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The best things to do in Helsinki: city tour with the highlights of Helsinki and tips to experience the city like a local including where to stay, how to get around, useful apps, what and where to eat and much more.
Helsinki is my foster mom!
I moved here in 2019 to start my career as flight attendant.
My relationship with Helsinki started more as a local than as a tourist.
But when my friends and family finally came to visit I started planning for them some tours with the best things to do in Helsinki. And now I will give them to you!
I’ll start first with a “classic” itinerary with the highlights of Helsinki. And I will add some extra things to do if you want to experience the city like a local.
If you are in Helsinki for a longer stay you can also take some day trips in Finland. I will tell you all about it in the next article I’m writing.
Finally I will give you some useful information to plan your trip to Helsinki at its best and some unique Finnish experience you want to try.
Let’s start then with the tour of Helsinki’s highlights!
THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI IN ONE DAY: TOUR OF HELSINKI’S HIGHLIGHTS.
RAUTATIENTORI, THE RAILWAY SQUARE.
Tours of Helsinki usually start from Rautatientori, the Railway Square.
As you might guess, the main building of the square is the station (Rautatiasema) in Finnish granite. You recognize it immediately for its tall clock tower and for its muscly giant statues holding spherical lamps.
Just think that in times of covid, they too wear masks. Well in Finland everyone follows the rules, even the statues!
In the Railway Square you will also find the monument to Aleksis Kivi, the national writer, and Finnish National Theater in granite.
ALEKSANTERINKATU, ONE OF THE MAIN STREETS OF THE CITY CENTER.
From the Railway Square move now towards Aleksanterinkatu, one of the main streets of the city center with its beautiful historical buildings.
In Aleksanterinkatu there is Paulig Kulma, one of my favorite bars in Helsinki, which has an amazing upper floor with super cute furniture and a window. If you happen to be here on Sunday, stop by for a buffet brunch.
The street leads straight to Senaatintori, the Senate Square.
SENAATINTORI, THE SENATE SQUARE (LUTHERAN CATHEDRAL OF HELSINKI).
Senaatintori is basically the center of the center of Helsinki, as well as its most important square.
In fact, here is the most popular landmark of the city: the super-shimmering Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki, of a white that cannot be whiter (sorry, that sounded like an advertisement for a detergent).
The Cathedral, or Tuomiokirkko if you feel very Finnish, was built in 1830 and originally had the name of St. Nicholas’s Church, because it was dedicated to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.
The church was built by Engel, a German architect who designed a bit of all of Helsinki. He was in fact called by Tsar Nicholas I to rebuild the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland after the fire of 1827.
Ok, now a game for you. Does this church remind you of anything? I’ll give you a little hint: it’s in Paris!
Tuomiokirkko was inspired by… (drums sound effects please)… the Pantheon in Paris! All right, if you are not too critical you might see the resemblance.
This beautiful church with its super white marble and its starry domes is actually nothing special inside. The interior is in fact quite poor (like all Lutheran churches basically). Its superstars are the beautiful organ and the statues of the great reformers Luther, Melanchthon and Mikael Agricola, who was the father of reform in Finland. Apparently, he is kind of a big deal in Finland.
But now let’s leave the Cathedral and go back to the Senate Square. Okay so where is the Senate?
Actually there isn’t. Or better, it is the current Government Palace, which in the past was the seat of the Imperial Senate. So here is revealed the mystery of the name of the square that today has very little of the senate!
Other important buildings of Senaatintori are the main building of the University of Helsinki and the building of the National Library.
If you go to Helsinki during the Christmas time, you will find here the Christmas markets (until December 22, then everything goes off for some reasons) and the huge Christmas tree behind the statue of Tsar Alexander II.
From Piazza del Senato, go to Kauppatori, the Market Square. Before wandering among the market, however, take a small detour to the Katajanokka peninsula, where you will see Cathedral number two of Helsinki: the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral.
THE USPENSKI ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL.
Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, or Dormition Cathedral, is the other supermodel cathedral of Helsinki. Truly beautiful!
