Uncovering the Must-See Places to Visit in the Finnish Capital
Nestled on the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland along the shores of the Baltic Sea, the charming city of Helsinki, the capital of Finland offers a perfect blend of rich history, modern architecture, picturesque waterfronts, and a distinct Nordic culture.
From world-class museums to majestic cathedrals, bustling marketplaces, and saunas, Helsinki has something to offer for everyone.
So, let’s uncover the best 15 places to see and things to do in Helsinki.
Top Things to See and Do in Helsinki
Explore the unique architecture of Helsinki
Helsinki is a city known for its distinctive architecture, which seamlessly blends modern and historic styles. Take a stroll through the city and marvel at the unique buildings that define Helsinki’s skyline. Admire the iconic Helsinki Cathedral, with its neoclassical design and towering white columns, or visit the Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Rock Church, which is carved into solid rock and features a stunning copper dome.
Explore the functionalist architecture of the Helsinki Central Railway Station, designed by renowned Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, or visit the contemporary buildings of the Kamppi district, known for their innovative designs. Helsinki’s architecture is a testament to the city’s rich history, creativity, and modernity.
Explore the Fortress Island of Suomenlinna
The UNESCO-listed Fortress Island Suomenlinna is a must-visit place in Helsinki. A 20-minute ferry ride will take you to the unique sea fortress that spans across six interconnected islands just off the coast of Helsinki. Suomenlinna, built in the 18th century was originally known as ‘Sveaborg’ meaning ‘Swedish Castle’. It is a true masterpiece of military architecture, with its imposing walls, bastions, tunnels, and cannons. Take a ferry ride from Kauppatori to the island and you will not be disappointed.
While you are there, immerse yourself in the picturesque landscapes, visit the museums, stroll along the fortifications, and enjoy a picnic in the scenic parks. If you are an outdoor enthusiast you can enjoy hiking, kayaking, and swimming here.
Immerse in Finnish Traditional Culture at Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
A few kilometers away from the city center, you will arrive at Seurasaari, a picturesque island, where you will get a glimpse into Finland’s rich cultural heritage. Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, established in 1909 showcases traditional Finnish architecture with over 100 buildings imported from different regions of Finland, including farmhouses, manors, and churches. Explore the perfectly-preserved buildings and learn about the traditional Finnish way of life, customs, and traditions.
You will come across some very old log buildings belonging to the end of the 17th century. Don’t forget to take a leisurely stroll along the nature trails and to grab a bite and a cup of coffee from Antin Kaffeliiteri too.
Wander around the Market Square
Located at the heart of Helsinki, Kauppatori, or the Market Square, is a bustling marketplace to shop for fresh produce, seafood, flowers, souvenirs, and local specialties. Explore the colorful stalls selling Finnish berries, mushrooms, fish, and handicrafts. Indulge in some traditional Finnish street food like grilled salmon, reindeer sausage, or Lihapiirakka meat pastries.
Don’t forget to try hot chocolate, some authentic Finnish sweets like salmiakki (salty licorice) or runebergin torttu (a traditional Finnish cake). The Market Square is not just a place for shopping, it is a great spot for people-watching too.
Learn about Finnish History at the National Museum of Finland
Delve into the rich history and culture of Finland at Kansallismuseo or popularly known as the National Museum of Finland, which showcases the country’s history from prehistoric times to the present day. Built in 1912, the museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts, including ancient artifacts, medieval treasures, and modern exhibits, that highlight Finland’s heritage, traditions, and achievements.
Marvel at the intricate craftsmanship of Finnish silver, textiles, and jewelry, or immerse yourself in the interactive displays that bring Finland’s history to life. Don’t forget to check out the magnificent frescoes inspired by Kalevala on the ceiling as you enter the entrance hall. The National Museum of Finland is a treasure trove of knowledge, offering insights into the country’s past, present, and future.
Indulge in Finnish Sauna Culture at Löyly
Experiencing a traditional Finnish sauna is a must when in Helsinki. Löyly, located on the waterfront in the trendy district of Hernesaari, offers a contemporary twist to the Finnish sauna experience. Designed by renowned Finnish architects, Löyly boasts a stunning waterfront location and features modern sauna facilities with panoramic views of the Baltic Sea. After a rejuvenating sauna session, take a dip in the sea or relax on the terrace with a refreshing drink, and embrace the true essence of Finnish sauna culture.
Discover Modern Art at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
If you are an art enthusiast, a visit to Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is a must. Located in the heart of Helsinki, Kiasma is a premier museum in Finland designed by Steven Holl, showcasing over 8500 pieces of modern and contemporary art from Finland and around the world.
Explore the diverse range of art, including paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, and performances. Kiasma also hosts temporary exhibitions, artist talks, and workshops. You can take a guided tour to get the overall museum experience.
Enjoy the beauty of Helsinki’s Parks and Gardens
Helsinki is a city that takes pride in its green spaces, offering plenty of opportunities to enjoy the serenity of nature. Take a leisurely stroll in the lush Helsinki Central Park, which spans over 10 kilometers and offers a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Explore the beautiful Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden, which houses a diverse collection of plants from different parts of the world, including a tropical greenhouse and a rock garden.
Visit the tranquil Töölö Bay and enjoy the stunning waterfront views, or relax in the picturesque Esplanade Park, a popular spot for picnics, musical performances, and local events.
Marvel at Modern Architecture in Design District Helsinki
Helsinki boasts a vibrant Design District, near Esplanadi, which is a haven for design enthusiasts. You will come across more than 200 designed shops and galleries here. Take a stroll around the district and marvel at the modern architecture, trendy boutiques, and chic cafes.
