Often overshadowed by its more flashier Nordic siblings, Helsinki is finally emerging from the shadows as a worthy tourist destination. The city has a lot to offer with its fascinating architecture, burgeoning food scene, vibrant nightlife, cutting-edge design, attractive parks and gardens, offbeat galleries and museums. Helsinki is a city of experiences that rewards the curious traveler. Here’s our lowdown on the best things to do in Helsinki.
Please note that this article contains affiliate links. Learn more about it on our Disclosure page. We use ads to support our small business – we hope you don’t mind them too much.
Table of Contents
How to Get Around Helsinki
Helsinki is an extremely walkable city and walking is the best way to discover its many hidden gems and appreciate the true charm of the city. The center of Helsinki is easily explored on foot and many of Helsinki’s must-see attractions are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
You can also get around Helsinki using the city’s efficient public transportation system. The transportation network consists of buses, trams, and a metro system. Trams are the most useful for tourists and most visitors won’t need to use buses and the metro.
A single journey ticket for buses costs 4 EUR when purchased from the bus driver whereas a ticket purchased from the ticket machine or from the HSL app is a little cheaper. Keep small change with you when buying a ticket from the driver. A single journey tram ticket costs 2.50 EUR when bought from a ticket machine. A day ticket costs 8 EUR and can be used for multiple journeys. To find out more information on tickets and how to plan your journey, check here.
If you are visiting Helsinki between April-October, a great way to get around is on a bicycle. Helsinki has great bike infrastructure and well-marked bicycle paths. Renting a bike is quite easy and cheap. Helsinki’s handy shared-bike scheme, City Bikes has around 150 stations across the city. You can find more information about bike rental here.
I would advise using taxis in Helsinki unless it is absolutely necessary as they are very pricey, and you will run up a large tab. However, if you wish to travel by taxi you can check out Taksi Helsinki.
Is the Helsinki Card Worth It?
The Helsinki Card is a convenient city pass that accords you free access to over 25 of the best attractions and sights in the city. In addition to this, the Helsinki Card also offers discounted admission to a heap of other top sights in Helsinki. The other advantage of having the Helsinki Card is that it gives you unlimited free access to the city’s public transport network. The Helsinki Card has a 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour validity.
Ultimately, the question of whether the Helsinki Card is worth it depends on how much you want to get out of the city. If you plan on visiting a lot of cultural attractions and museums, then it is definitely worth investing in the card. If not, then maybe the Helsinki Card isn’t worth buying.
Things to Do & See in Helsinki
There are plenty of great things to see in Helsinki and this underrated city is a vibrant and superb getaway for those on a short break. Whether your interests lie in architecture, museum hopping, eating, shopping or just chilling in the park, there’s something to do for everyone in Helsinki.
For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Helsinki. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map. Below we have compiled a list (in no particular order) of the best things to see and do in Helsinki.
- Check Out Senate Square
- Wander Around the Suomenlinna Fortress
- Visit Helsinki Cathedral
- Sibelius Monument
- Learn about Finland’s past at the National Museum of Finland
- Go For a Refreshing Sauna Visit
- National Library of Finland
- Take a Stroll on Mannerheimintie
- Uspenski Cathedral
- Check Out the Market Square & the Old Market Hall
- Visit the Amazing Oodi Central Library
- Temppeliaukio Church
- Admire the Helsinki Central Station
- Explore the Design District
- Marvel at Helsinki’s Beautiful Art Nouveau Architecture
- Kamppi Chapel of Silence
- Classic Art at Ateneum Art Museum
- Feast on Finnish Cuisine
- Pick-up Finnish Souvenirs
- Relax in Helsinki’s Green Spaces
- Get a Boost of Adrenaline at Linnanmäki Amusement Park
- Check Out the Trendy Kallio District
- Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
- Havis Amanda
- Enjoy Contemporary Art at Kiasma
- Go to the Olympic Stadium
- Take a Day Trip
1. Check Out Senate Square
Senate Square (Senaatintori) is one of the main points of interest in Helsinki. It has been Helsinki’s main square since the 17th century. The square took on its current form in 1809 after the Russians took charge of Finland. This sprawling square was the brainchild of the celebrated 19th-century architect Carl Ludvig Engel.
Engel creatively 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. Helsinki is renowned for its Neoclassical architecture and Senate Square is very much the heart of Neoclassical Helsinki.
You can see some grand examples of Neoclassical architecture here in the main building of the University of Helsinki and the pale yellow Government Palace, which houses the Prime Minister’s office.
