What to see in Finland
Tourist attractions Helsinki
The capital of Finland, Helsinki is a coastal city on the shores of the Gulf of Finland and an important centre of Finnish culture, politics and education. Helsinki stands out for its seamless fusion of both the urban city and natural environment and a trip to Helsinki is sure to be an unforgettable experience as the city consistently ranks as one of the best places in the world to live.
Helsinki fuses Nordic, European and Finnish culture to create a city and society based on the principles of equality, trust and hospitality. One of the safest places in the world, if you visit Helsinki you’ll fall for the calm way of life and innate friendliness of the locals. Plus, Finns are very welcoming to visitors and almost everyone has a solid grasp of English.
An all-around wonderful place to visit, Helsinki is a capital that prides itself on its year-round calendar of free cultural events, immaculate public spaces, environmental sustainability and a thriving gastronomic scene, not to mention its cafe culture, with the people of Helsinki consuming more coffee than anyone else on the planet!
The city is surrounded by the Helsinki Archipelago, with more than 300 mesmerising islands that can be reached easily by a well-connected ferry system. In fact, Helsinki boasts one of the worlds most efficient public transport systems, with trams, buses and a metro line as well as heaps of public city bikes. If you’d rather keep two feet on the ground, the city centre is small enough to walk from one side to the other in around 40 minutes, making a city-break to Helsinki a perfect choice for a weekend of sightseeing.
There are countless things to see and do in Helsinki, but much of the enjoyment of visiting Helsinki is simply wandering its tree-lined streets and immersing yourself in the unique local culture. Strolling or biking along the coastline is a sure-fire way to get to know the sights and soak up the fusion of city life and the natural environment that Helsinki offers. Along the coastal paths, you’ll find all the best-known monuments such as the City Hall, the striking Finlandia Concert Hall and the Sibelius Monument, in honour of the Finnish composer.
Due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, Helsinki experiences cold winters, which are almost always laden with crisp white snow. If you don’t mind wrapping up warm, the best time to visit Helsinki is during the winter and especially around the Christmas holidays as the city organises many fairs, concerts and Christmas markets, as well as the amazing Lux Helsinki event, an annual light show that takes place in January. On the other hand, if you visit Helsinki in the summer you can enjoy long, balmy evenings spent exploring lively outdoor bars and soaking up the young, trendy atmosphere of Helsinki’s most cutting-edge neighbourhoods.
If you choose a holiday to Helsinki you’ll find that it’s a great jumping-off point for adventures into the great Finnish wilderness. In fact, there are six national parks within 2-hours of the capital, not to mention the beautiful Helsinki Archipelago.
What to see in Helsinki
For a city of its modest size, there are many things to see in Helsinki, from the historic streets of the old town, known as Vanhakaupunk, to the awe-inspiring modern architecture that this city is famous for. Perhaps the best-known sight is Helsinki Cathedral, which sits in Senate Square, a good starting point for any tour of Helsinki. The entire square was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in the early 19th-century and is a great example of Neoclassical architecture. As well as the collonaded Helsinki Cathedral, the square is home to the Government Palace, the National Library of Finland and the main campus of the University of Helsinki.
Just south of Senate Square is Market Square, situated next to the harbour. The daily market is popular with tourists and locals alike and is open all year round, with heated coffee tents during the winter. Here you’ll find traditional foods, handicrafts, sweets and souvenirs and it is a must-visit during a tour of Helsinki. The market is open every day so it’s the perfect place to pick up a mid-afternoon snack or to stock up on local produce.
A trip to Helsinki would be incomplete without visiting Uspenski Cathedral, an impressive building, constructed in 1868 and one of the clearest examples of the Russian influence on Helsinki’s heritage. This Orthodox Church is the largest of its kind in Europe and its red brick facade is adorned with beautiful green and gold domes.
A more contemporary sight and a great place to visit if you are looking for things to do in Helsinki, the Oodi Central Library is a testament to the city’s forward-thinking attitude. This awesome complex is open to the public and includes a range of free facilities, from book and magazine borrowing to concerts, study rooms, comfy sofas for chatting with friends and a restaurant, all set within immaculate modern surroundings. Inaugurated in 2018 you could easily spend an entire day exploring the spectacular music, literary and arts facilities within this innovative library.
Design runs through the veins of the people of Helsinki and the famous Temppeliankio Church is a fine example of this. Built in the 1960s this groundbreaking place of worship was quarried out of the natural bedrock and is crowned by a huge copper dome. Inside the walls remain bare with rugged bedrock and the acoustics are simply spectacular. Like all churches in Helsinki, Temppeliankio is free to visit.
Finally, you cannot travel to Helsinki without experiencing a real Finnish sauna. There are more than 3 million saunas in Finland and Helsinki has its fair share, with several public saunas keeping the Finnish tradition alive. In Finland, saunas are seen as a social space and many are open late into the evening where friends get together to warm up, away from the freezing winter conditions outside. Forget the traditional wooden box, as saunas come in all shapes and sizes in Helsinki with some of the more modern saunas coming complete with restaurants, bars and even nightclubs! Whether you choose the hippest sauna in town or something a little more traditional, a session in a public sauna is an unmissable experience if you travel to Helsinki.