I’m a big fan of all things Finnish and its pretty capital, Helsinki, is a destination I consider to be underrated and under-visited – in other words, book your Helsinki holiday now! It’s a great city to explore in either summer or winter, and I say that as someone who spent time there during the coldest part of the year and still found it a heap of fun. Here are some of Helsinki’s main attractions to help convince you further.
Museums in Helsinki
The Helsinki City Museum is a good way to understand the various iterations of Helsinki, under the influence of the Swedes, the Russians and as independent Finland. As well as being interesting, it’s free to enter so it’s a great way to get an introduction to Helsinki’s history.
To understand Finland beyond just Helsinki, then the National Museum of Finland (or Kansallismuseo) is also worth a visit. It has been renovated recently and its exhibitions reach back to prehistoric history from the area, through the Middle Ages and to the present. It’s housed in a lovely old building, too, with a tower you can spot easily from a distance.
For art lovers, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is a great place to see. The main exhibits show contemporary artworks from Finnish artists as well as artists from Finland’s neighbours and the modern building which houses it is also worth seeing.
Churches in Helsinki
As Marcus summed up in his post on Helsinki, there are several particularly beautiful churches in Helsinki. The first, and arguably the most famous, is the Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square. It is free to enter although you don’t need to go in to enjoy it, as just the impressive architecture in its imposing position on the square is marvel enough.
The Church in the Rock (or Temppeliaukion kirkko) is particularly unique because it was actually dug out of solid rock, and covered with a copper roof. Because it has great acoustics it’s often a venue for concerts, not just church services. You can look around for free but trying to time your visit to hear a concert would be ideal.
There is also the nineteenth century Uspenski Cathedral which emphasises the close relationship and intermingled history of Finland and Russia. It’s the largest Orthodox church in western Europe (assuming western Europe is anything west of the old Cold War border, I suppose) and is very photogenic.
Getting outdoors in Helsinki
Suomenlinna is a must-see attraction in Helsinki. An island easily reached by ferry, it is referred to as the “Gibraltar of the North”, once being an imposing sea fortress. There are numerous historical relics left on Sueomenlinna along with museums, restaurants and cafes. And it’s on the World Heritage List.
One of my favourite spots in Helsinki is the Seurasaari Open Air Museum, part of a large park on an island just north of the city. There are numerous walking paths which pass various old Finnish wooden homes which have been gathered up from various parts of Finland and relocated to Seurasaari. While most guide books will suggest this place is at its best in summer, I enjoyed a sunny day there in the middle of winter with smaller crowds than usual.
Not far from the central train station, Keskuspuisto (Central Park) is a beautiful place for a stroll and is a good spot to get views over the city. The Olympic Stadium forms one of its boundaries.
Day trips from Helsinki
Andy wrote up some great ideas for day trips from Helsinki and my favourite of these is the suggestion to visit the Nuuksio National Forest Park. It is only a short bus ride away from the centre of Helsinki but you’ll feel just about as far away from a capital city as you can imagine.
If you’re curious about Estonia, it’s actually quite practical to take a day trip from Helsinki to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. The fastest ferries take less than two hours to make the crossing.
Your tips for Helsinki
Have you spent time in Helsinki too, or heard a great tip from someone who has? We always welcome further suggestions so please add your tips on what to do in Helsinki in the comments below.