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Planning a Finland vacation? If so, you’ll want start with Helsinki. With gorgeous architecture, a variety of museums and scenic day trips, there are no shortage of things to do in Helsinki. Check out some of our favorites…
Thanks so much to Finnair and Visit Finland for hosting my trip to Finland. All opinions are 100% my own.
If you’re planning a Finland vacation, chances are that your trip will begin in Helsinki. Located in the southern part of the country, Finland’s capital city is known for it’s architecture and Nordic cuisine. There are no shortage of things to do in Helsinki. From the gorgeous churches and cathedrals to thrill rides at an amusement park, there’s as much to do for the kids as the adults.
Table of Contents
Things To Do In Helsinki
- Old Market Hall
- Market Square
- Churches & Cathedrals
- Suomenlinna Island
- Oodi Library
- Moomin Cafe
- Linnanmaki Amusement Park
- Helsinki City Museum
- Korkeasaari Zoo
Where Is Helsinki
Helsinki can be found on a peninsula in the southern part of Finland where you’ll find beautiful views of the Gulf Of Finland in the Baltic Sea.
How To Get To Helsinki
The easiest way to get to Helsinki is by flying directly into the Helsinki Airport. Finnair is the country’s official airline and having flown in both first class and coach, I can tell you it’s the only way to fly! Find out why I recommend you fly Finnair Business Class if you feel like splurging a little. The only downside is that you’ll never want to sit in coach again!
Things To Do In Helsinki
There were so many attractions in Helsinki that there was no way we could squeeze them all in during our short trip. We had things to do in Rovaniemi too, so there were just a few days to see as much as we could. I already want to go back so that I can plan a bike tour or visit a sauna (the Finns are very big on saunas). Luckily we still saw plenty of amazing sights while we were there. Whether you’re touring Helsinki with teens, toddlers or just the grown-ups, there’s plenty to do and these were some of my favorites…
Old Market Hall
Old Market Hall is easy to find just steps away from the ferries and Market Square.
It’s the oldest indoor market in Finland and wandering through the halls was a fun adventure. I wasn’t sure what I’d find and there was something new with every stall I passed.
The Old Market Hall has everything from wine to sweets to reindeer meat served up any way you like it.
My favorite? There was no way I was leaving without trying one of the gigantic meringue cookies!
We stopped for lunch at Story Restaurant to try some of their famous salmon soup. I could see why they are so well known for it…it was delish!
Old Market Hall was a great place to check out traditional Finnish food and drink before heading over to Market Square.
Just steps away from Old Market Hall is Market Square. Here you’ll all the fresh fruits and veggies you could possibly want.
Fresh fish? They’ve got it! If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, this is better than any grocery store!
I thought about trying vendace, a tiny, crispy fish sold by many of the vendors. It’s a popular local food but I have to admit, I totally chickened out.
Some of the people in my group were more daring and gave them a try. They said that the the fish were salty, crunchy and not too bad (but the jury is still out on whether they’d go back for seconds).
There’s more to Market Square than just food though. You can find everything from kuksas, a traditional wooden cup, to reindeer antler bottle openers. It’s a great place to stop for a snack and pick up a few souvenirs too.
Churches And Cathedrals
I love visiting churches when I travel, not necessarily for the religious aspect but because I find the architecture so fascinating. They’re all so unique and there were no shortages of cathedrals and churches in Helsinki.
Temppeliaukio Church: Also known as the Rock Church, Temppeliaukio Church was built into the side of a giant rock. Natural light flows in through the skylight above.
The rock walls make for excellent acoustics and concerts are regularly held here. If you love unusual architecture, you’ll want to check it out.
Uspenski Cathedral: Perched high on a hill, this Eastern Orthodox cathedral was designed by Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev. You can see the Russian influence in the design and I thought it was the most beautiful of all the churches we visited.
Helsinki Cathedral: You can’t miss the gorgeous Helsinki Cathedral, located in the city center. Known as St. Nicholas’ Church until 1917, when Finland declared their independence from Russia, it’s one of the cities most famous landmarks.
Kamppi Chapel: Kamppi Chapel, also known as the “Chapel Of Silence” is most known for it’s contemporary wooden architecture. Completed in 2012, Kamppi Church welcomes guests from all religions.
Though the archipelago of Helsinki is made up of around 330 islands, Suomenlinna Island is one of the most popular. It’s also just a short ferry ride away. You’ll want to keep your camera ready because there are gorgeous views of the city as you head out.
