The Best Things To Do in Helsinki in September
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 one of the best day trips from Helsinki that you can take (if you have time of course). Helsinki is the most northerly capital of continental Europe, and it's also the world's coldest capital so make sure you're fully equipped for the weather if you visit Helsinki in the winter time. 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 great things to do in Helsinki, 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. If you're wondering what to eat in Helsinki, don't worry, there are a lot of amazing restaurants to choose from.
Getting to Helsinki
It will take you about 30 minutes to get from Helsinki-Vantaa airport to the city centre, either by bus or by train. If you're planning on taking the bus, it's usually cheaper to purchase a ticket either at the machine or on the HSL app before getting onboard. The buses and trains run very frequently throughout the day. However, if you're like us and get a very late (early morning?) flight into Helsinki, the only option you're left with is a taxi or Uber, which is extremely expensive, so please avoid this if you can.
Public Transportation in Helsinki
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. This is great if you plan on getting the ferry to Suomenlinna for example. If you plan on staying in the city centre for your stay, most of the main attractions in Helsinki are within walking distance so you may not even need to purchase a transportation card! Google maps is very accurate for bus and tram timetables so as long as you have access to that you'll have no trouble getting around Helsinki.
We planned our trip to Helsinki in September, which turned out to be the best time to visit the city. We had near perfect weather, and the temperature was comfortable to walk around in all day. So, what is Helsinki famous for? And what things can you do in Helsinki? Take a look below to find out!
Things To Do in Helsinki in September
Market 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. Any Helsinki sightseeing tour will bring you to this area. Walking around the market area also kicks off a list of free things to do in Helsinki (unless you start buying things)!
Suomenlinna is an 18th century fortress which 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. We had no idea there was so much to see on Suomenlinna, so we found ourselves running around trying to see everything before it went dark! You can pick up a free map upon arrival in different languages so don't forget to get one.
How to get to Suomenlinna? The Helsinki ferry terminal at market square has loads of different docks with various boat tours to the islands. Check beforehand as to what dock the Suomenlinna ferry is leaving from because it can get a bit confusing. If you've purchased the transportation card then the ticket is included, if not you'll have to purchase a ferry ticket at the machines. This UNESCO world heritage site is a must see in Helsinki. You can get some great views of the city across the water from it as well.
Uspenski 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 in the distance from various parts of the city. We didn't have a chance to go inside it, but it's a lovely piece of architecture in Helsinki to observe from the outside. Another free thing to do in Helsinki!
Old Market Hall is an indoor market that dates back to the late 19th century and is full of merchant stalls. It also sits high on the list of things to see in Helsinki, and is located right next to market square. Whatever traditional snack I'm holding up was bought from the market, and there are lots of other unique food items to be had as well!
Helsinki Cathedral is probably the city's most iconic landmark, so no doubt this is already on your list of what to do in Helsinki. It's free to go inside the cathedral which saves you a bit of money. The cathedral sits in Senate Square which is beautiful to walk around, and is surrounded by lots of shops and restaurants.
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. There's even a Moomin Cafe, which is one of the coolest cafes in Helsinki you will ever come across. It's about a 5 minute walk from market square, but if you're not a coffee drinker I'd recommend trying out their hot chocolate. If you only have one day in Helsinki, please go here, it's very entertaining.
Situated just across the road from market square (and the Moomin Cafe!), Esplanadi Park, or Espa among locals, is a great spot to sit and unwind for a bit. It's the most famous park in Finland and offers a green space in the heart of Helsinki. Even in September, as the weather is turning colder, it's lovely to stroll through.
What's this strange looking structure you ask? It's the Kamppi Chapel of Silence and it's free to enter. Yes - yet another free thing to do in Helsinki! It's supposed to be a place to go and relax in the busiest area of the city. Right next to it you can find the city's major shopping centre (a great place to spend a few hours when it rains in Helsinki). When you enter the chapel, absolutely no noise from outside gets in, which is both calming and eerie. It's definitely one of the more unique things to do in Helsinki, and worth going in even if only for a few minutes. There is also an outdoor food market just outside of the shopping centre with lots of different cuisines to choose from.
Even if you aren't staying at Hotel Torni, 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. If you don't want a drink, there's a small room before you enter the bar where you can look out of. Check the times beforehand, as it's only open to the public during certain hours. This is one of the more secret things to do in Helsinki, and we only found out about it from one of our tour guides.
Happy Guide Helsinki don't take you on an average walking tour. Their Design Tour is a much more offbeat thing to do in Helsinki, but very fun! It 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 is the first tour of its kind that I've been on! Our guide was very informative and you get to walk around a very beautiful part of the city too.
Marimekko Kioski 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! There are a few of them dotted around the city. The ones we came across were inside different shopping centres.
As the name suggests, Helsinki Railway 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. The station itself is also an interesting piece of Helsinki architecture.
Visiting Puu-Kapyla is one of many unique things to do in Helsinki, but is a bit of a trek from the very centre of the city. 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, especially as the leaves are changing colour in September.
Teurastamo 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 warm when it gets cooler. This was actually my favourite part of the city and it wasn't even in the centre. We were given a tour of the complex and came across some amazing spots such as The Natural Drinks Factory (fresh soda production), Pizzala Pizza (a great pizzeria in Helsinki), Kellohalli lunch venue, Helsinki Coffee Roastery complete with its own cafe, and the home of the Helsinki Distilling Company. Not to mention a private Finnish sauna! If you have a few days in Helsinki or have been to Helsinki before and are wondering what to do, go here. It's amazing, and I would go back every time I visited the city.
