Saturday, 15 August 2015

Helsinki Western Shore Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 13.4 km (8.3 miles), terrain: hilly in a few spots

Helsinki running routes:
Helsinki Essential downtown route
Helsinki North route

Western shore route
Soumenlinna Fortress island route
For more running routes, see Route List.  

Helsinki can be heaven or hell for a runner, depending on the time of year you're there. I've been there in November, with the somewhat-hilly streets so icy that I had to gingerly place each foot down firmly with each step, even when walking. And I've been there a few times in the summer, with endlessly long evenings, where I wished I could go on running forever.

And last week I was back in town during perfect weather, running in the evening sunshine along the sheer endless waterfront.
Jugglers along the waterfront
If you are as lucky as I was, you'll also be there during the summer. This route will take you along the western shore of the city, which includes the magical highlights of Hietaniemi Beach and Seurasaari Island. Hietaniemi is indeed a real beach right in the city, and Seurasaari is a pristine island with nature that you would expect much further from the urban bustle.

The route as described is a bit long, at over 13 kilometers, but you could shorten it by starting further north (or bring €3 and take bus number 24 back from Seurasaari). I was not planning on running so far, but I just couldn't resist just exploring what was past each bay or hilltop. Before I knew it, I was already about 7 kilometers from the start.

So, if you also have the great luck of finding yourself in Helsinki in the summer, then get yourself to Hietalahdentori, where Bulevardi runs into the water on the west side of the city center. You can get there with tram-line 6 or the number 20 bus.
Start of run at the harbor: head along the right side
This old harbor basin has been turned into a little boat marina, with a plaza where lots of young people hang out on a nice evening.

Now run westwards along the north edge of the basin, and soon your path will turn northwards for the next 6 kilometers. This is the loudest part of the run, with quite a bit of traffic for the next kilometer. The road will go up over a pedestrian plaza, where you just keep heading north, below the road.

After the next intersection, you'll be running next to a cemetery on the left side. When you get to the cemetery road that leads to the left, Lapinladentie, turn there. This is about the 1-kilometer mark.

You'll notice that the left side of the cemetery is Russian orthodox, where the right side is Swedish, reflecting the Finnish power balance of the past centuries, before they finally gained their independence.
The trail along the cemetery, at the water
The road ends and four footpaths branch out from there. Turn right (northwards) here onto the dirt foot-trail that runs between the metal fence and the stone wall of the cemetery, and follow it as it continues along the shore, curving to the left.

The trail ends at a rocky hill, which you can run up and over... and then you'll find yourself overlooking a giant beach, Hietaniemi! On a nice evening it will be full of sunbathers, swimmers and volleyball players.
Hietaniemi Beach
Now just run across the sand along the water's edge, running curves around the sunbathers. At the north end of the beach, at the 3-kilometer mark, cut through the parking lot and then turn right to follow the next bay along the little waterside path.

Just stay along the water as you round the bay next to Merikannontie street and head north again. In just a block, you can get away from the street noise by staying close to the water when you get to a pair of cafes on a peninsula. Take that path, which will bring you past an aquatic stadium, and then back to the street.

Now continue along the waterfront promenade, and before the 4-kilometer mark you'll run past the very cool Cafe Regatta in a little red shed sitting on a rock at the water's edge.
Cafe Regatta with kayakers
The promenade and Merikannontie street end at an intersection of Paciuksenkatu street. The path heads away from the street to the left, going going past a metal fence, then reaches the water again tu turn north. It now heads uphill along rocky cliffs, with nice views.

The path reconnects to the street at the hilltop before the 5-kilometer mark, just before a tall white building across the street. There is a little street heading downhill to the left, Seurasaarentie. This street will take us to the best part of the run, Seurasaari island, so turn left here and run downhill.

At the bottom of the hill, you'll pass an old mansion on the right, then you'll see a footpath leading to the right. Take that path (it just shortens the coming loop in the road) and follow it as it leads into a little park with a pond.

Run straight west through the park and come out back at the street again, along the shore, with reeds growing in the water.

You will soon see the beautiful white wooden bridge that leads off to Seurasaari island to the left (south).
The bridge to Seurasaari: paradise begins here!
Right before the bridge, at the 6-kilometer mark, you'll see the fenced-in grounds of the former presidential residence, now a museum. The running route around the island was once used by an earlier Finnish president.

So now cross the bridge, and you are on an island without residents or cars.

Take the first right-turn to run along the western shore, looping the island counter-clockwise for about 2-kilometers.
The western shore of Seurasaari
The nature is almost untouched in most parts of the island. You'll be in another world. You could swim or sit and watch the time go by if you felt like it. Cliffs and coves line the shore, and blueberry-covered hills form the interior.

You could loop the entire island, but to keep it short, I turned around at the dock with the white wooden railing. Turn left there and then cross the island (just a few hundred meters) and then turn north on the eastern shore.
One of the museum village windmills
This is where you'll find a museum village: a collection of old Finnish houses, windmills, barns and even a church set among the trees. At the big windmill, turn right and follow the trail along the eastern shore, past the buildings until it leads back to the white bridge to the mainland.

So now you can just head home, running the same way that you came. I just shortened it a bit:

When you get back to the parking lot at Hietaniemi Beach, don't turn right to run through the beach again, just run straight along the little sidewalk past the tennis club and you'll come to a quiet street, Hietakannaksentie, in a park.

Now continue running south. You are just 2 blocks west of the loud Mechelininkatu, which is the main street that would lead you back to the start of the run.

Hietakannaksentie runs into the stone wall of the cemetery, where you turn left and run to Mechelininkatu, where you turn right and run the last 1.5 kilometers to the start.

You'll be tired but very, very happy!

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