Helsinki is not the most usual Scandinavian destination for tourists, but it is well worth seeing. About 300 cruise ships stop here per year, on their Baltic tours. The cruise ship port is near the town center and the majority of the tourists come to Helsinki this way. However, spending just a day in Helsinki is not enough if you want to truly see it, and I recommend at least a week in this beautiful northern metropolis.
The city was established in 1550, and until the great fire in 1808, it had completely different architecture. When the fire happened and most of the city was destroyed, Carl Ludwig Engel was hired to rebuild it. He created a new layout of the city and built everything in neoclassicism style.
1808 was also a year when Helsinki became part of Russia, and nowadays you can still see Russian architectural influence in parts of the city. Finland gained independence in 1917, but after a few years happened the Winter War, right before World War II, when Russia tried to conquer Finland again.
Finland is a beautiful modern country with amazing nature. After all, it is Santa Claus’s homeland. Travel north of Helsinki if you want to visit Lapland and the northern lights. This way your trip to Finland would be truly complete.
Helsinki Archipelago Cruises
The tour that left the biggest impression on me was a boat tour of the Helsinki archipelago. Although it was raining for part of the day, the scenery was still amazing, and we saw some remote islands, the fortress of Sveaborg, and some seagulls. Tours run in the summertime, from May to September.
The fortress is star-shaped and it was built in the 18th century when Russia conquered Finland. When Finland gained back their independence, they named the fortress Suomenlinna or Finnish Castle. Being on a boat tour will allow you to see the fortress from the best perspective.
The tour leaves from Market Square, which is in the city center and very close to all the other attractions. You can get a ferry ride and see everything for the price of the bus ticket. Or you can choose one of the tours that offer lunch or dinner and a professional guide that will tell you everything about Helsinki.
This impressive art piece will leave you speechless. The sculpture was dedicated to Jean Sibelius, the most famous composer from Finland. It was created by Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen in 1967 and it was titled Passio Musicae. When it was unveiled it sparked controversy in Finland, because it looked like an organ and the composer didn’t create a lot of music for the organ. That is why an additional part of the sculpture was added, Sibelouses face.
The sculpture consists of over 600 hollow steel pipes that create sound when wind flows through them. The structure resembles waves or the wind. It is tall and large enough that you can walk below the structure and listen to the music of the wind. The smaller version of the sculpture is located in UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Surrounding this incredible monument is Sibelius Park, where you can take a break and enjoy nature.
Temppeliaukio Rock Church
Scandinavian architecture is well known, and Temppeliaukio Rock Church is not an exception. Built into rock this unique piece of architecture is a must-see location for architecture lovers. It is also known as The Church Of The Rock, and The Rock Church.
This Lutheran church was opened in 1969, and it was very futuristic for that time. The architects responsible for the beautiful design were brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. Although still an active church, it is often used as a concert venue because of the amazing acoustics. Almost a million people visit the church annually, and the ticket price is €4 per person. If you want a guided tour it is an additional €100 for a private tour.
Another stunning piece of architecture in Helsinki is Kamppi Church. It is a Lutheran church in the center of Helsinki that is not only a tourist attraction but also a place where you can find peace away from the busy city. Opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm, and at that time there are social worker volunteers in the lobby, open for everyone to talk to. They offer social services to people, no matter the background, where are you from, or what has happened to you. Sometimes volunteer musicians will play music in the chapel.
Annually about 350 000 people visit the chapel to see the architectural marvel. The entrance is free for groups and individuals. The chapel was designed by Mikko Summanen, Niko Sirola, and Kimmo Lintula. It is 11.5 meters tall and three kinds of wood were used for building, including a nanotechnology wax.
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Something specific for Scandinavian countries is these open-air museums, where you can see authentic buildings few centuries old and experience life as it once was. The museum is usually open from 11 am to 5 pm, and the ticket costs €10. You will see the celebration of Midsummer, all summer long.
Once you arrive at Seurasaari island it is going to be like you went back in time. Walk around the village, enter cottages, and see craft shops from a few centuries ago. You can walk in the garden or even take a guided tour if you want to know details about Finnish culture and past. During the summer months, there are handmade souvenirs sold on the market, there are different events for all ages, including kids activities and family tours.
The best way to see the locals is to wander around the local market. The market square has been there for centuries and it is a meeting point not only for tours but also for locals that come there to shop for fresh fish and vegetables. It is one of the main tourist attractions, which is why handmade souvenirs, arts and crafts are sold here.
