My mission with this Helsinki post is simple. After reading this guide, I hope Helsinki feels like a second home to you!
Helsinki has always been a magical city to me. When I was a kid, she and I got to know each other through snow leopard cubs and mighty brown bears as my grandfather worked at Helsinki Zoo. That kind of first impression sticks with you.
Over the years, I’ve explored the city inside out. I love that Helsinki is so down-to-earth. I’d say it’s a mix of Finnish straightforwardness and Nordic functionality with a dash of continental elegance.
I’ll keep this introduction super short because, oh boy, I’ve made a massive post to answer all your questions.
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Here’s what we are going to go through together. Grab your favorite beverage and let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- 1 Must-See Sights in Helsinki
- 2 Local and Possibly Weird Things to Do in Helsinki
- 3 Best Museums in Helsinki
- 4 Hidden Gems & Best Views in Helsinki
- 5 Adventurous Things to Do in Helsinki
- 6 Best Places to Distance Work in Helsinki
- 7 What to Do in Helsinki at Night
- 8 Things to Do in Helsinki on a Rainy Day
- 9 Three Self-Guided Walking Tours in Helsinki
- 10 My Favorite Nature Day Trip from Helsinki
- 11 Things Only a Local Knows about Helsinki
- 12 Helsinki Video Tour – Let Me Show You the City!
Must-See Sights in Helsinki
Helsinki is awesome because most of the must-see sights are out in the open and you don’t have to queue. This is why Helsinki is an ideal city for stop overs and shorts visits!
Helsinki Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko) & Senate Square (Senaatintori)
This majestic white Cathedral is almost a ‘travel synonym’ for Helsinki but far from being a tourist trap. It’s a famous wedding church, and due to this, you cannot always get inside. The interior may feel surprisingly plain but that’s because it’s a Lutheran church.
Helsinki Cathedral lies beautifully next to Helsinki’s central square (Senaatintori), as it and all the neighboring yellow buildings were designed together with the square in the early 19th century. In December, you’ll find a gorgeous Christmas Market here.
Address: Unioninkatu 29, Helsinki
Helsinki Market Square (Kauppatori)
Helsinki market square is another Helsinki icon. The market stalls are full of berries, veggies, fish, and local souvenirs. Many of the bright orange cafe booths offer Finnish dishes. Also, the ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress departs from here.
Address: Pohjoisesplanadi 7, Helsinki
Old Market Hall (Vanha Kauppahalli)
Just a short stroll away from the market square, you’ll find the Old Market Hall, full of local flavors and old-time charm. It’s one of three market halls in Helsinki (yes, I’ll definitely introduce you to all of them in this post).
Address: Eteläranta 18, Helsinki
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a Unesco World Heritage Site and a must to visit. At first, this beautiful island may look like it “only” has cute colorful buildings in a huge park setting.
However, when you continue exploring the island, you’ll come across the fortress ruins, cannons, the WWII-era submarine ‘Vesikko’ and one of the oldest dry docks in the world. Somehow the shipyard always takes my breath away. I know, this must be an engineer thing.
The most beautiful area is ‘Kustaanmiekka’ and its Shire-like hill meadows with the archipelago views. When I was a teenager, there was a horse stable on the island. Riding here was an unforgettable experience.
I’d say Suomenlinna is at its best during summer and autumn. Here are the nice-to-know things before you go:
- Book 3-4 hours if you want to walk the whole island circle. The area is huge!
- There are free maps and toilets when you arrive and midway between the two main islands.
- Tap water is always drinkable in Finland so you can fill your water bottle in Suomenlinna. You’ll see plenty of locals filling their bottles in the restroom.
- For locals, Suomenlinna is a popular picnic place with the children. However, it’s not the best baby destination, as there are many cobblestones and stairs. On the other hand, walking with a pram in Suomenlinna is a great full-body exercise! You do need another adult to do the lifting with you.
- There are restaurants and cafes on the island. For example, the brewery ‘Suomenlinnan Panimo’ is a great spot to eat.
Esplanadi Park Street (Esplanadi)
Let’s go back exploring the city center! The nickname of this park street is “Espa”. It’s the place to hang out in Helsinki. Older Finns tend to take their seats at the restaurants and cafes while Finnish youngsters happily sit on the grass of this long park.
