The Ultimate Travel Guide to Helsinki, Finland
When visiting Helsinki, the capital of Finland, located on the Gulf of Finland, you’ll have the pleasure of experiencing a major European capital, in fact, the northernmost of the EU states, without any buildings higher than 100m to obstruct your view.
Hurry though, because it won’t last long. From 2020 onwards, the construction of skyscrapers is being allowed. Another reason to visit, if possible, at Easter is to enjoy a typical Finnish Easter tradition: they ‘trick and treat’ at Easter, not Halloween, with little witches going from house to house, blessing the inhabitants with willow branches in bloom in exchange for sweets and coins.
Helsinki was the World Design Capital of 2012, which gives you an idea of what great buildings to expect, apart from the Art Nouveau architecture which dominates the center and gives the city the name of ‘White Pearl of the Baltic Sea.’ Islands and plenty of green areas provide trips and leisure apart from exploring a city which was only founded in 1550 as a trading town by King Gustav I of Sweden, lived through a tumultuous history and was really put on the international map as a venue of the 1952 Olympic Games.
In this Travel Guide to Helsinki Blog, we listed some tips on how you can do your own DIY trip to Helsinki. We also included Helsinki Itinerary, places to stay and eat, Things to do and see, how to get there and more.
Best time to visit
Helsinki has a humid continental climate. Mitigating influences of the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic Current make for less cold winters and warmer summers than in the rest of the country. When visiting, you want to enjoy daylight hours, which are the longest (18 hours) from June to August, so the summer months are your best bet.
How to get there
Helsinki’s international airport is located in Vantaa, approx. 17 km from downtown with daily connections mainly to Europe and Asia.
Frequent buses and taxis will take you into Helsinki. For further travel in Finland and to Estonia there is the Central Train station.
Helsinki features the world’s northernmost metro with extensive routes and bright orange trains. Equally easy to use is the tram system with 13 routes and a commuter rail. In addition, there are buses, two ferries and, if you are so inclined, a public bike system. The Suomenlinna ferry, operating from Market Square, connects 12 islands with Helsinki during the summer months. Some carry cars, others only passengers.
Places to stay
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel, Helsinki
Eurohostel in Linnankatu
On the opposite end of the budget, you will find Eurohostel in Linnankatu 9. The hotel has a special charm because it’s located on Helsinki’s Katajanokka island but only a 5 min tram ride from the city center. Modern and very clean, rooms are simple and you have to share a bathroom and, if so desired, kitchen. On the other hand, included in the price is a free morning sauna! Linen and towels are of course provided and you can have breakfast outside.
Hotel Finn in Kalevankatu
If you’d rather be in the city center and have a middle budget, you may consider the 2star Hotel Finn in Kalevankatu 3B. Located near the Central Train station and opposite Stockmann Department Store, the hotel is great for city trips and museums. Modern double rooms, decorated with the works of local artists, have en suite bathrooms with shower.
Best places to eat
Two things first: the Finns are the world’s greatest coffee drinkers and they like beer and hard liquor too. Secondly, be prepared for a combination of foods and flavors you might never dream of, like minced meat with herring and plenty of garlic. It’s not really surprising to find these combinations in a country where hardly anything grows. So, have an open mind and a strong stomach and throw yourselves into a food adventure. Never fear, there are pizzas and burgers to fall back for the less adventurous travelers.
Helsinki’s classic is the restaurant Savoy in Etelaesplanadi 14, in operation for 80 years but with a fresh, modernistic design.
What you want to sample here is Vorschcmack, a dish of minced meat, herring, baked potato, sour cream, and pickles. Enjoy the food and the view,
More food adventure awaits at Gron restaurant in Albertsgatan 36. Think barley pate brisee filled with dry-aged beef or smoked pike roe with vegetables. And of course, the best coffee.
Coming back to the aforementioned burgers: Naughty BRGR in Lonnrotinkatu 13 is the place for you. Cool and funky with a selection of hot sauces, here you get the best quality burgers in Helsinki.
A market is always a good place to eat, so make your way to Hakaniemi Market, Helsinki’s most upmarket marketplace and among stalls of exquisite fish and meat find Lentava Lehma, a cheese shop with the best Finland has to offer.
Things to do and see
Remember, Helsinki isn’t very old and really took shape under Russian rule when the city was laid out along the lines of St. Petersburg. Just before that, the Finns began the construction of the impressive Suomenlinna sea fortress, spread out over 7 islands. Intended to keep the Russian out, it obviously didn’t work, but it’s one of Helsinki’s greatest attractions to visit. Take the ferry from Kauppatori and explore.
The 19th-century white neoclassical cathedral with its green dome, illuminated at night is another must-see, as is the Market Square.
If you want to see a unique church, make your way to the Temppeliaukion Church. The church is partly underground and crowned by a circular skylight. It’s of modern design and every single item has been created by the architects.
Enjoy a beautiful open green space by walking along the Esplanadi. Just below it, you find the Design district, which gives you an idea of why Helsinki was the World’s Design Capital in 2012.
Lovers of history will make their way to yet another island: Seurasarri. The entire island is an open-air museum that showcases historical old wooden buildings and how people lived in the olden days. In the summer, guides in traditional costume will make matters come alive even more.
Pay a visit to the above-mentioned market and another one to the Old Market Hall, visit the tram museum and take a ride on a vintage tram.
Great fun in summer are the numerous crayfish parties that take place in restaurants and parks. It’s the season and everybody goes for picnics and will be happy to explain to you how it’s eaten properly and chased down with a generous helping of Aquavit.
Of course, you can’t visit Helsinki without a session in a sauna. There are several public ones, the new Loly or in Kotiharjun Sauna Oy. Remember sauna etiquette: men and women ‘saun’ separately, towels are allowed but naked is better and, if you have to talk, keep your voice down.
Language, currency, etc
Most Finns are bilingual in Finnish and Swedish, but luckily for visitors, just about everybody speaks English. Currency is the EURO. Have cash handy for fares and smaller purchases, otherwise, major credit cards are accepted.
WiFi throughout the city is rather chancy but available in all hotels and many restaurants.
Best places to shop
There are plenty of opportunities to shop in Helsinki and one mall which combines easy access via railbus and metro with contemporary design and six floors of shopping is Kamppi Center in Kamppi.
Helsinki’s oldest and most prestigious department store is Stockmann in Aleksanterinkatu 52, opened in 1930 in Nordic Art Deco style.
With 150 stores, restaurants and cafes it’s today much more than a department store, it’s a shopping experience with history.
If you don’t mind to spend some money on designer clothes in beautiful surroundings, you might want to have a stroll around Galleria Esplanade.
On your visit to Helsinki, you’ll spend a lot of time on or near the water, so choose the right time of year (the Baltic Sea freezes over in winter) and enjoy a city you might not have thought of as a destination before.
Helsinki Travel and Tour Packages
3D2N Finland And Estonia Layover Tour
Visit two countries at once during your layover in Helsinki. A ferry ride from Helsinki, Estonia was once part of the Soviet Union and is filled with castles, hilltop fortresses, and churches. Get to see Helsinki’s best highlights and have some free time around Estonia with this 3 days 2-night tour.
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