Helsinki, the capital of Finland, instantly feels different to its neighbouring Scandinavian capitals. The harbour side city has heavy Russian influences, notable in the architecture of distinct landmark buildings. Discover the Finnish capital.
David and I got around Helsinki on foot but we also did a bus tour of the city. There are also hop-on-hop-off style tours which make it incredibly easy to get around. You can book these through the Helsinki Visitor’s Centre. I think the best way to explore a city is on foot so if you can, do a walking tour or grab a map and take to the streets on your own. It was winter when we were there but the paths were cleared of snow so we didn’t have to worry about slipping over. Alternatively there are also trains, trams and taxis throughout the city.
Where to stay?
We stayed in Helsinki on two separate occasions. If you like being in the centre of the action, Glo Hotel Art is a great location. If, like me, you prefer being near the water, but still walking distance from major attractions, then Scandic Grand Marina is perfect!
Start the morning with a walk to Helsinki Senate Square. Climb the stairs to Helsinki Cathedral at the top for an Instagram-worthy picture. Don’t forget to enter the cathedral while you’re here! The Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland complete the square.
Be sure to come back to the square in the evening. Music is played through the speakers around the square at 5:49pm each day. The sound installation was composed by Harri Viitanen, composer and organist of Helsinki Cathedral, and Jyrki Alakuijala, Doctor of Technology. The best position to hear the music from is by the statue of Alexander II which stands in the middle of the square.
Nearby the square is Uspenski Cathedral, the centre of Finnish Orthodox. This is where the city’s Russian influences are most prominent. The Russian-like church sits at the top of a hill, overlooking the city.
A short stroll from here and you’ll be in Market Square by the harbour. The markets are open all year round, selling handicrafts, food and coffee. There were only a couple of stalls when we were there in the middle of winter but come summertime the square is a hive of activity.
Temppeliaukio Church, or the rock church as it is most commonly known, is a church that was excavated into rock in the 1960s. The church isn’t much to behold from the outside, but enter through the doorway and you’ll see just how unique the building is!
The popular Sibelius Monument is a steel pipe monument representing a music wave. Spend a day in the city and you’ll soon notice how much the Fins love their music. In fact, they have some of the best music education in the world! The monument is located in the beautiful Sibelius Park.
Catch the ferry to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO listed, 18th century sea fort. We spent an entire day exploring the island on foot. It doesn’t have to take a whole day but it was covered in ice and snow when we were there so there was a lot of slipping and sliding around. On the island you’ll find cool museums, lookout points, a brewery, and cafes and restaurants located along the water. It’s a great way to learn more about the history of the city without being confined to a museum!
At night we went to a live ice hockey game which was really fun to see. We bought the cheapest tickets we could find online which were around $10AUD each – definitely worth it!
As with most European cities, there’s plenty of shopping in the city. From the Forum and Kamppi Centre to the Galleria Esplanade, there are plenty of shopping malls and shopping centres to choose from. Head into shopping malls if you need access to public toilets and you’re stocking up on cheap Karl Fazer chocolate.
We were pressed for time and chose to do some shopping instead of wandering through Helsinki’s museums and art galleries. There are plenty to choose from so head there if you have the time. Visit the Helsinki Visitor’s Centre for a detailed map and guide on the city’s museums and other attractions.
If you have an extra day in the city, catch the ferry from Helsinki across to Tallinn in Estonia. Direct ferries operate six times daily. The journey takes around two hours each way. We would have done it if we had an extra day.
What do you love most about Helsinki? Let me know in the comments below!