For me, the most beautiful building here is Kappeli, a stunning glass-sided restaurant, built in 1867. Back in the day, it was the favorite drinking place for many famous artists who used to pay their bills by painting on the walls.
Address: Esplanadin puisto, Helsinki
Sibelius Monument (Sibelius-monumentti)
Sibelius monument lies in a beautiful seafront park in Töölö area. The sculpture was made by artist Eila Hiltunen in 1967 to celebrate Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer.
When the art piece was revealed, it received criticism as its modern concept was something new in Finland. It has stood the test of time, and, nowadays, Helsinki residents couldn’t imagine their city without it.
Address: Merikannontie, Helsinki
Rock Church (Temppelinaukion kirkko)
Before this summer, I visited this exceptional church on a school trip. Safe to say, I was much more impressed now (this is on me).
This modern church captures Finnishness in a way that I can’t put into words. If you’re at all spiritual and interested in the Finnish mindset, I warmly recommend a visit.
Address: Lutherinkatu 3, Helsinki
Local and Possibly Weird Things to Do in Helsinki
Are you looking for unique, maybe slightly weird, things to do in Helsinki which tell something about the city’s unique character and Finns?
I picked several quirky ideas inspired by the Finnish lifestyle to make your Helsinki visit extraordinary!
Relax in a Hot Sauna
It’s a must to try the sauna when in Finland, right?
Löyly is a modern blend of a sauna, bar and restaurant on the Hernesaari waterfront. It’s super popular among locals and visitors. All saunas in Löyly are mixed and you need to wear a swimsuit.
On the other hand, a hidden sauna gem in Helsinki is Kulttuurisauna, only a short stroll away from the Hakaniemi metro stop. This sauna offers an esthetic sauna experience without the hassle of modern life. Please read the instructions on their home page carefully before you go.
In both Löyly and Kulttuurisauna, you can do the classic repeat combo of sweating in the sauna and swimming. The Baltic Sea is freezing, but the sensation after the dip is sensational.
If you want to enjoy the gentle warmness of the last public sauna in Helsinki, head to Kotiharjun sauna. This sauna of traditional wood-burning style has been warming up since 1928 in the boho Kallio district.
Address: Löyly – Hernesaarenranta 4, Helsinki. Kulttuurisauna – Hakaniemenranta 17, Helsinki. Kotiharjun sauna – Harjutorinkatu 1, Helsinki.
Stroll in an Allotment Garden
My personal quirky Helsinki favorite is its beautiful allotment gardens. The oldest gardens date back to the early 20th century. Back then, city folks had an obvious need for more food, so the city rented farming land to its citizens. And so, these colorful little countryside patches came to life!
Nowadays, every gardener has a tiny wooden cabin and the most adorable yard full of flowers, berries, and vegetables. The gardens are open for calm walks from May to September. You can find allotment gardens in other Finnish cities too.
Address: several gardens in town, for example, Elisabeth Kochin tie 1 (Vallila garden) or Kalervonkatu 1 (Kumpula garden).
Visit Oodi the Library
If you want to find locals, walk into one of the libraries in Helsinki. We Finns absolutely love libraries!
The crown jewel of them all is Helsinki Central Library Oodi, close to Helsinki railway station. This building oozes Modern Nordic minimalism. A visit on the top floor and its impressive terrace with a stunning view of the city is a must!
Watch the bubbly local lifestyle and take a coffee with ‘pulla’ (Finnish cinnamon bun) because, *drumrolls*, this place even has a coffee shop! To be precise, there are two cafes, one on the ground and second on the top floor but I recommend the top floor!
Address: Töölönlahdenkatu 4, Helsinki
Swim Naked in Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall
Swim in your bathing suit or… birthday suit! This swimming concept has been around since 1928.
The gorgeous art deco swimming hall is reserved for women on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The other days are for men.
Furthermore, I warmly recommend booking the inexpensive private cabin overlooking the pool below. There’s a variety of delicious foods waiting for your order.
Psst… Note that the staff includes both women and men, which, in Finland, is not weird (only normal), even though there are naked people involved.