Visit the iconic Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Rock Church, which is carved out of solid rock and features a unique circular design. Don’t miss the opportunity to take home some authentic Finnish design items from the local boutiques, such as Marimekko textiles, Iittala glassware, or Artek furniture, as a perfect souvenir to remind you of your Helsinki adventure.
Experience Finnish Design at its finest in the Design Museum
Immerse yourself in the world of Finnish design at the Design Museum during your visit to Helsinki. Opened in 1873, the museum is dedicated to showcasing the best of Finnish design, past and present.
The museum features a vast collection of design objects, over 75,000 from furniture and textiles to ceramics, glassware, drawings and photographs highlighting the unique Finnish approach to functional and minimalist design. The Design Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, workshops, and events, providing a dynamic platform for contemporary design and innovation.
Have fun at Linnanmäki Amusement Park
You just cannot miss this amusement park if you are traveling with kids by any chance. Located to the east of Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium, Linnanmäki Amusement Park offers something for everyone who visits. You will get all kinds of rides and attractions in this park from adrenaline pumping roller coasters to a kid’s carousel, a haunted hotel, a Ferris wheel, 53-meter observation tower and the 75-meter free fall tower. You will be guaranteed of an enjoyable day at Linnanmäki Amusement Park without a doubt.
Explore the magnificent underwater world at SEA LIFE Helsinki
Dive into the depths of the Baltic Sea at SEA LIFE Helsinki, an exciting underwater world located in the Linnanmäki Amusement Park. Explore the fascinating marine life of the Baltic Sea, including colorful fish, mesmerizing jellyfish, and majestic seahorses. Walk through the underwater tunnel and experience the thrill of being surrounded by sharks and rays. Learn about marine conservation efforts and the delicate ecosystems of the Baltic Sea through interactive exhibits and educational programs. SEA LIFE Helsinki is not just a fun-filled adventure for kids, but also a fascinating experience for adults who are interested about the wonders of the ocean.
Experience the Ateneum Art Museum
Ateneum, nestled in the heart of Helsinki, stands as a cultural gem and a testament to the city’s rich artistic heritage. As the premier art museum in Finland, Ateneum showcases an extensive collection of Finnish and international masterpieces from the 18th century to the modern era. Visitors are captivated by the diverse array of paintings, sculptures, and drawings that offer a profound insight into the evolution of art over the years.
One of the primary draws of Ateneum is its emphasis on Finnish art, featuring iconic works by renowned artists such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Eero Järnefelt. The museum serves as a visual narrative of Finland’s cultural history, providing a unique lens through which visitors can understand the nation’s artistic identity. The beautifully curated exhibitions not only celebrate the classics but also introduce contemporary and thought-provoking pieces, ensuring a dynamic and engaging experience for art enthusiasts of all tastes.
Beyond its impressive collection, Ateneum’s architectural splendor adds to the overall allure. The building itself is a work of art, seamlessly blending historic elegance with modern design. Visitors find themselves immersed in a harmonious environment that enhances the appreciation of the masterpieces on display.
Visit Korkeasaari Zoo
This is yet another popular attraction that is unmissable on your visit to Helsinki. The zoo, being one of the oldest zoos in the world, was founded in 1880. It is located on an island and features 150 animal species, including the snow leopard and the Siberian Tiger.
It is also home to more than 1000 varieties of plants. It is truly a must to visit Korkeasaari Zoo if you are interested in learning about the species in the animal and the plant world.
Admire the Helsinki Central Library Oodi
A visit to Helsinki Central Library Oodi is a must for architecture and design enthusiasts. This stunning modern library, located in the city center, is a perfect blend of Finnish design and functionality. Designed by the award-winning Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects, Oodi features an innovative and sustainable design with its striking wooden façade, open-plan spaces, and panoramic views of the city.
Explore the vast collection of books, magazines, and multimedia, or relax in the cozy reading nooks. Oodi also hosts various events, workshops, and exhibitions, making it a vibrant hub of knowledge, creativity, and community.
And as you can tell from these aerial images, it is a great place for a walk, even if you don’t go into the library itself.
Experience the Northern Lights at Helsinki Observatory
If you’re lucky enough to visit Helsinki during the winter months, a visit to Helsinki Observatory might offer you a chance to witness the breathtaking beauty of the Northern Lights. Located on a hill overlooking the city, Helsinki Observatory is a perfect spot for stargazing and aurora hunting. Learn about astronomy, celestial objects, and the history of Helsinki Observatory through its exhibitions and guided tours. If you’re fortunate, you may catch a glimpse of the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, a natural phenomenon that paints the night sky with vibrant colors, creating a magical and unforgettable experience.
Plenty to See and Do in Helsinki
Helsinki is a city that you will never forget. From its iconic landmarks to its vibrant art and design scene, Helsinki will not disappoint you. Whether you’re exploring the historic sites, indulging in Finnish design, relaxing in a sauna, or enjoying the serenity of parks and gardens, Helsinki offers a friendly and welcoming atmosphere that will leave you with lasting memories.
So put on your warmest coat, and get ready to embark on a Helsinki adventure that will captivate your senses and ignite your wanderlust.
Where to Stay in Helsinki?
If you are arriving or departing by rail, then I recommend staying right near the train station. And even if you are not, then this list of hotels near the train station in Helsinki are still 7 really good hotel options that are centrally located.
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