Helsinki is quaint, laid back, severely underrated, and in many ways the microcosm of Finland. Having resided in Finland for 9 years, I fell in love with Helsinki over the course of my numerous visits to the city. A Helsinki walking tour is one of the best ways to see most of the city’s best sights, important landmarks and explore some elegant neighborhoods. This post includes a map for a self-guided free walking tour of Helsinki. Enjoy your walk! 🙂
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Why Choose This Free Self-Guided Helsinki Walking Tour?
This free self-guided Helsinki walking tour itinerary is perfect if you are short on time and trying to save some money. With our free map, you can follow the route quite easily without having to hire an expensive guide for the day. The tour will take you past the city’s major attractions, landmark public buildings, cultural venues, charming neighborhoods, shopping streets, restaurants, and cafes. You will also see examples of modern architecture.
A particular focus of this walking tour of Helsinki lies on neighborhoods rich in some stunning Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil) architecture, areas that aren’t normally frequented by tourists. Helsinki is a treasure trove for those who appreciate such architecture and it brings out the real flavor of Helsinki. With more than 600 Art Nouveau buildings, Helsinki is only second to Riga in number of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe.
Helsinki Walking Tour Itinerary
The walking tour covers a total distance of approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles). Depending on how fast you go, you could even make a full day of sightseeing out of it. The tour starts at the famous Karl Fazer Cafe in central Helsinki and terminates at Helsinki Central Station. Feel free to take a break if you feel jaded along the way. I have included some cafes and restaurants in the map where you can take a breather and grab a bite. On this Helsinki walking tour, you will see:
- Karl Fazer Cafe
- National Library of Finland
- Senate Square
- Helsinki Cathedral
- Pohjola Insurance Building
- Kamppi Chapel of Silence
- Amos Rex Art Museum
- Mannerheim Statue
- Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
- Finnish Parliament Building
- Helsinki Music Center
- Helsinki Central Library Oodi
- National Museum of Finland
- Finlandia Hall
- Rock Church
- Punavuori District
- Ullanlinna District
- St. John’s Cathedral
- Design Museum
- Esplanadi Park
- Havis Amanda
- Market Square
- Old Market Hall
- Helsinki City Hall
- Presidential Palace of Finland
- Old Customs House
- Katajanokka District
- Uspenski Cathedral
- Kruununhaka District
- Finnish House of Nobility
- Finnish National Theater
- Ateneum Art Museum
- Helsinki Central Station
Karl Fazer Cafe
Kick off your Helsinki walking tour at the renowned Karl Fazer Cafe. Fazer is an important brand in Finland and Fazer chocolates and sweets are the most popular ones in Finland. The Karl Fazer Cafe is their flagship cafe and you can get all kinds of yummy cakes and pastries here. The coffee they serve is pretty good too. The cafe also has a section where you can pick up Fazer sweets and gifts.
Your next stop is the National Library of Finland (2) which lies on Unioninkatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.
National Library of Finland
The National Library of Finland may seem like an odd attraction, but the library’s main interior hall is home to Helsinki’s most mesmerizing murals and also features magnificent marble columns. Best of all, it is free to enter, so quickly peek inside and snap pictures. You can check opening hours here.
Your next stop is the Senate Square (3) which is just down the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
The Senate Square has been Helsinki’s main square since the 17th century. The present square was built in 1808 by the Russians when they took charge of Finland. The famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel designed the square in such a manner that the buildings on its four sides of the square represented the four powers of the state as conceived at the time: senate, church, university and commerce. A lone statue of Tsar Alexander II stands in the center of the square. The main building of the University of Helsinki and the Government Palace which houses the Prime Minister’s office also lie in the square. All these buildings are fine examples of Neoclassical architecture.
Your next stop, the Helsinki Cathedral (4), lines the northern part of the Senate Square.
The chalk-white, blue domed Helsinki Cathedral dominates the Senate Square from its position above the stairs leading to it from the square. It was also designed by Carl Ludwig Engel, but was only finished in 1852, 12 years after his demise. Its interior is quite spartan as is customary with most Lutheran churches and has statues of Reformation heroes like Martin Luther and Mikael Agricola.