It is located on top of a hill so you can also enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
It was inaugurated in 1868 and has on its back a plaque commemorating Alexander II of Russia, who was the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Finland at the time of construction.
Okay, beautiful church and all, but now I guess it’s lunchtime. Run back to the Market Square!
KAUPPATORI, THE MARKET SQUARE.
Here we are again in Kauppatori, the Market Square.
This time the square does not make fun of us like the Senate square. The market really is here. There are two actually, one outdoor and one indoor.
The outdoor market has several booths where you can find mainly fish (which they cook and prepare right there), berries, mushrooms and of course souvenirs.
The indoor market instead, Vanha Kauppahalli, has several stands where you can taste both Finnish cuisine and international cuisine. I personally love these indoor markets because you can wander around and try different things from different cuisines.
Besides feeding locals and tourists, the Market Square has also important historical buildings, including the Stone of the Empress, an obelisk with a two-headed eagle on top, built by Engel on the occasion of the visit of the Russian imperial couple Nicholas I and Alexandra. Also here you will find the Embassy of Sweden and the Presidential Palace which was in order the residence of the Tsar, the residence of the President of the Republic, and today is the seat of official receptions.
Another historical monument in the square is the Havis Amanda Fountain, which was once considered kind of naughty because the young lady emerging from the water is all naked. Like really? A statue. Bronze. Whatever.
Kauppatori is also the departure point for the archipelago sightseeing cruises. But before we get onboard, let’s have a walk to Esplanadi.
ESPLANADI, THE PARK OF HELSINKI.
Esplanadi somehow reminds me of the Rambla in Barcelona. In fact, like her Spanish friend, Esplanadi is a walking boulevard with restaurants, bars and shops. The difference, however, is that everything is much more expensive here!
The most famous restaurant in Esplanadi, and probably in all of Helsinki, is the legendary Kappeli. But, I’ll tell you all in one breath, it’s very expensive! It doesn’t surprise you right? But in my opinion it’s still worth trying this experience, maybe I don’t know a dessert or a coffee.
On Esplanadi you will meet the statue of our friend Runeberg, a very important poet from Finland who wrote the text of the national anthem. Besides, his wife was an excellent cook and she invented some sweets that you absolutely must try if you go to Porvoo (which I will talk about in the next article).
At the end of Esplanadi is the Swedish Theater.
Now the itinerary can take two directions. You can go back to Kauppatori and get a boat to Suomenlinna. Or continue the tour of the city with the second itinerary that I suggest in this article.
Quick tip: if you are in Helsinki for just one day, go to Suomenlinna. It’s really worth it, it’s gorgeous!
If you stay in Helsinki for two or more days, take the weather in consideration for your choice. In my opinion Suomenlinna is a place you want to visit in a sunny day. So if the weather is not great (which is very likely in Helsinki) continue with the tour of the city and go to Suomenlinna (together with Seurasaari) in the sunny day. Then of course, if the weather is never that great, it doesn’t really matter. But don’t take it personal! Finland is like that! I don’t think you’ve decided to come here for the weather, right?
So let’s pretend that today is a beautiful sunny day, and let’s take a boat to Suomenlinna!
SUOMENLINNA: THINGS TO DO IN THE SEA FORTRESS OF HELSINKI.
A nice 15-minute ferry ride takes to the island of the sea fortress of Helsinki, Suomenlinna.
The ferry is part of the HSL transport system so you can use the same ticket you use for bus, train and metro (I’ll give you all kind of information on the means of transport later).
As soon as you get off the boat, pick up the map at the information center, it will help you find your way around.
BRIEF HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION.
Suomenlinna, which literally means Finnish Fortress, is not actually located on a single island, but on a complex of 6 islands connected by bridges.
And actually it wasn’t even born as a Finnish fortress! It was built in 1748 by the Swedes, who reigned in Finland since 1323, to defend themselves from the Russian invasion. To be precise, it was built by Ehrensvärd, a Swedish warrior, artist and architect (I mean, that guy really knew his stuff around), who we also find buried on the island.
But although Suomenlinna was a very strong fortress, in 1808 the Swedes surrendered to the Russians without fighting and in 1809 Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. In short, poor Finland has always been a bit tossed around by the two Swedish and Russian giants.
