Unlike many capital cities, Helsinki doesn’t realise it’s cool yet. Beautiful to look at, from the coast to the weird and wacky architecture, Helsinki is a great place for travellers who like something a bit different.
Helsinki residents are a curious blend of earnest, quirky and intense, and they stand apart from their Scandinavian neighbours both in culture and in language (Finnish is the only language that is completely unrelated to any other).
Helsinki enjoys up to 19 hours of daylight in summer (leaving plenty of time for all-night parties), but a paltry five or six hours in winter, meaning the locals have to adjust to some pretty wild extremes. This may explain why the Fins drink more coffee per person than any other nation in the world.
Still at least all that coffee will give you plenty of energy for exploring. There’s no single monument or structure that defines Helsinki – you’re better off wandering around and stumbling across an outdoor gallery or a building that takes your fancy. Try the Design Museum, the Boathouse or Market Square, as well as the bigger, more famous attractions such as Uspenski Cathedral or Tuomiokirkko.
Take a Tram Tour and have a beer onboard, or try Salmiakki – hard, salty squares of liquorice that the Fins love but anyone else seems to consider one step up from eating asphalt. Still, you can’t visit without giving it a go.
Helsinki isn’t pushy or pretentious, it’s just there for the taking. Soon though, it’s going to realise its pulling-power, so you’d better get in quick!
Helsinki’s Top 10
10. Korkeasaari Zoo Zoo Native animals as well as species from around the world. The café is pretty damn good, too.
5. Uspenski Cathedral Beautiful at any time, this cathedral comes alive on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, when an interesting service takes place.
9. Senaatintori Helsinki’s beautiful Central Square. You’ll waste more time here than you expect, so walk slowly.
4. Tuomiokirkko Presiding over Senate Square, this building has been around since 1852. A very popular spot to view the NYE festivities.
8. Sports Museum of Finland This makes a nice change from all the art around! Cool simulation where you can compete in the 1952 Olympics!
3. Sibelius Park As well as the beautiful surroundings you’ll find an interesting monument dedicated to a great Finnish composer.
7. Nuuksio National Park Experience the Finnish outdoors with forests, lakes and ponds, and several walking trails
2. Suomenlinna Island Take a half-day trip, it’s well worth it. Pack a picnic and go exploring.
6. Mannerheim Museum Entry includes a guided tour – well worth it. Bonus plastic booties to help keep you looking classy and preserve their stunning floors!
1. National Gallery A who’s who and what’s what of Finnish artists and art going right back to the 18th century.
- Fortress of Suomenlinna – This fortress was built in the mid-1700s and retains much of its ancient style.
- Rock Church – This modern church is also known as “Temppeliaukion Kirkko” and was carved from rock, with an amazing copper dome.
- Seurasaari Open Air Museum – A small island with paths for walking.
- The Sibelius Monument – The structure is dedicated to the Finnish composer and is considered one of the most remarkable and treasured memorials in Finland.
- Senate Square – Viewed by many as the main landmark of Helsinki and one of the best examples of neoclassical design in Europe.
Helsinki Art & Culture
- Ateneum Art Museum – The most significant art museum in the country with a large collection of sculptures and paintings.
- Helsinki-päivä – The birthday of Helsinki is celebrated on June 12 each year and includes concerts, exhibits and city tours.
- Lutheran Cathedral – This white cathedral is found on the central Senate Square.
- Taiteiden Yö – This festival is also known as “Night of the Arts” and is held at the end of August.
- Alppipuisto – Offers free concerts and cultural events during the summer.
- Kauppatori – A wonderful Helsinki marketplace with local products and crafts.
- Forum – Shopping centre with approximately 100 stores, cafes and restaurants.
- Kaakaopuu – A great place for delicious handmade chocolate and other food.
- Stockmann’s Department Store – Local department store with products ranging from books and magazines to clothing and leather goods.
- Joulu – Also known as “Christmas”, it is celebrated with festive light decorations and open-air Christmas markets.
Gay & Lesbian Helsinki
- Albert Room – A new and stylish bar in Helsinki.
- Bear Park Cafe – Located at the heart of Kallio Bear Park, this cafe is open from May through September.
- Fairytale – A cosy place that can be recognized by its rainbow window.
- Hugo’s Room – This is a newly opened spot that opens early and is growing in popularity.
- Nalle Pub – The oldest pub in its area.
- Esplanadi Park – This park is a wonderful place to walk, meet new people and have a drink.
- Juhannus – An annual event to celebrate the “nightless night”.
