Helsinki, the meeting point of the East and the West, is often considered Scandinavian, but it’s not. Helsinki is something unique that can't be categorized.
The city is all about summer and the sea - green parks at the heart of the city surrounded by the Baltic Sea. The city center of Helsinki is clean and easy to explore on foot. The fantastic public transport system of Helsinki invites you to reach locations outside the city center, such as the Nuuksio National Park.
The city of Helsinki has put a lot of effort into sustainability and design. The peculiarly designed art museum Amos Rex, opened in 2018, serves as a prime example of that.
Things to do in Helsinki
Everyone knows that Finland is famous for saunas, and yes, you have a chance to go to a public sauna right in the city center. But there are plenty of other things to do in Helsinki as well. The architect Carl Ludvig Engel and the designer Alvar Aalto are to thank for the characteristic appearance of Helsinki.
The seaside of Helsinki as well as the surrounding sea are beautiful - the archipelago cruise and a trip to the island fortress Suomenlinna, are must-do experiences.
Translated as the Castle of Finland, Suomenlinna is located a 15-minute ferry ride away from the Market Square. The construction of the fortress started in 1648, when Finland was still under the Swedish reign.
Suomenlinna is built on 4 different islands that are connected to each other by bridges. There are 6 museums on the island in case you want deepen your knowledge.
Although there are plenty of restaurant services on the island, traditionally, however, the locals come to Suomenlinna to spend a sunny day with a picnic basket. The only food shop of the main island is often very crowded, and the selection of products is scarce; hence it’s better to bring along your own picnic.
How to get there: The ferries depart from the Market Square pier.
- HSL, which is the Public Transport of Helsinki, departs by the Presidential Palace. The journey and takes 15 minutes and costs 3,20 euros, which is the price of the regular Helsinki region single journey ticket. The mobile ticket costs 2,20 euros, and yet again, that’s the cheapest and the easiest option.
- JT Line has smaller water buses departing from the Market Square. The journey time is 15-20 min. The cost for one way is 4,50 euros and 7 euros with return. JT Line departs right from the Market Square.
Sea cruises in Helsinki archipelago
Taking a cruise on the archipelago is a great way to explore the shores and canals of Helsinki on a warm summer day. There are various companies organizing cruises, all with similar routes. The cruises last 1,5 hours, and they can be combined with a lunch or dinner on board.
Allas Sea Pool
On the eastern side of the Market Square, you’ll find the newly built sea pools blending into the Baltic sea. At Allas Sea Pool, you can dip into two different swimming pools and try the Finnish Sauna in a beautiful setting.
The experience is even more powerful in the wintertime; the freezing air chills you to the bone as you're sprinting from the sauna to the heated swimming pool. The most adventurous ones can try dipping into the cold seawater pool, where the water temperature is close to zero degrees in the winter.
Löyly is a sauna and restaurant complex next to the city center, with a sauna and swimming possibilities all year round. There are two saunas: a wooden sauna and a traditional Finnish smoke sauna.
The building has terraces on three floors with free access. For the sauna, an entrance fee is collected, and it is recommended to book the sauna shift in advance.
The word Löyly means steam, formed from water thrown into the sauna stove.
Market Square & Presidential Palace
The Market Square is probably the most photographed image of Helsinki. The market is buzzing with food & souvenir vendors in summer. The souvenirs are often kitschy and lack authentic products from Helsinki, and instead you’ll find reindeer fells, magnets or bottle openers. Many stalls sell Finnish meat pastries called Lihapiirakka. They are donut-like pockets with minced meat and rice filling.
The Presidential Palace is located on the northern side of the Market Square. The neoclassical building was re-designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1845. It served as the Imperial Palace for the Russian Tsars, when Finland was still part of Russia. Nowadays, it is the official residence of the Finnish President.
At the very heart of Helsinki, the green Esplanadi Park starts from the Swedish Theater and ends to the Market Square. The park contains the finest hotels, designer shops and traditional cafés. You’ll see locals and tourists having a picnic and businessmen reading newspapers on the benches. In the summertime, Esplanadi often hosts small concerts and events.
Senate Square & Helsinki Cathedral
The Senate Square, built in the Russian era, is located just behind the Market Square in the very central Helsinki. The first building to emerge on the Eastern side of the square was the Government Palace, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and finished in 1822. Later, the senate of Finland was working in the same building. Today, it is the cabinet of the Finnish Prime Minister.
The Helsinki Cathedral is located on the northern side of the square. It’s also known as the St. Nicholas church, coming from the Tsar Nicholas I, the Grand Duke of Finland, to whom the church was honored to. The construction was finished in 1852.
Amos Rex is an architecturally divergent art museum, where arts meet urban culture. The temporary collections, exhibited in the underground premises of the museum, combine the past, the present and the future in an exhilarating way, celebrating life.
Ateneum is THE art museum in Helsinki, located on the eastern side of the railway station square. The collections of Ateneum include art all the way from 18th-century rococo portraiture to the experimental art movements of the 20th century. The collections also include some 650 international works of art, including Vincent van Gogh's famous Street in Auvers-sur-Oise.