As if that were not enough, in 1855 the Anglo-French army started bombarding Suomenlinna during the Crimean War.
Then when the Russians got out of the way and Finland finally gained its independence in 1917 (a very popular holiday in the country), the fortress became a prison for civil war prisoners and a military base.
Now the entire complex has been turned into a museum and in 1991 UNESCO listed Suomenlinna as a World Heritage Site.
In short, Suomenlinna has played a very important role in the history of Finland, so I thought this brief historical introduction would be interesting for you.
But now let’s begin our walk to Suomenlinna.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SUOMENLINNA.
Finding your way around is very simple, just follow the blue route (very well marked by blue signs) where you will find the highlights of the island. The route is about 1 and a half kilometers, but I will suggest small detours for an ultimate Suomenlinna experience.
We walk through the main gate and get to the Church of Suomenlinna. As you will probably read on the description signs, the church used to be actually much more beautiful! It was in fact an Orthodox church with beautiful onion domes. Then it was transformed into a Lutheran church and its cute domes were knocked down. In short, let’s face it, the Lutherans have made it uglier.
A very interesting thing about the church is that the tower served as a lighthouse for air and sea traffic, and is still in operation today!
We continue the walk and cross the bridge to reach another island, where we find the shipyard a little further to the right. Here they built the ships of the Swedish fleet and today it is mainly used to refurbish old sailboats.
We say hi to the supercool Ehrensvärd in the Great Courtyard of the island where we find his tomb and a museum dedicated to him, set up in his old house.
After the Piper Park, I suggest the first detour from the blue path. Instead of walking straight along the path, turn right and climb the steps to walk along the seaside. The view is beautiful, and you can walk among the cannons and artillery of the fortress overlooking the cliffs.
I also give you a little mission. If you look beyond the cannons you will find some small huts (old powder cases) that remind me so much of Hobbiton. Don’t you agree? So cute!
Once we have toured among the cannons, we go back to the right path (which in our case is just the blue path, nothing spiritual I promise). You will soon arrive at the King’s Gate, which was the main entrance to the fortress.
Attention now! Here you will find a boarding point to return to Helsinki, but this is a private company, and the ticket is not included in the HSL transport system. To get the right ferry, you’ll have to go back to the starting point.
But that’s even better because I will suggest another transgression from the blue path (I’m very hardcore, I know)! If you walk by the eastern side of the island, at some point you will find the Vesikko submarine, the first submarine of the Finnish Navy, which was turned into a museum that can only be visited in summer.
Ok now enough with the transgressions, I promise! I’ll let you go back to the boarding point without any distractions!
THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI: YOUR ITINERARY FOR THE SECOND DAY.
Happy second day in Helsinki!
Today we continue our tour of the center of Helsinki, and end the day in Seurasaari, the island with the open-air museum of Finland.
We start again our itinerary from Rautatientori. This time, however, we walk towards the opposite side and we go to explore the Töölö district. Töölö is A: very funny to pronounce and B: offers many things to see with its lake, a large green area and some important buildings.
THINGS TO DO IN THE TOOLO DISTRICT OF HELSINKI.
The first building we meet on our way from the central station is the Oodi Library, the Central Library of Helsinki, inaugurated in 2018. It is a very modern building in wood and glass, designed by the Finnish studio ALA Architects.
The best part is the large reading room on the second floor, where you can read your book in peace while enjoying the view of the city.
The library is just a few meters from the Parliament, where you can take guided tours.
From the library you can start walking towards Lake Töölö, which they actually call “basin”, and observe some important buildings including the Finlandia Hall, a conference center that is also used for concerts and exhibitions, and the National Museum, which traces the history of Finland from prehistoric times to the present day.
Once you get to the National Museum, turn your back to the lake and walk to the Lutheran Temppeliaukio Church, a super special church in Helsinki! It is a church carved directly into the rock which becomes an element of the building itself. Basically the church has adapted perfectly to its natural context.
The church is also often used as a concert hall due to the excellent acoustics of the hall and its organ.