Your next stop is Aleksanterinkatu (5). You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
Aleksanterinkatu is Helsinki’s premier commercial street that stretches from the Presidential Palace and continues to meet Mannerheimintie. Aleksanterinkatu is the city’s oldest street and is home to numerous fashionable shops, boutiques, and bars. The street is always abuzz with activity and is a great place to observe Helsinki’s charming old trams. Aleksanterinkatu is also home to the flagship Stockmann department store which is the largest such store in the Nordic region.
Your next stop is the Pohjola Insurance Building (6) which lies at the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Mikolankatu, opposite Handelsbanken. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
Pohjola Insurance Building
Don’t forget to take some photos of the lovely Pohjola Insurance Building on Aleksanterinkatu. Its facade of rough-hewn soapstone and red granite is decorated with sculptures of devils, monster, and trolls from the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic. The Pohjola Insurance Building is one of the prime examples of the National Romantic Style of Finnish Art Nouveau.
Your next stop is Mannerheimintie (7) which is just further down the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
Mannerheimintie is Helsinki’s longest street at 5.5 km in length and is the chief street of the city. It is named in honor of the Finnish military leader Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. Mannerheimintie stretches between various neighborhoods of Helsinki and is home to many eateries, bars, and malls. It is also the location of some of the city’s most prominent buildings, cultural venues, and landmarks.
Your next stop is the Kamppi Chapel of Silence (8) which lies on Simonkatu, just in front of Kamppi Shopping Center. You’ll be walking a distance of 350 m.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
The Kamppi Chapel of Silence is an unusual and intriguing wooden building located in one of the city’s busiest squares. Its lustrous copper exterior and oval-shaped design make it difficult to overlook. Take a look inside even if religion isn’t your thing and you’ll notice that the chapel offers an oasis of calm from the bustling city. Entrance is free, and the opening hours are Mon-Fri: 8:00 – 20:00, Sat-Sun: 10:00 – 18:00.
Your next stop is the Amos Rex Art Museum (9). You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
Amos Rex Art Museum
The Amos Rex Art Museum lies behind the famous Lasipalatsi (Glass House) building which is home to the Art Deco Rex Cinema (Bio Rex). The historic Lasipalatsi square has been metamorphosed into a surreal undulating moonscape, where a series of bulbous domes with circular windows sprout out of the ground connecting the plaza to an underground art hub, the Amos Rex Art Museum. It’s something that Stanley Kubrick would have been envious of and you can often see people of all ages scaling the five volcanic space pods posing for selfies.
Your next stop is the Mannerheim Statue (10) on Mannerheimintie. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
The Mannerheim Statue is one of the prominent monuments you’ll encounter when walking up Mannerheimintie. Carl Gustaf Mannerheim played an undeniably large role in Finland’s military conflicts in the first half of the 20th century, and even topped a nationwide poll of 100 Greatest Finns in 2004. The bronze statue is raised on a granite podium and shows Mannerheim on horseback.
Your next stop is the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (11) which is just beside the Mannerheim Statue.
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is an impressive showcase of modern architecture. Kiasma’s curvilinear wall allows natural light from the exterior to illuminate the galleries inside during the day, while also providing a dynamic wall of light from within at night. The shape of the building is supposed to mirror Helsinki’s geometry.
Your next stop is the Finnish Parliament Building (12) on Mannerheimintie. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
Finnish Parliament Building
The imposing Finnish Parliament building casts a large shadow over Mannherheimintie. It opened in 1931 and its austere Neoclassicism combined with early 20th-century modernism gives it a solemn appearance. The building’s 14 Corinthian columns and 46 steps leading up to the main entrance provide a good backdrop for photos.
In 1906, Finland granted women’s suffrage and in doing so also became the first country in the world to grant women the right to stand for parliament.
Your next stop is the Helsinki Music Center (13) which is on the opposite side of the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 50 m.
