Helsinki is a fascinating European capital. It offers a unique admixture of Western and Eastern Europe. Throw in a strong Russian influence in the mix and you get a truly unique European experience.
Its buzzing dining scene, combined with its distinctively Scandinavian cultural atmosphere, makes Helsinki ideal for a city break. Here are some of our favourite things to see and do in the city including historical excursions, culinary adventures, dining suggestions, and cultural tips 🙂
Where To Stay In Helsinki
We would highly recommend staying in the historical city centre, so that you can walk to most major sites. Hotel F6 offers a luxurious stay in the heart of the capital. It’s a boutique hotel with a distinctively Nordic look and feel. Rooms are comfortable and come equipped with funky showers and luxurious Rituals toiletries. Their breakfast buffet offers a gorgeous array of Finnish breads, meats, and fruits.
If you’re on a budget or prefer having a kitchen, then Helsinki has some great apartments to suit all budgets on AirBnB as well. Just make sure your apartment isn’t too far from the centre because you would end up spending a lot of money commuting in that case.
- 1) Go on a walking tour in Old Helsinki
The best way to acquaint yourself with Helsinki is to go on a walking tour in Old Helsinki. Just grab a map and go with the flow. Make sure you walk along the harbour and visit the imposing Upenski Cathedral (especially at dusk), a traditional Russian orthodox Cathedral. Next, walk along cobbled lanes, lined with pastel-coloured houses, and check out the gorgeous Helsinki Cathedral.
- 2) Visit the Great Market Hall
This walking tour will ensure you work up an appetite by the afternoon. This is the best time to visit the Great Market Hall. The market, housed inside a historical building, is heated. It’s the ideal place to sample a variety of Finnish staples such as local blueberries, cloud berries, mustard, rye bread, Eromanga Meat Pie, and salmon. This is also a great place to pick up snacks such as freeze-dried berries and chocolates for yourself or as gifts for friends and family.
Once you’ve explored the market, sit down for brunch at Story Restaurant inside the Great Market Hall. It’s a great place for brunch. You could opt for eggs benedict or go with something more local like their iconic Salmon Soup. Yum!!
- 3) Take the ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
A short ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square will bring you to the historical Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. The eighteenth-century fortress is located on a nearby archipelago and it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are several guided tours available but we suggest buying the entry ticket and exploring it yourself. The fraught history of the place is fascinating as it was used to defend Sweden, then Russia, and finally Finland. There are also several walking trails at Suomenlinna Sea Fortress – choose one depending on the weather on the day.
- 4) Try a Finnish Sauna
No visit to Finland is complete without trying out the Finnish Sauna. Sauna isn’t just a wellness ritual here – it is a way of life. Finns love to alternate warming up in the sauna with dips in freezing waters. This ritual is supposed to have lots of benefits. This is why most saunas in Helsinki are located by the waterside.
Kotiharjun is one of the more traditional saunas in Helsinki. Allas Sea Pool offers a scenic sauna experience, overlooking Old Helsinki. But we love Loyly (pronounced laa-o-loo). The trendy sauna offers gorgeous views and has a great restaurant next door. Book yourself a meal and a sauna session at Loyly for a memorable day out – jumping into freezing waters of the Baltic Sea after the sauna session is strictly optional but you’ll see a lot of locals doing just that
- 5) Admire the architecture at Central Library Oodi
If you are interested in modern Scandinavian architecture or just want to escape the hustle bustle of Helsinki, then head to Central Library Oodi. The library building is gorgeous and entry is free. It offers the perfect respite from a busy day in the city.
- 6) Get your art fix at Amox Rex Museum
If libraries don’t excite you, then consider visiting Amox Rex Museum. The unique building is enticing but that’s not all. The museum is home to a variety of modern exhibits and several trail-blazing travelling exhibitions. It is easy to spend at least half a day exploring Amox Rex Museum if you enjoy art or culture.
- 7) Picnic at Observatory Hill
Observatory Hill also known as Tähtitorninvuori or Tähtitorninmäki, is an ideal place for a picnic in the heart of Helsinki. It also offers some great views of Old Helsinki – perfect on a hot summer’s day!
- 8) Huvilakatu coloured houses
If you’re a keen photographer you should drop by the coloured houses lining the street of Huvilakatu for a photo or two. This instagrammable street has pink, blue, and yellow houses and is ideal for a photograph or two
- 9) Grab a drink (or three!)
It’s easy to go bar hopping in hipster Kallio as it boasts of a number of hep pubs and trendy bars. We love Sivukirjasto but here’s a definitive list of all the cool bars in Kallio if you want to paint the town red.
If you want a quieter and more scenic drinking experience, then head to the rooftop bar at Solo Sokos Hotel Turni. To be honest, drinks are overpriced here but the panoramic view of Helsinki that it offers is absolutely gorgeous
- 10) Eat your heart out
Most Finnish eateries in Helsinki pride themselves on using high-quality locally-sourced produce and this reflects in the food. Everything from the reindeer steaks to the root vegetables you will have will leave you wanting more. Helsinki is home to hundreds of eateries but we recommend Restaurant Lasipalatsi for a traditional Finnish experience – try the blinis (Russian pancakes) with various toppings including beetroot, roe, salmon, and pickles. For something more modern and upscale, head to Restaurant Nokka. It offers a special dining experience, ideal to wrap up your holiday in Helsinki.
If you’re in Finland, you MUST plan a trip to Lapland, especially in the winter months. It’s all kinds of magical. Don’t believe us? Check it out here