Just one small annoying detail: you pay. It’s only €4 but I just can’t get over the fact that you have to pay to go to church! But I also have good news: on Wednesdays from 3pm, admission is free.
Now let’s walk towards Sibelius Park where you can see the Passio Musicae, the monument dedicated to the musician Jean Sibelius. The Passio Musicae is an abstract work made up of more than 500 steel tubes assembled to create the shape of an organ. It is also a very woman power monument. The Passio Musicae is in fact the work of a Finnish woman named Eila Hiltunen who showed it to the public in 1967. Unfortunately she has received a lot of negative criticism and even insults. Poor thing!
Now let’s make the last stop in the Töölö district and go to the Olympic Stadium. The Stadium was built for the 1940 Olympics which however were held in 1952. Anyway, I am not suggesting this stop because I am an ultra super stadium girl, but because I’d like you to climb the 72-meter-high Olympic Stadium Tower to admire an extraordinary view of the Helsinki archipelago.
Let’s now leave Töölö and go see Serausaari, the island of Helsinki’s open-air museum. This time, however, we don’t have to take any ferry! The island is in fact connected to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge.
SEURASAARI: THINGS TO DO IN THE ISLAND OF THE OPEN-AIR MUSEUM OF HELSINKI.
The Seurasaari Open Air Museum is a complex of 17th and 18th century wooden buildings that were transported to the island from different parts of Finland.
Basically it’s like you are visiting buildings all over Finland while staying on a tiny island.
The houses and buildings are almost all original, except for some reconstructions, and allow you to see how the people of those centuries lived in rural Finland.
If you have visited other Scandinavian countries, you have probably noticed that they like this type of museum a lot. The Seurasaari museum is in fact very similar to Stockholm‘s Skansen and Oslo’s Norsk Folkmuseum.
You do not have to buy any tickets for the island, which is public and always accessible. You can therefore safely wander around the island, and see the buildings from the outside, but be careful to avoid the nudist beach! I mean, unless you want to go all naked as well!
However, I advise you to buy the entrance ticket to the museum anyway because you can visit some areas only with the ticket. Besides, with the ticket you can enter the buildings, which are furnished just like they used to be. A real dive into the past. You will also find people in traditional costumes who will be more than happy to give you some more information and answer your questions.
To find your way around, I suggest you take the map at the ticket office which offers a numbered route throughout the museum. Plus, if you’re traveling with kids, they’ll give you a bingo with some sort of treasure hunt with things to look for and missions to accomplish! I did it with my nieces and we had a lot of fun!
Finland is really great with services and activities for families with children!
The route then includes a series of houses, cottages, farms and mills, and even a still-functioning church that houses in its garden the tombs of the museum’s founder, Axel Ola Heikel, and his wife Maria.
Well, today’s itinerary ends here. Let’s now make a small recap of the two itineraries that I have suggested to you.
The first day includes what I think are the must things to do in Helsinki. The itinerary of the second day, on the other hand, brings together a series of important but not unmissable attractions. All this, however, always and only in my humble opinion.
But since I live here, and I know this city well, I want to point out other activities and points of interest in Helsinki, which you can do and see if you have more time to spare in the Finnish capital.
Let’s see what they are!
5 EXTRA THINGS TO DO IN HELSINKI.
We do a mix of cultural activities and others a little less cultural. This list literally follows my stream of consciousness with everything I can think of you can do and see in Helsinki!
1. TRY THE REAL FINNISH SAUNA.
You cannot say that you have been to Finland if you haven’t tried the real Finnish sauna.
The word “sauna” is in fact Finnish, and is a great part of the life of a Finnish. Just think that in Finland there is a sauna for every two inhabitants. Like, seriously.
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Now, the temperatures of a real Finnish sauna are very different from those we find in our cozy regular spas. We are talking about an average between 80 and 100 degrees centigrade. Real highlander stuff!
A typical day in the sauna also includes swimming in the very cold waters of the sea, lakes and swimming pools. A super hard core experience is literally taking a bath in a hole dug in the frozen lake and running into the sauna. Sometimes I ask myself: why?