A lone statue of Tsar Alexander II stands in the center of the square. Shops and restaurants presently occupy former merchants’ homes on the square’s southern side. Senate Square is also the location of the Sederholm House, which is the city’s oldest stone building. Senate Square also serves as a gathering place for celebrations such as Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.
2. Wander Around the Suomenlinna Fortress
The historic Suomenlinna Fortress is arguably the best thing to see in Helsinki. Being an avid history lover who loves old forts, Suomenlinna is my personal favorite attraction in Helsinki.
Suomenlinna Fortress was constructed by the Swedes between 1748 and 1772 with the assistance of the Finnish troops, designed to defend the Finnish coast. It is one of the biggest sea fortresses in the world with fortifications scattered across six rocky skerries. Although never taken by assault, Suomenlinna had to surrender to the Russians after a siege in 1808. Finland was absorbed by the Russian Empire ending the 600-year period of Swedish rule.
Naturally, Suomenlinna is a very popular tourist attraction, tourists and locals alike flock here to enjoy its well-preserved military architecture, parks, numerous museums, restaurants, and cafes. In spite of this, Suomenlinna is actually home to around 900 people who reside in the renovated ramparts and barracks.
Suomenlinna is home to no less than six museums. Of course, not all are worth seeing. The Suomenlinna Museum and the Military Museum are the picks of the lot. The Suomenlinna Museum does an excellent job of retelling the details of the history of the fortress from the 18th century to the present through a series of interesting multimedia installations.
The Manege Military Museum is a must-see for military buffs and gives a comprehensive overview of military hardware. Displays include canons, heavy military equipment, uniform-clad mannequins, and other military paraphernalia.
Even if you’re not into seeing museums, you can follow the signposted walking path to see the ramparts, bunkers, the famous Vesikko submarine, and military architecture. One of the best things to see on Suomenlinna is the Suomenlinna Church, which has the largest bell in Finland. It is also one of the few churches in the world that functions as a lighthouse.
Suomenlinna is easily reached by the public ferry which leaves from Helsinki’s Market Square. The ferry ride to Suomenlinna takes about 15 minutes. Please note that some of the attractions are closed in the winter.
3. Visit Helsinki Cathedral
No visit to Helsinki would be complete without seeing the imposing Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin Tuomiokirkko). Undoubtedly the defining landmark of Helsinki, the glistening, chalk-white, green-domed Helsinki Cathedral dominates the Senate Square from its position above the stairs. This beautiful cathedral was also designed by Carl Ludwig Engel but was only finished in 1852, twelve years after his demise.
Helsinki Cathedral’s marvelous exterior is dominated by white Corinthian columns and the cathedral’s five green cupolas. Zinc statues of the 12 apostles can be found on its rooftop, which also happens to be the world’s largest set of zinc statues.
The cathedral is what I like to call an architectural anti-Kinder surprise meaning that its interior isn’t as splendid as its exterior. The interior is quite austere as is customary with most Lutheran churches and the main things to see are the gilded organ, pulpit, and altarpiece. Statues of 16th-century Protestant reformers Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, and Mikael Agricola, who translated the Bible into Finnish, can be found inside.
Helsinki Cathedral is open daily, from 09:00–18:00 (September–May) and 09:00–24:00 (June–August). Free entrance.
4. Sibelius Monument
The Sibelius Monument (Sibelius-monumentti) is definitely one of the most popular places to visit in Helsinki. Located in the lovely Sibelius Park, this unique structure consists of 600 steel pipes of various sizes that have been welded together. This intriguing monument weighs a whopping 24 tons and kind of resembles an organ or a sound wave.
It was designed in 1967 by the Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen as a tribute to Finland’s most venerated composer, Jean Sibelius, who played a key role in the country’s national revival. It was initially poorly received since Sibelius never composed music for organs. To placate the critics, a bust of the composer was added.
Helsinki is a bilingual city with Finnish and Swedish as its two official languages. The Swedish name for the city is ‘Helsingfors’. Helsinki natives generally refer to the city as ‘stadi’, which itself is derived from the Swedish word ‘stad’ meaning city.
5. Learn about Finland’s past at the National Museum of Finland
The National Museum of Finland (Suomen Kansallismuseo) is one of the best things to see in Helsinki. The museum is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building that sort of resembles a medieval church or castle. It is the ideal place to uncover Finnish history from prehistoric times to the present day.