This is the place in the city where many events are happening. There are also cafes and restaurants nearby, theme parks, Baltic Herring Market, and so much more. The busiest time on the market is during the day in summer. If you want to avoid crowds, come here early in the morning and avoid it from noon until evening.
This was a real surprise to me because I didn’t know that Finland had its own autonomous Orthodox church within the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The service here is usually in English but sometimes it is performed in other languages too, like Sweden, Arabic, Russian, Greek, etc. Indoors it looks like a classic Orthodox church, but the outside is incredible.
With its golden cupolas and red brick walls, it reminds me of Russian churches from St. Petersburg. It is obviously a Russian heritage in Finland, although it doesn’t belong to the Russian Orthodox Church anymore. The church was built in 1868 and inside it resembles St. Isaac’s cathedral in St Petersburg. Located on the hill in a residential area, it doesn’t stand out that much from the surroundings.
Linnanmaki Amusement Park
If you are looking for a fun place to spend a day with your family in Helsinki, this is the right location. From fun rides, 4D cinema, food concessions, to events, it has something for everyone’s taste. You can celebrate kids’ birthdays here. They also have a Sea Life section, Cotton Candy School, Children’s Playgrounds, games, and shops.
When it comes to food you can choose from various cafes, restaurants, kiosks, and grills. The food is kid-friendly and has a lot of fast food options like burgers, fries, and donuts. This is the oldest and most popular amusement park in Finland, which opened in 1950. It is owned by the Children’s Day Foundation, so when you spend money here you are donating a part of it to several children’s welfare organizations. Opening hours are usually in the afternoon, from 3 pm to midnight, and the admission ticket is €10. I especially recommend the Horror Festival, if you like getting scared, which is covered by the admission ticket.
Kiasma Museum Of Contemporary Art
Kiasma is a museum of contemporary art but it is part of a larger complex, the Finnish National Gallery. Here you can see the latest art and performances, and also join education and events organized by the museum. It is where the best artwork of the last few decades is situated. Part of the museum is an excellent library and a theater as well. Tickets are €15 for adults, and for everyone younger than 18 admission is free.
The museum itself is a landmark, because of its spectacular architecture. The architect of this masterpiece was Steven Holl, an American architect. The building was officially opened in 1998, and it had galleries on five floors, covering 12000 square meters. The materials used are zinc, aluminum, glass, plastic, concrete, and more. Even if you are not a fan of contemporary art, visit this building just to walk around and sit in its restaurant.
Not many cities can brag about their train stations, but Helsinki for sure can. If you are traveling around Finland, train travel is most recommended, because the trains are ultra-modern and the scenery along the way is breathtaking. But even if you are not going anywhere outside of Helsinki, visit this incredible station for its architectural significance and art. It is easy to find, in the city center, in Kaivokatu street number 1.
Eliel Saarinen was the mind behind this beautiful building. In 2013 this railway station was listed as one of the most beautiful stations in the world, by BBC. The current building dates to 1919, although there was an older one in its place before. The main features of the building are the clock tower and two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps. They are lit in the nighttime and it is a beautiful thing to see and photograph.
Ateneum Finnish National Museum Of Art
Located in the heart of the city, Ateneum is the main attraction for all art lovers. You will see Finnish art through centuries, from classical art to all the other epochs. One of the exhibits is “Stories of Finnish art”, which features artworks from 1809 to the 1970s. You will see the development of Finnish art and its international influence on it. Some of the art pieces from the collection are Le Corbusier’s “Two women”, Hugo Simberg’s “The wounded angel”, and Edvard Munch’s “Bathing men”.
There are guided tours in English available, and some of them are even covered by the museum ticket, which is regularly €18. Exhibits are not always the same because the museum sends artworks to other museums across Finland and also hosts different exhibits that are not regularly there. The best is if you check their website before going there, so you don’t get disappointed if something is not on display at the moment.
Finlandia Hall is not just a simple concert hall, it is so much more than that. It is so unique that there is no such building in the entire world like this one. Created by a famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto it is a landmark on its own because of its uniqueness and aesthetics. Group tours are organized almost daily, but you have to sign up in advance. Otherwise, you will see it only from the outside, unless you are going to an event happening inside.
Alvar Aalto designed so many details in the building, from door handles and lights to furniture in the cafe. If you have the opportunity, stop by the cafe for a drink or lunch, so you can enjoy the incredible atmosphere. Part of the Finlandia Hall is also a gallery where you will find temporary exhibits year-round. It is a great way to see what’s happening in the art scene in Helsinki at the moment.