This UNESCO Heritage Site is a favorite day trip among the locals. There’s a market, a school and even residences. However, Finns that want to live there have to join a long waiting list.
The history of Suomenlinna begins in 1748, when the Swedes built a maritime fortress on the island. It was taken over by the Russians during the Russo-Swedish war but has belonged to Finland since 1918.
It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. You can visit the fortress or have a picnic in front of the towering Suomenlinna Church (fun fact: the church also doubles as a lighthouse).
While you’re exploring the island, be sure to pop into the Suomenlinna Toy Museum. It may be a little tricky to find but it’s totally worth the effort.
This museum is filled from top to bottom with toys like wooden horses, antique teddy bears, dolls and dollhouses ranging from the early 19th century to the 1970’s. If you’re hungry, you can even grab a quick bite to eat before you go.
It’s almost hard to believe that this quiet, laid back island is just minutes from the big city. It’s the perfect place to spend a few hours when you want to relax and unwind.
Oodi Helsinki Central Library
Normally I wouldn’t include a library on my must see list but the Oodi Library, opened in 2018, is unlike any library I’ve seen before. This three level building is open and bright and while it does have books, that’s not the only reason people come here.
The library also has a café, restaurant, collaborative work spaces, movie theater, audio-visual recording studios and a public balcony. When we were there, it was filled with everyone from parents reading storybooks to their toddlers to teens studying together. It’s so much more than just a library and I had a library like this back home, I’d probably go a whole lot more!
Just around the corner from Old Market Hall was the Moomin’ Cafe. I seemed to be the only one who hadn’t heard of the Moomins, cute Finnish cartoon characters that resemble hippos.
The cafe had a fun, whimsical appeal, from the souvenir shop to the artwork in the coffee drinks.
It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs for the kids too (because you know you can’t go home empty handed).
Linnanmaki Amusement Park
Smack dab in the city center is Linnanmaki Amusement Park. Open since 1950, the parks primary purpose is to raise money for charity.
The thing I found most fascinating about it was not the rides but that you could walk in and wander around for free. Where I’m from, you pay big money just to walk through the gates of a theme park. I loved that anyone could wander around, grab a snack and just enjoy the atmosphere.
Rides include everything from a Merry-Go Round to thrill rides.
Nine of the rides are free but you’ll need to buy a wristband to ride the others (but remember, the money goes to a good cause).
Helsinki City Museum
The Helsinki City Museum is relatively new addition to the city and free to the public. Opened in 2016, it’s actually two museums in one. The lower level, a.k.a. Children’s Town, is a fun, interactive play area for kids. They can play dress up or pretend to teach in a full size replica of an old classroom.
They can also cook a meal in the pretend kitchen…
or sail away in a wooden boat.
The upstairs is a history museum, which is geared more for adults and older kids. Here you’ll learn about the personal experiences and everyday life of Helsinki residents though photos and other exhibits.
While we don’t usually visit zoos while on vacation, that’s only because we have one within driving distance back home. However, the Korkeasaari Zoo may be worth a stop if you don’t get to visit zoos very often. Founded in 1889, it’s one of the oldest zoos in the world. In addition to being a zoo, they also work to protect the original habitats of a variety of species.
Located on an island just a short bus or ferry ride away, the zoo features 150 animal species including Amur tigers, pygmy marmosets, snow leopards and more.
If you’re hungry, you can head to the cafe where large glass windows overlook the brown bear enclosure.
Where To Stay In Helsinki
I love staying in unusual places and it doesn’t get much more unusual than Hotel Katajanokka. This hotel was an actual prison until 2002! It opened its doors as a hotel in 2007 and is now one of Helsinki’s most popular places to stay.
I was super excited to stay here and as I walked through for the first time, I could see plenty of reminders that this had been an old prison.
The rooms were small but didn’t feel cramped at all. I loved the various old photos and momentos on the wall and the fact that half the windows were still covered with prison bars. Is there such a thing as prison chic?
The restaurant downstairs was clearly a mess hall at one point and has a bit of a cool, spooky feel now.
If you poke around a little, you may even find some secret rooms. This room used to be where prisoners were sent for solitary confinement. Now it holds photos of a couple who chose it as the location for their wedding photos.
Hotel Katajanokka was is in a great location and was walking distance to many of things we wanted to see. If you’re looking for hotel that’s really unique, I highly recommend that you check out this one!
I loved Helsinki! It had gorgeous architecture, lots to see and do and is a great vacation destination for all ages. If you want to learn more about where to stay and things to do in Helsinki, check out Visit Finland for more info.
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