HelsinkiTravel Guide

Helsinki, “The Pearl of the Baltic Sea”, is not only renowned for its beautiful setting and impressive architecture, but it’s also known for art, music, and Finnish design, (it was a Word Design Capital in 2012) It’s said you can expect the unexpected it this capital city of Finland, which alone should inspire you to visit, but it’s also packed to the brim with conventional attractions, such as lively markets, museums and sprawling green spaces.

Then, of course, there are those traditional public saunas and loads of outdoor activities, so you can mix it up for a vacation to remember. Helsinki can’t wait to welcome you – here’s what you need to know leading up to your visit.

Helsinki quick facts


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Explore Helsinki

Where to stay in Helsinki?

Helsinki boasts plenty of hip and happening neighbourhoods if you’re hoping to enjoy a vacation with a vibe. Of course, if you’d prefer something calm, collected and quiet, there are places to satisfy this kind of stay too. With so many hotels in Helsinki, it’s always a good idea to compare prices and check out reviews before making a booking.

First-timers will love the atmosphere of Punavuori, situated just south of the city centre. It’s home to plenty of bars and restaurants and a part of the city where art and creativity reign supreme. There’s a gallery, theatre or museum on every corner! If you’re looking for views of the Design District and the convenience of being stationed within walking distance of the bus station, then the modern, apartment-style Helsinki home by Johanna Gullichsen should be top of the list. Hotel Lilla Roberts is another top pick, promising 5-star luxury.

Feeling a bit disillusioned with urban living? Etu-Töölö is a fantastic escape, just northwest of the city centre, offering green spaces galore! Located along Seurasaarenselkä Bay, it’s a residential area where you’ll find the family-friendly Hesperian park and Hietaranta Beach, both with their own kiddies’ play areas. Stay at the lavish workation hotspot, Aallonkoti Apartments, for gorgeous views of another local green space, Finlandia Park. Alternatively, opt to settle in at the eco-certified Hotel Helka.

Kampii, situated in the heart of the city, is a great area to stay in if vibrant entertainment is on your radar. It’s where you’ll find Helsinki’s best shopping centres and an unstinting dose of energetic nightlife. Wowing guests for well over a century, Hotel Kämp is one of the most popular 5-star hotels for both business and leisure travellers, featuring an onsite bar, restaurant and spa. However, if you’re looking for something less frilly and to mingle (and party) with other travellers, the YARD Hostel, with its private rooms and cosy guest lounge is the way to go.

Believe us when we say, this is just the start. Book your accommodation today!

  • Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki On Hill At Summer Sunny Day. Red Church - Tourist destination In Finnish Capital, Finland.
    • Boat harbor at night with city lights reflecting on canal
    • A building on the shoreline
  • Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki On Hill At Summer Sunny Day. Red Church - Tourist destination In Finnish Capital, Finland.
    Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki On Hill At Summer Sunny Day. Red Church - Tourist destination In Finnish Capital, Finland.
    Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki On Hill At Summer Sunny Day. Red Church - Tourist destination In Finnish Capital, Finland.
  • Boat harbor at night with city lights reflecting on canal
    Boat harbor at night with city lights reflecting on canal
    Boat harbor at night with city lights reflecting on canal
  • A building on the shoreline
    A building on the shoreline
    A building on the shoreline

Things to do in Helsinki

Well, where do we even start? Helsinki offers so much, from museums to markets, architecture to art, hiking to cruising. Read on for our top tips.

Take in some Helsinki history by visiting the Sea Fortress Suomenlinna, built in 1748 as a maritime fortress. It’s on a group of islands just a short distance off the coast of Helsinki, accessible via ferry. Once you’re there, lace up your walking shoes and trek along the designated trails to check out the fortress and museums. Round off the day with a cold one and a delicious meal at one of the waterside restaurants.

What better way to see the city, her islands and attractions than from the comfort of a boat cruising down the canals? Some have cabins or sun decks, so you can choose which you prefer, an onboard bar and a guide explaining the sights and history of Helsinki as they unfold around you. So, sit back, sip that G&T and soak up the experience.

…but not in Helsinki! So many of us think we’ll be able to add this fascinating natural phenomenon of colourful dancing lights in the night sky to our Helsinki itinerary. But nope, sorry. Seeing the Northern Lights means heading way up north to the Lapland region – you’ll have to fly some five hours or drive for 13. But if it’s on your bucket list, then well worth the travelling and FYI, the Northern Lights are at their most glorious between September and April.

There are countless Insta-worthy churches and cathedrals in Helsinki, with the Helsinki cathedral (aptly nicknamed “the white jewel of Helsinki”) and the Uspenski cathedral (the biggest orthodox church in Western Europe) being the two most talked about. Even if architecture isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll still be able to appreciate the magnificence of these two ornate buildings. They’ll also make for a few awesome tourist-y snaps for your Insta!

Art lovers should make a beeline for this iconic art museum, chockfull of art nouveau works to feed your famished soul. Currently, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma boasts a whopping 8,000 works of art with 100 new works added every year. Along with a variety of stunning collections to admire, the museum is also a go-to for art workshops and events. Don’t have the foggiest idea about art? Fear not! It’s easy to sign up for a guided tour of the space to benefit from some insightful input from an expert. Alternatively, you can shuffle off to savour a cup of coffee at the onsite café or peruse the gift shop while the art connoisseurs do their thing.

Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

Flights to Helsinki

Helsinki food and drink

Fresh, sustainable ingredients are at the core of traditional Finnish cuisine. Luckily, you’re pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to sampling and savouring it!

