Would you like to explore Helsinki? We prepared for you the list of places you don’t want to miss on your Finland trip. The first items are so-called must-see sights in Helsinki, but, honestly, the end of the list is where the sightseeing gets really interesting and unique.
There are the off the beaten path places that many people even don’t know about and very little foreign tourists visit. If you want a real adventure and not just another city sightseeing, make sure you find time for the items from the end of the list!
Best Things to Do in Helsinki
The Senate Square has a display of spectacular neoclassical buildings. It aspires to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but a modern bank building at the corner of the square prevents it from being enlisted. Several of the buildings were designed by Carl Ludvig Engel: Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. The German architect’s work can be seen here, but the most interesting German influence in Helsinki is much more hidden. Check the last item on the list to find out what it is.
As for the square, let’s quote Wikipedia: it “presents Carl Ludvig Engel’s architecture as a unique allegory of political, religious, scientific and commercial powers in the center of Helsinki”. If it didn’t bore you yet, visit the square. You might anyway end up on it while you are waiting for the departure of your ferry to Estonia where you can actually see a picturesque old town and enjoy cheap prices of food and services.
The beautiful white Helsinki Cathedral dominates the northern side of the Senate Square and is one of the first buildings that you can notice when you arrive at Helsinki by ferry. It was built in 1852 and attracts over 300 000 visitors every year. It is definitely the most recognizable church building in Finland, but not record-breaking nor there are any related curious facts about it. Check the next one out.
Mikael Agricola Church
For instance, Mikael Agricola Church, also in Helsinki seems much more interesting. With the 97 meters high tower, it is the highest in the country. Not to mention that not many towers have a 30-meter long spire that can be completely hidden inside the building! This feature was added during the war so that the tower is not aiding enemy bombers in targeting the city.
Old Market Hall
Helsinki’s most famous market, the Old Market Hall, is located near the harbor, at the end of the Esplanade. You will find everything from souvenirs and handicrafts to traditional food products including many imported food products. The hall houses the tiniest Alko (the national alcoholic beverage retailer) shop in the country. Another shop of the network worth visiting might be the most northern one located in Nuorgam, the most northern village in Finland.
Helsinki Zoo (Korkeasaari Zoo)
One of the oldest zoos of the world is located on an island east from Helsinki. It showcases more than 100 animal species and over a thousand plants. Outdoor animals are limited to the species that are comfortable with the Finnish climate. It means, for example, no elephants or rhinos.
Oodi Helsinki Central Library
The new public library of Helsinki is an attraction itself. It’s a modern venue for more than just reading books. The aim of the library to be a meeting and learning place for locals and visitors alike, where one can learn new skills in a new type of environment. It was built to commemorate 100 years of independence of Finland.
One of the best places to visit in Helsinki is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Suomenlinna sea fortress. The little islands have over 6 km of walls, plus cannons, tunnels, and parks in between them. You can easily reach it from Market Square using public boats. Although it’s open all year round, the best time to visit is spring and summer. It is a popular place also for Helsinki residents to visit in the summertime.
Three-quarter million people come every year to the islands. Thus, the ferries can get crowded in warm months. The fortress is not in the military used since the seventies. There are currently about 900 residents staying on the islands permanently. Suomenlinna is a special place within the city. It has a completely different postal address pattern and it is so far the only place in the country where post-tested drones to deliver packages. Another curiosity is a labor colony located on the islands. Inmates take care of the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortifications. While strolling around the fortress, don’t be surprised if you see a submarine standing on the ground. If you would like to explore more of the castles in Finland, we highly recommend you visiting St. Olaf’s Castle in Savonlinna.
The well-known composer Jean Sibelius’ monument – resembling organ pipes – is located at the Sibelius Park in west Helsinki. An interesting fact is that the monument’s form was criticized as Sibelius did compose virtually no organ music. The artist behind the project then decided to add Sibelius’ face to connect it more with the composer. Other than that, the monument weighs 24 tonnes, so rather big artwork in Helsinki. But not the biggest. Here comes the biggest one!
Temppeliaukio Church – Church in the Rock
The impressive church – excavated into the solid rock in 1969 is another interesting thing to see in Helsinki. The acoustics are excellent and it features small concerts regularly. There is a skylight that provides access to natural light. It is one of the most popular tourist sights in town attracting about half a million people annually.
Open-Air Museum of Seurasaari
Seurasaari Island features a free open-air museum. You will learn about traditional Finnish life, you can see cottages and farmsteads from all over Finland. It is a great place for a pleasant stroll away from city noises. The island is an excellent location for spotting different birds, including swans which are the national birds of Finland. If you visit it at Midsummer, do not miss the bonfire, but be prepared that the island will be very crowded that evening.
A less known fact about Seurasaari is that there is a nudist beach. One of only three such beaches in the whole country.
Are you ready for your first ever (and best) sauna experience of your life? This public sauna complex offers a variety of saunas: traditional Finnish smoke sauna and two other wood-heated saunas.
The sauna spaces are mixed, but you’ll find separate changing facilities for both genders. To cool yourself down, you can dip into the sea and swim a bit. There is an on-site restaurant as well.
This is probably the most popular public sauna in Helsinki, but there is a more interesting one.
Sompasauna that is built and run by volunteers. It is open for everyone, 24/7, free to use, and like in a real Finnish sauna no clothing required but permitted. A great non-commercial adventure. And a very unique one in Finland! That means something in the country of a couple of millions of saunas. We highly recommend it as a place off the beaten path in Helsinki.
Linnanmaki Amusement Park (Linnanmäki)
Linnanmäki is an amusement park with a long tradition. It was opened already in 1950 and is the biggest park in Finland. It is operated by a foundation that supports child welfare. As it’s located on a hill next to downtown, the view of Helsinki is an extra benefit of the place.
So even if you are not convinced by any of its eight roller coasters, check out the Ferris wheel or a 53-meter tall rotating observation tower. And it’s not even the highest tower. The highest one is a 75-meter free-fall tower. People interested in roller coasters will not be disappointed either. For lovers of wooden roller coasters, there is the one out of 7 roller coasters of that type in the world that use brakemen. The park’s newest steel roller coaster breaks all records in Finland for such rides: the tallest (52 m), fastest (106 km/h), and longest (over 1100 m).
Koivusaari Metro Station
The only metro station in the world located undersea. The station has the longest escalators in Finland with an impressive length of 76 meters.
Abandoned Villas near Helsinki
After the amusement park that is visited by over a million people annually, we would like to show you a place that is unknown even for many of the people living in Helsinki. Very few people venture there, but if you are the adventurous type, you should not miss it!
The abandoned villas are in Kruunuvuori, far from downtown, but the area is nice for a walk, especially in summer. There are some plans for the development of the area, so make sure to visit fast the place might be changed into one of many same looking housing estates and the villas from the early 20th century will be just a memory.
Hotels in Helsinki
Do you need an affordable hotel in Helsinki? We got you covered!
There is nothing better than a relaxed holiday. To ensure your rest, make sure you reserve and book your accommodation and transportation in advance of your trip.
- Don’t forget to insure yourself during your travels: SafetyWing. Check out their policies HERE. It also covers several virus-related expenses.
- Look for the best prices flight tickets, hotels, and car rentals: Expedia
- Car rental: SIXt
- Accommodation: Booking.com or Agoda. Don’t forget that you can search for Apartments also on Booking.
- Activities: GetYourGuide
- Opinions on hotels and restaurants: TripAdvisor