Helsinki Music Center
The Helsinki Music Center is another typically snazzy and striking piece of Finnish architecture. It is the city’s premier venue for classical music concerts. The building comprises of various cuboid glass sections and is topped with a sloping grass roof. Its main concert hall is famed for its vineyard-style terraced seating design. The music center is also home to the renowned Sibelius Academy, where budding Finnish musicians learn their trade.
Helsinki Central Library Oodi
Your next stop is the Helsinki Central Library Oodi (14) which is just behind the Helsinki Music Center. Walk on Töölönlahdenkatu to get to Oodi. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
The brand new Oodi Central Library is the latest prominent addition to Helsinki’s cityscape. The new multi-million dollar library features not only books but 3D printers, recording studios, gaming rooms, a small cinema, and other leisure facilities that are all free for the public to use. Due to the sweeping design of building and its large glass structure, visitors are treated to some nice views over the city.
Your next stop is the National Museum of Finland (15) which lies on Mannerheimintie. You’ll be walking a distance of 450 m.
National Museum of Finland
The National Museum of Finland showcases Finnish history from prehistoric times to the present era. The building itself is an architectural landmark and is another prime example of National Romanticism in Helsinki and dates to 1916. It sort of resembles a Gothic church with its stonework and tower.
Your next stop is the Finlandia Hall (16) which lies on the opposite side of the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 100 m.
The last notable point of interest of your itinerary on Mannerheimintie is the famous Finlandia Hall. This angular building was designed by Alvar Aalto, Finland’s most famous architect, and is one of his trademark creations. Many of Aalto’s designs focus on simplicity and functionality, and the Finlandia Hall is no exception. It is a popular congress and event center.
Your next stop is the Rock Church (17) which lies on Lutherinkatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 900 m.
The captivating Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) is one of my personal favorite sites in Helsinki. This unique structure was designed by two brothers in the late 1960s is one of Finland’s most popular architectural sights. It lies underground and was carved out of a large block of block of granite. Entrance to the church costs 3 EUR. It is open on all days but opening hours vary, so check the website before you visit.
Your next stop is the Punavuori district (18). You’ll be walking a distance of 1.4 km.
Punavuori is a popular district in southwestern Helsinki that has undergone gentrification and is now an upscale trendy area popular with artists, and hipsters. It is one of my favorite places in Helsinki. There is a slew of boutiques, cafes, bars, and restaurants here. Punavuori is also home to some lovely green spaces here such as Punavuori Park. The streets of Fredrikinkatu and Bulevardi are laden with castle-like Art Nouveau style blocks of flats with grand towers.
Your next stop is the Ullanlinna district (19). You’ll be walking a distance of 1.1 km.
Ullanlinna is an affluent district in southern Helsinki that is home to some of the most sought-after properties in the city. Numerous foreign embassies, old villa-like mansions, and upscale restaurants are located in this district. There are lots of green spaces around here such as Meripuisto and Observatory Hill Park.
What really sets this neighborhoods apart though, is its stunning Art Nouveau architecture. This makes it very different from the usual drab architecture found in most Finnish neighborhoods. Make sure to stroll down Huvilakatu which is a goldmine for Art Nouveau connoisseurs. Candy-colored low-rises dot this wonderful street. Many of them are over a century old and continue as part of an almost unbroken chain along the length of the street. The facades of the villa-like houses, their towers and balconies are creatively decorated.
Your next stop is St. John’s Church (20) which lies on Korkeavuorenkatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 1 km.
St. John’s Church
The twin spired Neo-Gothic St. John’s Church is the largest church in Helsinki. It is located on a hill and was completed in 1891 with imposing steeples and amazing red-brick exterior.
Your next stop is the Design Museum (21) which lies straight ahead Korkeavuorenkatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
The Design Museum is another impressive Neo-Gothic edifice you’ll encounter. Finland is internationally famous for its cutting-edge design and the Design Museum showcases Finland’s history of industrial, fashion and graphic design from the late 19th century to the present day.
Your next stop is Esplanadi Park (22) which is straight up Korkeavuorenkatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 500 m.
