Helsinki: Finland’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Northern lights, lots of snow, and moose – that’s often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Finland. But the country, and especially its capital, has a lot more to offer. In this article, we’ll show you why you should definitely put Helsinki on your bucket list, what you need to know before your trip, and, of course, Helsinki’s top 10 sights!
Helsinki in a Nutshell
Finland’s capital is a city of contrasts. Although it’s a large city, there are tons of green spaces and quiet areas. The wonderful mix of sights, cafés, and restaurants attracts visitors from all over the world. The city is also very sustainable and offers you many opportunities to make your trip environmentally friendly.
Helsinki is located on the Baltic Sea in Finland’s south, and is the country’s largest city, with a population of around 650,000 people.
Due to its location in the humid continental climate zone, large temperature variations between seasons are normal. The average annual temperature is about 8.2 °C. Temperatures in the summer can reach up to 30 °C, but it can get quite cold at night. It’s worth noting that due to the wind from the sea, the perceived temperature is even lower, especially in winter. As a result, the city is covered in snow, making for a beautiful sight.
The water temperature is about 1 °C during the colder months and about 17 °C during the warmer ones. Due to the latitude, the days around the winter solstice last 5 hours and 48 minutes with a low-standing sun. The darkness is even worse owing to the cloudy skies during this season. In the summer, though, Helsinki has extended daylight hours, and the days are 18 hours and 57 minutes long during the summer solstice.
If you’ve been to Finland before, you’ve certainly come to appreciate Finnish cuisine. The dishes are often based on potatoes, bread, various types of fish, meat, and seafood. A traditional dish is the so-called poronkäristys. It consists of sliced and sautéed reindeer with mashed potatoes, and typically served with lingonberries.
Karelian pies are a special type of pastry made from rice pudding or mashed potatoes, wrapped in rye dough. It’s typically eaten with butter, eggs, cheese, or sausage. Lohikeitto is a popular spicy soup consisting of potatoes and salmon. Due to taxes, alcohol is very expensive in Finland. Therefore, the locals prefer coffee with sugar and milk with their meals.
Helsinki, like many other European cities, has a well-developed public transport system. This includes the metro, buses, local railways, trams, and even a ferry that takes you to the fortress island of Suomenlinna. Four fare zones make up the Helsinki region. Different fares may apply depending on where you want to go, so make sure you have the right ticket when taking public transport. The 10-line streetcar is the most common form of transport, and it safely takes you anywhere in the city. For places where there are no rails, you can easily use the bus, or even the ferry.
People celebrate the founding of the city on Helsinki Day, held annually on June 12. You can expect colorful and diverse music and theater events. The Helsinki Festival also takes place every year, usually in late summer. It’s been celebrated since 1968 and showcases national and international artists, ensembles, and exhibitions at various venues around the capital. In terms of attendance, the Helsinki Festival is the largest event in Finland. “Nights of the Arts” is one of the main events, where the whole city is open for everyone to perform outdoors in Helsinki’s parks and streets and have fun together!
Of course, Christmas markets are also present in the Scandinavian capital! Visiting the Christmas market during Advent is a magical experience. Over 160 stalls sell arts and crafts, candles, accessories, and, of course, delicious food. Although the Christmas market in Helsinki is not much different from those in other parts of Europe, visiting it is still an unforgettable experience!
Fun fact: On October 13, Finns celebrate the so-called “Failure Day.” They celebrate failure and their own mistakes to encourage others, especially the younger generation, to acknowledge their shortcomings and learn from them.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Helsinki
Now, let’s get to the part you’ve been waiting for – Helsinki’s top 10 sights!
The Helsinki Cathedral is a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral in central Helsinki’s Kruununhaka district. This church was originally built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland and the Russian Tsar Nicholas I. It was also known as St. Nicholas Church before Finland’s independence in 1917. It’s an important landmark in the city and one of Finland’s most famous buildings.
Today, the cathedral is one of the most popular sights in Helsinki. Approximately 500,000 people visited in 2018. It’s also often used for special occasions such as church services and weddings.
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The Helsinki Olympic Stadium is located in the Töölö district, not far from the city center. It’s the country’s largest stadium, mainly as a venue for sporting events and large concerts. It famously hosted the Summer Olympics in 1952.
The stadium also held the European Athletics Championships in 1971, 1994, and 2012, as well as the first World Bandy Championship in 1957, the first World Athletics Championship in 1983, and the World Athletics Championship in 2005.
