Helsinki is the largest and most populous city in the Uusimaa region of southern Finland and the country’s capital. Together with the cities of Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen, Helsinki forms the Greater Helsinki metropolitan area, which is a home of over 1.5 million people.
Awarded with City of Design status by Unesco, Helsinki is a modern city full of outstanding places to see and unique things to do. Here are 20 reasons to fall in love with Helsinki and Nordic culture.
Experience Finnish Saunas
If you think about Finland’s characteristics, one of the first things that come to mind is a sauna. An approximate number is half-a-sauna per person in the country, so it’s a shame to ignore such an integral aspect of the Finnish culture.
A perfect way to integrate a daily detox and communal gathering into the routine is to visit public all-year-round open saunas like Löyly, which is called an urban oasis that occupies a stretch of Helsinki’s stunning waterfront.
There are three wood-heated saunas, a spa area, a fireplace, and a restaurant with a terrace. After warming up in the sauna you can deep yourself into the chilly Baltic sea, which is also possible to do in winter through “avanto”, the hole in the ice for winter swimming.
Furthermore, Löyly is known as an environmentally focused architectural delight which gives it an extra point for being on your Finnish bucket list.
Hernesaarenranta 4, 00150 Helsinki. https://www.loylyhelsinki.fi/en/
Allas Sea Pool
Located by the Market Square right in the center of Helsinki, Allas Sea Pool is a hard-to-miss spot with electrically heated saunas and various kinds of pools on the floating sea deck. You can choose whether you want to soak in the warm heated swimming pool overlooking the Helsinki SkyWheel or try to swim in the cold seawater.
One thing to say for sure – that’s will be one of the best places to meet sunset uniquely in downtown.
Katajanokanlaituri 2a, 00160 Helsinki. https://www.allasseapool.fi/en/
Visit Capital’s Islands
The Helsinki Archipelago consists of over 300 mesmerizing islands. You can reach them by ferry with a regular city travel card, the main routes depart from Market Square.
At the entrance of Helsinki’s harbor, there is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Finland’s most popular sights to visit. Suomenlinna (or Sveaborg) is a sea fortress build by Swedes in the 18th century to prevent Finland to be captured by Russia.
Six linked islands offer a wide range of activities; whether you want to admire European military architecture and engineering, learn a new piece of history, find a secluded location to be with yourself and nature, or relax with a group of friends on a picnic – it is a perfect place.
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
The Seurasaari is a small, easy to walk around the picturesque green island, where you can meet the history of the Finnish culture and lifestyle. It is a home for the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum which teleport its visitors to a rural setting with traditional Finnish wooden cottages, farmsteads, and manors of the past.
Objects around the island were collected from different parts of Finland. The island is a great spot for outdoor recreation and is especially popular among families with children and couples searching for a romantic stroll.
Check Out Libraries
Nordic architecture is outstanding, it’s a fact. Simple, practical, and stylish – you’ll find it all in libraries. Yes, I don’t even invite you to read books there.
The Helsinki Central Library Oodi was only opened in December 2018 and has already become one of the most iconic capital’s sights with such titles as “Finland’s most beautiful building” and “Public Library of the Year”. Oodi is truly a must-see destination with a free entrance into a unique work and gathering atmosphere. It is also a perfect Instagram location.
Töölönlahdenkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki. https://www.oodihelsinki.fi/en/
Helsinki University Library
The Main Library of Helsinki University, also known as the Kaisa House, is a unique architectural masterpiece that has gathered several architectural awards and is a stunning example of modern library architecture. A couple of its unique features are a curvilinear brick facade and the rounded white staircase inside.
Fabianinkatu 30, 00014 Helsinki
Stroll Through Districts
Helsinki is the city for long pleasant walks, where you can lose the sense of time wandering around various atmospheric districts and stopping by interesting spots to take a breath.
Design District brings together creative people in the heart of Helsinki, encompassing a few neighborhoods, including Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi, and Ullanlinna. The area is full of boutique stores, authentic second-hands, art galleries, design shops, and stunning facades.
There’re also a few design-related museums, and a must-see one is the Design Museum if you want to learn more about Helsinki design. It also tells a lot about legendary Finnish modernism architect and designer Alvar Aalto, whose portfolio spans furniture, textiles, and glassware, as well as paintings, sculptures, and buildings.
Katajanokka Art Nouveau District
A district on the eastern shore of Helsinki’s downtown, Katajanokka, is famous for lots of charming and Instagram-worthy Art Nouveau buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. District also locates charming restaurants and cafés.
Have Some Sweets
Talking about cafes, there’re plenty of worth-going spots to have a meal in the city. Here is a couple where you can sweeten your day and warm yourself up in any weather.