Esplanadi Park (or simply Espa) is an urban park in downtown Helsinki that is surrounded by the grand Esplanadi boulevard. Cafes, bistros, and upmarket boutiques dot the boulevard. The park is not as big as some of the other parks in Helsinki but it’s a great place to relax, have a couple of drinks or to just watch the world go by. When the weather is nice there are usually some live music events in the park.
Your next stop is Havis Amanda (23) which lies just outside Esplanadi Park before the Market Square.
Havis Amanda is the most popular statue in Helsinki. It is a statue of a nude mermaid leaning backward with four fish spouting water at her feet and surrounded by four sea lions. The Havis Amanda (or Manta) is regarded as a symbol of Helsinki and is the focal point of the annual Vappu (May Day) festivities.
Your next stop is the Market Square (Kauppatori) (24) which lies just adjacent to Havis Amanda.
The open-air Market Square (Kauppatori) situated at the east end of Esplanadi Park by the south harbor. It is home to numerous stalls that sell local produce and Finnish handicrafts making it a good spot to buy Finnish souvenirs. Locals and tourists alike descend upon the Market Square on the weekends and the summer season. The Market Square is also the location of the famous Baltic Herring Market which takes place in October.
Your next stop is the Old Market Hall (25) which is easily reached by walking south on Eteläranta. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
Old Market Hall
Helsinki’s Old Market Hall has been operating since 1889 and has a huge selection of traders selling all sorts of food items. The market hall offers visitors a huge variety of quality fresh food (seafood in particular) and has a very unique atmosphere. And it’s not just a place for tourists since many locals do their shopping here. You can also pick up canned bear, elk meat, reindeer jerky, and jams, items that could make for interesting souvenirs or gifts.
Your next stop is City Hall (26) which lies on Pohjoisesplanadi, just across the street from the Market Square. You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
The City Hall was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel in Neoclassical style in 1833. It served as a hotel till 1913 and hosted many important cultural premiers. Today it is home to the office of the Mayor of Helsinki and hosts City Council meetings.
Your next stop is the Presidential Palace of Finland (27) which lies just down the street. You’ll be walking a distance of 150 m.
Presidential Palace of Finland
The Presidential Palace is the official residence of the Finnish President. This 19th century Neoclassical edifice is another one of Engel’s creations and you can see the similarities in its design and structure with the design of his other buildings.
Your next stop is the Old Customs House (28) which is on Kanavakatu. You’ll be walking a distance of 400 m.
Old Customs House
Constructed in the early 20th century, the Old Customs House is one of the fascinating historic buildings in Helsinki. It was designed in National Romantic style by renowned architect Gustaf Nyström. This massive building is truly an architectural marvel and I really love its brick stonework, intricate details and beautiful design. The building served as a bonded warehouse until the 1960s, after which it lay abandoned for over 40 years. It is now home to some companies and is used as an exhibition area.
You’re in the Katjananokka district already but some of the more scenic streets (29) are a short stroll away. You’ll be walking a distance of 700 m.
Katajanokka is an upscale and atmospheric district situated on a peninsula east of the center. I am really fond of this alluring neighborhood that is rarely frequented by tourists. Similar to Ullanlinna, it’s peppered with elegant Jugendstil buildings and is like a Finnish Art Nouveau open-air museum. Marvel at the pastel-colored walls and rich designs of the towers and windows on Laivastokatu, Luotsikatu, Kauppiaankatu, and Vyökatu. You will be mesmerized! Look out for unique and ornate decorations on doors and rooftops. Oh, how I envy those who live there!
Your next stop is the Uspenski Cathedral (30) whose bulbous domes are easily visible from afar. You’ll be walking a distance of 800 m.
The impressive Uspenski Cathedral lies on a hillock just a stone’s throw away from the Market Square. Completed in 1868, this cathedral claims to be the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe. The red facade of this Eastern Orthodox cathedral is beautiful with its crosses and hulking domes. It is even more attractive from inside with icons of saints and ornate figurines. Too bad they don’t allow photos inside though. Admission to the cathedral is free of charge. It is closed on Monday and during ceremonies. Opening hours are Tue – Fri: 09:30 – 16:00, Sat: 10:00 – 15:00, Sun: 12:00 – 15:00.
