Finnish wooden sauna on a lake in Finland
Finnish sauna culture
April 23, 2020
Winter Camping and clothing blog photo
Winter Camping in Finland
February 10, 2021

What to do in Helsinki

A mix of the must-see's and what the locals do

Helsinki; the little big city - the population is a bit over 600, 000 and counting. The city centre is small enough to walk in a day or two, and you can find just about everything you might need while visiting this Nordic country. One of my favourite elements about the city is the seamless blend of natural land and its architecture.

This post's "What to do in Helsinki" recommendations come from a mix of our own local experiences and some of Helsinki's most prominent sightseeing attractions for visitors. We will begin with sightseeing from there talk about the seasonal markets, saunas, and many islands of Helsinki. At the bottom of this post, you can read more about our favourite restaurants, bars and places we take our friends and family while visiting Helsinki. In its totality, it will help you to plan a unique stay in Helsinki without missing the important bits.

Photo by Suomen Ilmakuva - Helsinki Marketing

Sightseeing in Helsinki

Seeing all the highlights of Helsinki can be achieved in approximately two - three hours. The main sights include: Senate Square, Helsinki Cathedral, National Library of Finland, Presidential Palace, Uspenski Cathedral, Market Square, Esplanadi Park, Old Church Park, Central Railway Station & Oodi library

You have probably seen photos of the Helsinki Cathedral, any search using the word Helsinki will undoubtedly show a picture of this cathedral eventually. It is located in senate square and well.. you just gotta check it out. While doing so, you will see many other beautiful buildings around the square including the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. All of which have been designed by Carl Engel.

Photo by Emilia Hoisko - Helsinki Marketing
Just up the road from the white cathedral, you can find the Uspenski cathedral... a.k.a that really cool red church on the hill with the golden orbs on top. This cathedral was built 150 years ago from the bricks of a besieged fortress on the island of Åland.

Photo by Alex Bao - Helsinki Marketing
One of the most popular sightseeing attractions though is the rock church - "temppeliaukion kirkko" and while everyone was busy building churches on the rocks, the Suomalainen brothers went and built their's IN the rock. This impressive church has an intricately designed roof and rock walls which make it a heaven for acoustics and live music.

Photo by Jussi Hellsten - Helsinki Marketing
Aside from these churches that most visitors see, we would love to recommend walking by St.Johns Church. A twin steepled red brick church that has been built in the Neo-Gothic era of architecture in Finland. It is a work of art with so many details and lovely to admire on any given day.

While you've made it to St.John's in the neighbourhood of Ullanlinna, you should most definitely continue down the road to the sea and visit the neighbourhood of Eira. The architecture in the area is outstanding and you can find the picture-perfect street of Huvilakatu.

Photo by Julia Kivelä - Helsinki Marketing

Self-guided walking tours in Helsinki

Check out this blog post for a free self-guided tour of Helsinki that hits all the spots mentioned above and more. It is very easy to read and gives you directions from one place to the next.

Official Visitor map and Tourist information PDF

Four walking tour routes around Helsinki including: History & Architechure, Design & Fashion, Sea & Nature, Food & Drink

The Markets of Helsinki

The markets of Helsinki offer a unique glimpse into Finnish culture and cuisine and should not be missed if the opportunity arises. Below are a few of the seasonal markets which we visit every year. There is always the market square and old market hall which are open year-round.

Photo by Jussi Hellsten - Helsinki Marketing
Hietalahti flea market - "Hietalahden kirppis" - May - September - It's a classic flea market which means you can find almost everything you never knew you needed. Little hand weaved birch baskets and woolly sweaters for the win. It's a great place to pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir all while supporting the locals.

Herring Fair - "Silakkamarkkinat" - October 4 - 10 - Yes, a fish market and one of the oldest ongoing events in Finland, it has been held since 1743. Families of fishermen and women come from all around the great archipelago to sell different variations of baltic herring and 'Saaristolaisleipä', a traditional bread from Finland's southern and western coastal areas. Even if you do not like fish, there will be a lot of old wooden ships in the market square and great opportunities for photographers.
Photo by Eetu Ahanen - Helsinki Marketing
Helsinki Christmas market - "Tuomaan Markkinat" - December 5 - 22 - You do not have to celebrate Christmas to enjoy the magic of this market. City streets and market stalls will be decorated to the nines for almost all of December. Check out the market after dark, which is probably anytime after you've eaten lunch, for the full effect and make sure to drink a cup of warm glögi (mulled wine).