In general, I am very skeptical about zoos and I always make sure that it is a good one that takes care of its animals before visiting. This is one of the nicest I’ve seen so far. You can visit the zoo from May till September, and it is easily reachable by ferry or city bus. The zoo is located on the island and it offers amazing views of the archipelago, Helsinki, and Uspenski cathedral.
With over 150 animal species and more than 1000 plant species, it is a unique museum of nature. You can see tigers, monkeys, leopards, elk, bears, wolverines, reindeer, and so much more. Established in 1889, it is one of the oldest zoos in the world. Their mission is to protect biodiversity and the original habitat of many species. Tickets for adults are €16, for kids 4-17 are €10, and for kids younger than 4 the entrance is free.
Kansallismuseo The National Museum Of Finland
This is a place where you will learn the most about Finland. It shows the history of Finland from prehistoric times when it was first settled 10000 years ago, to this day. In the exhibits, you will see artifacts like artwork, clothes, crafts, weapons, and more. The Finns are very proud of their independence and of their nationality, which is well shown in the permanent collection.
Over the years many temporary exhibits have changed as well, make sure to check them out as this might be very interesting. The opening hours of the museum are 11 am to 6 pm, and the ticket is €14. For everyone younger than 18 the entrance is free. The museum offers public guided tours of up to 5 people, and they are included in the ticket price. The guide will tell you about the beautiful building where the museum is located, and about the exhibits.
Visiting Finland and not experiencing Finnish sauna would be a real shame. The country has over 2 million saunas, and it has only 5 million citizens. Sauna Day is celebrated in March and if you happen to be in the city then, check out pop-up saunas around the city. There are many health benefits to a sauna, but also it is the most relaxing thing you can do here.
If you haven’t been to a Finnish sauna before, you should know that everyone is nude and the towel is used only to sit on. Most of the saunas have separate male and female sections, but if the sauna is mixed gender then you can expect to see bathing suits. You can find saunas in most hotels and all around the city, especially near tourist attractions.
Keskuspuisto Central Park
For those who can’t live without going for hikes, this beautiful park is just a short drive from the city center. It is the main location for outdoor activities in Helsinki where many locals spend their weekends hiking and cycling. Lightly managed woodland stretches over 10 square kilometers (4 square miles), and in the middle of the forest, you will find a restaurant and sauna in a beautiful old red wooden building.
The park was not always there, it was first planned in 1911, but the idea was not reinforced until the late 1970s. It consists of rich forests, meadows, and fields with an abundance of plant life. You can see Siberian flying squirrels in the park as well. There are many nature trails you can follow in the park, including the Haltiala and Maunulan trails.
Finland is a cold country and for everyone who is not used to it seeing locals play beach volleyball or swim in cold weather looks unbelievable. This is the most popular sand beach in Helsinki, and it is located close to the city center, in the Toolo district. Before becoming a beach, the area was used as a landfill where the sand was stored. In 1929 locals started using the beach as their favorite summer destination in the city.
Nowadays the beach is also used for music concerts, festivals, and sports tournaments. You can spend the entire day here if you bring some snacks, a book, and good company.
The Gallen-Kallela Museum
This very uncommon museum was the residence for the artist and his wife. Akseli Gallen-Kallela designed this fortress-like home and built it in an idyllic setting that amazes visitors to this day. In 1961 the residence turned into a museum dedicated to Gallen-Kallela’s artwork and life, especially his remarkable contemporary pieces.
The museum offers events and activities for visitors. There are also temporary exhibits of other contemporary artists happening in the museum, making it a very diverse gallery. One of the most beautiful paintings on display is “Clouds above the lake” from 1904. You can also take a look at the cultural-historical collection of artifacts. The tickets to a museum are €10 per person.
Ainola, The Home of Aino and Jean Sibelius
If you are a real fan of Sibelius and you want to go one step further from visiting just the Sibelius Monument, head over to his home, Ainola, to see how he lived and to see a beautifully preserved authentic Finnish home. The museum is open from May to September, and the ticket must be booked in advance. The ticket price is €15 for adults and €4 for kids 7 to 16 years old. The museum is half an hour drive from Helsinki, on the shore of Lake Tuusula.
The museum consists of the main building where the family lived, a sauna, and the forest surrounding the house. Aino’s and Jean’s graves are still in the garden. In 1972 the daughters of the composer sold the entire estate to the Ainola Foundation and in 1974 the museum was officially open. About 25000 visitors come here every year. You can see the original furniture, objects used in everyday life, personal photographs, and more.