Either way, whether or not you choose to be Rambo, here is a list of the most popular public saunas in Helsinki, which I recommend you book in advance.
- LÖYLY. Löyly, which literally means “steam”, is one of my favorite places in Helsinki. Besides being very famous for its public sauna, it is a beautiful place to have a drink, especially in summer. Quick note: the co-founder is one of the Vikings characters, and is often found there!
- SAUNA ARLA. Public sauna in Helsinki, one of the oldest.
- KAURILAN SAUNA. Another historic sauna, near the island of Seurasaari.
- SAUNA KOTIHARJU. Traditional sauna in the Kallio district.
- LONNA. Sauna on the tiny island of Lonna, which you can reach by ferry from Kauppatori.
2. RIDE THE SKYWHEEL HELSINKI.
An experience to do in Helsinki is to get on its 40-meter high Ferris wheel to see the panorama of the city.
It is located near the Market Square, on the Katajanokka peninsula, where you find the Uspenski Cathedral.
And since we talked about saunas, I’ll also give you a tip. In one of the capsules of the wheel, there is the SkySauna, the only sauna in the world inside a Ferris wheel! You can book by sending an email to email@example.com or call +358 404 804 604.
The SkySauna includes a sauna and a hot tub and can accommodate a maximum of 10 people. Of course, the price is a bit high. It’s €240 for a group of up to 4 people, with 2 drinks each included.
To simply get on the SkyWheel instead it’s €13 per person.
3. TAKE A SIGHTSEEING CRUISE OF HELSINKI’S ARCHIPELAGO.
If you want to see the skyline of Helsinki from the sea, then you have take a sightseeing cruise of Helsinki’s archipelago.
The tour lasts 2 and a half hours, you stay onboard all the time, and costs €24 with the Royal Line company.
From the boat you will see many islands including the island of Suomenlinna, Vallisaari, Lonna, Vasikkasaari; you will also pass by the icebreakers anchored in the port of Katajanokka.
4. VISIT THE MUSEUMS OF HELSINKI.
In Helsinki there are no super famous museums to see like the other European capitals. But you will still find a very wide range of museums from the most varied genres, especially modern art, photography and design. Let’s see which are the most visited.
- KIASMA. Contemporary art museum, close to the Parliament and the Finlandia Hall.
- ATENEUM. Finnish museum of 19th century and modern art. It is located right in front of the station.
- SINEBRYCHOFF ART MUSEUM. It contains works ranging from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century by some private collectors (the Sinebrychoff spouses) who bequeathed to the Finnish state. This museum, the Kiasma and the Ateneum are part of the Finnish National Gallery.
- AMOS REX. A one-of-a-kind museum that aims to give visitors special experiences. It is located in the Lasipalatsi building, the Glass Palace.
- DESIGN MUSEUM. Finnish design museum from after the industrial revolution to the present day.
- HAM (HELSINKI ART MUSEUM). Museum of modern and contemporary art.
- FINNISH MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHY. It is located in an old cable factory.
- FINNISH MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. Famous for the statue of an elk that stands in front of the museum, it contains collections of paleontology, geology and zoology.
5. VISIT THE CHAPEL OF SILENCE IN KAMPPI.
One thing you will soon learn about Finns is that they love silence.
But how to find this blessed silence in the center? Simple, by building a Chapel of Silence.
This Kamppi church was designed to give people a place where they could enjoy silence in peace and welcome the faith of all religions of the world.
While you’re there, also take a nice stroll around Kamppi which is a super lively neighborhood in Helsinki. Like, nothing compared to the silence of the chapel!
Here you can see the Amos Rex, the HAM, the Old Wooden Church, the Aleksanteri Theater, many shops and restaurants (which I will tell you about right below, in the section dedicated to where and what to eat), and bars, including Ekberg bar, the oldest bar in Helsinki.
USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS AND INFORMATION TO PLAN YOUR TRIP TO HELSINKI AT ITS BEST.
In this part of the article I will give you some useful information that you will need to plan your visit to Helsinki (how to get around the city and some useful apps to download) and to experience this city like a local (what and where to eat, what and where to drink, where to shop for very Finnish stuff).
