20 Things to Do in Helsinki » DIY Sightseeing + Top Attractions
There are so many Helsinki attractions and many things to do in Helsinki that make it one of the most desirable capitals to visit in the 5 Nordic sovereign countries. What I like about Helsinki is that it is a compact city in Northern Europe. Many points of interest are so close to one another. You can see many Helsinki attractions just by foot, aiming for a budget DIY walking tour. If you are looking to visit any of the museums in Helsinki, please check out the link instead.
The Finnish city, Helsinki is one of the recipients for receiving the accolade of being a ‘City of Design’ for its sustainable urban design among the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). Helsinki takes pride to create its environment and infrastructure network to improve the standard of living.
With a strong influence from the Finnish, Swedish and Russian architectural designs in Helsinki which are evident in the historical monument preservation, one would appreciate how the unique blend of the three countries plays a part in shaping the Helsinki tourism with renowned architectural designers.
What’s more, I have provided 20 Helsinki attractions and sightseeing points which I have visited most of them during my last two trips to Helsinki. If you have many hours of layover in Finland airport, do not waste your time hanging and sleeping at Helsinki Airport.
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» Read: 4 ways to get from Helsinki Airport to city centre in 30 minutes
Finnish beats hand down at the top of the scale for drinking the most coffee in the world with light roast coffee as being their favourite. So far, it is the only country with a volume that exceeds over 10 kg of coffee per capita in comparison with the next-in-rank country. That is more than 2 cups of coffee per day.
An extraordinary exemplary in having an education system with ‘no test’ until the age of 16. Despite that, Finland is ranked as the best education system in the world in numerous statistical reports. The Finnish students are less stressful but yet, achieve a positive outcome thanks to the brilliant teaching system
Are you expecting to see this as one of the known facts? 3.3 million saunas for 5.5 million population (2017)! Finland has the most number of saunas in the world. Many Finns have a sauna in their home on top of the plentiful public saunas in Finland. Finns enjoy an average once a week retreat in the sauna for their well-being.
I have created the Helsinki City Google Maps itinerary for you in number sequence so that you can go to many locations by foot as the points of interests are near to one another. The quickest way to travel to Helsinki city centre by walking is to concentrate on either the western or eastern part of Helsinki. Alternatively, you can follow my Helsinki Attractions and Sightseeing List on Google Maps so you always have something to refer on your mobile.
Sea Life Helsinki brings you closer to the marine creatures and exhibits them in an underwater tunnel where sharks and rays swim around you. Catch the largest zebra sea shark named Mussukka in action there. Visit an exhibition or catch the feeding time of these sea creatures.
It opens daily from 10 am to 5 pm and extended time during some of the days and closed on Christmas Eve and Day. Sea Life Helsinki tickets cost €16.50 for adults and those over 15 years old, and €13 for age between 3 to 14 years if you buy at the counters. You pay less when you purchase the tickets online at €15 and €12 respectively.
Just 3 minutes walk from Sea Life Helsinki, visit the Linnanmäki Amusement Park. It is not just another typical entertainment park that you know. It was built in 1950 with a purpose to support Finnish Child Welfare Work in a non-profit organisation. The Children’s Day Foundation maintaining and developing it has donated €4.5 million in 2018 to help children and family living in a less privileged environment.
The entry to Linnanmäki Amusement Park is free. It also offers 9 free rides. A standard wristband price for one day at €42 let you enjoy all Linnanmäki’s rides, observing the height and safety restrictions. The price is standard for all ages, regardless of whether you purchase it online or over the counter. Another wristband option is €33 for the last 3 hours of fun evening rides. Go and enjoy the fun in Linnanmäki for a good cause and help others.
The Olympic event in 1940 was initially scheduled to take place in Tokyo but had to reschedule in Helsinki later due to the inability to wrap up the war. Helsinki Olympic Stadium was built in 1938 for the 1940 Summer Olympic when Japan forfeited the event during that year. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of World War II, the Olympic Games were cancelled. Finally, until 1952, Helsinki had the honour to hold the Summer Olympic for that year.