- Pihlajasaari – A popular summer spot that has sandy beaches and a restaurant.
- Töölönlahti – A bay near a lovely park with different attractions, such as the Finlandia Concert Hall and the National Opera.
- Kaivopuisto – This is a beautiful park by the sea where visitors can enjoy outdoor activities, eat or watch the passing sailboats.
- Torpan Pojat is the basketball team of Helsinki and plays in the Töölö Sports Hall.
- The Helsingin Kisa-Veikot (HKV) is based in the Olympic Stadium, Eltsu.
- Central Park is a popular place for ice hockey, swimming, jogging and other sports.
- Jokerit is the ice hockey team of Helsinki and plays in the Hartwall Arena.
- Check out the Finnair Stadium to catch a soccer game with the HJK team.
Punavuori (the City Centre) is full of old buildings to stare at and students to flirt with. Kallio is known for its waterways, Hakaniemi Square and the Kallio Church. There are a few great restaurants and pubs in this area as well, as well as some up-and-coming innovative architectural designs.
Töölö has a huge range of things to see, as well as some great people-watching opportunities. This is the home of the Hietaniemi Cemetery, Sibelius Monument, Parliament Building, Olympic Stadium and the gorgeous parklands around Töölö Bay. Best of all, it’s where the Rock Church can be found. If you like your religion mixed with some heavy rock (literally!), this is the place for you.
These neighbouring districts are full of parks, historical buildings and statues. Eira is known for its Jugend-style houses, parks and boulevards. Oh, fancy!
At Eira’s centre lies Engel Square, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings, including the Chinese Embassy. Ullanlinna is popular among stylish young professionals, interior designers and architects. Kaivopuisto's park is a great place to while away a sunny Sunday (if you can find one!).
Kamppi stretches from the Central Railway Station to the Cable Factory, making it a great place to start your travels and also a good place to get your bearings.
Here you’ll stumble on the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ruoholahti villas, historically significant wooden buildings that are some of the oldest in the city. Right between Kamppi and Kaartinkaupunki is Kluuvi, the busiest district in Helsinki and a great place to shop or eat out.
Man, those K words are a tongue-twister. Try saying them in order after a tall shot of vodka!
Helsinki Eat & Drink
Tori This 1950s-themed restaurant is recognisable by the record on the door. Breakfast, lunch or dinner are all good value.
Juuri This is the perfect place to sample a range of different Finnish specialties with their tapas menu.
Café Delicato Stuff your rustic Italian ciabatta with a choice of mouth-watering fillings. An Italian Subway… only better!
Zetor This country-themed restaurant and pub has a big menu bursting with good traditional food as well as local booze to choose from.
Café Engel Students and locals love this eatery for its impromptu performances and movie screenings during summer. The food ain’t bad either.
Papa Giovanni Pasta lovers unite in the spaghetteria downstairs while the posh folk sample the trendy delights upstairs.
Cafe Strindberg Big bowls of delicious soup with chunks of crusty bread. Perfect for a chilli Helsinki afternoon.
Pelmenis An authentic Russian experience in the heart of the red-light district.
Kipsari Great vegetarian feeds for trendy travellers who figure hanging out at uni is the best way to observe the locals.
Telsim Tele Pizza The best pizza in town. Big pizzas to share and a large range to choose from. Settle in with a bottle of wine and a few mates and eat for around €10.
The arrival of summer in June brings Juhannus and sees open-air dance festivals and midnight – which doesn’t look that different from midday – bonfires across the city.
Each year, June ends and July begins with Helsinki Pride. Parades, picnics and parties for four days!
Finland’s largest international youth tournament, the Helsinki Cup, crowds the football pitches for a week during July.
Tuska Open Air Metal Festival rocks the city across four stages in July. Don’t forget your earplugs.
As July meets August ,Helsinki hosts the URB Urban Festival, with acts from Finland and abroad.
Bring back the 1990s for the Helsinki Roller Marathon! August plays host to hundreds of rollerbladers battling it out along city streets.
August also sees the more traditional Helsinki City Marathon – strictly feet and no blades!
Under cover of darkness, August sees the Night of the Arts, where art galleries open their doors until late. This is as part of the Helsinki Festival.
When To Go
Let’s make no bones about it – it can get freezing in Helsinki. Ever wondered why everyone’s getting around in those odd fur hats? Once you’ve experienced the sub-zero temperatures that threaten to freeze your ears right off your head, they’ll seem less fashion faux pas and more fashion favourite. As a result, Helsinki more or less hibernates during the winter months, so it’s far more appealing to go when it’s thawed out a bit.
