• Krista the Explorer

Fall In Love With Helsinki

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Having visited other Nordic countries in the past, I was very keen to add Finland to my list, so what better way to start than with the capital, Helsinki. Fun fact: Turku was the capital of Finland before Helsinki, while it was still part of Sweden, and I hear it's a beautiful alternative to Helsinki if you have time to head over there. Helsinki is the most northerly capital of continental Europe, and is the world's coldest capital so make sure you're fully equipped for the weather if you visit in the winter time. I read that the city heats the sidewalks from underground so there's no snow or ice to deal with while you're walking, something I think places in Canada should invest in! Don't worry about buying bottles of water while you're there, because Helsinki's quality of water is so high it's exported to other countries. Despite it being one of the smallest European capitals, it has a lot to offer in terms of cultural experiences. There are some beautiful sites to see, and a lot of places are easily within walking distance of one another. A few bloggers had mentioned that visiting the Finnish capital isn't about having lots of things to do, it's about become immersed in the culture, and most importantly it's about the food. And they definitely weren't wrong about the food! A large majority of my "things to do" list in the city involves food.

Helsinki can be quite pricey compared to other European capital cities, but the same can be said about all of the Nordic countries. We found a great place to stay in the Haaga region of Helsinki, which was a short train ride to the very centre, and definitely worth it in my opinion. Hiisi Homes Haaga offer short term serviced apartments, right next to a train station and close to the airport. Apartments are a good way to save money since you can use use the kitchen to make some of your meals! Read about my stay in Haaga here. There is a direct train service from the airport to the centre which runs very frequently. I'd recommend downloading the HSL app and buying a multi-day transportation card which gives you access to all public transportation, including the ferries.

Finland is famous for its nature, and is Europe's most forested country. It's a dream destination for people who love being outdoors. Lakes that are used for swimming in the summer, can be used for skating in the winter, such is the dramatic contrast between the seasons. We had planned to stay in Helsinki and the surrounding area, so couldn't venture as far north as we would have liked. But we managed to spend a couple of days at Lake Tuusula which was stunning and only 30 minutes by train from Helsinki. We stayed at Pescator Villas, which is located directly on the lake and offers free bike rentals too! We took full advantage of this and cycled our way around the lake, stopping at various museums and viewpoints along the way. The villas are great if you're travelling with a large group or your family, especially because they come with a sauna and Jacuzzi! Read about my stay at one of the villas here.

Excited? You should be. Here are my recommendations for things to do and places to eat (there are a lot) in Helsinki:

Market Square
The square hosts the most famous market in Finland, and is a major pull for tourists. It has been the centre of trade for hundreds of years, and now not only boasts the market, but is also home to the skywheel among other more modern points of interest.
This 18th century fortress was constructed while Finland was still a part of Sweden, and is one of a kind. Once on the island, it's free to walk around. If you want to enter any of the museums dotted around the island there's a small fee though. Give yourself at least half a day to explore the area!

This world heritage site is a must visit if you're in the city. It's a short ferry ride away from market square, and the ferry is included in the transportation card.
Uspenski Cathedral
This cathedral is a short walk from market square and can be seen sitting atop a hill. It's the largest orthodox church in western Europe, but if you don't fancy an uphill climb, you can get some photos of it from various parts of the city.
Old Market Hall
This indoor market dates back to the late 19th century and is full of merchant stalls and places to eat or get a quick drink.
This restaurant is in a great location, sitting directly between Helsinki Cathedral and market square.

