Helsinki: easily accessible nature at Nuuksio National Park
No one does winter like the Finns. Not only can you be guaranteed beautiful, white, puffy snow when you’re visiting in winter but you can also be sure that stunning nature isn’t far away. That was my experience when I visited Helsinki this February.
I’m someone who gets way more excited by nature than I do by cities so the prospect of being in Helsinki for seven days may have seemed a little long. But I did my research before coming and discovered that Finns are obsessed with nature and it’s all very accessible from any direction in Helsinki.
During my week in Helsinki, I did many ‘natural’ things. I took the ice-breaker ferry out to the island of Suomenlinna, enjoyed the typical Finnish sauna and I even walked on top of a frozen lake. But by far, my most memorable experience was the day I went to Nuuksio National Park.
The best winter day of my life: Nuuksio National Park
I didn’t know what to expect but it was everything I could’ve hoped for. I layered up and boy was it a cold one. I headed to the Helsinki main station quite early in the morning and took the train towards Espoo. This journey was only about ten minutes. From Espoo, I got the 245 bus to Nuuksio National Park. Click here to read more about getting to the park. If you’re taking this bus in winter, get a window seat – the drive was nothing short of spectacular. Imagine fields of sparkling crystals and fresh powdery snow on every corner. I knew I was in for a treat that day.
Once I arrived, I got to Haltia the Finnish Nature Centre. This is the place to visit if you want to learn about the wild flora and fauna of Finland. It’s a beautiful interactive experience which will have you feeling very calm with its indoor sound effects.
After a quick look around the Finnish Nature Centre, Ulpu from the Nuuksio Reindeer Park & White Teepee Restaurant came to meet me and we drove to see the reindeer she helps to take care of. This is where the day really became something special.
Feeding the reindeer
I’ll be honest, before this day, I hadn’t seen a reindeer before. Having grown up in hot, humid Australia, a reindeer was a figment of my imagination, just like Santa Claus. But low and behold, Ulpu was about to change my life. She introduced me to the five reindeer which live in this part of the national park. I was fascinated to learn that she orders fresh lichen from up north in the Finnish Lapland region for these guys to eat. She told me it’s a very expensive diet that they have but it’s what they naturally love.
I was also surprised to learn that reindeer are rather like horses in that they need regular exercise. So living in this section of the park isn’t enough for them – she needs to take them out one by one for a daily walk through the forest. She brought me a bucket of lichen and I was allowed to feed them. Some of them were certainly more dominant than the others so I had to pay very close attention to the quieter ones getting something to eat, too.
Facts about Finnish reindeer
These reindeer shed their antlers about once a year and in the north of America, the species is called ‘Caribou’. Their noses are specifically designed to warm the air before it reaches their lungs. Their hooves expand when the ground is soft so that they can run from predators. This particular species has hooves which make a clicking noise when they walk so that they can stay together in a blizzard. (The tendon makes that sound.) And finally, the more north you get, the lighter the reindeer are in colour.
After you’ve fed your new furry friends, you can step inside the hut with its fire pit for a warm drink and a chat. The hut is designed to look like a typical Sami hut which you would find up north in the Lapland region. I sat here for a while and had a wonderful chat with Ulpu – we talked about Finland, the people, the culture and the animals. She took such good care of me and it was rather sad to say goodbye to her!
Sea and Mountain Adventures – Nuuksio National Park
SMA (Sea and Mountain Adventures) is the company to contact if you want to have the same reindeer experience I had. Click here to see their website. They also offer loads of other activities in all seasons and you can follow them on Instagram here.
I would like to thank Visit Helsinki for arranging this experience for me. These wonderful opinions are all my own.
Have a look at their ‘check-in’ desk below. For an Australian girl like me, this experience was really something special!
The reindeer experience was phenomenal and I thought that my day was finished after this. But I was wrong…. it just kept getting better. What happened next is the other reason this was the best winter day of my life. Stay tuned for the next post, but until then the below photo should be a good enough clue.
Thank you for reading! If you want some tips on where to eat and drink in Helsinki, try this article I wrote: The Food Scene in Helsinki: Where to Eat and Drink and I also put together this MyHelsinki restaurant list: How to stuff your face around Helsinki