Julie Van Praet
What to visit in Helsinki?
Finland’s capital is nestled in the south of the peninsula right by the Baltic Sea. A walkable city with lots of nature and a gorgeous coastline, turning into a vibrant party city at night. Helsinki beats its Scandinavian rivals with charm alone.
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What not to miss?
In the heart of Helsinki lies one of the most unique churches out there. Excavated into solid rock you can find the Temppeliaukio Church. The church hall is lit up by a copper ceiling lined by solid beams and rock walls. To experience this church in full magnitude we advise you to respectfully take part in its Sunday Service, which is open to everyone free of charge.
Kiasma is Helsinki’s contemporary art museum and once again a testament to Finnish architecture. With exclusive exhibitions and entertaining workshops, Kiasma is a warm escape from possible dreary weather.
Back in the 16th century, Finland was a part of a grand empire with buildings reciprocating that sentiment. Helsinki Cathedral was completed in 1852 as the last remnants of that empire fell. The Cathedral sits on the Senate Square and serves as a landmark for all arriving by sea.
The Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe and serves as a last reminder of the Russian influence on Finland. Built from the remains of the Crimean War in the 1850s, Uspenski Cathedral boasts a magnificent shrine commemorating a complicated history.
The Ateneum is a part of the Finnish National Gallery and home to its collective art history. Its collection includes more than 20,000 national treasures dating back to the 19th century, as well as modern installations. The museum itself is a gorgeous Neo-Renaissance building with an artistic aesthetic at its core.
What else to visit?
Fortress of Suomenlinna Islands (Sveaborg)
At the entrance of Helsinki harbour you will find the fortress of Suomenlinna scattered across a group of islands. Suomenlinna, originally known as Sveaborg, is a sea fortress built by the Swedes on a group of islands in front of the Finnish coastline. The fortress stretches over six kilometers of defensive wall across six islands.
At the far end of the Esplanade Park lies Helsinki’s most famous market. Lined with wooden booths selling traditional foods and treats as well as the perfect handicraft souvenirs. To stay warm in wintertime you can cosily snuggle up under the heated café tents cupping a steaming mug of coffee. Every October the Helsinki Baltic Herring Market is organized here, more info about the event can be found near the end of this blog post.
It's rare that an amusement park makes the list of touristic attractions, but Linnanmäki is one of a kind. It opened back in the 50s and is operated by a non-profit children’s foundation, raising funds for Finnish child welfare work. Linnanmäki is the oldest and most popular amusement park in Finland, and might arguably offer the most fun of all its Scandinavian counterparts.
The park has over 40 different rides, tons of fair games, and sweet restaurants and cafés. The great thing about the park is that the entrance is free of charge and you can adapt the price of your ticket to your own liking.
Seurasaari open-air museum
Seurasaari is an open-air museum founded in 1909 on a secluded island. The museum transports you back to the rural landscape of olden days, creating a relaxing and quiet atmosphere. Dozens of separate buildings are supposed to give you an overall view of life in the Finnish countryside two centuries ago. If the historic note isn’t to your liking, you are free to enjoy its calm nature, gorgeous cliffsides, and sandy beaches during summertime.
Hietaniemi Beach is one of the most popular Finnish beaches for vacation dwellers. Strangely located in the middle of Helsinki in the region of Töölö, it’s easily accessible by public transportation. Hietaniemi is an artificially created beach lined with soft sand imported by ships in the 20th century. Be sure to visit Helsinki’s Copacabana in the summertime when temperatures reach above 20 degrees and beach bars start pouring cocktails.
How to travel there?
There are regular flights from every major airline to the infamous HEL airport. Their largest airport was built specifically for the 1952 Olympic Games. It’s Finland's largest airport, located about 20 km from Helsinki with a train connection running regularly.
Helsinki is also easily accessible by boat, with many ferry connections from neighbouring European harbours to the capital. Helsinki’s archipelago includes about 300 small islands easily reached by boat tour as well.
Helsinki owns the only metro network in Finland, serving 17 stations and being over 20 km long. A great way to hop around the centre is with the Helsinki Card.
When to travel there?
Don’t be scared off by Finnish wintertime. Winters are great for thrilling outdoor activities such as skiing, snowboarding, skating, or sledding. Read all about which winter activities not to miss in our upcoming blog post!
Spring and autumn are great times to catch a glimpse of the famous Northern Lights in Lapland. Summer is probably the most exciting time to visit Helsinki, as the summer months are known for their white nights and long evenings.