Today, Helsinki Olympic Stadium still holds many sporting events and music concerts. The stadium is the largest in Finland and the best place for visitors to enjoy a scenic landscape of Helsinki. The tower is 238.5 m in height and free for the public to view the city from the top. At the moment, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium and the Tower are closed for renovation until 2020. For such a prestigious historical event, mark Helsinki Olympic Stadium as one of the things to do in Helsinki in 2020 when it reopens.
In the Töölö district in Helsinki at the Sibelius Park stands more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together that looked like a winged bird. Every steel bars of Sibelius Monument have motifs on it. The monument named “Passio Musicae” made its first appearance in 1967 to commemorate a famous Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
The hollow steel pipes representing the organ pipes did not resonate well with the public after Elia Hiltunen, a Finnish artist won the competition, following the composer’s death in 1952. It was thought that the monument was too abstract. The commissioning set in after some time when an agreement that a figurative representation of Jean Sibelius would be included. Sibelius Monument is one of the most touristic attractions that worth a visit!
20 minutes away by foot from the Sibelius Park is the marvellous Temppeliaukio Church. Also known as Rock Church Helsinki, it ought to be on your priority list of Helsinki attractions and the most incredible thing to do in Helsinki. Never have I seen a church constructed in this manner – embedded right into the scabrous bedrock. On the outside is a dome-shaped cap built on rock. Entrance fee is €3 in cash or credit card. Expect a queue to visit this spectacular church.
The church hall has a dramatic theatrical and excellent acoustical effect as a lady was playing some instrument to entertain the visitors. The 24-metres dome ceiling plastered with copper tapes and skylight allows the church hall to receive sunlight penetration. The sheer beauty of Rock Church grand architecture and an excellent sound effect is sought-after for church wedding and concerts.
An impressive Makasiinipuisto City Park has a mazed-liked landscape beside the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, which is one of my favourite Helsinki attractions. There is a playground for children and next to it is a fenced area used for different types of ball games. Moreover, teenagers also use the corner of the park for skateboarding.
Additionally, the park has plenty of free-to-air lawns and various plantings to beautify the surroundings. Overall, the beautiful city park is positively a healthy environment for the city dwellers of all ages to use Makasiinipuisto as their leisure point. I had been there two times and absolutely in love with the green layout.
3-minutes walk from Kiasma Museum is the Sanamatolo Building which is the largest News and Media company for Sanoma in Finland. Its newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat founded in 1889 is the largest newspaper publishing in Finland and the Nordic countries. It is not exactly a Helsinki point of interest for tourist’s attraction. But yet, I would recommend you to go inside and have a look.
I visited it two times just to witness the stupendous glass interior and its modern 20-metres lift design. Sanamatolo building has a dramatic glass building equipped with infrared emitters to eliminate the problem of a cold draft and has a positive effect on the indoor climate. There is a restaurant which people can chill while admiring the impressive architecture of the building.
A 5-minute mere walk from HAM Helsinki Art Museum is the Kamppi Shopping Centre. It is an entertainment complex comprising of 6 floors for dining, shopping and nightclubs. The hidden gem in Kamppi Shopping Centre lies in the basement towards the metro station where there are a lot of shops.
The underground area is very lively and bustling with people. Besides the Kamppi Shopping Centre are private residences with cool, protruding glass windows with an ultra-modern touch which personally, I like such architectural design very much. If you have more time to explore out of the city centre in the residential area, you will see more stunning glass building of a similar style.
Just a stone’s throw beside Kamppi Shopping Centre stands a huge chunk of a wooden circular block that might occur to tourists just as a street decoration. I was fooled by it. On closer inspection was a door that leads to a chapel. Yes, this is the Kamppi Chapel and a Helsinki attraction, also known as the Chapel of Silence for people to calm down after a hectic day. Moreover, it is not considered a place of worship as no religious ceremonies would take place here.
As opposed to the intention, the “Chapel of Silence” is never silent with curious tourists coming in and out on a short interval. Since the space of the chapel hall is rather small, a tourist would only need a minute to screen through the place if not staying for a purpose. Simplicity is a beauty and befits the wooden Kamppi Chapel well for everything inside including the chairs are made of wood in a uniform colour. Free entrance for Kamppi Chapel.
