In the hype of other northern European cities such as Copenhagen and Stockholm, Helsinki is oftentimes overshadowed by its larger neighbors. However, after spending several days in the Finnish capital, I can with certainty say that this city is not a destination you want to miss on your next weekend getaway. Enjoy this little guide I’ve put together, from my visit to the city last summer!
» Some Logistics & Facts «
- There are several ways to arrive in Helsinki, depending on where you’re coming from. While the airport is somewhat outside the city, the harbor and central train station are right at the center, making it easy to reach your accommodation.
- For your stay, I would recommend renting an Airbnb. With Airbnb, you stay inside of real Finnish homes, which will not only make you feel more like a local, but will also give you a wonderful peek into northern European design. Think light woods and white walls, accented with pops of blue and green. Plus, renting an apartment will give you the opportunity to prepare your own meals, which could come quite in handy in this expensive city.
- Getting Around
- While Helsinki is by no means a small place (it’s home to about 500,000 people), the city is compact enough to cover by foot. Simply grab yourself a map before you arrive, or just begin exploring upon arrival.
- Beer and cider is sold in supermarkets and other food stores until 9 pm every day. Wines, liquors and spirits are sold in Alko stores. Be sure to get your alcohol shopping done before 9pm, they’re strict. Of course, bars and clubs are open throughout the night.
- Speaking of partying, students tend to go out on Thursday nights (as is generally common across Europe).
- When should I go?
- Helsinki is always beautiful. However, in the summer months (May-September), it stays lighter longer, temperatures are warmer (never quiiiiite hot though) and you’ll be guaranteed some sunshine.
» See «
- Helsinki Cathedral/Senate Square → This towering white church has become a widely recognizable symbol of the city. And let me tell you, it’s equally stunning in person, especially when contrasted against a clear blue sky.
- Market Square → Every day, come rain or shine, people set up their little booths right next to the picturesque waterfront. If you get lucky enough to be visiting on a day warm enough for a picnic, buy yourself some snacks and sit out by the water.
- Little courtyards by the waterfront → There are lots of little side streets filled with mini art galleries, boutiques and courtyards between the Market and Senate Squares. Think bright walls and great places to see some new art, or begin buying some souvenirs.
- Uspenski Cathedral → Another breath-taking building to marvel at. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to go inside, but it’s a fascinating building, due to the stark contrast to the Helsinki Cathedral. Think more gothic, and quite frankly, less Scandinavian.
- Temppeliaukio Church → This was quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. Built literally into a rock, this church is a short walk from the city center, but well worth it. I’d recommend coming early though, as busses of tourists start pulling up by the late morning.
- Design District → I didn’t know this before arriving in the city, but Helsinki is a hub for artists and creatives. Take time to get lost in the little side streets of the design district; you’ll be able to spend an entire day popping into unique Finnish design shops (see more of my shopping recommendations below), art galleries, great cafes, and more. There are also maps you can get for free, just for this part of town. Track down a shop online, and they’ll have them there for you. Read about favorite shops of mine down below.
- Meripuisto Park → If you want a break from the city center (although quite frankly, Helsinki not overfilled like many other capitals in Europe) and even more ocean air, head to this park. You’ll have endless views of the Baltic Sea, like the one pictured above, and a whole lot less people and tourist ships in your sight. It’s not in the main harbor area by the market square, rather, further down south in the city.
- City Parks → Speaking of parks, aside from the park by the ocean, there are also lots of little parks scattered throughout the city. In the summer time, they’ll fill up in the evenings with students and young adults, drinking beer and listing to music with friends.
» Eat «
- Sandro → A must-stop for lunch one day. From 11AM-2PM Monday-Friday, Sandro has an all-you can eat menu for only 12,90 Euros. That’s right, less than 13 Euros in one of the most expensive northern cities. And this isn’t a greasy, fast-food meal. They serve a huge array of healthy and freshly prepared dishes, created using seasonal veggies. And while they do offer meat, the place is super vegetarian friendly. Just look at that colorful plate of goodness above.
- Ravintola Nerone → As I stated in the beginning of this post, Helsinki is quite an expensive city. However, I do recommend taking a break from cooking one night, and treating yourself to an incredible meal. My recommendation? Ravintola Nerone, a truly divine Italian restaurant. Fresh seafood, incredibly creative pizzas. We ordered from the menu of the day, created with that day’s fresh catch in mind.
- Cafe Carusel → Located right by the water, Cafe Carusel is perfect for a little break after exploring the Meripuisto Park. Stop in for a hot chocolate and a baked good, created fresh throughout the day.
» Shop «
- Design District → I’ve already told you a bit about the Design District above, but boy you guys, do not miss out on the shopping here. Favorites included: R/H Store (clothing, link here), URBAN A (clothing, link here), Armas Design (home decor/design shop, link here), Artek (furniture, link here) and Artek 2nd Cycle (second-hand furniture, link here)
- Uff Second Hand Store → This is a thrift shop that donates its proceeds to development projects in developing countries. There are several ones scattered around the city, and are truly (affordable) treasure troves for vintage pieces. I bought a great camel colored trench coat at one, for a mere 16 Euros.
- Marimekko → One of the Finland’s most famous design houses, Marimekko is known for their bright prints, both to wear and decorate your home with. Quintessential of Finnish style and design, what better city to visit this boutique in, than in the city the brand is from?
- Monki → Ok yes, technically, Monki is a Swedish store. However, seeing as you can only find stores in northern Europe, I thought it was important to throw it in here. After this summer, Monki has become my favorite store. Playful, bright, affordable and truly high quality clothing. I just love the contemporary Scandinavian style.
What surprised me the most about Helsinki is how it is truly a city for everyone. There is a bustling youth culture, but the city is suited for visitors of any age. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags, and get ready to discover Helsinki.