Finally I will also give you a small guide and introduction to Finnish culture, to avoid misunderstandings!
WHERE TO STAY IN HELSINKI.
Before finding my home, I stayed at the wonderful Garden City Apartment. It is in Vantaa, the city of the airport. I loved this accommodation, and the neighborhood is just beautiful. Vantaa is also very well connected to the center and very pretty. I will talk about things you can do in Vantaa in a specific article.
However, if you prefer to stay in the center of Helsinki, I recommend you to browse these Booking offers.
WHEN TO GO TO HELSINKI.
Many people recommend going to Helsinki in the summer. I agree, but in my opinion it is also worth visiting the city during the other seasons.
Of course, the weather is better in summer, it is relatively warm-ish (but beware there can also be quite cold days) and the days are long. In fact Helsinki is one of the best cities where you can enjoy the long Northern summer days and the midnight sun. Besides, Finns are in a great mood, many activities only take place at this time of the year, and you can enjoy a beer outdoors without freezing.
Keep in mind that June is very high season, followed by July, so prices can be quite high. August is cheaper, but you might have quite cold days, and the days get shorter. On the other hand, if June is high season, there is a reason!
But let’s not underestimate the other seasons as well. In particular, I love autumn because you can admire the amazing foliage all over the city. Finland is chock full of nature and forests, so you can imagine the spectacular colors you find at this time of year. We are talking about September until mid-October. Then the trees become all naked, but the leaves on the ground still give a beautiful colorful scenario.
Obviously there is winter. Here is a whole other story. First of all, Finland is the country of Christmas so if you love the Christmas atmosphere there is no better country you can visit. As for the snow, Helsinki is extraordinary when it is entirely covered in snow, also because you get that light that you wouldn’t get in the very short winter days of great darkness. However, it does not always snow in Helsinki. That is quite random actually. So, I recommend that you visit Helsinki in the winter if you plan to visit Lapland as well. You definitely won’t miss the snow there and if you are lucky you might also see the Northern Lights.
Finally spring. Don’t expect cherry blossoms, finches and a cool denim jacket. Here, spring comes rather late. It might snow in April and even May. So well, choose wise.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN HELSINKI.
One thing you’ll love about Helsinki is that it’s a super organized city, and public transport works great.
Finns like to do everything digital, also for their attention to the environment. They encourage digital, so you don’t print and save the planet!
For example, if you buy a ticket on the bus it costs you more than buying it through the App.
An App that you absolutely need is HSL, where you can buy your tickets.
The HSL system covers four zones: A-B-C-D. The center of Helsinki is located in zone A, while the airport is located in Vantaa, in zone C. To move from the airport to the center and the other way around, you must buy an ABC ticket. And for your trips in central Helsinki, you will need to buy an AB ticket.
You can buy single tickets that last 80 minutes and cost €2.80 for a maximum of two zones (for example AB) or €4.10 for three zones (therefore A-B-C). Or you can buy passes ranging from one day to a maximum of 13.
Your choice depends on how often you are going to use the public transport and where your accommodation is located. If you are staying in the city center, you just need the ticket for the AB zone and buy the BC supplement for the day you have to go to or return from the airport (a new single BC ticket). In that case, you will have two tickets on the App: the AB subscription, and the single BC ticket.
If, on the other hand, you are staying in Vantaa, for example, then you should make the ABC ticket directly.
It sounds complicated but it is much easier than it looks.
On the HSL App you can also enter the point of arrival and destination for calculating the route and the means you have to take (including buses, trams, metro and trains). But honestly I find sometimes the route a bit strange and so I also use Google Maps to see if I can find a better solution.
One last note on public transport. Sometimes buses arrive at the stop a few minutes earlier and don’t wait! Tragedy! So a very useful App that I recommend you download is Nearest Departures, which updates you in real time on the bus timetable.
Ah no sorry, one more thing! Remember to make a signal to the driver when you are at the bus stop, otherwise he will not stop. Super sad.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT IN HELSINKI.