The museum makes good use of interactive technology to showcase its historical treasures. The permanent exhibitions of the National Museum are divided into six parts. There are many artifacts including religious relics, cultural exhibitions, ethnographic and other significant archaeological finds housed at this museum.
One notable highlight of the museum is the frescoes on the ceiling arches inside the entrance hall by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, which illustrate scenes from the Finnish national epic Kalevala, a master creation. As far as National Museums go, this is certainly one of the better ones I have seen. Besides permanent exhibitions, the museum has alternating exhibitions throughout the year.
The National Museum is open Thursday–Tuesday: 11:00-18:00 and Wednesday: 11:00–20:00. The entrance fee is 12 EUR. Free entrance every Friday from 16:00–18:00.
6. Go For a Refreshing Sauna Visit
No visit to Helsinki would be complete without going to the sauna, a quintessential and obligatory experience Finnish experience. Saunas are a vital part of Finnish culture and there’s no shortage of saunas. It is estimated that there are approximately 3.3 million saunas in Finland, a staggering number considering Finland only has 5.55 million people. There’s even a sauna in all Finnish diplomatic and consular missions around the world!
Historically, saunas were the place where women gave birth, people meditated, bodies were laid out after death, as well as a place to smoke meat. The sauna was also used by Finns as a place to meditate and for some going to the sauna is still a spiritual experience.
Nowadays the sauna is more of a place to sip some chilled suds with your mates or conduct business deals. There’s nothing more gratifying than sweating it out in a 90°C (194°F), having the air in your lungs purified and skin pores getting cleansed.
One of the very best saunas to visit in Helsinki is Löyly, which even featured in Time Magazine’s list of World’s Greatest Places in 2018. Some of the other popular saunas in Helsinki include Hermanni, Kotiharjuun and the Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall.
7. National Library of Finland
The yellow-colored National Library of Finland (Kansalliskirjasto) can be found just off of Senate Square and is another fine example of Neoclassical architecture in Helsinki. The library is responsible for storing books on Finnish culture and heritage.
Even if you aren’t an avid reader, visiting the National Library is one of the best things to do in Helsinki to marvel at its wonderfully frescoed and marble-columned hall, which seemingly possesses endless shelves of tomes. It’s free to enter, you can check opening hours here.
8. Take a Stroll on Mannerheimintie
Mannerheimintie is Helsinki’s longest street and most important street. Mannerheimintie stretches between various neighborhoods of Helsinki and is home to many restaurants, bars, and malls.
The street is named in honor of the legendary Finnish military leader and statesman Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. A bronze statue of Mannerheim on horseback can also be found on the street.
Taking a stroll down Mannerheimintie is one of the best things to Helsinki since you can get to see some of the city’s most prominent buildings, cultural venues, and landmarks along its 5.5 km.
Some of the main attractions on Mannerheimintie include the imposing Finnish Parliament Building (another fine example of Neoclassical architecture), the striking Helsinki Music Center and the marble white angular Finlandia Hall, arguably the greatest work of renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto.
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.
9. Uspenski Cathedral
Not only is Uspenski Cathedral (Uspenskin Katedraali) one of the city’s most adorable churches, it is also one of the best things to see in Helsinki. Completed in 1868, this cathedral is a symbol of the might of the Russian Empire and claims to be the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe.
The red-brick facade of the cathedral is beautified by the presence of the church’s green copper roof and 13 gold onion-shaped domes. The bricks used for building the church came from the Bomarsund Fortress in the Åland Islands that was destroyed in the Crimean War!
The interior of Uspenski Cathedral features lavishly gilded iconography, typical of the Orthodox style and its walls are painted in gold, silver, red, and blue colors. The ostentatious interior of the Uspenski Cathedral stands in stark contrast to that of its rival, the Lutheran Helsinki Cathedral.
The opening hours of Uspenski Cathedral are Tuesday–Friday: 09:30–16:00, Saturday: 10:00–15:00, and Sunday: 12:00–15:00. Free entrance.
10. Check Out the Market Square & the Old Market Hall
Sightseeing in Helsinki wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to the city’s open-air Market Square (Kauppatori). The market is located close to the waterfront where the sightseeing cruises depart from. It is home to numerous tented stalls that sell fresh local produce, berries, Finnish handicrafts, clothing, trinkets, and other paraphernalia.
The Old Market Hall is Helsinki’s most traditional market hall and has been around since 1889. It’s the perfect place to have lunch and try some Finnish favorites like Karelian pie (karjalanpiirakka), the brutal salty licorice (salmiakki), and bread cheese (leipäjuusto).