Like many Scandinavian vacation destinations, Helsinki isn’t a cheap city trip. Less popular than a visit to Copenhagen or Stockholm, this city will save you a couple of euros. But still expect to spend around 100 euros a night in a budget hotel. A nice way to get around accommodation prices is a visit in wintertime when there is no high season, and prices tend to go down by 40%.
Where to eat?
Finnish cuisine is heavily fish-orientated with hearty vegetables to get through the cold months. Smoked meats, such as reindeer are a popular delicatessen. A great tip to save a buck is to stay away from the pub, as a pint can cost up to 7 euros. Here’s a run-down of places not to miss.
Savotta serves up real finnish food in a nostalgic atmosphere. Enjoy traditional Finnish recipes right from Senate square. Seated in an authentic interior with authentic dishes from local suppliers. The traditional menu goes for 57 euros.
Löyly combines the best of Finnish culture in one setting. Enjoy a cosy sauna with some cosy food. Stretching onto the Helsinki waterfront, Löyly is a well-known staple for locals and tourists. In the summertime, you get to enjoy delicious food from their self-service kitchen on one of their terraces.
Ekberg is one of the best bakeries in Finland, with their pastries being sold all over the world. For over a century and a half Ekberg has been serving up some of the most delicious baked goods in town. Their selection includes dozens of types of freshly bakes breads, adhering to baking traditions from different regions. Be sure to grab a cinnamon bun on the go!
Juuri serves up dishes made from organic ingredients obtained from local small producers. This restaurant’s menu boasts a truly authentic Scandinavian menu holding many traditional dishes. Definitely try out the Finnish variant of bitesize tapas: Sapas.
Café Regatta is right by the sea, close to the Sibelius monument in Töölö. Recognizable as a bright red cottage, it’s famous for its cinnamon buns and blueberry pie. Enjoy their delicacies when relaxing near the fire while Café Regatta grills up some sausages.
Ateljee Bar is the proud owner of one of the most exquisite views over Helsinki. This bar has a lofty atmosphere with a carefully curated mix of drinks on its shelf. One of the more expensive places on the list, but worth a stop to grab a drink and enjoy a panoramic view.
Moomin’s are as Finnish as sweaty saunas are. Near the Helsinki Cathedral, this cute café is dedicated to the national cartoon icon. Enjoy a cozy cup of tea with these beloved childhood characters and you will definitely leave this place with a huge smile on your face.
Kauppatori Market Square
Lined by street vendors right across the sea, is Kauppatori. A great place to stroll through and grab small Finnish delicacies. Kauppatori has delicious rye bread sandwiches, fresh fish, cured meats, and sweet berries on offer.
Walpurgis Night falls on the crossing between April and May. It’s a typical Scandinavian holiday celebrating spring with song, dancing, and bonfires.
Also known as Vappu, this celebration begins on the evening of April 30 by clinking glasses of sparkling wine at a carnival and coming down the next day to celebrate the First of May with family.
Funky Elephant Festival
One of the funkiest festivals out there can be found in the coldest places on earth. Funky Elephant has been a staple in celebrating black music history in Helsinki since the 90s. Bringing groovy rhythm to the Finnish capital in April across multiple clubs and venues.
Each Nordic nation has its own way of celebrating Midsummer. Finland’s main holiday takes place on the last Saturday of June honouring pagan traditions. The most popular way of celebrating this event is by lighting (once again) bonfires and visiting the sauna. In Helsinki Midsummer takes place predominantly outside of the city centre and mostly on its islands. Inhabitants tend to leave the capital to spend the celebration in a cottage further up north.
Helsinki Festival runs from August until September. It’s the largest arts festival in the north, celebrating hundreds of different events across the capital. The programme includes a wide variety of music, theatre, dance, circus, and visual acts.
The Helsinki Baltic Herring Market
One of Finland’s oldest ongoing traditions is the Helsinki Baltic Herring Market. Bringing the traditional taste of herring to a modern crowd on the Market Square. Over twenty fishing boats and traditional sailing boats anchor at the square, with multiple stalls open all day long. The event takes place on the first Sunday of October and continues all the way through to Saturday.
Enjoy Finnish charm by adding Helsinki to your travel itinerary now! Stay warm by checking out our other guides on Tallinn or Vilnius. Follow us on Instagram @thewalkingparrot to stay notified of new content!