Address: Yrjönkatu 21, Helsinki
Enjoy a Park Beer at Sinebrychoff Park
This park is also known as the ‘Koff Park’ so I’ll save you the headache of remembering its long official name!
So, if you want to see locals enjoying their free day, head here! A sunbathing spot in the summer or a sled hill in the winter, this is the place for relaxing and enjoying outdoor activities in the city center.
Warm evenings attract Finns for ‘pussikalja’ (literally: grocery bag beer). That’s the Finnish phenomenon of buying beer, packing the bottles or cans in a plastic grocery bag and drinking them outside.
Address: Sinebrychoffinkatu, Helsinki
Have Lunch at Hietalahden Market Hall
As I said earlier, Helsinki has three splendid market halls. Hietalahden Market Hall focuses on restaurants. Thus, it has become a trendy lunch spot in Helsinki. I can only agree with the crowd as it’s one of my favorite places to eat.
The tasty food is inexpensive, while the atmosphere is cozy and casual. If you have a bigger crew, take one of the large tables next to the main entrance and try different dishes mix & match style!
If you are visiting this hall (‘halli’, as we say in Finnish) during the summer, the yard & parking lot outside is a hugely popular lovely flea market.
Address: Lönnrotinkatu 34, Helsinki
The general silence doesn’t stop Finns from singing! Karaoke is a hobby in Finland or, at least, one of our favorite bar activities. And the sadder the song, the better.
In Helsinki, the legendary karaoke bar Pataässä opens as early as 9 AM in the weekend so feel free to try your karaoke skills anytime! For night owls, another famous karaoke bar is Erottaja Bar.
Address: several karaoke bars, for example, Pataässä at Snellmanninkatu 13 and Erottaja Bar at Erottajankatu 15, Helsinki
Best Museums in Helsinki
Helsinki is a paradise if you like museums and galleries. Galleries are always free, and you can get free or discounted entrance to most of the museums with the Helsinki Card!
When it comes to astonishing, amazingly curated art exhibitions, my favorites in the city center are Ateneum, Design Museum, Amos Rex and HAM.
Quick tip! If you’re short on time, enjoy the vibe of the museum just by popping into the lounge, cafe, or museum shop.
Also, note that all state-funded museums (pretty much most museums in Finland) are always free for kids under 18, which is fantastic! I happily pay taxes for stuff like that.
I admit I’ve been visiting Ateneum since I was a kid, so I’m entirely biased. My sister and I loved attending their free art workshops (available on Saturdays still!). Nowadays they even have yoga lessons, how cool is that?
Those Saturdays made me fall in love with the art of the ‘Finnish Golden Age’ which showcase Finnish nature and people. The hidden agenda was to express both difficult subjects that were not talked in public, for example, the desire to be an independent country.
If you would like to feel the history of Finland through art, head to Ateneum. Have a go even if you aren’t a culture fan because, compared to many other national art galleries, Ateneum is wonderfully compact.
Address: Kaivokatu 2, Helsinki
The Helsinki Art Museum, situated at Tennispalatsi, focuses on modern and contemporary art in its exhibitions. I absolutely love their Tove Jansson exhibition and recommend it to all Moomin lovers!
Address: Fredrikinkatu 65, Helsinki
I make at least an annual visit here because this cool museum always has a new viewpoint or cool designers in their changing exhibitions regarding Finnish design. So naturally, you can count me in!
Address: Korkeavuorenkatu 23, Helsinki
Before my first visit, I was so nervous because I had heard such raving reviews of this place. I was 100% sure that my expectations were too high. But Amos Rex delivered and continues to do so.
The architecture of the place is contemporary, but they are, as they say, “an art museum where the past, present and future meet”. You never know what surprises they have!
Address: Mannerheimintie 22-24, Helsinki
Helsinki City Museum
This museum, with no admission, showcases the history of Helsinki. I appreciate the city of Helsinki so much for making this fun cultural and historical oasis in the heart of the town.
They offer a fantastic interactive exhibition for children next to its enormous lounge area with excellent facilities (a cafe, microwave, restrooms, small lockers, etc.)
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 16, Helsinki
The waves of the Baltic Sea caress this beautiful fudge colored home museum. The location, the art collection, and the story of the family behind it all, make Villa Gyllenberg a powerful art experience.
