Best things to do in Helsinki
Find out more about those top places in Helsinki
Helsinki is unlike anywhere else in Scandinavia. For centuries, the city was under the influence of the Russian Empire, which bestowed upon the city a geometric axial grandeur only rivaled by St Petersburg. Unsurprisingly, many of the city’s most dazzling attractions come from its time as one of the Tsar’s favored cities. The exquisite Senate Square, dominated by the neoclassical Lutheran cathedral, the imposing Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral and the offshore Suomenlinna, known as ‘Fortress Finland’, offer revealing glimpses into Russian rule. However, in the 20th century Helsinki became the proud capital of an independent Finland with the capital developing an iconic streamlined style of modernist design, pioneered by Alvar and Aino Aalto, which continues until now.
Built by the Swedes in the mid-1700s and later used by Tsarist Russia until the eve of the Russian Revolution, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Suomenlinna, known as ‘Fortress Finland’, is Helsinki’s premier attraction. Regular boat tours from the capital take visitors to this fortified island where you can marvel at ornate Russian Orthodox churches, crumbling bunkers designed to repel attacks and other imposing fortifications.
As Helsinki’s most iconic building, a visit to the cathedral, known in Finnish as Tuomiokirkko, is a must during any trip to the city. Sitting atop a monumental staircase, the chalk white cathedral was designed by the neoclassical architect CL Engel during the 19th century and is a highlight of any city tour.
Linnanmäki, a collection of roller coasters, fun fair rides and carnival stalls set amongst lush parkland, will bring out any visitor’s inner-child. What is even better, many of the rides are free of charge and the profits of those that aren't are donated fully to various children’s charities that operate in the city.
Built in a romantic style popular throughout the Nordic countries in the 19th century, the National Museum of Finland is one of Helsinki’s greatest joys. With a vast collection ranging from prehistory to Finland’s post-World War Two reinvention as Europe’s design capital there really is something for everyone. To better navigate the sprawling museum, guided tours are available.
30 kilometers north of Helsinki, Nuuksio National Park lets you immerse yourself in Nordic wilderness. Various trails take you through cragged glacier carved valleys while the peaceful forests are the perfect escape from the big city. Make sure to watch out for the park’s star studded wildlife, which includes lynx and elk.
For those who want to explore as much of Finnish culture as possible without leaving Helsinki then the open-air museum of Seurasaaren Ulkomuseo is a must visit. Historic buildings under threat across the country have been transferred to the museum and rebuilt amongst the tranquil pine forest. Guides in traditional Finnish dress are on hand to showcase the country’s rich folk culture.
For aficionados of Finland’s rich design culture Helsinki’s Design Museum is a must-visit. With a permanent collection ranging from traditional Sami handcrafts to the pioneering modernism of Alvar Aalto, there are exhibits to suit anyone’s tastes.
Perfect for a summer stroll (or cross-country skiing in winter), Kajsaniemi is Helsinki’s most picturesque park. Moreover, the park’s vast botanical gardens showcase the most spectacular flora indigenous to Scandinavia.