Easily walkable Helsinki is a medium sized city with enough things to see and do to keep you busy for a couple of days at most. This Scandinavian city is one of the coldest capitals in Europe with a yearly average temperature of just a few degrees above zero Celsius so unless you’re visiting late in July or early in August make sure you bring some warm clothes. Why? It might seem odd to you but most of the attractions are outdoors and the city has many parks worth visiting as well. Throw in the ferry ride to the island of Suomenlinna just 25 minutes away from the city and you’ll understand why you should pack clothes for all occasions. Bring a camera, some water, grab a map from any hotel and begin your visit!
Where to stay
Helsinki’s airport is about 40 minutes away from the city center and the best way to get here is by Finnair’s bus service which costs around 6EU and stops at the train station, smack in the middle of the city. There are many hotels to choose from at various prices, yet no matter which one you choose I recommend you do not venture more than 15 minutes or so from the center as this will allow you to walk everywhere saving you time (in winter this come in handy because of the freezing temperatures) and money (always good!). I stayed at Hotel Helka, close to the city center, with super clean and modern rooms, free Wi-FI and a spectacular buffet breakfast- I really couldn’t have enough of it. I loved those berries with yoghurt!
Things to See and Do in Helsinki
Because of the layout of the city I suggest you begin what’s in the North side first and then continue South; it’s what I did and it worked very well. Make sure you carry a map as I mentioned before and you’ll be all set as street names are well indicated and it’s very easy to find your way around without getting lost.
Temppeliaukion, aka the Rock Church
Begin your day by visiting The Rock Church, called like this not because it’s a place of worship for rock stars but because it is built inside a small hill, carved into a rock. Officially named Temppeliaukion Kirkko it does offer services weekly and is sometimes used as a stage for special events. There is no entrance fee and it’s an interesting visit.
If there’s something Helsinki doesn’t lack it has to be parks. There are many of them scattered all over the city and the city itself is surrounded by the ocean on one side and beautiful forests on the other. Of all I found Toolonlahti Park the most entertaining and appealing; there’s a huge lake right in the middle (it is actually a bay) and a paved path the surrounds it, ideal for joggers, bikers and families to go for a walk. As soon as the sun comes out expect to find locals enjoying picnics and the fine weather- Finnish people love to be outdoors!
After visiting Toolonlahti Park head South towards the city center where the rest of the most interesting attractions are located. Walking down Mannerheimintie street you’ll leave the Parliament on the left and will be downtown just a few minutes later, again leaving some smaller parks on both sides of the street. Take your time and enjoy the walk and turn left on Norra Esplanaden, a relatively large boulevard with a garden in the middle that leads to Helsinki’s Port. After walking a few blocks turn left and make your way to Helsinki’s Cathedral, recognized by many as the symbol of the city. This Evangelical Lutheran church was built between 1830 and 1852 receives more than 350,000 visitors per year and is one attraction in Helsinki you should not miss.
Right on the waterfront is this small market, very popular among locals and visitors alike. While there’s not much to buy that could be of interest it is a great place where to have lunch at affordable prices while eating fresh seafood. Menus here cost around 10 Euros and will get you an assortment of Arctic char, salmon and other fish. Expect to find plenty of people in all eating joints when the weather is sunny and warm, but the fantastic mood will keep your spirits high.
The ferry to Suomenlinna fortress leaves from a dock at the end of Market Square and costs around 3 Euros. The trip lasts about 25 minutes and ends in the Northern side of the island, protected from the year round cold trade winds coming from the sea. Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is regarded as a notable example of European military architecture. Suomenlinna is among the most popular sights in Finland and a living district that is home to 850 city residents. With its museums and events, Suomenlinna offers a unique experience for visitors of all ages, who can also enjoy the islands’ enchanting cafes and charming restaurants. Be it as it may it was a holiday when I visited and all of these attractions were closed making the visit a bit dull, but I did spend more than an hour walking around, taking pictures and reading about the place in my map.
Helsinki is a small capital city with several attractions for tourists, most of which can be visited in a one day itinerary. There are a few other experiences to try (read my post on visiting a public sauna and bath) and if you can make sure you find a restaurant that serves traditional food from Lapland, an area in the North of Finland certainly worth visiting if you have the time. Despite being a Scandinavian country I found Finland to be much more affordable than Norway or Sweden, which helps, and contrary to popular belief Finnish people are warm and welcoming, happy to speak with visitors about their beautiful country.
Finland’s Visitors Bureau http://www.visitfinland.fi
Helsinki Visitors Website http://www.visithelsinki.fi
Suomenlinna Visitors Website http://www.suomenlinna.fi/en
My visit to Helsinki was party sponsored by Finland’s Tourism Bureau but all opinions and suggestions in this article are entirely my own. In other words, I was not asked to write this article.
Have you visited Helsinki? Is it a city you would like to visit? What did you like most? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you think others might find it useful!