The food is amazing, and can be paired with a large number of wines and sake. It's all freshly prepared and is a great mixture of flavours. They're served in small portions (like tapas) so you can order lots of different things!
Helsinki Cathedral & Senate Square
This is probably Helsinki's most iconic landmark, so no doubt this is already on your list. It's free to go inside the cathedral which saves you a bit of money! The square it sits in is beautiful too, and is surrounded by lots of shops and restaurants.
Warm Yourself at the Moomin Cafe
I honestly had no idea what Moomins were before coming here. They rose to fame during the second world war when a famous Finnish writer created comic strips of them for the paper to bring joy back to people during a time of hardship. Today, they're all over the city, in almost every souvenir shop. They even have their own cafe!
Walk Through Esplanadi
Situated just across the road from market square, this urban space is a great spot for tourists and locals alike to sit and unwind in.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
What's this strange looking structure you ask? It's actually a chapel and is free to enter. It's supposed to be a place to go and relax in the busiest area of the city. When you enter, absolutely no noise from outside gets in, which is both calming and eerie.
Hotel Torni Viewpoint
Even if you aren't staying at this hotel, you can still benefit from the views. There's a rooftop bar that's accessible to the public with panoramic views of the city below. Even if you don't want a drink, there's a small room before you enter the bar where you can look out!
This modern seafood restaurant is located on the top floor of the Kamppi shopping centre, right in the heart of the city. Everything on the menu is fresh, and they also have a seafood bar. If you're looking for somewhere to sample the Finnish seafood industry, this is a great option!
Go on a Design Tour with Happy Guide Helsinki
This isn't your average walking tour. This one takes place in the design district, and you get to visit a variety of different stores and meet the designers themselves. It's a very unique way of exploring the history of Finnish design and was the first of its kind that I've been on! I'd definitely recommend doing this, the guide is very informative and you get to walk around a very beautiful part of the city too.
Get Your Noodles on With Fat Ramen
What better way to fuel up after a walking tour than with freshly prepared ramen? Fat Ramen is located in the Hietalahti Market Hall, and is a very cozy and casual place to relax. The ramen is to die for as well.
Shop at Marimekko Kioski
This is one of the most iconic designer brands to come out of Finland, so even if you're just window shopping, pop in to one of their stores!
Get Your (Vegan) Burger Fix With Bun2Bun
This was my first time trying a vegan burger so I didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised! Bun2Bun make extremely tasty vegan burgers, and I'd be more than happy to go back again. They're also located in the Kamppi shopping centre, but on the bottom floor in one of the food halls.
Helsinki Railway Square
As the name suggests, this square is located right next to the main railway station. It's a beautiful area, and in the winter there's a skating rink in the middle of it.
Walk Around Puu-Kapyla (Wooden House Neighbourhood)
This area is a bit of a trek from the very centre of the city, but you can hop on a tram or bus to it which will make your journey a lot shorter. The neighbourhood is famous for its colourful wooden houses, and is a great spot to get some photos too.
End Your Day at Tenho Restobar
This restaurant is located a short walk from the wooden houses, and is located in a very hip area too, with lots of coffee shops and places to go out in the evening. They have live music every night, and the food is great too! I'd personally recommended either the pizza or burger, with one of their seasonal cocktails.
This is a very unique "hipster" area, and a food lovers paradise. The yard is bursting with activities during the summer months, and is a great place to keep warming when it gets cooler.

Looking for coffee? Head to Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo. There's a soda factory on site too and their soda is sold in the area. It's made with fresh ingredients as well! If you're looking for a bite to eat for lunch, Kellohalli serves a buffet style menu with some delicious dishes to choose from.

Pizza? Of course! Pizzala Pizza uses fresh local ingredients on a 100% wood fire oven. And the dipping sauces are a great addition too. If you're a gin lover, the award winning Helsinki Distilling Company is on site, and you can visit the bar to sample some of their gin and other spirits that they make! You should definitely check out the site's sauna. It's private and you need to book in advance. No trip to Finland is complete without at least one sauna trip!
Parliament House
If you're walking through the Toolo district, you'll probably come across this imposing structure, which is the parliament building.
Finlandia Hall
This venue has been named as the best in the world for events and was designed by the famous Alvar Aalto. It sits a short walk from the parliament building so is easy to find.
The National Museum of Finland
The museum is quite expensive to get into, but if you have time it's probably worth a visit. We just went to look at the building itself and snap a quick photo.
Temppeliaukio Rock Church
For a very small fee you can take a look inside this unique church which is built into the surrounding rocks. The acoustics inside are incredible, and if you're lucky enough you'll be treated to a little performance inside too.
Eat at the Legendary Merimakasiini Restaurant
All of their fish is fresh and local, and you can definitely taste that in each dish.

There are loads of options on the menu, such as this gorgeous looking king crab. If you aren't into fish, there are some non-seafood options too.

See? This was a delicious mushroom croquette served with potatoes and kale. There's also a lighter lunch option if you don't want a big meal, which also saves you money!
Sibelius Monument
This is a unique monument and one of the most popular attractions in the city. It's located in the Sibelius Park in the Toolo region, and was built in recognition of the famous Finnish composer.
Cafe Regatta
A short walk from the Sibelius Monument brings you to this famous cafe. It serves delicious cinnamon buns and blueberry pie, and is a great place to stop for a warm drink when the weather gets colder. There's a fire pit outside for you to sit around too.
Just north of the city lies Lake Tuusula, which is a great area to escape the city to. There are lots of activities on the lake, as well as extensive cycling paths. There are also a number of museums dedicated to famous Finnish artists.

*** If you're looking for somewhere to stay, especially if you're with a group, Pescator Villas are the perfect choice ***

Fallen in love with the idea of Helsinki and the surrounding area? It's even more magical when you see it in person, so get booking!


My name is Krista, and like many people I love to travel! I think it's important that people share their travel experiences, so I hope that mine help you in some way in your own travels, or inspire you to travel more! 

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© 2018 by Krista the Explorer