Helsinki, a modern Scandinavian city along the side of the Baltic Bays, and the capital city of Finland is one of those cities you don't hear people rave about a lot. Due to its forward-thinking and head-on modernization, people visiting Europe expecting to experience European medieval roots may be disappointed when they arrive in Helsinki but if you brush that expectation aside and come to Helsinki with no expectation, you are in for quite a quirky amazing time.
From going island-hopping that is nothing like the one in South East Asia to going in a sauna and an outdoor pool surrounded by sheets of ice, I have got them all covered in this one-day ultimate guide to having a great time in Helsinki. Without further ado, here are the top things you can do in the city.
Things to Do Map
When to Go
June to August is the best time to visit Helsinki even though it is peak season and I would always avoid it but the weather up here can get cold and extreme offseason so, in order to maximize nice days, mid-summer is the best time to be.
Where to Stay
Helsinki - The YARD Concept Hostel - 44.56 USD/Night (Right at the center, comfy bed, amazing facilities and security through and through, super friendly staff, Netflix and games-equipped common area)
How to Get Around
Helsinki is not a cheap city so I would recommend sticking to walking as much as you can. If you book the hostel I recommended, then everything will be within walking distance. If you are planning to go to places like Kallio or the Sauna I recommended then taking the metro is the most reliable, easy and not too expensive with the cheapest price at only €2.20. For more detail on routes, schedule, and price, visit the official transportation website.
Things to Do in Helsinki
Morning stroll around the Helsinki Cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. With its all-white neo-classical architecture and tall green dome surrounded by four smaller ones, there is no mistaking the cathedral when you see it. Due to its spacious stairways and the square in front of the cathedral, this place is a great hangout spot for both tourists and locals so if you are looking to get a nice photo of the cathedral without the people, wake up earlier than them and make the cathedral first visit in your itinerary.
Admire One of the Most Beautiful Train Station in the World, Helsinki Central Station
The central train station of Helsinki is considered to be one of the most beautiful train station in the world (chosen by BBC in 2013). With its stunning granite facade dominated by the statues of giants bearing circular lanterns as if they are the guardians of the train station, no wonder why this is considered to be one of the most beautiful train station out there.
Stroll around the 18th Century Sea Fortress of Suomenlinna
As you make your way towards the Market Square passing the train sttion and the cathedral, you will find a pier where you can take a ferry to the sea fortress of Suomenlinna, a beautiful and historically important sea fortress built in the 18th century by the Swedish when Finland was still a part of Sweden.
The ferry leaves from the Kauppatori pier near the Market Square 1 - 4 times per hour depending on the season and it should take around 25 minutes one way. When you arrive there are several attractions on the island you can see but it can take hours to cover them all so I would recommend following the main "Blue Route" which should take you to all the main sites like the King’s Gate and the Kustaanmiekka artillery. You can find the map for the entire island walking route here.
It should take you a minimum of 45 minutes to walk the route but you could easily spend an hour or two wandering around the island if the weather is nice.
Jump into an Outdoor Pool at Allas Sea Pool
If you are interested in experiencing the famous Finnish sauna culture and you don't mind paying a bit for the experience, be sure to visit Allas Sea Pool located near the Market Square. With their outstanding facilities, centrally located large outdoor pool area, and magnificent saunas, you are sure to have a great time experience what has to be one of the most interesting cultures the Finnish are known for. The ticket for swimming in the pool is around €14.
FREE Sauna 24/7 at Sompasauna before it closes down
Photo by Olimar
But if you are looking to experience this unique Finnish culture for FREE, you can visit Sompasauna, located a little further out of the main central area. It is open 24/7, equipped with excellent wood-burning self-service saunas, all for a price of €0! I know, it is unbelievable but believe it and go and experience it while you can since every year, the city is always looking to get rid of this sauna since it was setup without permission. Enjoy the communal experience of Finnish sauna at its best here. Not recommended for big groups or luxury travelers.
Visit the Uspenski Cathedral
While you are at the Market Square, you will notice another cathedral located on a hillside of the Katajanokka Peninsula overlooking the city. That is the Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, the largest of its kind in Western Europe. Be sure to drop by there and admire the stunning red-brick exterior and spiky steeples of the cathedral. The interior is as impressive as the outside especially when the sun ray shines into the window illuminating the interior.
Explore the laid-back bohemian district of Kallio
Photo by Kallu
If you have an extra day and are looking to explore the more creative side of Helsinki, I would recommend you spend the entire day at Kallio, one of the most vibrant, laid-back, idiosyncratic and spirited districts of Helsinki. The district attracts young people from all over the city, hanging out at hip bars and homey cafes, almost like Berlin’s Kreuzberg. I think this is where Helsinki shines on its own as a unique city to visit in Europe, and if you are disappointed with other attraction in Helsinki, this place will surely change your mind about what the city is. Take a tram route 3 to get to Kallio, the location shown below:
Have a nice coffee with a nice view above the shopping street
If you are looking for a nice place to sit and relax while watching people go by, the best place to be is the La Torrefazione, a cafe located on the second floor of a building on the Aleksanterinkatu street. With a nice cup of coffee, their delicious croissant and interesting people walking along the main street, I could see myself spending hours and hours here.
Get a cheap but delicious falafel at Fafa's Mikonkatu
There is no denying that Helsinki is expensive as hell. Especially if you are like me and had just come from Estonia. Finding a cheap place to eat proved to be quite challenging but thankfully, my Finnish friend I met in Estonia recommended me this fast-food restaurant that serves delicious falafel and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. That place is called Fafa's and you will be able to find one of their restaurant around the corner of the main Aleksanterinkatu street. For a really delicious falafel, I paid only €7 which in Helsinki, is not easy to find.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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