WHAT TO EAT IN HELSINKI.
All right. I will be very honest and straight forward. Finnish food is not that great. Sorry.
But we are traveling to Finland and we want to have a 100% authentic Finnish experience, right? And this means trying also the local food.
Let’s start with the three most typical things of this country: salmon, berries (especially blueberries), and mushrooms.
I don’t know much about salmon because I don’t eat fish. But among the most typical dishes to try in Helsinki there is salmon soup and smoked salmon.
As for mushrooms and berries, there are plenty of them! Finland is all about forest, and many Finns go to collect mushrooms and berries themselves. But please don’t! Both have very poisonous versions!
So you have to try the blueberry juice, the blueberry cake with vanilla, but also simply just the berries.
As for mushrooms, try the mushroom soup, that they also call forest soup.
Another thing to try is the Riisipiirakka (a pie filled with rice) which should be eaten hot, possibly with butter and a mixture of hard-boiled eggs on top. A very famous version of Riisipiirakka is Karjalanpiirakka, which is basically the same thing, but it must strictly follow the original recipe to be called this way, as it is officially recognized as a Traditional Specialty by the European Union. It has this name because it originates from the Karelia region, an area of Finland very close to Russia.
Usually they use rye. You can try the rye bread with salmon.
Then they have meat stews, in their most varied versions. In Finland they also eat reindeer and moose, but they are easier to find in Lapland. However, you might find some in the Kauppahalli and in some typical Helsinki restaurants.
Let’s now move on to desserts. In addition to the blueberry pie, Finns are very proud of their korvapuusti, a kind of cinnamon roll. Donuts are also quite popular in Finland, and they vary according to the city. I’ll tell you more about it in the article on day trips from Helsinki.
Finally, one thing Finns can’t live without is licorice! They also love it in a salted candy version, which is called salmiakki. A little horror story: I also read it in a pizzeria menu (pizza with salmiakki and pineapple). Cold shiver running through my spine.
WHERE TO EAT IN HELSINKI.
Well let’s say Helsinki isn’t that full of traditional restaurants. There are mostly international and fast food restaurants. Besides, dining in Helsinki is quite expensive (not to mention the wine).
But I found a typical restaurant in Kamppi where you eat 100% Finnish. You can order a la carte or choose the buffet option (which is very popular in Finland).
It’s Konstan Möljä, a very nice restaurant furnished in Finnish style.
In general, I recommend eating at the indoor markets of Helsinki. They’re quite cheap and you can eat both Finnish and international cuisine. I have been to Vanha Kauppahalli (the Old Market in Kauppatori) and Hietalahden Kauppahalli (in Kamppi, not too far from Konstan Möljä).
Anyway international cuisine is very popular, especially Nepalese.
A great place that I have tried recently is Hills Dumplings in Kamppi, where you can have different types of Chinese dumplings. Delicious!
And if you are craving for pizza, try Via Tribunali pizzeria. There are a few in town. There is even one on a ship anchored in the West Harbor marina of Helsinki, also in Kamppi near Hietalahden Kauppahalli (only in summer).
Yes, that’s right. Kamppi is full of restaurants!
Finally, I’d like to point out a super nice place to eat blueberry pie. It’s Art Cafe Taideterassi, a café with outdoor seating view of the Töölö lake.
WHAT TO DRINK IN HELSINKI.
Some bad news again. Alcohol is very expensive in Helsinki! First, because Finland is an expensive country itself. Second, because alcoholism is unfortunately a major problem in Finland so the government tries to do something to keep the consumption of alcohol at a lower lever.
So alcohol is expensive and can be sold only in some places and Alko, a shop that is authorized to sell alcohol. This means you can’t buy alcohol at the supermarket, except for the beer under 5 degrees. Also they can sell alcohol only from 9am to 4am.
If you order a glass of wine, you have to choose how many centiliters you want. When they measured my wine for the first time I was in kind of a shock. Like one of the saddest moments ever.
Finns like beer way better than wine. The two national beers are Lapin Kulta and Karhu.