Fill up on something classy at any one of the four- and five-star restaurants in Helsinki. Drink in mesmerising views of the Helsinki Cathedral as you sip on a glass of Longkero (gin mixed with grapefruit soda which is most Finns’ favourite beverage) and traditional Finnish food at Restaurant Savotta.

Not in the mood for a meal, but would rather explore a spread of tantalising flavours? Then the tasting menu on offer at Ravintola Emo, situated in the heart of Helsinki, will definitely tickle your taste buds.

A must for meat lovers is Döner Harju, famous for its döner kebabs and special cuts of meat if you’re brave enough to sample a few local delicacies – moose, anyone?

Street food certainly isn’t in short supply in Helsinki. Craving a carnivorous indulgence? Grab something grilled and meaty during your outing at the Market Square. You’ll also find a generous helping of Finnish street food while strolling through Old Market Hall.

Summertime visitors won’t have to look far to find their fair share of street-food trucks and vendors as they’ll be stationed on practically every street. Keep your eyes peeled for the famed Blueberry Milk Bike (Mustikkamaitopyörä), serving up frozen yoghurt with a unique Finnish twist.

Need a warm cuppa to help combat the cold? Pair it with a slice of Tosca cake or a light meal at a local café – of which there are many scattered throughout the city centre and its outskirts. Stop by the charming Café Regatta in Töölö for their famous cinnamon buns and hot choc or page through a classic novel at Café Aalto with coffee in hand located in the corner of a popular academic bookstore in Pohjoisesplanadi.

Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

Helsinki through your eyes

Where to shop in Helsinki?

Fancy boutiques? Check. Bustling shopping centres? Check. Vibey markets? Double check. If retail therapy is a big reason why you came here, you’ll be thrilled to discover the many options when it comes to shopping in Helsinki.

If bigger is better in your opinion, then Kamppi Shopping Mall is where you want to be. Opened in 2005, the shopping centre took four years to build and, at the time, it was the largest singular construction site in Finland’s history. Browse through more than 100 shops and 40 eateries.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something a little smaller and more fashion-focused, Kämp Galleria is the way to go. It’s celebrated for its variety of stores, all specialising in international fashion brands – an absolute must if you’ve got a wad of cash to spend.

Markets are very much entrenched in Finnish culture (in large part due to the Finns prioritising eco-awareness), hence the reason you’re likely to stumble across one just around the corner regardless of where you’re staying. There’s a market for everyone, whether you’re looking to stock up on fresh produce or some interesting trinkets for loved ones back home.

Old Market Hall, which has been delighting shoppers since 1889, is still a favourite shopping and meeting place in modern times.

If you’re visiting in the summer and scoping out a bargain or two, it’s always worth strolling through the Design District’s Hietalahti Flea Market.

Finally, you can’t miss the Market Square, which is open all year round. Just watch out for the seagulls. They have their eye on your snack and they aren’t afraid to fight you for it!

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When is the best time to travel to Helsinki?

Most locals will agree that the best time to visit Helsinki is during the warmer months between May and September. During this time the streets, parks and beaches are full of activity and excitement – it’s definitely safe to say that the Finns take their summer seriously! They celebrate it with voracity, with many taking time off work to venture to their lakeside cottages (known as “mökki”) to take part in water sports, enjoy picnics at the park and attend colourful festivals.

But if it’s a white Christmas you’re envisioning, you can be sure that visiting Helsinki in December will help to bring out that joyous festive season spirit in every member of your family – yes, even the relative who usually complains relentlessly about the Christmas carols! But just be sure to pack your weightiest jacket, because there’s no skirting around the fact that it’s insanely cold out there.

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How to get around Helsinki

It’s possible to get to a big chunk of Helsinki’s most popular sights and landmarks on foot in the spring and summer as the heart of the city is relatively compact. Remember to invest in a sturdy pair of walking shoes so your feet enjoy the experience as much as you do.

Helsinki has a thriving city bike system with 460 city bike hubs in Helsinki and Espoo combined. It’s a special way to explore the best of what the city has to offer while getting some fresh air exercise too.

Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) operates buses throughout the city, and you have a choice between single tickets and day tickets depending on which areas you have on your radar. However, if you intend to stick close to the city centre while sightseeing and want a classic hop-on, hop-off experience, then trams are likely to be your best bet. Trams 2, 4 and 6 in particular, will take you along routes where you’ll find a variety of art and architecture points of interest.

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Helsinki Frequently asked questions

When packing for a trip to Helsinki, don't forget the essentials like your visa, passport, chargers, camera, some euro and the correct power adaptor. Clothing wise, check out the seasonality guides and pack to suit the conditions - aka plenty of layers for winter and lighter options for summer. Other necessities include a walking shoes, hat, sunglasses and a good pair of jeans. Heading over for Christmas? Don’t forget to practice your penmenship and prepare your list for Santa.

Helsinki is an incredibly walkable city that is best explored on foot. With this in mind, travellers generally opt to stay in Kluuvi, Kamppi and Kaartinkaupunki.

Life happens - we get it! Read more here.

Helsinki offers travellers the chance to experience all four seasons, with mild spring temperatures from March until May, endless warm days from June to August, pleasant but overcast weather between September and November, and a cold winter from December until March. When you choose to go depends on what you’re hoping to experience. It’s also worth remembering that winter months do have limited daylight, with the sun setting around 3:30 pm.

Helsinki is a travellers haven, with plenty of activities and experiences to keep you occupied for days. While you’re there, don’t forget to explore the history of Suomenlonna Sea Fortress, appreciate the Nordic architecture of Temppleiaukion Church, pay Santa a visit during Christmas and explore the surrounding Baltic islands.

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