Historically, Helsinki was in a constant tug of war between Sweden and Russia until Finland gained its independence in 1917. Then the tug of war began with the ideological civil war pulling from the communism/socialism divide of WWII and the Finnish people. Aside from creating incredibly resistant people (if that wasn’t already inherent), the remnants of Russian rule left the city with beautiful architectural buildings, like the Helsinki Cathedral, which visibly stands out on city skyline with its green onion dome and white washed walls. One of the Helsinki’s most famous attractions, the Sveaborg Fortress, is one of the remaining Swedish legacies that escaped the bombings during WWII. The fort, constructed in 1748, consists of six sea facing islands that served to protect the city from naval attacks, although it was eventually taken by the Russians. It now serves as a popular tourist designation and a favourite park for picnicking.
Places to Visit in Helsinki
- Kiasma Muesum of Contemporary Art
- Findlandia Hall
- Sinisen Huvilan
- Kamppi Chapel (Chapel of silence)
- Church in the Rock
- Helsinki Cathedral
- Uspenski Cathedral
- Design District
Unique Things to See and Do in Helsinki
- Cruise by boat to the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress
- Indulge in some Finnish salty black liquorice at the Salmiakki
- Dine with Dinner in The Sky Suomi (suspended from a crane!)
- Admire the view from the Olympic Stadium
- Eat some amazing Finnish food at the Old Market
- Drink coffee, more coffee, and even more coffee!
- Check out the hipster bars in the Kallio district
- And of course, order a beer on the tram
Design, Quality, and Eco-friendly
Finnish lifestyle is something to be admired and truly experienced, and that includes Finnish design. Having such beautiful scenery with striking colours of green forests, bright red linden berries, pure white snow, and deep blue oceans, it’s no wonder designers like K2S Architects produce such interesting buildings like Kamppi Chapel or Rock Church. Walk through the design district which has many of Helsinki’s most notable and artistically creative buildings.
Quality is another aspect that the Finnish take pride in, and thankfully so. In particular, you’ll experience this quality in the foods. Finland’s reputation for its culinary scene has been evolving and climbing the world’s food ladder in recent years. With world trends moving away from pretentious fine dining and more towards quality local ingredients, Finnish cuisine hasn’t had to adapt that much. They were already doing it! Ingredients like fresh salmon, locally picked chanterelle mushrooms, smoked reindeer meats, and fresh berries like lingonberries, raspberries, and cloudberries. Try a savoury Karelian pastry with dinner, or try a Pulla, which is a sweet bread with cardamom, with your coffee. Salmon soup, cabbage rolls, and cured meats are fantastic. For a smorgasbord of foods, head down to the Helsinki Market for a filling afternoon.
All the nature, quality of foods, and inspiring designers are evident in their eco-friendly approach and lifestyle. The downtown core is walkable and bicycle friendly, and many of the clothing designers incorporate respectful practices and natural elements, like using recycled textiles, into their creations. Helsinki is the perfect cross section of progression, trend, and simplicity and beauty – wrapped up in a stylish package.
Getting Around Helsinki
Helsinki has a great public transportation system. Pick up a Helsinki Card for unlimited usage on public buses, trams, subways, and ferries. They even offer 2 free sightseeing tours (at the time of publishing, double check to see what’s included), a free Airport Transfer, and free entry to major museums and sights. You can purchase 1, 2, or 3 day pass priced at 44€, 54€, and 64€ respectively.
Helsinki is truly a walking city and travelling by car in the city can be a pain with parking. Plus, this is bicycle happy city with tons of bike lanes. If you’re walking be sure to double check for bikes as well as cars. Rent a bike for the day, but if you notice you are the only one on the street biking, that means it is a pedestrian street only!
Best Time of Year to Travel to Helsinki
Summer of course! The season is short so be sure to get there in its prime, however that comes with all the other tourists too.
Did you know…?
Helsinki was founded by a Swedish King and was formally called Helsingfors (Swedish), and although they speak Finnish, Swedish is the official language.
Did you ALSO know…?
Helsinki is known for producing world class operas, ballets, and even composers. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius Monument is tribute to Finland’s most famous composer.
The winter season is fairly long, lasting from the end of October to March, and temperatures can reach a low of -5C, but with the windchill, it feels like -20C. Helsinki is one of the coldest cities particularly during the dead of winter when the city receives no sunlight for about 50 days. If you plan to visit during the winter, layering up your clothing is key to staying warm. Feather down jackets are great for the weather here and bring a hat and gloves. Christmas time in Helsinki is beautiful with all the shop lights lit along Aleksanterinkatu street (late November). Stop in at the St. Thomas Christmas Market in Senate Square or watch the Lucia parade, and if you’ve brought children be sure to check out the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum for a glimpse into a fairy tale world.
Ready to plan your visit to Helsinki? Check out these popular guides and trips.