.
Northern Europe is famous for its wid night clubs, and Helsinki is no exception to the stereotype. Several clubs move outdoors in the summer so partygoers can dance and drink outside under the midnight sun. In the winter, keep warm by moving your body to the hits of renowned DJs (free coat check is standard in most Helsinki clubs, so definitely dress in layers).
While the standard drinking age in Finland is 18 years old, individual clubs may set higher age limits for entering. One club may even have a different age requirement depending on which night you visit, so it's best to confirm before heading out.
- Ääniwalli: Located in an old factory in an industrial complex, this hip nightclub blasts house music, EDM, and occasionally live gigs as well. It's open year-round, but Ääniwalli is at its best during the summer months when the party moves from inside to the sprawling outdoor terrace.
- Kaiku: Also located in an industrial area, Kaiku attracts a younger crowd of both locals and visitors who love to dance. Each night you can see a different guest DJ, so while the general vibe is techno and electronic music, the playlists and songs vary every day.
- Bar Loose: If you aren't a fan of electronic music or three-story nightclubs, Bar Loose is a grungey rock and roll club with cheap beer and great music. The evenings start out with local bands performing live, and after midnight DJs continue to play rock music until the early hours of the morning.
- DTM: Short for "Don't Tell Your Mother," DTM is one of the premier gay dance clubs not only in Helsinki but all of Northern Europe. World-class DJs come to Helsinki to perform at DTM, where you can dance every Wednesday through Sunday until 5 a.m.
As the cultural center of the entire country, Helsinki is a hub for music artists from across Finland and Northern Europe. Apart from international bands who visit the city while on tour, the Helsinki music scene also strives to foster rising talents. Many of the night clubs include segments with live performances in addition to DJs, while other venues focus solely on live bands, either big or small.
- Apollo Live Club: Listen to your favorite hit songs performed live by some of the top Nordic cover bands. This huge venue is located inside the centrally-located Forum Shopping Center, and on weekends you can listen to live bands on the main stage or belt out a tune yourself in the basement with karaoke. Throughout the week, attend more low-key performances like stand-up comedy or theatrical skits.
- Tavastia: Since 1970, Tavastia has been a landmark of live music in Helsinki. It's one of the oldest rock clubs in Europe that's still running and has hosted big-name artists from Finland and abroad. If you're a fan of live music, a night out in Tavastia should be a mandatory stop on your trip to Helsinki.
- Semifinal: This intimate venue is part of Tavastia, where up-and-coming artists perform for smaller crowds before moving up to the main stage and beyond. This is the place to see promising new talents at their humble beginning.
Finnish festivals occur throughout the year, but weather and daylight constraints mean that the majority are concentrated in the months from May through September. If you're visiting Helsinki in the summer, you're sure to catch some type of outdoor event happening in the city.
- Flow Festival: With roots as a small club event started back in 2004, the Flow Festival is now one of Europe's largest music and arts festivals. This unique event in mid-August attracts big-name bands as well as indie musicians, not to mention all of the visual and performing artists who display their work. As an added bonus, this eco-friendly event is one of the only carbon-neutral festivals in the world.
- Helsinki Festival: This city-wide event is the largest arts festival in Finland, and includes performances of dance, theater, music, film, and more. It lasts for two weeks beginning at the end of August, and one of the highlights is the Night of the Arts event where artists occupy public spaces around the city and display their work from the early evening until late in the night.
- Lux Festival: To brighten up the long winter nights, the Lux Festival brings dramatic light shows to Helsinki each year during the first week of January. Massive light displays illuminate the streets and buildings of central Helsinki along a one-kilometer route designed to tell a story.
Tips for Going Out in Helsinki
- Helsinki is a very walkable city, and the downtown area can easily be traversed on foot.
- Almost all bars accept payment in—and even prefer—credit or debit cards.
- Tipping at bars is not expected, but if you see a tip jar, some loose change is always appreciated.
- Bars usually start getting busy around 9 p.m., and Finns stay out until closing time at 1–2 a.m. Clubs close around 4 a.m.
- You can generally assume that bartenders in Helsinki speak fluent English. All the same, it's always polite to learn a couple of words in the local language when visiting foreign countries. Say kiitos in Finnish for "thank you."