In a nutshell, this museum was the home of the family Gyllenberg in the 20th century. Banker Ane Gyllenberg adored his wife, twin daughters, and art. The tragic loss of their baby boy made the couple look for spiritual and medical knowledge.
They pursued to do good for others and left behind a spectacular collection of Finnish Golden Age artists.
Address: Kuusisaarenpolku 11, Helsinki
Hidden Gems & Best Views in Helsinki
#1 Linnanmäki Amusement Park in ‘Kallio’ district is not only a family-friendly destination. On a warm summer evening, it makes a very romantic scene with its twinkling lights and fresh cotton candy.
Furthermore, there’s no admission fee to the area, and Panorama sightseeing tower is free of charge, showing you a 360-degree view all over the city.
Address: Tivolikuja 1, Helsinki
#2 Hotel Torni Ateljee Bar. Go here before it’s too late! This hotel will slip under renovation in January 2020. Its rooftop bar is the best place to admire the silhouette of the city in the city center.
You’ll find the bar by taking the elevator to the top floor, going through the glass door and then the tiny spiral staircase.
Address: Yrjönkatu 26, Helsinki
#3 The National Library of Finland. Every time I visit this place next to Helsinki Cathedral, I’m shocked and kind of happy that it’s always so peaceful. It’s hard to picture this library crowded.
You’ll need to leave your jacket and things in the free locker, but you can take a camera with you. The smell of books and stunning interior take you back to old times.
Address: Unioninkatu 36, Helsinki
Adventurous Things to Do in Helsinki
Here are three adventurous things you can do in Helsinki!
#1 Tentsile night. During the summer in Nuuksio national park, you can spend a night there in a tentsile, a tree tent at the Tentsile Experience EcoCamp.
#2 Go ice swimming in the winter. You can do this freezing Finnish sauna habit in both Löyly and Kulttuurisauna.
#3 Try indoor free-flying. Available at Redi Mall (Kalasatama metro stop), check out my review on my Helsinki in the winter post.
Best Places to Distance Work in Helsinki
Here are my top 5 spots with a laptop in the city center.
#1 Co-Working hub of the city center
Sofia Tea Room – Situated next to Senate Square, this inspiring co-working hub is full of local professionals. This huge open living room is excellent for distance working while checking all the must-see sights of the city. If you’re a Helsinki resident looking for a co-working space, this is a fantastic option with yoga classes top floor.
Address: Sofiankatu 4C, Helsinki
#2 Beauty & no interruptions
Ateneum Cafe – Oh, this place is so chic. The exquisite mosaic on the wall, the marble, the fabulous color scheme, and the calmness make this one of the most zen working places in Helsinki.
Address: Ateneum – Kaivokatu 2, Helsinki
#3 Feel the pulse of the city
Roasberg – Super close to the central railway station with a counter full of delicious pastries, sandwiches and smoothies. Customers are cool & hip.
Address: Ateneum – Kaivokatu 2, Helsinki
#4 Creative Nordic energy
Oodi – Not your typical quiet library space, but plenty of fascinating workspace ‘bubbles’ and innovative concepts that will help you get fresh ideas.
Address: Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Töölönlahdenkatu 4, Helsinki
#5 Cozy + Colorful
Ihana Kahvila Baari – Unbelievably, being so close to Helsinki Cathedral, this pet-friendly place is one of the best-kept secrets of Helsinki. Super friendly staff & delicious treats at reasonable prices, my laptop and I love this place.
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 7, Helsinki
What to Do in Helsinki at Night
The best party day in Helsinki is Saturday night.
Going out during the weekdays isn’t super popular in Helsinki, but there’s definitely a party at Kaarle every Thursday. Not surprisingly, most office parties are planned for Thursday if possible. I don’t know which tradition came first, haha. Kaarle is a fun place to dance your heart out on a Saturday too.
Teatteri has a nice night club on the second floor. It’s at its best especially during little Christmas season which is from November to mid-December.
Apollo Live Club and Molly Malone’s have live bands and often attract a crowd on weekends. Besides the karaoke, Erottaja Bar has a small and packed dance floor.
Finally, another local’s favorite is Mummotunneli (aka granny tunnel in Finnish). You’ll find a fun-loving crowd over the age of 35. If you want to avoid waiting in line on Saturday, arrive early.