If you're walking through the Toolo district, you'll probably come across this imposing structure. Helsinki's Parliament House was designed by a Finnish architect, and is yet another impressive piece of architecture in the city. You can book a guided tour if you're interested in seeing the inside.
How many unique buildings does Helsinki have?! A lot. Finlandia Hall has been named as the best venue in the world for events and was designed by the famous Alvar Aalto. It sits a short walk from Parliament House so it's easy to find.
The National Museum of Finland 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.
For a very small fee you can take a look inside Temppeliaukio Rock Church which is built into the surrounding rocks. How unique is that?! The acoustics inside are incredible, and if you're lucky enough you'll be treated to a little performance inside too.
The Sibelius Monument is a very unique thing to see in Helsinki, and one of the most popular attractions in the city. It's located in Sibelius Park in the Toolo region, and was built in recognition of the famous Finnish composer. There's a very unique perspective if you stand directly under the monument.
Where To Eat In Helsinki
A short walk from the Sibelius Monument brings you to Cafe Regatta. In many people's opinions (including locals), it's the best cafe in Helsinki. 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. Be warned. If you're on a tight schedule the queue here can be pretty long, so make sure you have the time to sit and enjoy the cafe and its tranquil surroundings.
Pizza? Of course! Pizzala Pizza uses fresh local ingredients on a 100% wood fire oven. And the dipping sauces are a great addition too. I promise this is the best pizza in Helsinki. We were fortunate enough to stop here during our tour of Teurastamo and design our own pizzas!
Looking for coffee? Head to Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo in Teurastamo. They serve only the best hand selected coffee beans and have their roastery right next door. There are lots of different coffees to choose from as well as fresh sandwiches and snacks. This will be the best coffee you have ever tasted in Helsinki. And yes, the above photo is meant to be out of focus. I loved the rustic coffee house feel of the interior so I had to point out the unique coffee table!
Tenho Restobar is located a short walk from the wooden houses area, and is located in a very hip district too, with lots of coffee shops and places to go out in the evening. The restaurant has 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. Dare I say they have the best burgers in Helsinki? Although we didn't have time during our trip, if you want some Helsinki nightlife, this is probably a good area to be in.
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. We stopped here after our Design Tour as it's in the same area more or less. The prices are pretty reasonable as well which is great if you're visiting Helsinki on a budget!
Now, Finland is famous for its incredible seafood scene. And although I'm not much of a seafood fan, I simply had to see what all of the fuss was about. So what better place to head to than the legendary Merimakasiini Restaurant? All of their fish is fresh and local, and you can definitely taste the freshness in each dish. I don't want to spoil all of your fun, so I'm just going to show you a couple of photos we took from our three course lunch.
There are loads of options on the menu, such as this gorgeous looking king crab. If you don't know how to begin to eat this, don't worry neither do I! The restaurant itself is located along the water with large glass windows and the option to sit outside (although Helsinki in September can be a bit chilly), so it's pretty picture perfect if you ask me. If you aren't into fish, there are some non-seafood options too.
See? This was a delicious (enormous?!) mushroom croquette served with potatoes and kale. There's also a lighter lunch option for everything if you don't want a big meal, which also saves you money! So, if you're wondering where to eat in Helsinki, this is a fantastic option.
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 located in the Kamppi shopping centre, but on the bottom floor in one of the food halls (we got a little lost trying to find it). So much food in Helsinki, so little time!
Gohan Wine Bar is in a great location, sitting directly between Helsinki Cathedral and market square. If you want to treat yourself or are looking for romantic restaurants in Helsinki, I've found what you're looking for. It's a relatively small menu, but everything is served in a tapas style, meaning the dishes are smaller and meant to be shared. Which means of course, that you can order everything on the menu and not feel bad!
The food is all amazing. It's as local as possible, and can be paired with a large number of wines and sake. Everything is freshly prepared and is a great mixture of flavours. It's a very intimate setting, and you can see the chefs preparing your meal for you. It's very easy to see why this is on the list of the best restaurants in Helsinki.
Fisken pa Disken is a modern seafood restaurant located on the top floor of the Kamppi shopping centre, right in the heart of the city. Everything on the menu is very 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. They also have simple fish and chips on the menu for those of us who are less adventurous with our food (guilty).
Where To Stay in Helsinki
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 and find out why it's one of the best places to stay in Helsinki.
Price range: €99 +
Day Trips From Helsinki
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. 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 in Tuusula with lake views, especially if you're with a group, Pescator Villas are the perfect choice (bikes, sauna, and Jacuzzi included). Click here to read more about our stay with them.
Another fantastic option if you find yourself in the Finnish capital for more than a few days is to hop on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn. It takes just over 2 hours to get between the two cities, and there are a few journeys per day to choose from. Tallinn is an incredible city to visit, even if only for a day. We visited Tallinn for 4 days in the summer and loved everything about it. Click here to read about my recommendations.
Fallen in love with the idea of Helsinki and the surrounding area? It's even more magical when you see it in person. Get in touch if you have any questions about Helsinki, and don't forget to follow my travels on Instagram!