Photo by Jussi Hellsten - Helsinki Marketing

Saunas:

When you visit Finland, you have to experience a Sauna. Especially if you are here during the winter, now that is culture shock! There are quite a few options when it comes to public saunas, but more often than not, folks usually end up at Löyly, Allas Sea Pool or Kuusijärvi which is located outside the city. It is no accident either. These spots are the best place to experience the sauna while visiting Helsinki.

Photo by Pekka Keränen - Helsinki Marketing
Löyly is great for many reasons. The sauna is excellent and the seaside view and location make it even better. The building itself is a neat design and it has a very nice restaurant and bar.

Allas Sea Pool is located beside the market square and has three swimming pools: the heated pool, children's pool and seawater pool. The heated pool is really nice for visitors during the winter as the extreme changes in temperature can be quite the shock.

Kuusijärvi is a bit more rustic in it's approach and harder to reach but rewards you with a freshwater lake surrounded by forest. A great trade for the adventurous, this sauna can be reached by bus from the central railway station. Or you could join our Kuusijarvi smoke sauna tour for a guided experience!

There are many other public saunas you can find around the city and on the islands surrounding Helsinki. For example, Lonna island's public sauna and Pihlajasaari's seaside sauna for private groups. You can find links in the next section on how to get there.

Photo by Julia Kivelä - Helsinki Marketing
There is also the Ferris wheel sauna and Burger King?!?! sauna... Yeah, that exists. Check out the video at the bottom of Paul Rudd and Richard Ayoade enjoying a burger, beer, and sauna. Ahh, does life get any better? Anyhow, the sauna is not to be missed! If you are interested in the Sauna culture and its history in Finland, read our blog post about it here.

The Islands of Helsinki

In Finnish, Saari means Island. Anytime you see a location's name ending in Saari, that place will be an island.

The coast of Helsinki is riddled with islands. Many of which are easily accessible by boat, bus, or bridge. Lots of visitors will spend a day island hopping around the coast of Helsinki! The most popular island is Suomenlinna, which has ferries leaving hourly from the market square.

Recommended islands in Helsinki by ferry:

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress - Recommended time: 2-3 hours - Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress built on eight islands. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site popular with tourists and locals, who enjoy it as a picturesque picnic site. You can find the ferry schedule here.

Buying a ticket from Jt-lines will get you on a ferry that takes you to Suomenlinna, Vallisaari and Lonna. Ideally, for a full-day tour, you could join on a historical walking tour of Suomenlinna. Then, explore the wild nature on Vallisaari island at your own pace and finally, enjoy a nice meal and sauna on Lonna island.

Photo by Suomen Ilmakuva - Helsinki Marketing
Pihlajasaari - Pihlajasaari is an excellent island for swimming and sunny cookouts. There are three different cooking shelters on the island where you can freely barbecue and enjoy the outdoors. It also has some of the best sandy beaches in Helsinki. Just replace the coconuts with pinecones, and voilà, your very own nordic paradise! On the weekends, it is also possible to spend a night on the island camping (10€). Check out the ferry schedule here.

If you don't fancy getting on a ferry, here are a few great islands that can be reached by public transport, walking, or renting a bicycle.

Recommended islands in Helsinki by land:

Seurasaari - The island of Seurasaari is a great place to explore and enjoy the outdoors without ever leaving the city. There is a fascinating open-air museum showcasing old wooden manors, crofts, and cabins, making you feel like you are in some sort of Nordic Shire. The island has plenty of wooded forests with exposed rock, hills, wetlands, and herb-rich woodlands. The animals on the island are fairly used to humans and it is not uncommon to see deer roaming the forest trails.

Photo by Jussi Hellsten - Helsinki Marketing
Mustikkamaa - Mustikkamaa is a popular island to post up for the sunset and enjoy the sea view. Bring some snacks and drinks and enjoy the show, you certainly won't be the only one. You can take the metro to Kalasatama station or bike from the city centre in about twenty minutes. Many people like to fish in the sea around Mustikkamaa and swim from the sandy beaches. You will definitely catch us there on our days off.

Lammassaari - Lammassaari is home to a small herd of sheep who walk freely on the island in the summertime. There is a great trail of duckboards surrounded by impressive landscapes leading up to the island and it is a popular place for birdwatchers.