You can also find some interesting products here like canned bear, moose, reindeer jerky and herring that are great souvenirs. The Old Market Hall is open Monday-Saturday from 08:00–18:00.
11. Visit the Amazing Oodi Central Library
If you don’t have a great propensity for visiting museums or just want to see something else, a visit to the fascinating Oodi Central Library is one of the best things to do in Helsinki. Opened in 2018, it is Finland’s largest library and has already been named one of the best libraries in the world.
A visit to Oodi will shed light on why Finns are so keen on libraries. Even though it’s technically a library, it’s so much more than just a place for borrowing books. Oodi is meant to be a place for socializing and allows visitors to participate in activities like readings, workshops, and special events.
The library’s glossy interiors are spread across three floors of very differing character – all exciting and stimulating. In addition to the 100,000 odd books, you can find 3D printers, recording studios, gaming rooms, a small cinema and other leisure facilities that are all free for the public to use. There’s also a cafe and restaurant in the building in case you need invigorating.
The third floor of the building is arguably its best and looks like the foyer on a passenger cruise ship. It features a large public balcony where people can meet and have access to scenic views across the city. As impressive as it is from the inside, Oodi Central Library has also won many plaudits for its innovative exterior design of glass and timber.
The opening hours of the Oodi Central Library are Monday-Friday: 08:00–22:00 and Saturday-Sunday: 10:00–20:00.
12. Temppeliaukio Church
The amazing Temppeliaukio Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) is undoubtedly one of the must-see sights in Helsinki. Probably the most-beloved architectural sight in the nation, this church lies underground and was carved out of a large block of granite in the late 1960s. It is more commonly known as the “Rock Church”.
The church’s inner stone walls are topped with a humongous copper dome, separated from the rough-surfaced rock walls by a ribbed ring of glass. This gives the impression that you’re looking at a half-buried spaceship in the ground. The Rock Church is renowned for its superior acoustics and many concerts are held here.
22 km of copper stripping line the interior of the church. The minimalist interior is relatively free of iconography and religious symbolism. The natural elements of granite, copper, and sky in the church’s cavernous interior make the church seem like a superhero’s lair.
Temppeliaukio Church is Jacky’s all-time favorite sight in Helsinki and we’ve dragged numerous visitors of ours to the church. I reckon after growing up around the ornate Baroque Catholic churches of Austria makes you start appreciating unembellished interiors of Lutheran churches.
Admission to the Temppeliaukio Church costs 3 EUR. It is open on all days but opening hours vary, so check the website before you visit.
13. Admire the Helsinki Central Station
The Helsinki Central Station (Helsingin Rautatieasema) is one of the best things to see in Helsinki since it is often listed as one of the most beautiful stations in the world. Designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and completed in 1919, the station is celebrated as one of the best examples of National Romanticism (a distinctly Finnish take on Art Nouveau) architecture in Helsinki. The station is Finland’s busiest building with approximately 400,000 people passing through it daily.
The Central Station’s pin granite facade is noteworthy for its green copper details. Its hallmark features are its clock tower and the two pairs of stone-men statues holding the spherical lamps, which are lit at night-time, on either side of the main entrance. These statues are so iconic that they have even been used as animated mascots in railroad ads!
While the Helsinki Central Station is one of the most beautiful edifices in Helsinki, the same cannot be said of the structure directly opposite to its entrance. The building in question is, of course, the infamous Makkaratalo (Sausage House), which gained its unsavory nickname courtesy of the concrete sausage-shaped band encircling its exterior. Often regarded as the ugliest building in Helsinki, this brutalist eyesore represents the worst of Stalinist-style architecture.
14. Explore the Design District
The Design District is located in central Helsinki and consists of 25 streets stretching from Mannerheimintie to the harborside antique hall and flea market at Hietalahti. The district is a great place to get acquainted with avant-garde Finnish design, which is characterized by clean lines and functionalism. It is a great place to discover Helsinki’s creative side.
The Design District was one of the main reasons why Helsinki was crowned ‘World Design Capital’ in 2012. It is home to an assortment of fashion stores, antique shops, museums, design hotels, design studios, and art galleries. The majority are located on Fredrikinkatu and Annankatu.
Check out Arela for high-quality cashmere knits, Minna Parikka for whimsical shoes, Marimekko for brightly colored textiles and high-quality apparel, Lokal for amazing homewares and inspiring designs, Samuji House for muted colors and high-quality fabrics, and Taiga Colors for trendy home products and handbags. The list just goes on and on!