Address: Kaarle – Kasarmikatu 40, Helsinki. Teatteri – Pohjoisesplanadi 2, Helsinki. Apollo Live Club – Mannerheimintie 16, Helsinki. Molly Malone’s – Kaisaniemenkatu 1, Helsinki. Erottaja Bar – Erottajankatu 15, Helsinki. Mummotunneli – Mikonkatu 2, Helsinki.
Things to Do in Helsinki on a Rainy Day
Here are over 40 ideas to do in Helsinki even when the weather is bad.
Three Self-Guided Walking Tours in Helsinki
Besides the city center, I recommend checking out different neighborhoods of the city. They all have a distinctive vibe. Here are three self-guided walking tour ideas for you.
‘Uptown’ Inspired Walking Tour in Southern Helsinki
The southern part of Helsinki is the poshest area in the city and perfect for city walks. This walk is super short, only around 1 kilometer one way. Thus, you can do this walk in 40 minutes, or spend three hours browsing through all the tiny cute boutiques like me and best friend (men, you have been warned!).
Start the tour from the glorious Esplanadi Park street at the city center and find the street ‘Korkeavuorenkatu.’
The first stop is the old library on the street ‘Rikhardinkatu 3’. The Hogwarts-part of this library originates back to 1881. It has been the place for many historical meetings. The most beautiful part is the 1920s built book tower. Check out here the opening hours of the library, in English.
Continue your way to ‘Korkeavuorenkatu’ street. If you like museums, Designmuseum is a fantastic stop, offering exhibitions on Finnish design.
Stop by Fasaani Antiques, which is a huge antique store with everything from tiny timbles to huge wardrobes, straight out of the Chronicles of Narnia.
Further down the street, you’ll see Café Succès, a terrific lunch and coffee spot with a vintage continental look. They serve delicious Finnish classics like the traditional salmon soup and massive cinnamon buns.
Next door, Flower shop Ölander, knows how to make the whole street bloom. I think it’s the oldest flower shop in Helsinki with more than 110 years of floral knowledge.
Take a right to head on to the street ‘Vuorimiehenkatu’. At first, the self-service flea market Kaivarin Kanuuna looks nothing too special. However, the well off neighborhood brings their stuff here, so the brands are quite impressive. Sometimes you can make exceptional couture finds at this location.
Psst… If you want to continue your walk to the seafront, continue strolling along Kapteeninkatu, and you’ll end up to the beach promenade (Merisatamanranta) and Kaivopuisto park.
’Boho’ Inspired Walking Tour in Northern Helsinki
Kallio is the most boho area of all Helsinki neighborhoods. Its’ authenticity and venues filled with street cred certainly make it worth a dedicated walking tour!
First, take the metro to ‘Hakaniemi’. Visit the modern Hakaniemi market hall. The original hall is currently being renovated. The hall has fascinating stalls, like the one packed with Finnish Arabia and Iittala dishware. If you are hungry, enjoy a soup of the day at Soppakeittiö.
Continue your way to Karhupuisto park (literally: Bear Park) and pop in the Kallio Library, which is the prettiest library in Helsinki.
You can’t miss the magnificent grey granite tower of the Kallio Church next to the park. This church is by a famous Finnish architect Lars Sonck, and a quick visit is a must.
Then, wander your way deeper into Kallio, for example, to Helsinginkatu, which is home to many second-hand stores. Vaasankatu has an array of popular lunch places where the locals come from the near-by big offices and corporate headquarters.
Continue your way to Sörnäinen metro station and take the metro back to the city center!
Alvar Aalto Inspired Walking Tour in the City Center
You have maybe heard about Alvar Aalto, who was a Finnish design genius? Here are five easy-to-spot grand pieces by him in Helsinki city center!
- Between the Uspenski Cathedral and Allas Sea Pool is my personal favorite: The boxy white building often referred to as “sugar cubes”, is Aalto’s design. Nowadays, it’s wood and biomass company Stora Enso’s headquarters (Kanavaranta 1).
- Next to the Stockmann department store, you’ll find a grand bookstore, called Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Pohjoisesplanadi 39). You can’t miss it; there’s the only Starbucks in Helsinki downstairs.