Other museums in the center:
- The National Museum of Finland - kansallismuseo.fi
- Natural History Museum - luomus.fi
- Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art - kiasma.fi
Helsinki Rock Church
The Rock Church, built in 1960s, is situated in the central Helsinki. It is one of the most unique churches in Europe, as it is excavated into a solid rock. The rock gives excellent acoustics to the church, and concerts are held there frequently.
How to get there: It’s within walking distance if you’re in the city center. The trams 1 and 2 stop at Sammonkatu, which is located right next to the church.
If you want to enjoy a sunny day on a sandy beach, the Hietaranta Beach is situated west of the center.
There is a restaurant behind the beach.
Oodi Helsinki Central Library
Oodi Helsinki Central Library is a masterpiece of Finnish design and undoubtedly the flagship of all libraries in Finland, if not in the whole world.
The humongous library serves as an urban living room where the locals gather to work, study and enjoy of the largest e-library in the Nordics and of the 3,4 million pieces of publications, written in over 20 languages.
Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden
The botanic garden, located in Kaisaniemi Park in the city center, contains an outdoor garden and greenhouses. The greenhouses simulate different climate types, ranging from tropical rainforest to desert climates.
While there's free access to the outdoor garden, a fee is collected to get into the greenhouses.
- Linnanmäki - An Amusement park a few kilometers away from the center (link).
- Korkeasaari - A Zoo on an island a few kilometers away from the center. Korkeasaari can be reached via a bridge, but more easily by boat from the Market Square (link).
- Heureka - A Science center and digital Planetarium in Vantaa, 15 km away from Helsinki (link).
A major part of shopping possibilities is concentrated on the area between the train station and Esplanadi street (an avenue with a park). Finnish design can be purchased especially along the streets Pohjoisesplanadi and the next parallel street to the north, Aleksanterinkatu.
Popular souvenirs include brands, such as Iittala (glass), Aarikka (design and wooden jewelry), Marimekko (fashion) and Pentik (interior decoration).
There are five shopping malls in the same area within a radius of about 1,5 km:
- Kamppi, with about 150 shops, restaurants and cafes. The Helsinki bus station also operates on the ground floor of the center (link).
- Forum, with about 140 shops, restaurants and cafes (link).
- CityCenter, with about 70 shops and services. It is situated opposite of the train station (link).
- Kämp Galleria, a small and stylish shopping center with a lot of high-quality products (link).
- Kluuvi, a small shopping center in a central location (link).
If you want to taste Finnish specialties, try the market hall right next to the Market Square in the center (next to the picture 13).
Prices in Helsinki
The prices of restaurant and hotels services in Finland are above the average in the European Union. The hotel prices in Helsinki are steady throughout the year.
Below, there are some examples of restaurant and hotel prices in Helsinki. Costs of hotel rooms refer to median prices at Booking.com.
Pizza in restaurant
Steak in restaurant
33 cl beer in restaurant
Hotel room, 3-4* (April)
Hotel room, 3-4* (July)
From Helsinki Airport
By train: The local train take you from Helsinki Airport to the central railway station of Helsinki. The journey takes about 30 minutes. The train terminal is situated under the arrival hall level. There are distinct signs at the airport as to how to find the station. Schedules: hsl.fi.
Tickets (ABC zone) cost 4,10 euros, when bought in advance. Remember that tickets can’t be bought in the train. The mobile ticket is the easiest and the cheapest way to pay for your trip (instructions hsl.fi). You can buy tickets also from the ticket machine in the airport terminal building, next to the train station escalators.
By bus: Take the bus 615 from Helsinki Airport to the railway station. The cost is the same as by train. The bus journey takes around 45 minutes. You can plan your route with the Helsinki region travel planner: reittiopas.fi.
Weather in Helsinki
Winter: The winter months are cold in Helsinki, and the breeze from the sea makes it feel even colder. Temperatures in December vary on both sides of 0°C. December is often slushy and rainy. January and February are drier months, and it snows more frequently. Temperatures vary on both sides of 0°C but may drop to as low as -15°C, and hence it's better to observe the weather forecast in advance.
Spring: March can be snowy with temperatures close to 0°C. In April, sunshine is more frequent, and snow starts to melt as temperatures surpass 0°C. May is still mild with temperatures around 10-15 °C.
Summer: June, July and August are the sunniest and warmest months in Helsinki and an ideal time for a visit. On average, July and August are warmer than June. Temperatures are at 20°C and above. During the hottest days, temperatures exceed 30°C, but the weather may change a lot; cooler periods with about 10°C are also possible.
Autumn: It rains frequently in September and temperatures drop to 10-15 °C. In October, temperatures can drop to 0°C, and there’s a possibility of snow which, however, will melt away. Just like October, November is a slush season with rain and snow, and temperatures are close to 0°C during the daytime.
Text: Ville Ryynänen
Images: Jussi Ryynänen, Allas Sea Pool