Forum Shopping Centre Helsinki runs by a Finland-Swedish organisation from 1985 is the only private-owned shopping mall at the heart of the city centre not far away from the Helsinki Railway Station. It won awards ‘Finnish Best Shopping Centre 2016’ and ‘Nordic Shopping Centre of the Year 2017’ with over 140 shops, restaurants and cafés. Forum Mall Helsinki opening hours start from 10 am daily and 12 pm on Sunday. You can shop till you drop dead until 9 pm during weekdays.
Stockmann Group is a Finnish listed company in the retail trade and is one of Europe’s largest department stores marked as a city’s central landmark since 1930. Well-connected to Forum Shopping Centre, Stockmann Helsinki has 13 floors inclusive of several basement levels that sells mainly high-end products. The opening hours commence earlier than Forum Mall from Monday to Saturday at 9 am and on Sunday at 11 am. It closes at the same time as the Forum Shopping Centre. It closes at the same time as the Forum Shopping Centre. If you like shopping, Stockmann Department Store is one of the most leisure things to do in Helsinki.
Situated on the same street as Stockmann, Aleksanterinkatu is my favourite shopping street. It is vibrant and has an astonishing architectural building design. Known colloquially as “Aleksi”, it is also the longest city street planned by Carl Ludvig Engel during the 1800s. Aleksanterinkatu remains as one of the best Helsinki attractions and sightseeing location for locals and tourists to date.
During the weekend, only trams and emergency vehicles can pass through it by ensuring a safe and traffic-free environment for shopping in Helsinki. Following this stretch of the road towards the east, you will be able to discover more Helsinki attractions without getting lost. It is the most beautiful shopping street in Helsinki which you should see.
Continuing the path of Aleksanterinkatu street, you will see the Senate Square Helsinki which is one of the places to visit. Several activities such as art exhibition, concerts, snow building and snowboard events have been taking place in this square. Senate Square and its surrounding are the oldest part of Helsinki.
In front of the Helsinki Cathedral lies a broad flight of steps on the north side of the Senate Square. They are so steep as people approaching the square from the north frequently assume that they are approaching a cliff edge. Such a sensation arises when the steps do not become apparent until one is at the very top level. Sometimes, one can experience vertigo momentarily. Hence, locals call this point as the ‘cliff-edge’ experience.
A remarkable white monument with five green dome ceiling that one can recognise from far is the Helsinki Cathedral. Originally known as St Nicholas’ Church before Finland’s independence in 1917, it was constructed from 1830 to 1852 in honour of Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicolas I of Russia. Helsinki Cathedral in the neoclassical style is another brainchild of Carl Ludvig Engel who also planned the street of Aleksanterinkatu. The cathedral is still in service for religious worship and a popular venue for weddings.
❤︎ Lux Helsinki ⋙ In the coldest winter month of January, the annual Lux Helsinki light festival illuminates the street and some well-known monuments in stunning and magical colourful sights for 5 days. The event uses an array of light artwork to induce a spectacular background on the facades and outdoor places. Visitors can admire the light installation from 5 pm to 10 pm nightly. It is surely an excellent place to visit in Helsinki in winter for some stunning photography shots. The event is something you should do in Helsinki in Winter. Lux Helsinki 2020 runs from 4 to 8 January.
Located towards the South Harbour at one end of the Esplanade Park (Esplandi) is the Helsinki Market Square. It is a famous Finnish market hall identified with prominent orange tents for every stall. The best time to go to the Market Square Helsinki is at the beginning of October where the Herring market will be held annually at the Market Square since 1743.
Over here, you can sample tasty Finnish food like reindeer meat, salmon soup and shop for local handicrafts and souvenirs. The Helsinki Market Square operates from Monday to Saturday from 6.30 am to 6 pm. Usually, it does not open on Sunday. However, during the summer, the market runs from 10 am to 5 pm.
During Helsinki winter, there will be heaters inside the tent to ensure maximum comfort for the customers. As a form of tradition, there is a display of old American cars on the first Friday of every month. Mark the Market Square as one of the top things to do in Helsinki. Nonetheless, since it is a tourists’ spot, the prices may be on the high side.