Located on the famous Senate Square in the center of Helsinki, this impressive cathedral belongs to Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. The cathedral was finished in 1852 and it was a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. The beautiful neoclassicism building has one tall green dome and four small domes. The architect was Carl Ludvig Engel, and he used a Greek cross as a base for the church, decorating it with colonnades and pediment.
This cathedral dominated the skyline and can be seen from almost the entire city, especially from the sea. Daily here you can attend prayers, but also if you are not religious you can still visit the church as a tourist, and even book a guided tour. From the middle of the square, you can take the best photos of the cathedral and if you’re far enough you won’t get many people in the background, and the cathedral because of its size will still be very visible.
After the visit to a cathedral, stay in the square to observe the gorgeous surroundings. The four most prominent buildings on the square were built by Carl Ludvig Engel: Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, The University of Helsinki, The National Library of Finland. The Center of the square is reserved for the statue of Alexander II.
The square is also home to the oldest stone building in Helsinki, the Sederholm House, which is not situated in the Helsinki City Museum. Just a few minutes walk from here is Market Square and Esplanade Park. The best time to visit the square is early in the morning, before your boat tour or shopping on Market Square.
Known as Espa among locals, it is the most scenic green area in the center of Helsinki. Locals take walks and have picnics in this park all summer long. It is not a hidden gem of the city, but it has fewer tourists than other locations around the city.
Like many other parts of the city, this park was designed by the famous architect Carl Ludvig Engel. It has alleys and flower beds, statues, trees, and small fountains. All the statues date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the park resembles an open-air museum sometimes.
Get some of the best views from the SkyWheel’s glass-covered gondolas. The attraction is open year-round and it is especially attractive in the evening when the city lights up and you can watch the sunset over the Baltic sea. Don’t worry about the glass and that you won’t be able to take photos, the glass on gondolas is glare-free and you can get amazing photos of the Helsinki skyline.
Regular tickets for the wheel are €13, this includes adults and kids older than 11. Children that are 3 to 11 years old pay €9.5. The gondola ride lasts about 12 minutes and it is three rounds only, so don’t wait to take your photos.
This doesn’t include special gondolas and outs which are expensive and includes VIP experience or SkySauna. Although you can’t do this anywhere else in the world, the sauna costs €240 per hour for 1-4 people. The VIP ride is 30 minutes long, and it includes refreshments. The price is €195 for 1-4 people. This is a good experience for a family of 4, or a couple looking for unique dates.
Finnish Museum of Natural History
A real gem for those who enjoy the natural world, this museum belongs to the University of Finland and was established in 1988. Here you can see samples of plant and animal species from around the world, you can also see paleontological, zoological, geological, and botanical collections collected over the years. All of these collections serve scientific, informational, and educational purposes.
The research institution is divided into three locations: the Natural History Museum, the Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, and the Kumpula Botanic Garden. The Botanical Museum consists of 3,3 million species of plants from all around Finland. The botanical gardens are a living collection of species used for research. The Zoological Museum has over 8 million animal species. There is also a Bird Center, Geological Center, and Laboratory of Chronology.
Adult tickets to the complex are €17, children 7-17 pay €8, and for the younger kids, the entrance is free. There is a family ticket too, it costs €45 and it is for a maximum of 2 adults and 4 children. Visit this museum on a sunny day so you can enjoy gorgeous botanical gardens.
Allas Sea Pool
Finns take care of health by swimming in the cold ocean and visiting hot saunas. It seems strange if you are not used to it, but once you try it and you feel the energy you get from a cold swim, you will understand why they do it. This pool is a stolen piece of the sea located just a few steps from Market Square.
There is one hot thermal pool and one cold sea pool, one next to the other. You can even swim in the evening under the moonlight or in winter when they break the ice on the water to allow visitors to swim. The location has a children’s pool as well, open in summertime and with heat. On the premises, there is a sauna, a restaurant, a concert hall, and a spa. It is a unique hub for socializing in Helsinki that shouldn’t be skipped on your trip to this amazing city.
Tickets cost €15 per adult and €7.50 for children.
Just a few days in Helsinki showed me how incredible that city is and how Finland is one of the best countries in the world for a living. Locals are very friendly, everyone speaks English, and most of the places you visit will give you a laid-back and stress-free vibe. Capital cities are usually hectic, but this one looks like it is the quietest capital city in the world.