The wonderful Design Museum (Designmuseo) is very much the centerpiece of the Design District. Housed in a stunning Neo-Gothic edifice, this small museum showcases the best of Finnish design from everyday items, industrial items, electronics, jewelry, furniture to textile and glassworks. More than 75,000 objects, 45,000 drawings, and 125,000 photographs can be found within the walls of this museum.
15. Marvel at Helsinki’s Beautiful Art Nouveau Architecture
One of the great pleasures of exploring Helsinki on foot is seeking out the copious Art Nouveau buildings. In fact, Helsinki has the second-largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe after Riga. I’m a great lover of Art Nouveau but not much is mentioned about Helsinki’s lovely National Romantic architecture but I feel that it is one of the best things to see in Helsinki.
Although you can find examples of Art Nouveau architecture dotted all over Helsinki, the districts of Katajanokka, Kruununhaka, Eira, and Ullanlinna are a particular standout. Streets like Huvilakatu, Bulevardi, Luotsikatu, Kauppiaankatu, Rauhankatu, and Meritullinkatu are replete with elegant Jugendstil buildings. The candy-colored low-rises on Huvilakatu are simply gorgeous.
Some of the most famous Art Nouveau edifices in Helsinki are Eira Hospital, the Finnish National Theater, the Pohjola Insurance Company Building, and the Helsinki Workers’ House. You can marvel at the intricate details and picturesque motifs on the windows and arches of these buildings.
16. Kamppi Chapel of Silence
If you’re looking to take a breather when sightseeing in Helsinki, a visit to the Kamppi Chapel of Silence (Kampin kappeli) is the perfect remedy. This popular attraction is located in 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 impossible to overlook.
Take a peek inside the cocoon-like interior even if you’re not big on religion. Spruce, alder, and ash have been creatively employed to create a serene and sophisticated interior. There’s only a single cross at the minimalist altar. You’ll notice that the chapel offers an oasis of calm from the bustling city courtesy of the sound-insulating plasterboard cladding.
The opening hours of the Kamppi Chapel of Silence are Monday-Friday: 08:00–20:00, Saturday-Sunday: 10:00–18:00. Free entrance.
17. Classic Art at Ateneum Art Museum
The Ateneum Art Museum (Ateneumin taidemuseo) is probably the best museum in Helsinki and is definitely a must-visit for classic art lovers. Home to the largest collection of classical art in Finland, the museum has more than 20,000 works of art, mostly by Finnish artists from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century.
Some of Finland’s most cherished artworks are located here including Hugo Simbert’s gloomily symbolic The Garden of Death, Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Boy with a Crow and Pekka Halonen’s Pioneers in Karelia.
Several lovely paintings by Albert Edelfelt capturing the essence of rural Finnish life are one of the highlights of the Ateneum. The works of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, inspired by the Finnish national epic Kalevala are also worth seeing. Don’t forget to check out his lovely The Aino Triptych.
The museum building dates back to 1887 and its elegant facade is also worth checking out. It is adorned with statues and reliefs which contain a lot of symbols.
The Ateneum Art Museum is open from 10:00-18:00 (Tuesday & Friday), 10:00-20:00 (Wednesday & Thursday) and 10:00-17:00 (Saturday & Sunday). The entrance costs 17 EUR.
18. Feast on Finnish Cuisine
Tasting some authentic Finnish cuisine is one of the best things to do in Helsinki. Finnish cuisine is pretty simple and is strongly inspired by the food from those Russia and Sweden and what was available on the land.
Meat, game, fish, milk, potatoes, rye, porridge are staples of Finnish cuisine. Spices are sparsely used. Finnish food usually cops a lot of flack for being mundane and bland but it always sat pretty well with me since I don’t have a strong affinity for spices.
Some of the most popular fish dishes in Finland are fresh or smoked salmon (lohi), marinated herring (silli) and tiny fried vendace (muikku). I particularly love muikku and whitefish (siika) which has a subtle taste and goes perfectly with potatoes and dill.
Finns also love their soups. The thick and mushy pea soup (hernekeitto) is a particular favorite and a common dinner staple among Finnish families. Salmon soup (lohikeitto) is another favorite.
Helsinki restaurants are also a great place to try game meat, which is also a big part of Finnish cuisine. Reindeer, elk, boar, even bear can be found on the menu. My favorite game dish is undoubtedly sautéed reindeer (poronkäristys) which is served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. Absolutely scrumptious!
