Last Updated On: October 3rd 2015
As a kid growing up in 1980s Hungary I was constantly reminded that our beautiful but extremely complicated language stems from the same root as that of the Finnish language (Uralic, if you’re interested). While this fun fact didn’t help me excel in my mother tongue it did plant the seed of curiosity that there was another country out there where kids suffered from the same tedious grammar lessons as I did. In the coming years I met many people from all over the world and found that Finnish people were incredibly friendly and yet very modest when talking about their homeland. While the country is gaining more and more recognition for having one of the best education systems in the world and the most honest people (thanks Readers Digest), Helsinki is receiving praise from travellers for its amazing architecture, design, nature, and food scene.
It is no secret that Finland has a fairly cold climate, therefore, unless you get a kick out of sightseeing while looking like a Michelin Man it’s best to plan your trip between May and September. Not only will you be able to enjoy the warmer weather but you’ll also be inundated with numerous festivals such as Helsinki Festival, Helsinki Design Week, and Helsinki Pride.
Most likely you will be flying into Helsinki International Airport (HEL), which is located approximately 17 kilometres south of the city center. You’ll be able to catch a train or shuttle bus that runs regularly from the airport into the city center. If you are feeling more adventurous then take a ferry from Stockholm or Tallinn.
Helsinki ticks all the boxes for an amazing city trip with plenty of intriguing museums and an abundance of nature activities.
For the former make sure to head to the Amos Anderson Art Museum (Yrjönkatu 27, Helsinki, Finland) which is actually the largest private art museum in Finland and boasts a very diverse exhibition agenda and an extensive modern art collection.
If you want to escape the city and be closer to nature take a 15 minute ferry ride to Soumenlinna (Suomenlinna C 74, 00190 Helsinki, Finland). This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to 1748 and with its many museums and entrance to the fortresses it’s a great place for history-buffs. During the summer months the site is also very popular with the locals who flood the island for picnics, concerts, and other fun outdoor activities.
A trip to Helsinki would not be complete without a visit to the sauna. Whether you like to sit in extremely high heat for 10+ minutes or not (I am more a steam room kinda gal myself), you can’t deny its healing effects. The Kotiharjun Sauna (Åstorgsgatan 1, 00500 Helsingfors, Finland), with its old-school charm, is popular with tourists and locals alike.
Finland, just like its Scandinavian neighbors is gaining popularity with design-enthusiast and what better place to live out your enthusiasm for industrial, fashion, or graphic design than at the Design Museum (Högbergsgatan 23, 00130 Helsingfors, Finland). When you’re there make sure to check out the ‘Learn and Experience’ section where you can bring out the creative kid in you.
Regardless whether you’re religious or not the short walk to the Uspenki Cathedral (Kanavakatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Finland) will definitely be worth it. It’s one of the largest Orthodox churches in Western Europe and has very clear symbols of Russian influence on Finnish history. Not only is it very visible on the Helsinki skyline but the interior of the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous.
If you can’t handle the hustle and bustle of the big city anymore you’ve got to check out the Kampii Chapel (Simonsgatan 7, 00100 Helsingfors, Finland), otherwise known as the Chapel of Silence. Once you enter it’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of the busiest part of the city with shops, departments stores, and bars. The building is a great example of simple and sleek Finnish design and architecture, and a true oasis of calm.
Eat and Drink
For a great breakfast/brunch experience check out the Karl Fazer Café (Kluuvikatu 3, 00100 Helsinki, Finland) in the city center that has a great variety of hot and cold dishes and drinks. Their Sunday brunch including smoked salmon and cake (!!!) is great value for money.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to dine in a place that’s a mix between a country western club and a canteen for a communist party? Even if you haven’t, you still should have dinner at Zetor (Simonsgatan 7, 00100 Helsingfors, Finland) where great food (try the wild boar sausage), good service, and an eclectic interior live together peacefully.
If you think that Finnish cuisine is just reindeer, beets and… more reindeer think again! Juuri (Högbergsgatan 27, 00130 Helsingfors, Finland) will prove that Finnish food is exciting, beautiful, and incredibly flavorful. Personally the dinner I had here was one of the best dining experiences of my life (not counting my mum’s cooking of course!!!).
As with every big city Helsinki has plenty of options for hotels, hostels, and B&Bs.
For city trips I prefer to book airbnbs. They are great value for money, you get a glimpse into the life of a local, and you get the lowdown on what’s hot and what’s not. Otherwise how will you know where to get the best latte in town with a breathtaking view? Apartments range anywhere between 60-100 Euros (EUR)/night but it greatly depends on the area you’ll be staying in.
If you’d rather spend your money on enjoying Helsinki to the fullest you can definitely save a few bucks by staying at a hotel/hostel such as Cheapsleep Helsinki (Sturenkatu 27, 00510 Helsinki, Finland), which advertises itself as a modern but affordable hostel in the Valliala district. Room prices range from 60-80 EUR/person/night.
For more unusual (and exclusive) accommodation you’ll need to head out of the city center. Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka (Merikasarminkatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Finland) is now a redbrick hotel but was previously a prison dating back to 1837. The prison theme lives on in the restaurants and bars. Rates range from 90-130 EUR depending on the time of travel.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Helsinki.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more information on Helsinki, do’s and don’ts as a traveller, events, and great tips from locals (and expats) make sure to visit the below sites.