- Spot the tiny Erottaja pavilion (Erottajankatu) made of glass in the middle of Mannerheiminkatu. This little building is the first building that Aalto did for Helsinki.
- Very close by is Restaurant Savoy. Its stunning interior is by Aalto. Savoy is expensive and one of the most prestigious restaurants in Helsinki. If you want to experience its charm “on a budget”, they have their classic dish Vorschmack for around 20 euros. For Aalto-fans, this restaurant is a must!
- Lastly, admire the magnificent Finlandia hall (Mannerheimintie 13).
If you’re into Aalto, check out this magical 2-day itinerary to see his masterpieces in Jyväskylä area, in Lakeland.
My Favorite Nature Day Trip from Helsinki
There’s a beautiful national park called Nuuksio near Helsinki. In the summer and autumn time, Nuuksio has a wide range of daily activities from visiting a reindeer park to enjoying a forest wine tasting. You can check the weekly program for 1.6.-30.9.2019 here.
I recommend starting your self-guided walk from Haltia, the Finnish Nature Center. The lovely staff will help you with routes suitable for you. Also, you can rent gear there, for example, a carrier for your baby or toddler. By the way, they serve a delicious lunch buffet there, if you’re hungry.
You can enjoy a coffee break at the lovely wilderness cafe Silva (in the picture) if you go walking to Haukkalampi area.
To reach Haltia from the Helsinki railway station, you should take the train U, E or X to Espoo train station. There, find the platform 32 and take the bus 245 to Nuuksionpää. Hop off at the Haltia stop.
For the above-mentioned train and bus combo, you’ll need to buy a public transport ticket with the zones ABC.
However, if you are anyway buying the Helsinki Card, upgrade that to include regional transport, and you are good to go to Nuuksio. The upgrade is called ‘Helsinki Travel Regional’ and it will also include public transport for the Helsinki airport.
Things Only a Local Knows about Helsinki
What Are Helsinki Citizens Called?
This is an interesting topic! There are two words in Finnish for a Helsinki resident: helsinkiläinen or stadilainen. The term ‘stadilainen’ refers more to a person who was born and grown up in Helsinki.
On the other hand, a person who, at some point in their adulthood, has moved to Helsinki, is usually a ‘helsinkiläinen’. It’s also popular to say that “I’m originally from X (insert hometown here), but live in Helsinki now.”
What’s Helsinki Weather Like?
Well, Finland isn’t a bikini vacation destination. It’s cool or cold compared to many other places in the world. That’s part of the Nordic magic! The fresh air, homey fireplace, hot drinks, comfy no-fuss clothes… Oh, so cozy!
In Helsinki, there is always a freezing wind from the sea. Even in the summer, when southern inland towns are enjoying warmness. Here you can check my monthly weather tips for south Finland to know what to expect!
What to Wear in Helsinki?
It’s all about proper clothes when you visit Helsinki. An all year round pack list to Helsinki: a light down jacket, a scarf, gloves, a beanie, umbrella, and sunglasses. Even in July, trust me.
If you’re visiting in the wintertime, replace the light down jacket with the warmest jacket option you have and take a pair of long johns or woolen tights with you.
Click to my ‘Helsinki in Winter – post’ to read the detailed clothing tips for freezing Helsinki! Seriously, I cannot stress how important it is to have two layers of clothing warming up your legs and proper waterproof winter shoes.
Helsinki Video Tour – Let Me Show You the City!
Take a quick city tour around Helsinki with me and Aleksi, a talented Finnish vlogger. Many of his hilarious (and true) videos are about Finnish culture. You can subscribe to his videos here!
Are you visiting Helsinki soon? Did I manage to answer all your questions? Which places will you be visiting? I’d love to know so please leave me a comment below!
You will absolutely love my tips about Helsinki restaurants. Let me show you 30+ Finnish restaurants so good you’ll lick the screen!
If you’re planning a trip to Helsinki, you’ll definitely want to take a look at these posts:
Warm wishes from Finland,
After Finnish Culture Compass, you’ll…
...feel connected with the Finnish culture (even if you aren’t in Finland)
...be confident with the Finnish communication style (even when it’s filled with silence)
...be prepared to meet and get to know Finns