Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a beautiful seaside city with vibrant markets, accletic arts and music, and fresh, delicious seafood and local cuisine. Helsinki is a great place to visit in the summer months when you can take advantage of its lush, green parks and public pools. The city has a laid back vibe, while being vibrant and unique.
What to Do:
- City Walk: Take a walking tour of Helsinki to get your bearings, learn some more about the history and architecture of the city, and meet some fellow travelers. Visit Helsinki offers a great self guide with top city highlights and information. See their guide here. Walking Tours Helsinki also offers a donation based walking tour every Saturday and Sunday. Be sure to check out Kallio and Punavuori neighborhoods for some cool bars, boutiques, and galleries.
- Parks: Helsinki is home to many beautiful parks. Check out Töölönlahti Bay which is surrounded by numerous parks and take a swim or paddle board in the Baltic Sea fed waters. Or visit Keskuspuisto, Helsinki’s central park and its lush forested paths. There are beautiful botanical gardens (Kaisaniemen Kasvitieteellinen Puutarha) located near the university.
- Museums: Helsinki is home to over 80 museums including some Finnish museums. Check out Visit Helsinki’s guide to determine which ones you want to see while in Helsinki. My personal favorites are: Amos Anderson- private art collection of mainly Finnish contemporary art; Ateneum Art Museum- the best known art museum in Helsinki, this is the home of Finnish art; Design Museum– really cool museum focuses on Finnish design; Helsinki City Museum– this museum focuses on the city of Helsinki and has a great collection of photographs and items; National Museum of Finland– this museum tells the story of the past 1,000 year in Finland; Suomenlinna Toy Museum– with toys dating back to the early 19th century, this is a great place to stop with or without kids and explore Finland’s game culture.
- Stockmann: Stockmann is a institution in Helsinki. This multilevel, high end department store is centrally located near the beautiful esplanade park. It is host to many products and clothing of Finnish design and worth a trip.
- Skywheel: The Helsinki SkyWheel is a large Ferris wheel located in the Katajanokka neighborhood of Helsinki. SkyWheel offers stunning views of the city and surrounding islands. It located right next to a ocean swimming pool. Definitely worth checking out!
- Suomenlinna: Travel by ferry (about 15 minute ride) to Suomenlinna, the fortress island. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is very popular among visitors and offers a historic fortress to explore, beautiful grounds to picnic and stroll along, as well as restaurants and cafes. This is a great place to do a day trip. The grounds are extensive and you can easily spend a day exploring.
- Sauna: Check out Kotiharjun Sauna for a traditional Finnish sauna experience dating back to 1928. There are separate saunas for men and women. Opt for the massage and body scrub, it’s well worth it. Or check out Loyly, a newer sauna establishment. Men and women sauna together, perfect for visitors of the opposite sex, but be sure to pack a swimsuit. There is also a restaurant on premises which is very highly regarded.
- Meet the locals: The best way to get acquainted with Helsinki locals is to meet them over drinks. Head out to experience the nightlife and mingle with the locals at a cocktail lounge such as A21 or a local music venue. I recommend a rock show.
- Outdoor Market: Check out one of the many outdoor markets in the city. My favorite is at Kauppator Market Square located right along the docks across from the Swedish Embassy and near the SkyWheel. You’ll find fresh produce, food, jams, fresh seafood sold directly by the fisherman, and many Finnish goods.
- Hike Nuuksio: Escape the city for a day and head out to Nuuksio National Park. About 30-40 minutes outside of Helsinki, this is the closest forest to the city and has some beautiful trails to explore ranging from 2 km to 110 km. The park is rich with life, trees, and lakes. It is wrong to visit Finland and not explore one of its many enchanted forests.