10 Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland

Known for its top-tier educational system and plethora of heavy metal bands, Finland may not strike you as an ideal place for a vacation. Yet from the best places to see the Northern Lights to the many famous saunas, Finland is an ideal travel destination. And where better to start than with its capital, Helsinki?

All in all, there are so many places to see in Helsinki that we couldn't possibly cover them all. The ideal time to visit is in the Summer, when the temperatures are more moderate and the greater Helsinki area is more beautiful. If you travel to Finland in the winter, the Laplands are a great place to go.

Whilst travelling around the city, both the metro and bus tours are wonderful options. The metro is elegantly designed, with easy to navigate stations. The subway only runs east-west, but is well integrated with other transit systems. Fare zones are announced (also in English) through the PA systems in the very clean cars. To be able to keep track of it all, the HSL app makes things easy. As an added bonus, the trains even run on time.

However, should you get lost, many of the people around you will speak English, and you should have no fears for your safety: Helsinki is one of the safest cities in the world.

Finland is home to many music festivals in the Summer. They embrace many styles of music, from heavy metal to indie.

Best Things to Do in Helsinki

So, what to do in Helsinki and where are you supposed to go?

1. Central park


The Helsinki Central Park is more akin to a forest than an actual park. It encloses about 10 square kilometers with animals such as elk, muskrat, and arctic fox living inside. The Helsingin keskuspuisto also includes a large swath of environmental diversity. Nature is not the sole purpose of the park. Humans can wander its nature trails, gaze at the old fortifications from World War I, or take part in a number of recreational activities, from horseback riding to table tennis.

2. Sibelius monument


This monument to one of Finland's greatest composers is located in the Sibelius Park. Sibelius-monumentti consists of 600 steel pipes and a metal bust of the composer’s face. If you visit, you should go in the early morning or late evening, to avoid the other tourists who frequent those times. Plus you should go give one of his pieces a listen.

3. Uspenski Cathedral


One of the Helsinki sights you are bound to adore is its churches. Visit the Orthodox and Lutheran cathedral and the huge Senate Square, surrounded by a modern but quiet atmosphere, characteristic of the Nordic countries.

The Orthodox Cathedral in Helsinki represents one of the best places to visit in Finland. Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral is a gorgeous building that is quite close to the harbor. So, after your visit, you should proceed to it. This church is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. Icons, crosses, and altars all either depict a scene from the Orthodox religion or have a place in its traditions.

4. Helsinki cathedral


Another church to visit is the Neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral. This humongous landmark on the hill behind the harbor is definitely worth the visit. In front of it, you will see the Senate Square, which is one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.

With its brilliant white facade, Helsingin tuomiokirkko, Suurkirkko stands out above its surroundings, as it once was a landmark for those arriving by sea. The twelve apostles accent the rooftop, looking out upon the city. Entrance is free, and the inside is very simple, echoing a restrained style of decoration, which separates it from other European Catholic Churches. If you are so inclined, the crypt is a wonderful exploration.

Island-hopping in Helsinki!

The Helsinki area is filled with over 300 islands, and hopping from one to another is a popular tourist attraction.

5. Suomenlinna


To continue your Finland visit, we suggest that you head on to Suomenlinna Fortress. The Swedes built this Fortress in 1847 in order to deter Russians from attacking. Unfortunately for them, the Russians were hard to deter. They later conquered the fort along with the rest of Finland. But this doesn't take away from the beauty of the fortress and its historical significance.

In fact, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site. This should at least give you an idea of why you should consider this one of the best places to visit in Finland.

This fortress, known also by its Swedish name Sveaborg, was built across eight islands by the Swedes in 1748. Today it is one of the most popular places to visit and picnic. But this set of islands is much more than an idyllic spot - they house a community of 900 people, 350 of whom work year-round.

Thus visits can be more than just sightseeing adventures, even though there is a lot to see, from the numerous museums to the last remaining Finnish Submarine, the Vesikko. The Nordic Arts Centre was established on the islands, and the summer theatre performances regularly draw full houses.

Getting to and around the islands is simple, as the ferry system is connected to the rest of the Helsinki Region Transport Authority. As such, the HSL app connects to the ferry services as well.

Kaunissaari island is out there, as the ferry ride takes about an hour. But the trip is very much worth it, as this island combines stunning beaches, rich fishing grounds, and great views of Helsinki. If you are between 18 and 65 you will have to get a permit, but that can be done online.

6. Pihlajasaari


This island once housed a summer villa, but now is open to all. It houses a restaurant, very colorful changing booths, and a solid quantity of sheep and goats for maintaining the grounds. It is also an enjoyable camping ground.

7. Lonna


In just 10 minutes by boat you are in Lonna, a perfect place for lunch.

8. Vallisaari


Continue on to Vallisaari, perfect for nice walks. Experience a city without chaos, but with lush, green and beautiful nature.

Food

Soma restaurant is a small, cosy affair, offering an interesting specialty: the sushi burrito. It can be served “to go” in boxes. It can be expensive.

On the third Saturdays of February, May, August, and November, anyone is allowed to open a restaurant in Helsinki. Restaurant Day (Ravintolapäivä) tradition has spread to other countries, but the Finnish beginnings have led to hundreds of pop-up restaurants being set up on these days. It invites new and out-of-the-ordinary ideas to the food scene in Helsinki.

9. Fazer Experience Visitor Centre


A Finnish Brand, this chain of cafes serves its own brand of coffee, along with oven-fresh bread, pastries and chocolates. There are thirteen locations around Helsinki, making it easy to find.

10. Market Square


Helsinki, the coastal city with a pleasant atmosphere is considered one of the best cities to live. Stroll through its streets and reach the market in the port, to mingle with the local inhabitants.

Well, to get the true feel of the people of Helsinki, we suggest that you head on to the Helsinki harbor. There, you will see Finish people going about their daily business and enjoying their wonderful country.

Just remember to bring an open mind. You can taste local cuisine from food vendors that cook the freshest possible fish and visit Kauppatori, the outdoor market square that is open year-round.

Text BY: Jakob Schreiber
Kalyan Panja