If you’re headed to Helsinki, these top things to do are just a small sample of how much there is to discover here. Even on my second visit to the city, there were so much I had yet to see and do.
From design museums to trying local cuisine, these are my top picks for what to do on a visit in Helsinki. The city is such a wonderful place to visit as it’s easy to get around either by foot, metro, or taxi. The city is walkable, so I’d suggest seeing most of it on foot.
Top 10 Things to Do in Helsinki
Experience a Finnish Sauna.
When it comes to a unique experience in Helsinki, an afternoon at a sauna is one to do. It’s quintessential in Finland and one great way to unwind for an hour or two. In Helsinki, one of the best saunas is Löyly, about a 10-minute drive from the city center. The modern building has a restaurant and co-ed sauna that sits on the sea, making for a picturesque and relaxing afternoon. Be sure to book in advance here and do as the locals do, grab a beer and sit on the terrace.
Visit Suomenlinna Fortress.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic sea fortress of Suomenlinna is easily reached by boat from the Market Square. Take the JT line that brings you there in about 20 minutes or so and be sure to have a return ticket. On the island, you can explore by foot the landscape, see the fortress, and even have lunch at one of the many cafes.
Explore the Market Square.
Right on the water’s edge is the market that is open year round with everything from local goods, to food, and handicrafts. It’s a spot to pick up fresh vegetables and fruits (grab some summer berries) and a picturesque spot to explore. Near here, is the Helsinki Cathedral in the Senate Square, so you could grab some food to go and head over to the area to enjoy.
Try local Finnish food.
There are many opportunities to try local, Finnish food while in Helsinki. One of my favorite meals is at Restaurant Savotta where you can try everything from reindeer to local fish cooked in a traditional way. I’d head here to have not only a great dining experience but also have a stunning view of the cathedral. It’s not far from the city center and be sure to reserve in advance.
See the museums.
If there is one thing you have to do in Helsinki, it’s visiting a few museums. From contemporary art at the Kiasma to exploring Finnish design at the Design Museum, there is something for everyone. One idea if you’re going to visit multiple is purchasing the Helsinki Card which gives entry to over 30 attractions including museums.
See Alvar Aalto’s Studio.
Escape the city and head out to famed architect, Alvar Aalto’s studio. For design-lovers, this is one space you won’t want to miss. It goes into his life’s work and how he spent his time designing. Be sure to reserve a spot on the tours in advance.
Take a day trip to Nuuksio National Park.
One of the best day trips is to get outdoors in Nuuksio National Park. I stopped in here last time in the winter and the summer months are amazing for hiking. Using public transport, you can take the train from the city center to Espoo and once there, grab the bus 85 or 85a to the park just out front. It’s a wonderful national park to get a feel of Finland’s incredible nature.
Walk the city center.
I always love exploring a new city by foot so I’d head straight to the city center to start. From shopping streets to restaurants, you can really get a good sense of Helsinki this way. Along the way, there are hidden gems like parks and open-air cafes.
Experience local design.
Whether it’s through the museums, local goods, or architecture, Finnish design is well known around the world. There is much to discover here in terms of design, so I’d start by heading to the Design District of Helsinki to see what’s on offer that week. They also list out everything from shops to local designers and spaces to explore.
Visit the unique Temppeliaukio Church.
Also known as the rock church, this church was designed by architects and brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969. For me, it’s one of the most unique buildings and churches in Helsinki and well worth a visit to see the church that is carved right into a rock.