Crossing over to the Katajanokka peninsula district from Helsinki is the Uspenski Cathedral characterised by its brownish-red brick facade and contrasting 33-metres light green dome roof atop a hill. The Uspenski Cathedral is said to be the largest Orthodox Church in the North and Western Europe. The cathedral was built from 1862 to 1868 after the death of the Russian church architect, Aleksey Gornostayev.
On the back of the Upenski Cathedral is a plaque in tribute to the Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the cathedral’s construction. A remnant of the Russian Empire in Finland, Uspenski Cathedral has a conspicuous high ceiling, impressive chandeliers and houses several valuable icons and treasures. There were theft cases of Icons and jewellery in the past. Fortunately, some were recovered.
The entrance is free and closed on Monday and during ceremonies. The opening hours are Tuesday to Friday from 9.30 am to 4 pm, Saturday 10 am to 3 pm and Sunday from 12 to 3 pm.
Also located in In the Katajanokka district and 5-minutes walk from Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki SkyWheel offers an opportunity to oversee the breathtaking city, nearby islands or the passing ships from a height of 40 metres in a Ferris wheel. A ride on the Skywheel costs €13 for adults and €9.50 for children. A standard cabin can take up to 8 people and a VIP-cabin with leather seats can fit 4 people. Skywheel introduces a new experience that you cannot find anywhere in the world!
What is the favourite pastime of Finnish people? Yes! Sauna! Original SkySauna is the latest luxury for pampering yourself in the sky with a tranquil sea view and a hot spring hot tub on the ground. SkySauna recommends it as an extraordinary atmosphere aside from the traditional sauna. Prices start from €240 per hour for 1 to 4 people. It opens seven days a week starting at 11 am. On Saturday, it starts at 10 am.
Another neo-Gothic architectural style designed in Stockholm in 1891, St. John’s Church Helsinki is the largest Lutheran stone church in Finland with a 2,600 seating capacity. Also known as ‘Johannes Church’, it has noticeable twin spires from far and an incredible church hall design which is a reason to visit this Helsinki attraction. The St. John’s Church also has excellent acoustics which made is a prime choice for a wedding venue, special events and ceremonies. Johanneksenkirkko is open from Monday to Friday from 10 am to 3 pm, on weekends when there are special functions.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a national highlight and part of the UNESCO World Heritage List too. The commencement work of the Suomenlinna fortress in 1748 was an initiation by the Swedish Parliament as a protection against Russian expansionism under the Swedish name ‘Sveaborg‘ (or ‘Viapori‘ in Finnish). In May 1918, the fortress was renamed Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) after Finland’s independence in 1917. Till date, it is an emphasis on Helsinki tourism and attracts a lot of visitors.
How to Get to Suomenlinna? The maritime fortress is accessible by ferry service or a water bus service during the summer. During the cold winter, visitors can experience the trip in ice-covered water which is an unforgettable moment. Visiting the Sea Fortress is free but not the museums in Suomenlinna except Customs Museum which is available only in the summer.
One of the more remarkable attractions in Suomenlinna is the last Finnish submarine Vesikko. Launched in 1933, Vesikko was one of five submarines to serve in the Finnish Navy when Finland bought it in 1936. After the Finnish Winter and Continuation Wars from 1939 to 1944, Vesikko was the only Finnish submarine that survived the fate of being scrapped.
After much renovation, Vesikko was reopened to the public in July 1973 as an exhibit of the Military Museum in Suomenlinna. It preserves the memory of naval warfare globally. Submarine Vesikko will open from 7 May 2020. The ticket price is €7 and includes admission to the Military Museum.
You can also see Vesikko by taking a sightseeing cruise boat from Royal Line around the fortress without going to the Suomenlinna island. The sightseeing cruise ticket starts from €21.60 onwards for 1.5 hours (which is an increment from €12 for 45 minutes from the last time I went). You can also opt for their buffet lunch and dinner cruise for €39 and €52 respectively. Take advantage of the leisure cruise trip to try out the Finnish food onboard.
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