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Travel Stories Blog

Exploring Helsinki: Urban Charm and Natural Beauty

Posted May 11, 2019

Finland's capital of Helsinki is a compact city where everything is within easy reach, from shopping to a vibrant culinary scene and great nightlife. But it also has nature close by. Finns recharge themselves from everyday stress by getting outdoors into the fresh air. Nuuksio National Park is only half an hour's drive away from the center of Helsinki. An excursion to Suomenlinna Fortress Island, just a 15-minute ferry boat ride from the market square, is also highly recommended. During Christmastime, the city is beautifully decorated with lights and a walk through the Christmas market is a must. Helsinki offers also a lot for those interested in design and architecture. Helsinki´s architecture has influences from both east and west, but the newer, more modern additions, like the Oodi Central Library, Amos Rex Art Museum, and Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, are worth a visit too.

Not sure where to begin? Here are our recommendations for must-do's in this exciting city.

1. Visit Suomenlinna Fortress Island

The fortress on this island was built in the mid-18th century to protect Sweden – Finland Kingdom against the threat of Russia. Today, the fortress island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination to visit in both winter and summer.

2. Marvel at the Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral, located in the Senate Square, is the iconic landmark of Helsinki, so you'll want to take some pictures. Senate Square is close to the harbor and Market Square and only a short walk from many other sights, shopping, and dining.

Sauna in Finland

3. Try an urban sauna

Visiting Finland and experiencing sauna in some form is one of those must-do things. In Helsinki there are new urban sauna facilities built by the sea, where you may even be able to dip in a floating heated pool built on the sea. Allas Sea Pool and Löyly are more than just saunas. Visitors can also dine and enjoy drinks with a sea view—indoors in the winter or in the summer on the large terraces.

4. Take the tram

Even though Helsinki is a very compact city with many attractions nearby, you might want to visit also some of the neighborhoods like Kallio, Punavuori, Ullanlinna, or Töölö. Public transportation is very reliable in Helsinki, even in the midst of the winter, and taking a tram is easy and fun.

Children walking up a hill to sled in Helsinki, Finland

5. Go walking or sledding in the park or skating at the rink at the city center

Helsinki is a very green city and there are lots of parks to stroll through. During the winter, the parks are covered with snow but you can still enjoy the urban nature by sledding in Kaicopuisto Park, one of the biggest green spaces in the heart of Helsinki. In the winter months, there's also a skating rink in the middle of town, next to the railway station.

6. Have a coffee with a cinnamon roll in one of the many cafés

Cinnamon rolls are a traditional and a very popular pastry in Finland. Finnish people are also love their coffee, so there are plenty of nice coffee shops and cafés in the city.

7. Visit Oodi, Amox Rex, and Kiasma

Finland is known for its architecture and modern Helsinki has some new architectural landmarks you should visit. Stop by the new Oodi Central Library, which is not just a library but also a living room for Helsinki residents. Check out as well the Amox Rex and Kiasma Museums, known for their art exhibitions.

8. Dine in a Michelin starred restaurant

Helsinki's culinary scene has developed significantly during the past 10 years and there are plenty of both fine dining and casual options. Helsinki currently has six Michelin starred restaurants, plus myriad diverse restaurants and vegetarian alternatives.

Market in Helsinki

9. Visit the Market Square

Located at the South Harbor at one end of the Esplanade Park, the Market Square is Helsinki's most international and famous marketplace. The booths here sell traditional market foods and treats, as well as handicrafts and souvenirs. There are also heated café tents where you can comfortably have a steaming hot cup of coffee even on the coldest days in winter.

10. Go shopping in Pohjois-Esplanadi, Aleksanterinkatu, or the Design District

Shopping is easy in Helsinki as everything is close by. There are department stores and malls in the city center and a very short walk away is the Design District, where you'll find many of our established and new design and clothing brands.