Finland lies on the banks of the Gulf on Finland, playing the largest port of the country as well as the capital of Finland. It’s also the most populous city in the pretty-sparsely populated nation. That’s why I created this Helsinki travel guide – because you must visit!
Helsinki is known for being an interesting mix of traditional and modern, for being a seat of learning and for its music institutions. This waterfront city is a tourist-friendly one whose attractions range from architecture, sculpture & design to food, shopping & its walkability. From the Finnish capital, you can make day trips to some islands to the south of it or to national parks to the north of it.
The earliest known dwellers of these parts of Finland were fisherfolk and hunters. Later, the area came under Sweden, and the Swedes tried to turn present-day Helsinki into a seaport. They built a sea fort on the islands on the outskirts of the port city for protection from the Russians.
Unfortunately for them, the fort did come under siege and was under Russian control till Finland gained independence in 1917. Helsinki, however, had come to be the capital of the area sometime after the Russians took over.
What to see and do
Helsinki has several buildings that show signs of Russian influence. One, for instance, is the Helsinki Cathedral, which was inspired by the churches in St. Petersburg. This cathedral, which was built in honor of a Russian Tsar, is still one of the most visited landmarks in the city. There are several other buildings in the neoclassical style that stand out.
Helsinki’s architecture ranges from the mid 18th century to more modern, Scandinavian structures that have become attractions for those visiting the city. There’s a lot of art to be seen in outdoor sculptures and in the shops & galleries of the design district. Minimalistic Scandinavian designs displayed here also give tourists a lot to stare at and enjoy.
Those who are interested in design will have quite a bit to gain by visiting the Design Museum in the city. And that’s not the only museum here. Helsinki has a large number of museums, several of them dedicated to art and modern art. There’s also a natural history museum, a military museum, a museum for trams, and many more.
Other things to see in Helsinki include churches, also many in number. The ones not to be missed are the Rock Church, the Chapel of Silence and Uspenski Cathedral.
As for things to do in Helsinki, there should be no missing the experiences that Finnish sauna and Finnish food will give you.
Check out the Top 10 Things to do in Helsinki to see more than is included in this Helsinki travel guide!
When in Helsinki, treat your tastebuds with Finnish flavors and Nordic dishes. Make sure to try Karjalanpiirakka or the Karelia pies, which are basically small pies made of rice pudding in a rye crust. Other must-try food items are rye bread, Leipajuusto — Finland’s own squeaky cheese, Finnish porridges & berry jams. Lots of berries are known to grow in these parts and all kinds of products are made from them. Cloudberry, lingonberry, raspberry, strawberry & rowanberry are just some of the berries that are found in plenty here.
You’ll also find that reindeer meat comes in different forms in Finland: fillets, sautéed, smoked, canned, meat pies & baked chips. Other things to eat while you are here are salmon soup and Baltic Herring. Coffee is also big here.
Visit my list of Best Restaurants in Helsinki to see more than is included in this Helsinki travel guide!
With design being one of Helsinki’s fortes, it’s a good place to pick up clothes, fabric, woolens, Marimekko products & Scandinavian decor. Design District is a great place to go shopping. There, you’ll find antiques too.
Other souvenirs from Helsinki include wooden articles for the Finns make a lot of things with wood. You could pick up wooden ladles or kuksa cups if you need some suggestions. With the area being famous for its berries, gifts from here could be jams or liquor made from them. You can also consider licorice candy and canned reindeer meat to take back with you.
Helsinki is situated on one of the peninsulas in the south of Finland. Lying beside the Gulf of Finland, the Finnish capital is well connected to a large number of islands that are considered part of Helsinki. Its location also makes it easy to go to Estonia, Germany, Sweden and Russia via water.
The area where the capital city now stands used to be a fishing village. Industrialization took off when Finland became independent and today, the Greater Helsinki Metropolitan area comprises Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa & Kauniainen.
Staying in the city center or the Kamppi neighborhood allows you to explore the city on foot. Kamppi also has a lot of the city’s cafes & bars. You will also find nightlife here. The design district is another great place to stay in when in Helsinki.
With Helsinki being a popular travel destination in Finland, it has hotel rooms of every kind, from luxury to mid-range and budget to offer visitors. Kallio — where a lot of students live — is a good neighborhood to look for budget accommodation. There are several hostels in the city center too. |
If you prefer a quiet area to stay, you might want to look for a place in Toolo.
So how do you get there? I didn’t forget that part of the Helsinki travel guide! If you are flying into Helsinki, you could fly to Helsinki International Airport at Vantaa, a few miles north of the city center. From there you can take an airport shuttle or the train into the city. It would take you 20-30 minutes to do so. You could also rent a car and drive into the capital.
Since Helsinki is a seaside city, you could also arrive via the Baltic Sea from Sweden and Germany. There are ferry services in the Gulf of Finland from St. Petersburg in Russia and Tallin in Estonia. There’s even an overnight ferry from Stockholm, Sweden.
Once in the city center, you could walk to most of the attractions. Helsinki is a pedestrian-friendly city. And since the land is pretty much flat around here, it’s easy to rent a bicycle and bike around. To go to the places that are a bit out of the city you could take public transport, which includes buses, local trains, metro & trams. In the summer, the vintage tram is a great way to see some of the most popular points-of-interest in Helsinki.
And you could take boats to go see the islands of Helsinki archipelago, just south of the city.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Helsinki might be in the summer when the snow has melted and the days are longer and not too cold. It’s the best time to walk or bike around the Finnish capital and enjoy the cafes & the Finnish outdoors.
However, if you’d like to go in winter to see what a Finnish Christmas is like, you’ll see the city lit up in holiday lights and you could also check out the Christmas market & the Jääpuisto Ice Park. If it’s in January that you are in Helsinki, you get to witness Lux Helsinki, the city’s winter festival, which is celebrated with great pomp and show.
Even though this is a Helsinki travel guide, when you’re in Helsinki you might want to go beyond the peninsula because the Helsinki archipelago is made up of over 300 islands. And when you take a boat, don’t stop with the sea fort of Suomenlinna. Other popular islands here are Pihlajasaari, Lonna, Seurasaari, Kuninkaansaari & Pentala.
If you’d like to do longer trips, you could consider trips to Fiskars, Lake Tuusula, Nuuksio National Park & Tempere. If you have more time you could go further north to see the wilderness of the Finnish Lapland. And if it’s ski season, you might want to include Ruka in your Finnish itinerary.