A weekend of Finnish wellness in Helsinki: The definitive guide

By Flora Vesterberg

Löyly sauna at Helsinki's waterfront.

From a new hotel helmed by former Winter Olympian Samppa Lajunen to seasonal restaurant Nolla, Flora Vesterberg explores the hotspots to seek out for a fix of Finnish wellness in the capital

As I landed in Helsinki, the glacial winter months were giving way to spring. I reflected on the serenity of The Winter Book by the Finnish writer Tove Jansson. It served as a reminder of the health benefits of living seasonally in harmony with nature. I grew up on the windswept shores of Scotland, and my husband Timothy on the Stockholm archipelago. We share an innate understanding of this lifestyle, but I hoped to learn even more in Finland.


Our destination was The Hotel Maria on Mariankatu, which is the brainchild of the former Winter Olympian Samppa Lajunen. Devoted to wellness, Lajunen spoke eloquently of their impressive offering across its Spa and Wellness Club, which embraces Finnish tradition and reflects “the essence of Nordic hospitality.” The name was influenced by Maria, former Empress of Russia and Princess Dagmar of Denmark who often retreated to Finland as a sanctuary.

From the very first moment, the thoughtful service was impressive. Our suite overlooking Mariankatu had been designed with a soft opulence and generous proportions with a gentle embrace of technology. It had been chosen for us by Jenna Toivakka, head of wellness and movement. She oversees the wellness offering and revealed that the The Hotel Maria is the “only hotel in the Nordics offering guests a bespoke wellness concierge service.”

A deluxe room at The Hotel Maria.

The Hotel Maria's Lilja restaurant.

Toivakka recommended that we begin our visit to Helsinki in the spa. “Embracing saunas and cold water forms an essential part of Finnish wellbeing and wellness culture,” Toivakka advised, prompting me to move between the ‘cold plunge’ and sauna ahead of my treatment. This was followed by the extended Body and Mind Arctic Healing Treatment, which was deeply healing and reviving.

Once energised, we explored the cultural highlights beginning with Helsinki Cathedral, which is renowned for its opulence, but also the elevated views that its location offers over the metropolis and surrounding islands. It contrasts the contemporary architecture of the Oodi Library and the forward-thinking Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Don’t miss Ateneum for the paintings by modern Scandinavian women artists like Helen Schjerfbeck and Tove Jansson.

We enjoyed trying seasonal restaurants like Ravintola 305 and Nolla. Naturally, sustainability is also a focus at The Hotel Maria. Their softly-lit restaurant Lilja is a nod to lily of the valley - the national flower of Finland. Edmund Liew, Restaurant and Beverage Manager, is committed to sourcing compelling Finnish ingredients with chefs trained at Nordic restaurants like Noma. He also had expert knowledge of the best gelato in Helsinki - Jädelino, for reference.

Beyond the spa, I devoted many hours to walking around the nearby islands of Ullanlinna and Liuskasaari. The skies were clear and blue and yet many layers of ice remained. They sparkled and I found the natural beauty of Finland particularly meditative - in keeping with The Winter Book. The large stones that make up these islands offer a quiet place of contemplation for walkers and will soon be overtaken by swimmers and sailors during the summer.

As we prepared to leave, I felt restored by this peaceful few days in Finland. The quiet elegance and efficiency of The Hotel Maria contributed to a memorable experience that felt true to the rituals of Finnish life that we had observed. When departing from Helsinki Airport, we awaited our flight beneath a soothing installation, which immersed us in the sounds of the archipelago. That closeness to nature remained with us throughout our journey and beyond.