Berries are often used in desserts and some of the most popular Finnish desserts are blueberry pie and lingonberry pie. Other popular sweets include doughnuts (munkki), cinnamon buns (korvapuusti) and star-shaped plum tarts (joulutorttu).
19. Pick-up Finnish Souvenirs
One of the best things about traveling to a new place is buying a souvenir or memento either as a gift for your loved ones or for some fond memories of the place. One of the best things to do in Helsinki is buying some Finnish souvenirs to remember your trip.
Some of the most traditional and popular Finnish souvenirs include Arabia ceramics, Iittala glassware (especially the iconic Aalto vase), delectable Fazer chocolates, colorful Marimekko textiles, and the legendary Fiskars scissors.
My personal favorite Finnish souvenir item would have to be the puukko, a traditional Finnish knife used for various purposes such as carving and cutting meat. The Stockmann Department Store is a great place for buying high-quality Finnish souvenirs.
20. Relax in Helsinki’s Green Spaces
Finns are big on nature, and this shows as a third of Helsinki is comprised of green spaces. There are several lovely parks in the city such as Kaivopuisto Park, Esplanadi Park, and Kaisaniemi Park. Their verdant lawns offer many opportunities to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Kaivopuisto is my favorite park in Helsinki. It is located on a promontory and in the affluent neighborhood of Ullanlinna. Its grassy expanses are especially popular with the locals and you can often find them running, strolling, picnicking, sunbathing here. It’s hard to believe that Kaivopuisto used to be wasteland until the 1830s. The park is surrounded by palatial villas & embassies which makes walking through the park all the more interesting.
The centrally located Esplanadi Park (Espa) is a perfect spot to take a breather from sightseeing if you’re tired of pounding the pavement. The park is a popular rendezvous point among Helsinki locals and a great space for tourists to unwind and watch the world go by when visiting attractions that lie in the vicinity. Take a stroll through the verdant lawns and admire the historic statues here.
If you are visiting Helsinki in late April or early May, I strongly recommend that you head to Kirsikkapuisto (Cherry Tree Park) in the district of Roihuvuori. The park is home to more than 150 cherry trees and walking around the park during Hanami almost makes you feel you have been transported to Japan 😉
21. Get a Boost of Adrenaline at Linnanmäki Amusement Park
If you’re a thrill-seeker or are traveling with kids, Linnanmäki Amusement Park makes for an ideal getaway. Opened in 1950, this is Finland’s oldest and most popular amusement park. There are over 40 different rides to keep visitors enthralled, out of which the age-old wooden roller coaster, vintage carousel, and the 75 m freefall tower are the highlights.
If you aren’t yellow-bellied like me, try the speed-demons like the “Taiga” and “Kirnu” roller coasters for a veritable adrenaline rush. Linnanmäki is also home to the Panorama Tower which provides great views over Helsinki.
The great thing about Linnanmäki is that the entrance to the park is free meaning you can enjoy the park’s atmosphere and nine rides at no cost. A full-day ticket to Linnanmäki costs 42 EUR giving you unlimited access to all the rides and if you go in the evening you can get a discount.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park is only open from May-October, so check the opening hours on their website before you go.
Aleksanterinkatu is the main commercial street that runs from the Presidential Palace until Mannerheimintie. It is also 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 vintage trams. Aleksanterinkatu is also home to the flagship seven-storey Stockmann department store which is the largest such store in the Nordic region.
When you’re walking on Aleksanterinkatu, make sure to check out the Pohjola Insurance Building. This impressive building’s facade is adorned with statues of gargoyles and monsters inspired by Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala.
23. Check Out the Trendy Kallio District
Formerly a working-class district and industrial hub of Helsinki, Kallio which has become a haven for artists, musicians, and students. The lively Kallio district was once dominated by sex shops and dive bars, but the onset of gentrification brought a flurry of vintage boutiques, snazzy bars, countless coffee shops and some of the city’s most exciting restaurants. If you intend to do a pub crawl in Helsinki, Kallio is a great option.
Many old industrial spaces in Kallio have been leased out as offices and exhibition spaces. It is now known as a student quarter and a desirable neighborhood for young couples. In spite of all the changes, Kallio still retains its edgy and gritty character.
Kallio is also home to gray-granite Kallio Church, a massive 94-meter high edifice that stands out like a beacon in the city. The church was built in 1912 and is one of the most original representatives of the National Romantic style in Helsinki and is adorned with lovely Art Nouveau murals.
24. Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
If you enjoy hiking or simply being among nature, a visit to the excellent Seurasaari Open-Air Museum is a must. The museum was built in 1909 as a means to conserve rural Finnish architecture. Many old farmsteads, barns, and a manor house from all over Finland are on display here.
The most enjoyable aspect of Seurasaari is that the museum staff dress in traditional attire to illustrate craft skills and to apprise you about life in rural Finland a couple of centuries ago. This offers a fascinating insight into the customs and traditions of a bygone era.
Seurasaari is located on a small island northwest of the city center. The island is full of forest trails that make it the ideal place for tranquil walks. Seurasaari is home to small beaches and plenty of immaculate green meadows that are ideal for picnics.
However, the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum is only open in summer. The opening hours vary according to the time of the year so check the website before you visit.
25. Havis Amanda
Havis Amanda is the most popular and iconic statue in Helsinki. In the statue, a nude mermaid is leaning backward with four fish spouting water at her feet and is surrounded by four sea lions. According to its sculptor Ville Vallgren, the sculpture symbolizes the rebirth of Helsinki.
The statue is fondly known as ‘Manta’ and is typically regarded as a symbol of Helsinki. Each year during Vappu (May Day) celebrations, thousands of students from all over Helsinki flock here to celebrate the coming of spring.
26. Enjoy Contemporary Art at Kiasma
Since we’ve already covered classical art on our list, we can talk about contemporary art. The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is Finland’s leading museum of modern art and one of the best places to visit in Helsinki.
Kiasma’s building itself is an impressive showpiece of modern architecture. The building’s curvilinear wall allows natural light from the exterior to illuminate the five floors of 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.
Kiasma doesn’t have any permanent works on display, rather the museum arranges temporary exhibitions from its repertoire of artworks.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is open Tuesday & Saturday: 10:00-18:00, Wednesday-Friday: 10:00-20:30, and Sunday: 10:00-17:00. The entrance costs 15 EUR. Free admission on the first Friday of the month.
27. Go to the Olympic Stadium
Helsinki’s rather flat terrain means that there aren’t really any natural vantage points for taking in the cityscape. The Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion) was completed in 1938 to host the Summer Olympics in 1940 which never took place due to WWII. It eventually played hosted the Summer Olympics of 1952 and is now the largest stadium in Finland. Today, it hosts many important concerts and sporting events.
While the Olympic Stadium itself is nothing special, its 72-meter tall tower is a great vantage point for panoramic views over Helsinki.
The Olympic Stadium and tower are undergoing modernization and will open sometime in 2020.
28. Take a Day Trip
Once you are done sightseeing in Helsinki, our final recommendation would be to take a day trip from Helsinki. You can embark on a day trip to hike in the pristine Nuuksio National Park, visit the lovely medieval trading towns of Porvoo or Rauma, or sail across the Baltic Sea to explore the medieval Old Town of Tallinn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Extending Your Stay in Helsinki
Where to Eat & Drink in Helsinki
There is a wide array of dining options in Helsinki covering a broad spectrum of cuisines, meaning that even the pickiest of eaters will be satisfied. Some of the best bars, restaurants, and cafes in Helsinki are –
1. Cafe Regatta – a cozy waterside cafe serving delicious Finnish coffee and pastries. Our personal favorite.
2. Karl Fazer Cafe – a famous cafe in central Helsinki offering a great selection of cakes and chocolates.
3. Kaffa Roastery – Finns are known as the world’s biggest coffee drinkers, consuming a staggering 12.5 kg per person per year! With coffee establishments like the awesome Kaffa Roastery, it’s not to see why.
4. Viikinkiravintola Harald – A fantastic Viking-themed restaurant offering fixed-price menus of hearty meat dishes.
5. Lappi – A laid-back restaurant that serves Finnish classics like reindeer meat, elk, and smoked salmon soup.
6. Zetor – A quirky but lively restaurant serving hearty Finnish food. The restaurant’s countryside decor features a tractor, wooden benches, and farm equipment.
7. Kuu – A stylish restaurant that serves both Scandinavian classics and modern interpretations of traditional Finnish cuisine. Their salmon soup is awesome.
8. Naughty BRGR – One of the very best burger joints in Helsinki, great for a casual meal.
9. Old Market Hall – As mentioned above, this age-old institution is a great place to sample some Finnish favorites.
10. HOKU – A popular joint specializing in contemporary Asian fusion cuisine with a distinct Hawaiin twist.
11. BLINIt – A no-frills Russian eatery specializing in traditional Russian fare like blinis (crepes) and meat dumplings.
