When visiting a new city, apart from the offer of restaurants, museus or monuments that a new place can offer, the curiosity about the local nightlife scene is undoubtedly one of the most searched items in the net and forums. New bars and clubs to explore are double exciting to discover when the light of the day deems and let the night evolve us, although in Helsinki on summer, you can still feel pretty much daylight in your eyes due to their geographical location.
This is not of course an exhaustive tourist guide with all possibilities to explore in such a big city as Helsinki is, but more a collection of personal observation and hints about my favorite and not so favorite places after having lived, studied and worked for several years in the Finnish capital.
The first important thing to take into account is that Finns drink a lot when going out. So do not be surprised if your perception of Helsinki and its habitants change drastically from daylight to nighttime. What during the day is a mass of quiet and shy people turn into a perfect machine of drinking when the party times of the night comes closer. Due to the price of alcoholic drinks being quite high all over the city (a pint of beer will cost between 5 -7.5 euro depending on the place you hang around), it is a normal tradition to gather with some friends in a house for a warming up drinking session before hitting the clubs and bars downtown.
Although most of the people go out reverently on Friday and Saturday nights, as in most big cities of Europe, actually Wednesdays and especially Thursdays are also days where you can find the bars pretty crowded. Remember that Helsinki is a University City, so during the scholar year, it is normal that many parties for University students take place on Thursday, because on Friday they come back to their hometowns for the weekend.
It is also recommended not to leave very late towards the nightclubs, partially because the neighbors can feel annoyed because of the noise, and partially because the unpleasant tradition of the queues in most of the popular Finnish nightclubs and bars. Even when the place can be half empty inside, for many Finnish clubs seem cool to make people wait outside in endless queues. This can be sometimes a good chance to make acquaintances and new friends while waiting, but believe me, on winter time, it is not so nice to wait half an hour queue with minus 25 degrees and a snowstorm over your heads.
On the other hand, dress code is usually pretty relaxed in most of the clubs in Finland. Just wearing jeans and sport shoes will allow you entrance with no problems, although of course for some more nose up luxury places, like Tiikkeri club, it is recommended to dress up accordingly
In basically all or most of the clubs and bars in Helsinki, you will have to pay for a service fee, using or not using the wardrobe, that is around 2.5 euro, and it is paid separately from the entrance fee. If you live your jacket, you will receive a ticket with the number, so try not to lose it, because getting your jacket back can turn into an odyssey if the bouncers and personnel are not friendly to trust on you.
Some of the easiest options for the visitors are located just in the heart of the city, like in Mannerheinmintie, the main avenue. There for example you can visit Apollo Live Club that seems pretty popular among Finns lately, but honestly, when I visited a couple of times, I got disappointed. The best part is that a count with live bands, but it is usually too crowded and customers are not the friendliest in Helsinki. Better options, also located close in Mannerheinmintie, is Cuba, a bar-club that counts with free entrance, and where it mixes a heterogeneous crowd of Finns who love Latino music and expatriates.
At this point, many of the readers will wonder how easy or difficult is to score and have some romantic fun with a Finn (let´s be honest, is that not the main reason why the single people go out ;) ).
Certain specific rules have to be followed in Finland that differ from other countries for example, it is normal that at the beginning of the night, the girls are the first ones “breaking the ice” on the dance floor. So it would not be uncommon in a club that you could go to the dance floor, and you would be surrounded by 40 women. But do not get mistaken, that does not necessarily mean that they are single. A bit later at night you will see how many of their boyfriends “pop out” magically out of nowhere. In Finland, the behavior of the people is much more independent than in other European countries, so a couple can be perfectly by their own with their common friends inside the same nightclub without having to be all the time sticked to each other´s back. So be sure that your target is single, if you do not want any unpleasant surprise when making your move.
All in all, mentality of Finnish people is quite open minded and relaxed about having some random fun and romance during the night. Although Finnish men are a bit shy by nature, alcohol makes them more open and friendly, although watch out, because sometimes, when they go off the hook, they can turn into a bit annoying or even agressive if a couple of too many vodka drinks were consumed.
As previously stated, Finnish ladies are quite independent and strong, so do not be surprised if some of them just make the first move on you. Nevertheless, this is the country of equality! Also, in some circumstances, small talk is not so needed like in other countries. It is normal that in the dance floor people start to rub and dance with each other quite flirtatiously without having exchanged a word, but once again, you have to read the signals correctly if you do not want to get anybody angry for miscalculating your attack…
Although gay scene is not as big as in other European capitals, there are also a couple of reference places to go. DTM (Don´t Tell Mamma) in Iso Roobertinkatu in Punavuori district is one of the most popular ones, but be ready to pay 8 euro entrance at weekends. Close to it there is the free entrance Lost & Found, which in later years has become more and more hetero friendly. Legend said that Ville Valo, the charismatic leader of the love metal band H.I.M. used to hang around there, but honestly, I have never seen him, and I have visited the place quite often, being very popular among students in Helsinki too.
Being Finland the country of heavy metal music, if you dig it, you cannot skip visiting the most legendary metal club in town, Tavastia, located in Kamppi district, where basically all the most famous bands play or have played at some point of their careers. It is not unusual that local artists hang around there, and the list of concerts through the year is pretty good. Not far from it, also in Kamppi, are located Bäkkäri and Heavy Corner, two good options for metalheads if you want to continue the party after watching a gig. If you prefer a bit more classic rock and alternative pop atmosphere, Bar Loose is your choice. The changed to a bigger venue a couple of years ago, and they offer also a great selection of live gigs at their down floor, while upstairs is always nice to have some beers or a coffee with friends. One of my favorites in town.
If you like Irish pubs and a very international atmosphere, your best choice is Molly Malone´s, near the Railway Station Square, that offers live concerts every night, and that recently had been enlarged, with a new dance floor. It is packed with the foreign community of Finland, but also the more international oriented Finns go there. If you like an atmosphere more 100% Finnish, try the very popular Kaarle XII nightclub, known commonly by natives as “Kalle”. In its 2 floors you can find very different atmospheres and kind of music, and a bunch of Finnish animal parties ready to give their best. The entrance is free on Thursday, a very good day to visit because many locals start their long weekend there.
All in all, Helsinki is a vibrant city with many more great venues offered to enjoy the night. Just go out, explore it, and probably after warming up your body with a couple of drinks, you will have a better view of an important side of Finnish culture. Or maybe you will find some Scandinavian romance and love…!