White, hippo-like Moomins are probably the most known and adored literature characters in Finland, created by the Swedish‐speaking most widely read Finnish author in the world, Tove Jansson, who was born in Helsinki.
You can treat yourself with traditional Finnish filter coffee (did you know that Finn’s drink the most coffee in the world?) or a wide range of hot chocolate and tea together with the tastiest cakes, cookies, and more served in Moomin dishes.
Unfortunately, the café is currently closed due to pandemic, but it promises to be back in the nearest future as soon as possible. By the time, when travel will go back to normal, Moomin Café will greet you with even better theme projects and atmosphere!
Fabianinkatu 29, 00100 Helsinki
Karl Fazer’s French-Russian café & cake shop was opened in 1891 when today’s one of the largest corporations in the Finnish food industry was founded. Finland’s most-loved chocolate in the face of Fazer Blue brand is a part of Finnish cultural heritage and cuisine, as well as other products produced by the company.
Now Fazer Café is a modern classic café serving breakfast and lunch on weekdays and brunch on weekends, where you can see confectioners at work behind glass. Also operating as a shop, Fazer Café sells bread, pastries, cakes as well as chocolate and sweets.
Kluuvikatu 3, 00100 Helsinki. https://www.fazer.com/visit-us/fazer-cafe2/fazer-cafe-kluuvikatu-3/
Visit Couple Museums
Helsinki is home to around 80 museums, which suit every taste and offer something interesting all year round showing various perspectives of Finnish history, culture, and arts.
Amos Rex is impossible not to notice underground exhibition space, where future, present, and past meet in unique installations. Alien-like windows allow passers-by to look inside the galleries below and take futuristic pictures.
Museum launches new exhibitions 3 times per year. They usually include technically advanced contemporary art, 20th-century modernism, and ancient cultures. It’s an incredible way to observe how similar topics and marvels are present in our lives all through the ages.
Mannerheimintie 22-24, 00100 Helsinki. https://amosrex.fi/en/
Operating as a part of the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma is one of the leading museums of contemporary art in the Nordic region.
Museum organizes annually changing thematic exhibitions and augmenting its collection, along with research and presentation of the works. The primary concentration in the museum collection is based on Finnish contemporary craftsmanship.
Kiasma was designed by the American architect Steven Holl, who made the museum building look like a regular strip from the outside while being a complex sequence of spaces, different in height and shape from the inside, which also presents Kiasma as an architectural sight.
Mannerheiminaukio 2, 00100 Helsinki. https://kiasma.fi/en/
Simply Have Fun
Amusement attractions are not only valid for kids, there are plenty of places to have fun in Helsinki suitable for any age!
Linnanmäki is Finland’s oldest amusement park, located in the Alppila quarter of Helsinki. Adorned with bright decorations, the park has over 40 rides, various arcades, restaurants, shops, and cafés. Furthermore, there is a Sea Life aquarium located inside Linnanmäki, whose aim is to enlighten visitors about the need for protecting the sea environment.
You can either pay per ride or buy a full day unlimited ride pass, which is much cheaper. However, the entrance to the theme park is free so you can wander around and take vivid pictures without any fee.
Tivolikuja 1, 00510 Helsinki. https://www.linnanmaki.fi/en/
Being home to over 150 animals and 1000 plant species, Korkeasaari Zoo is unique and a must-visit one of the few zoos located on a separate island. The 22-hectare environment of the park brings you very close to nature, animals, and history. Why history? Korkeasaari was established in 1889 being one of the oldest zoos in the world.
It is a wonderful place to relax and enjoy nature during a long walk with any kind of company or without. You can reach the island either by a bridge (walking, riding a bike/car, using a bus) or by ferry taken from the Helsinki Market Square.
Mustikkamaanpolku 12, 00270 Helsinki. https://www.korkeasaari.fi/en/
How to Get to Helsinki?
Helsinki is located in the northernmost corner of Europe and has fast flight connections from East to West. By the way, Helsinki Airport consistently ranks among the best airports in the world. The journey between the airport and the city center is around 30 minutes. Don’t like to fly? No worries.
Helsinki can also be easily reached by daily scheduled ferries from Saint Petersburg/Russia, Tallinn/Estonia and Stockholm/Sweden via the Baltic Sea. Connections between these close historically tied cities are usually operated by Silja, Viking, Eckerö, and St. Peter lines. Helsinki can also be reached by ferry from Germany by Finnlines.
There are excellent train connections within Finland as well as daily train service from St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia. The Central Railway Station is located right in the city center.
See You in Helsinki!
No matter what time of year you visit Helsinki and what type of transport you use, you will always experience something new. There is just so much to do in Finland’s capital! Hopefully, this guide was able to inspire you to discover and fall in love with Helsinki!