After four years of renovations, it reopened in August 2020.
Esplanadi, commonly known as Espa, is a coastal promenade and city park in the center of Helsinki between Erottaja Square and Market Square. It’s bordered on the north and south by Pohjoisesplanadi and Eteläesplanadi streets, respectively. Esplanadi is a famous walking area where street performances are often held.
At the eastern end of the park lies the Kappelirestaurant, which opened in 1867. In front of the restaurant is an open-air stage that hosts numerous live music shows. Other famous restaurants around the park areOlo in Pohjoisesplanadi and Savoy in Eteläesplanadi.
Kiasma is a contemporary art museum located in Mannerheimintie. The name means “chiasma” in Finnish, alluding to the basic conceptual idea of its architect, Steven Holl. It’s part of theFinnishNational Gallery and is responsible for the museum’s contemporary art collections. These collections include the works of some 8,000 artists, including many well-known Finnish and international artists.
The art museum’s mission is to bring different cultures together, and the goal is to make modern art understandable and accepted by a wide audience. At Kiasma, experience, art, knowledge, and entertainment are combined. If you’re a fan of art, especially modern art, this gallery should definitely be on your bucket list!
The Ateneum is another must-see museum. It’s one of the three museums of the Finnish National Gallery and is located in Helsinki. It’s on the south side of Rautatientori Square at Helsinki Central Station, in the heart of the capital. It houses Finland’s largest collection of classical art. Before 1991, the Ateneum building was also home to the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and the Helsinki University of Art and Design.
The Ateneum’s collection includes Finnish art, from 18th century Rococo portraits to the experimental art movement of the 20th century. The collection also includes some 650 international works of art.
The Uspenski Cathedral is one of the city’s most important landmarks and attracts visitors and believers from all over the world every year. This Orthodox cathedral is famous for its stunning interior and peculiar architecture. The numerous domes are also quite eye-catching!
The Uspenski Cathedral is Western Europe’s largest Orthodox cathedral and is visible from afar due to its 13 domes and extravagant exterior. Its name is of Russian origin and translates to “the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.” During services, people usually speak Church Slavonic.
Another must-see is Kunsthalle Helsinki. Various Finnish artists and art associations founded this non-profit exhibition space in 1928. The exhibition program focuses on contemporary art, design, and architecture, with 5-7 major shows and special events each year. The art gallery has been a focal point for temporary exhibitions since its inception, and it doesn’t have a permanent collection, which adds to its mystique. So, if you plan on visiting Helsinki several times, you may come across new displays at the Kunsthalle on each occasion.
Completed in 1928, the building is a prime example of Nordic classicism in Finland.
On the Helsinki harbor is Vanha Kauppahalli, the old market hall. Housed in a red brick building, it has been a traditional trading place for all kinds of delicacies since 1888. From their wood-carved stalls, the merchants mainly sell Finnish products. These include, for example, reindeer ham, shrimp cocktails, Lapland cheese, fish, and so much more. If you want to experience Finnish flair up close, this is the place to be.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress built on eight islands. Backpackers and locals alike come here for its lovely picnic spots. Despite its long history, Suomenlinna wasn’t really popular until it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
During the Finnish War, Sweden surrendered the fortress to Russia on May 3, 1808, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian troops in 1809 and the eventual cession of Finland to Russia at the end of the war. Russia held the fortress until Finnish independence in 1917. Finland then operated Suomenlinna through the Ministry of Defense until it was largely handed over to civilian control in 1973.
Despite its complicated history, Suomenlinna is a popular place for excursions.
Helsinki’s Design District
Whether or not you’re a fan of art and design, the Design District is worth a visit. Located in the heart of Helsinki, it’s the capital’s creative hub. The district covers several downtown neighborhoods, including Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kruunuhaka, Kamppi, and Ullanlinna, where you can become acquainted with the city. Countless restaurants, cafés, bars, and stores await you. And as the name suggests, there are several studios, galleries, and boutiques in this area too. There’s something for everyone here!
We’ve summarized the most important facts about Finland’s capital in this article. There are numerous events and activities to participate in here! At any time of year, the Scandinavian flair is unforgettable. The city’s sustainability is perfect for backpackers and helps you save the earth’s climate even when traveling. The top 10 sights we’ve highlighted have something extraordinary to offer, so don’t wait too long to book your trip to Helsinki!