12. Tommyknocker – A great place to visit for craft beer lovers, this unpretentious bar has a nice assortment of North American beers and whiskeys.
13. One Pint Pub – A fantastic little pub with a vast beer selection with private imports and fresh local taps
14. Liberty or Death – If you fancy a libation, this exotic little American-style speakeasy offers a cavalcade of innovative cocktails.
Where to Stay in Helsinki
The best place to stay in Helsinki would be in the city center and in the vicinity. Virtually all of Helsinki’s main attractions can be found here, so they’re a perfect base for sightseeing. There are a lot of chain hotels in Helsinki, though in recent years several acclaimed high-end design hotels and boutique hotels have opened.
Hostel: Eurohostel, a popular choice for budget-minded travelers looking for someplace close to the city center. This is the largest hostel in Helsinki, it is within a comfortable walking distance of the Market Square, Senate Square, and the ferry terminals.
Budget: Hotel Finn, this centrally-located hotel is one of the best value for money hotels in Helsinki. Just 5 minutes’ walk away from the Central Station, plenty of shopping and dining options nearby.
Mid-range: Hotel Helka, an excellent mid-range choice that has the aura of a boutique hotel and comes with the necessary modern amenities. Rooms are tastefully decorated and the Nordic-style breakfast is excellent. The location is pretty good, the Central Station and the Temppeliaukio Church are a 10 minutes’ walk away.
Luxury: Hotel Kämp, undoubtedly Helsinki’s most prestigious hotel and still the benchmark for hotel opulence. Set in a classical 19th-century building overlooking Esplanadi Park, this iconic 5⋆ hotel has hosted a retinue of glitterati, politicians, and royalty. Kamp offers authentic 19th-century ambiance with all 21st-century room fittings and a selection of Finnish contemporary art in rooms.
Helsinki Travel Tips
Best Time To Visit Helsinki?
Helsinki is a year-round destination and when you travel depends on what you want to see and experience there. Spring and autumn in Helsinki are unpredictable, with temperatures hovering just above freezing.
Late spring, the summer through to early autumn or more precisely the period from May to September is undoubtedly the best time to visit Helsinki. The days are long, and the copious amounts of sunshine seem to give buoyancy to the mood of Finns, and they flock to parks and waterfront cafés. Another advantage of visiting Helsinki in the summer is that many attractions, especially those with outdoor features, operate longer opening hours.
Winter is also an interesting time to visit when the sea freezes over and skaters take to the open-air ice rinks. Winter days can be either bitterly cold or uncomfortably damp. Days are very short and sometimes the sun doesn’t make an appearance for days on end. When it does snow, the brightness of snow and ice provides a lovely reflective quality.
Is Helsinki Expensive?
Yes, it is. Helsinki is one of the most expensive cities in the world and visiting here won’t be light on your wallet. There are some ways to save money but all in all, prepare to spend more than on other tourist destinations in Europe.
Food and alcohol are two things that are very expensive in Finland and will eat into your budget. For example, a cup of regular cappuccino costs 4-5 EUR, a pint of beer at a pub or a restaurant can set you back 7-10 EUR, and a small glass of wine costs 8 EUR plus. A typical cocktail usually costs 12-15 EUR, and the main dishes at a mid-range restaurant cost somewhere between 20-35 EUR.
Many lunch places offer a good-value meal deal which costs 10-15 EUR, which often includes a main course, plus salad or soup, bread, and coffee. Otherwise, dining out is pricey. If you want to save money on food, our recommendation would be to head to the supermarket.
Is Helsinki Safe?
Yes. Finland is one of the safest countries in the world, and for the most part crime in Helsinki won’t be an issue. Petty theft has been known to occur on the Helsinki metro and at the central railway station. Use common-sense and precaution with valuables and you will be fine.
If going out at night, especially on the weekend, things tend to be rowdy and can be unpleasant. Avoid eye contact with inebriated Finns, they can be rather pugnacious.
How Does Tipping in Finland Work?
As far as tipping in Finland is concerned, service charges are included in hotel and restaurant bills. Gratuities for waiters, hotel housekeepers, tourist guides and many others in the service sector are purely optional. Obviously, a little extra is appreciated for special services rendered, but it isn’t mandatory or expected.
Now, what do you think? What are some of the best things to do in Helsinki? And is Helsinki on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!