Somewhere between a sauna and a three-course meal at a five-star restaurant, it’s unequivocally easy to lose oneself to a Finnish way of life. It all starts and ends in Helsinki.
I found myself landing at Helsinki Airport with one task: find out the secret that makes this city so great. If you read this post, you know I arrived with no expectations — just a blank canvas I was waiting to paint. Helsinki took me by surprise. It took me a day or two, but I found myself wishing I could stay longer. There were certainly more cafes I needed to visit, more streets I needed to explore, and more food to try.
So what exactly makes Helsinki so great? What beckons the traveler to book a ticket to this Finnish cosmopolitan epicenter? I found that answer in the people. The people of Helsinki are independent yet ever so helpful. They may seem to be distant at first, but upon conversation they let you into a world that you never knew existed. They are passionate. It’s seen in their work, their design, their craftsmanship — and it’s inspiring.
Because of the people, you’re given a city experience that is refined, exhilarating, and keeps you wanting more. It’s an opportunity to be immersed in a cosmopolitan world that incorporates the strong roots of Finnish lifestyle.
Take a look at this city guide to Helsinki, Finland.
The City Guide to Helsinki, Finland
What to Know Before Going to Helsinki
- Almost everyone speaks English so no need to worry if you don’t speak Finnish.
- Finnish people like their space and can take offense to staring, be sure to watch your space in public spaces.
- Credit cards are widely accepted.
- Going nude is preferred in saunas, so don’t be afraid to join in on an incredible tradition.
- Tips are not expected, but rounding up is okay.
Best Time to Visit Helsinki
- This is completely relative to what you’d like to enjoy while you’re in Helsinki — Dining and museums are year-round staples. During the winter you have an opportunity to enjoy winter activities and see the city blanketed in snow which is stunning. I visited in February and I was completely happy with this time of year.
Getting to Helsinki / Transportation in Helsinki
- Arriving into Helsinki is quite simple, and with an easy train system into the city center, there is no need for a taxi into town. Finnair is running incredibly well-priced flights into Helsinki from New York City, Miami, and Chicago. When you arrive into Helsinki, the HSL (public transportation) gets you into the city in a quick thirty or so minutes.
- Once in Helsinki Airport, be sure to get yourself a travel card that gives you access to all public transportation ran by HSL (depending on which region you purchase, see here for more details) as well as the ferry to Suomenlinna.
Where to Stay in Helsinki
- The city is completely walkable, making the center the best location to reach all corners of your adventures. This trip, I stayed at the modern Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, which were a lovely place to call home for the week. For an extended stay, (3+ nights) these hotel apartments are the perfect option as they are fully equipped with kitchens, laundry, and great amenities for your stay. The location is less then 500 meters away from the train station where you’ll arrive if you’re traveling to/from the airport by train, and walking distance to almost all of the trams in the city.
+ Please note the apartments will look a bit different as this one was decorated for the #HelsinkiSecret residence, please see website for more photos.
Where to Eat in Helsinki
The cuisine opportunities seem to be almost endless in Helsinki. From classic Finnish style restaurants to more modern takes on ingredients, there is truly a wide range of dining. The coffee culture is incredible here as well. Finnish people drink anywhere from 4-5 cups of coffee a day. Here are some of my favorite restaurants and cafes in Helsinki:
- Andante Cafe, Fazer Cafe (all over the city), Robert’s Coffee in Old Market Hall, Mood Coffee, Kaffa Roastery, Good Life Coffee, Johan & Nystrom, and Kahvila Savy.
- Meripaviljonki: The “floating” restaurant has a stunning view over the water, and their ocean inspired menu is tasty.
- Kappeli Cafe: This is a classic, an institution one might say, here in Helsinki. The airy space serves an incredible tasting menu and is also well known for their blinis. *Reservations necessary
- Restaurant Savotta: A traditional meal where your server dresses in traditional Finnish style, in one of the oldest buildings in Helsinki. It’s part of the A&S Restaurant Group. *Reservations necessary
- Juuri: The best of Finnish ingredients, presented in a way that is pleasing to the eye — their coursed lunch was memorable. *Reservation necessary
- Pihka Restaurants: This is a casual eatery, great for a quick mid-day lunch.
- Latva’s Sapas – Sapas is Finland’s version of tapas, small plates with great food and drinks.
- The Cock: It was probably the best meal I had in Helsinki because of the food, drinks, and space. The menu features anything from tempura broccoli, to their famous chicken. *Reservations necessary
- FAFA’s: Falafel done incredibly well, with a few locations across the city (a great late night eat).
- Gaijin: The one restaurant I wish I would of made it to, this trendy Asian eatery serves fun-inspired dishes. *Reservations necessary
What to Do in Helsinki
This well-rounded, cosmopolitan city has a multitude of experiences available. From the arts to the design district, to opportunities for great day trips, you can easily spend four to five days here and not see it all.
- Museums: Ateneum for rotating exhibits, Helsinki Art Museum for more modern arts, and National Museum of Finland for history.
- Design District Shopping (see this map for information).
- History at Suomenlinna the sea fortress. Take the 20-minute ferry trip out this island, where you can spend a few hours winding through the historic buildings. Take a guided walking tour for more information.
- Show at Musiikitalo (Helsinki Music Centre, see here for events).
- SkyWheel Helsinki is an incredible ferris wheel where you get a stunning view of the city.
- Torni Hotel roof top Ateljee Bar is a hot spot to be for panoramic views from the center of Helsinki.
- Ice Skating at Jaapuisto Ice Rink
- Helsinki Zoo is reachable by bus in the winter and also by ferry in the summer, and is a great place to take kids or even go by yourself to see the Nordic wildlife.
Day Trips from Helsinki
- Reindeer experience at Nuuksio White Reindeer: This is an opportunity to feed the reindeer, touch their furry noses, and learn about the Finnish tradition. *Highly recommended
- Haltia the Finnish Nature Centre in Nuuksio National Park: Take a guided walking tour through stunning nature and learn about the region.
- Snowmobile ride: Burn Out City offers opportunities to take a snowmobile safari in the winter. *Book in advance
- Tallin, Estonia: A popular day trip if you have time is taking the ferry over to Estonia to see the small town of Tallinn. It is a two hour ferry each way.
+ I was invited as a guest of Visit Helsinki to experience the #HelsinkiSecret residences. As always, all opinions are own.