Your next destination is the Kruununhaka district (31) which is easily reached from Uspenski Cathedral by crossing the Love Bridge. You’ll be walking a distance of 500 m.
Kruununhaka is another elegant district in central Helsinki that is home to several important civic institutions. Being one of the oldest areas of Helsinki you’ll encounter a number of vintage shops here. The architecture of Kruununhaka is a mixture of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau. Meritullinkatu, Mariankatu, and Rauhankatu are three streets here that rich in Art Nouveau architecture.
Your next destination is the Finnish House of Nobility (32). You’ll be walking a distance of 200 m.
Finnish House of Nobility
The Neo-Gothic ‘Finnish House of Nobility’ dates back to 1862 and houses the chief assembly hall and offices for genealogy and maintenance of family record of the Finnish nobles. The building is mostly used for private events, gala dinners, and seminars. You can find information about guided tours on their website. I’m really glad that I had the pleasure of seeing its unique interior. The coat of arms of 357 noble families embellish the walls of its main hall.
Your next destination is the Finnish National Theater (33) which lies behind the Helsinki Central Station. You’ll be walking a distance of 1 km.
Finnish National Theater
The Finnish National Theater is the oldest Finnish-speaking theater in the nation, dating back to 1872 (founded in Pori). It is an important cultural institution in Finland and even played a vital role in the Finnish push for independence. The building, completed in 1902, is yet another hallmark example of the National Romantic Style of architecture. In my opinion, it looks more like a medieval residence or a dollhouse rather than a theater. The facade is gorgeous, with its granite walls, red roof and turrets, and detailed ornaments. Rumor has it that the Finnish National Theater is haunted by 3 ghosts.
The scuttlebutt around here is that the Finnish National Theater is haunted by at least three ghosts. One is a former actress dressed in white who roams the corridors in search of a script and the other two are former Finnish stage actors, one of whom is the notorious Urho Somersalmi. Somersalmi infamously hacked his wife to death with an axe that he received as a gift from the Finnish Actors’ Union and then hanged himself on a ceiling lamp hook!
Your next destination is the Ateneum Art Museum (34) which lies on Kaivokatu and is easily reached by walking across the bus stand. You’ll be walking a distance of 300 m.
Ateneum Art Museum
The Ateneum Art Museum is home to the largest collections of classical art in Finland. The museum building dates back to 1887 and its facade is adorned with statues and reliefs which contain a lot of symbols.
Your next destination is Helsinki Central Station (35) which is just across the street.
Helsinki Central Station
The Helsinki Central Station is one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations. Completed in 1919, it is considered a masterpiece of the Art Nouveau architecture in Helsinki. More than 400,000 people pass through the Helsinki Central Station daily making it Finland’s busiest building. The giant pairs of statues of stone men that stand next to the entrance have even been used as animated mascots in railroad ads! What’s interesting is that the building incorporates striking Modernist features, such as the great portal archway and clock tower, displaying architect Eliel Saarinen’s move toward a more streamlined modernism.
What Else to See in Helsinki
Obviously, there is plenty more to see in Helsinki than what we have covered in our walking tour. You’re in good hands as below I have compiled some of our most popular posts on how to spend the best time of your life in Helsinki and surroundings. And while you’re at it, why not check out our list of the best hotels and hostels in Helsinki? I have made sure to recommend only the best of the best (in terms of quality and value) 🙂
You May Also Like→ Extend your walking tour and spend a whole day in Helsinki!
→ Got some more time? Check out our guide to spending a perfect weekend in Helsinki instead!
→ Thinking about taking a day trip? Check out our guide to the best day trips from Helsinki.
→ Take the ferry across the Baltic Sea and visit Tallinn, Estonia.
→ Enjoy Finnish Lakeland on a day trip to Tampere.
→ Take a day trip to Turku, Finland’s old capital.
Now, what do you think? Did you enjoy our self-guided walking tour of Helsinki? Are there any other stops that we should be adding? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!