But in my opinion the best thing to drink in Finland is Napue Gin by Kyrö, a rye-based gin with herbal botanicals. If you order gin, make sure you ask for Napue Gin. They will serve it with berries and rosemary.
Another traditional drink is Lonkero, which means long drink, and is a mix of gin and grapefruit sold in cans.
Finally one thing you have to try is salmiakki shot, a shot of salty licorice. They love it!
WHERE TO DRINK IN HELSINKI.
As I mentioned earlier, Löyly is one of my favorite places in Helsinki to get something to drink.
It’s in Eira district, a place full of villas and expensive houses. Yes, a place for rich people. Exactly!
I love Löyly both in summer, when you can enjoy your drink on a sunchair, and winter, when you find a super cozy atmosphere and a cute fireplace.
If you are looking for a more lively area, then go to Kallio, a quite alternative and kind of hipster district full of bars and pubs.
There are also many bars in Kamppi and near the central station. There is one that I really like called Hello Strangers, where they make amazing cocktails.
GUIDE TO SHOPPING IN HELSINKI: WHAT TO BUY ON A TRIP TO FINLAND.
If you want to take home something super local, here’s a small list of some brands which are 100% Finnish
- MARIMEKKO. Clothing and accessories brand with a unique design; very popular in Finland. If you take a good look around, you’ll notice that everyone has a Marimekko bag. It’s definitely a souvenir you want to bring from Finland. But in my opinion it is quite expensive and doesn’t even look that expensive. So I don’t know, if that’s a gift, I would buy it for someone who already knows the brand.
- IITTALA. Amazing glasses that remind of the melting ice of Lapland. I love them. Especially the sparkling wine glasses.
- MOOMIN. Moomins are very famous characters of Finlands. They are funny hippos created by a Swedish speaker Finnish writer. You can find them in many clothing and other random items branded Moomin. It’s a perfect gift for the kids!
- FAZER. Chocolate. Super yummy! You can buy chocolate bars (the original one is the milk chocholate, but there are also other versions like blueberries, raspberries and other flavors) or chocolates. Fazer has also a specific brand named Geisha. I love it, especially the chocolate with caramel and salt.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO FINNISH CULTURE TO AVOID MISUNDERSTANDINGS.
Finnish culture is quite unique in Europe. I want to give you a small introduction to this culture so that you avoid embarrassing misunderstandings.
Finns usually love silence, privacy, and being on their own. Besides, they are very respectful, especially when they are in line.
They don’t love being close to each other. For example, they will keep their distance at the bus stop.
Don’t stand too close to them, don’t be loud, always respect the line and keep your right while walking. These are pretty much the general rules if you don’t want to annoy Finns.
If this sounds a little cold for you, they actually just love their independence and honestly this is something I totally admire. I’m maybe kind of Nordic too in this sense.
If they don’t have anything to say, they just don’t say anything. They don’t need to talk about something to avoid silence. They actually enjoy moments of silence together. And if you think about it, this is quite awesome and relaxing. Like, no panic. You don’t need to talk about the weather just because you can’t bear the silence. Mia Wallace would have loved Finland!
Anyway, I don’t want to make you nervous with this introduction. Enjoy your trip to Finland and have fun! There are lots of things to do and see in Helsinki and in the whole country. Just try to understand their point of view. Don’t take it personal if they don’t talk to you in the elevator. It’s not you, it’s the elevator!
CONCLUSIONS ON THIS ARTICLE ON THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN HELSINKI.
I have realized I added so many points in this article on things to do and see in Helsinki. I could have just listed the most important things to do in Helsinki and that’s it. But since I live in this city I feel a little bit like a local and I think that tips from a local are always the best.
Besides, I really put my heart on this article because as I said Helsinki is my foster mom and I learned to really love her.
As I promised, I will also write an article about some day trips you can take from Helsinki (coming soon). And I will write some more articles about Finland for sure. I still have a lot to explore in this land of lakes and forests.
For now I say a big kiitos for reading and I salute you with a very Finnish moi moi (not too loud though, we don’t want to annoy the Finns).
PS: don’t forget to follow me also on Instagram where you find other photos of Helsinki and my best shots around the world!
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