Photo by Ioannis Koulusis - Helsinki Marketing

Eating & Drinking


Everybody's gotta eat: Taiga Times city edition

Everybody in the city knows the best salmon soup can be found on a Taiga Times day trip...BUT! If you are in the city looking for some, well then second best is still darn delicious!

Bar café № 9 offers a great mix of Finnish and international food – Big portions, laid back atmosphere, delicious dishes, and very fair prices on the menu. Most dishes range from 10 – 13 euros. Check out the menu here.

If you are in search of Finnish food, go to the market square for the salmon soup or fried muikku (breaded Baltic herring). Muikku is an excellent option if you are looking for a snack. Our other choices are not exactly your afternoon lunch spots and we recommend booking a table in advance. Both Juuri and Ragu offer a high-quality Finnish dining experience so go with an open wallet and mind! Ravintola Aino is also worth mentioning as a lot of our guests from Taiga Times have highly recommended it for the Finnish menu.

Photo by Robert Lindström - Helsinki Marketing

Up next: Comfort foods... travellers need comfort foods... like a warm hug from family when you're a million miles from home.

Every year more and more great pizzerias are popping up in Helsinki. Like mushrooms after the rain... In a sea of pizza, let us narrow down the list for you:

Puttes Pizza & Bar: Cozy atmosphere, good music (well, we like to think so) and uh, awesome pizza!

Via Tribunali: These guys are doing it right. They use an open fire oven imported from Naples and boasting genuine Neapolitan pizza... just like the real thing. *starts waving fingers in the air*

Skiffer: You can find a few Skiffer pizzerias around the city but the best one is definitely on the island of Liuskaluoto (summertime only)! Take a ferry from Eira (roundtrip is 5€) and go to this tiny island to enjoy great pizza and the ocean breeze.

Photo by Jussi Hellsten - Helsinki Marketing

Fast food alternatives

Pho Viet I feel like I am undermining Pho Viet for placinging it under 'fast food alternatives' as the quality is great but this place is FAST! and It is as essential to me as pizza, you could say I have a soft spot pho it. Only a few minute's walk from the railway station and absolutely worth visiting for a quick lunch or dinner.

Another quick yet good lunch option which you can find almost anywhere in the city is Fafas. Falafel plates and sweet potato fries here for days.

P.S. A lot of restaurants offer lunch deals or buffets between 11:00 - 14:00. You can take advantage of the lunch pricing. Many places have buffets for only 10-12€!

Everybody's gotta drink...right?

Well, it is no secret that Finn's like to drink. It might be the only way you get to have an actual conversation with one...that is... if they can still talk. Okay, joking aside, you might be tempted to go for an evening drink somewhere since you are on vacation. Here is a shortlist of where you might end up with or without our help.

Henry's Pub Located in central and offers the standard bar experience. Good for a drink in the summer as their patio receives some of the last sun to be had. It ain't pretty, but it's sunny, and it's in your eyes.

There is no shortage of craft beer bars, so what separates Bar Viiskulma from the rest? Well, for one, it's around the corner from where we live, they have pinball, lots of games, and the staff is friendly. Bonus: the neighbourhood is design central and the buildings alone make this adventure worth the trip.

Are you a quantity over quality kind-of-traveller? Go to the neighbourhood Kallio for the cheapest beer in the city. Look for the hole in the wall establishments... the more hole-ier? holier?... the cheaper the beer. It's probably best to stay away from Roskapankki, though, as that literally translates to garbage bank.

Photo by Eliso Nieminen - Helsinki Marketing
Nightclubs are not exactly a hot topic during the corona pandemic but must be mentioned because...well... sometimes you gotta dance (When this is all over of course!). There is a complex which fits the needs of nearly everyone looking for a night on the town. Siltanen, Kaiku & Kuudes Linja. Kaiku & Kuudes Linja are connected so that you can move freely between both, and just around the corner lies Siltanen. Perhaps a slightly more chilled out vibe and live shows can be found here.

Did you say Karaoke? You've come to the right place. We don't know how it happened or when, but every corner of this country has a karaoke bar. There is not much point in recommending a specific one because every entrance is a portal to the same bar.



Thank you for your time

Hopefully, you now know what to do in Helsinki while visiting! If this article helps even just one future traveller then our mission in writing has been a success!

If you have more questions about your upcoming trip to Helsinki, or an interest in joining one of our Helsinki nature tours or multi-day tours, please contact us here or email us: Info@taigatimes.com



Burger King Sauna video:

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