- Winter (November to March): -14 to 8°C (7-46°F)
- Spring (April to May): 0 to 16°C (32-61°F)
- Summer (June to August): 9 to 23°C (48-73°F)
- Fall (September to October): 3 to 15°C (37-59°F)
If you’re sticking to the City Centre, hire a bike or walk. Helsinki is a very easy city to get around.
There is, however, a pretty good public transport system. The Helsingin Kaupungin Liikennelaitos operates buses, metro and local trains, trams and a ferry to Suomenlinna. A ticket costs €2 and allows unlimited transfers for an hour. A single tram ticket is €1.80.
Taxis are hard to come by during peak hour so if you can’t hail one, queue up at the closest rank or train station.
Bikes are a great way to get around this relatively flat city. Tourist offices offer a cycling map to help you find your way. Helsinki provides ‘City Bikes’ for €2, which you then get back when you return it. Bargain!
What To Miss
Train, bus and tram tickets must be validated in the stamping machine or you can expect to be fined. Finnish transport officers have a touch of the Iron Curtain about them, if you know what we mean, so it’s best to avoid upsetting them.
Linnanmaki Amusement Parkis close to the city and sure, it’s an amusement park, but it’s rundown and overpriced so our tip is to give it a miss. Save your money for a real theme park somewhere else in the world.
Alcohol can be seriously expensive in the city centre as Finland’s government heavily regulates its sale. The Fins are curiously proud of the fact that several studies show they are intoxicated more frequently than any other nation in the world. Actually, perhaps that explains all the coffee!
Helsinki may feel provincial and serene on the surface, but the capital of Finland is a feisty little city fast on the rise. In the vicinity of 1.3 million people, metro Helsinki dwarfs other urban areas in the country and comprises one quarter of the national populace.
As the principal hub of Finland, sparse in population but desirable as a country with enviable political, economic and social stability, Helsinki serves as a nexus point of culture, education and commerce. As such, the city has a plethora of fine institutions and landmarks to explore, not to mention a picturesque geographic position, courtesy of the Gulf of Finland and Baltic Sea.
A creative and progressive city, not at all atypical for Scandinavia, with Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm in the fold, Helsinki has a lot to offer. The 1952 Summer Olympic Games host is rather complete, with a fine quality of life that mingles a touch of urban modernity with the restraint of a city that knows the importance of green space, culture, historical preservation and leisure.
A tour of the intimate maritime city must include the UNESCO World Heritage Suomenlinna star fortress. Built by the Kingdom of Sweden in 1748, the sea base is a site of notable historical import.
Hardy, resilient Helsinki residents cherish Central Park. A full 10 km from south to north, the space provides a superlative and essential recreation ground within the city. With deciduous and primeval forests, wildlife habitats, allotment gardens, trails, sports arenas and of course, saunas, the park is the most popular spot in the city.
Impressive Uspenski Cathedral is a stark reminder of the hegemony Imperial Russia once had over Finland. The hilltop Orthodox Church with stellar views of Helsinki regularly draws more than half a million tourists on an annual basis.
Adjacent to the city centre is Market Square, a popular plaza and market place. The perimeter of the square is replete with cafés, souvenir shops and Finnish food stalls. Grand Helsinki Cathedral looms close by. For a special experience, come in early October when Market Square hosts a lively herring market.
When sun is at a premium in Nordic Europe, people get creative. Helsinki is no exception and the Forces of Light Festival is proof. Held over November and December, the eclectic celebration floods the city with incandescent installations and multimedia exhibits.
Independence Day in Finland commemorates the cessation of Russian rule over the country in December of 1917. The party in Helsinki is especially festive, with a number of important ceremonial traditions at vital city landmarks.
Another winter treat in Helsinki is the St. Thomas Christmas market, when beautiful Esplanade Park comes alive with traditional treats, gifts and of course, plenty of Nordic yuletide spirit.
The city blooms every Vappu, or May Day, as Helsinki residents come out of hibernation in droves to celebrate spring's arrival with beer-stoked revelry.August ushers in the Helsinki Festival, a massive and jovial blend of dance, contemporary and classical music, cinema, art and street performers.
The continental climate of Helsinki is temperate, with lower temperatures in winter than most expect of Finland. Precipitation is heavy in November and December, with a minimum of sunshine throughout the snowy months. The summer solstice however, brings up to 19 hours of daylight.
- Winter (November to March) -14-8°C
- Spring (April to May) 0-16°C
- Summer (June to August) 9-23°C
- Fall (September to October) 3-15°C
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