Helsinki (Finland): The top 20 attractions - Global Storybook

Helsinki: The Top 20 Attractions

Viivi Severina

Viivi Severina

Viivi Severina is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Finland).

Viivi is a travel addict and writer from the cold and snowy Finland. Like most Finns, Viivi loves sharing her culture, attractions and travel tips with anyone who is interested to hear more about her beautiful homeland.

You can also follow Viivi on her adventures outside of Finland at GoTravelGlobal.
Viivi Severina

Helsinki is Finland’s capital city, and it’s home to over half a million citizens.  For those visiting this northern country it may seem small but for us locals – it’s a real big city since there are only about six million Finns.  It has been put on a global travel map fairly recently, so everything still feels quite brand new.

Some travelers may find Helsinki boring, and it may seem so but only if you haven’t done enough research before your visit.  Some of Helsinki’s attractions aren’t as widely known to tourists as they are to Finns.  Two to three days should be enough to see the most important sights.

But for those who are planning to stay longer, there’s almost an endless amount of possibilities just like in any other capital city.  You just have to be brave enough to exit the small central area and explore some of the not so popular neighborhoods.  In this list, you will find the top 20 attractions in Helsinki – so pick out your favorite and start planning!

1. Helsinki Cathedral and the Senate Square

Every capital city has at least one iconic landmark.  For Helsinki, it is the impeccably white Helsinki Cathedral from the 19th century, located at the Senate Square.  You can’t go inside during ceremonies but you can take part in the public services and prayers which are available in several languages.

The Helsinki Cathedral is a popular place for weddings, so even if you can’t come inside you can at least gaze at the Finnish newlyweds exiting the church.  Plus don’t forget to visit the café and the exhibition hall inside the Cathedral’s Crypt.

Senate Square, Helsinki, Finland - Global StorybookThe Senate Square is another popular stopping point and you can always see numerous tour buses circling it.  Surprisingly, all the four buildings around the Senate Square (the Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library of Finland, the University of Helsinki and the Government Palace) have been designed by the same man, Carl Ludvig Engel.

Despite the old age of the buildings, there is always a modern vibe present, enlivening the atmosphere for the locals and tourists alike.  Lastly, each day at exactly 5:49pm, you can hear a music installation moving from one building to another around the square.

2. Ateneum

Ateneum actually includes the Finnish National Gallery, the Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma, as well as the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.  It displays Finnish art, and it’s one of the best-known museums in the whole of Finland.  You can find art from the 19th century to the current era at this spectacular museum.  The artworks range from the world-famous artists, like Pablo Picasso to the Finnish celebrities like Tove Jansson (creator of Moomins).  There are also free guided tours offered in English every other Friday.

This museum is perfect for all art-lovers who want to see some traditional paintings.  Keep an eye on the widely known Finnish masterpieces, like Hugo Simberg’s “The Wounded Angel,” Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s “Aino Myth” and Eero Järnefelt’s “Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood).”  Just be warned that older Finnish canvases were often dark and raw.  There’s a lot of hidden messages in the paintings made before Finland’s independence from Russia, as numerous local artists strived to represent Finland as a sovereign country in their art.

  • Address: Kaivokatu 2
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Wednesday – Thursday 10:00am – 8:00pm, Friday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Saturday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm
  • Price: 15€, under 18 free
  • Official Website: http://www.ateneum.fi/?lang=en

3. Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

Suomenlinna is one of the more distant Helsinki’s neighborhoods, spread around eight islands.  It’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions.  Its old sea fortress used to protect Finland’s capital from sea attacks, in the past.  The name “Suomenlinna” literally means “Finland’s castle,” though it is misleading.  There is no castle on any of the islands.  Its main attractions are the museums located in the old buildings, churches, as well as the remaining parts of the old fort.

The official name of Suomenlinna is Viapori fortress, though many locals may not even know that since it has been called “Suomenlinna” for too long.  Viapori has served as a fortress from 1748 and it has always been an important part of Helsinki’s defense.  Nowadays Suomenlinna is home to about 800 Finns, and there’s still an active Naval Academy continuing the long tradition of Finnish self-defense.

The easiest way to get to Suomenlinna is by taking a ferry, which is part of Helsinki’s public transportation network.  If you have purchased a day ticket for the trams, buses and metros, you can also use it for the Suomenlinna ferry.  It leaves and arrives at the Kauppatori terminal several times a day.  After getting to the island, you can walk around freely though I’d recommend following the official trail.  You can see all the main sights by walking along the Blue Route.

  • Address: Suomenlinna, Helsinki
  • Time required: 3-7 hours
  • Hours of operation: first ferry at 6:00am, last ferry at 2:00am
  • Price: Suomenlinna is free, round trip with ferry costs 5€
  • Official Website: https://www.suomenlinna.fi/en

4. Kiasma

Kiasma is a museum of contemporary art and is part of the Finnish National Gallery.  The exhibitions in Kiasma change often and you can find everything from the local artists to the world famous painters there.  However, you won’t usually see any traditional paintings in Kiasma.  Its art choice is often more modern and interactive.

The building itself has an unusual shape.  From its enormous windows on the top floor, you can spy on locals enjoying the green area and the skatepark nearby.  Kiasma was built in 1998, and it’s located near several important touristic attractions.  Those who are traveling on a budget should be happy to know that the admission is free on the first Friday of every month.  Try to come here on a weekday since locals love to come here during weekends, making the place much busier and noisier.

  • Address: Mannerheiminaukio 2
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday 10:00am – 5:00pm, Wednesday – Friday 10:00am – 8:30pm, Saturday 10:00am – 6:00pm, Sunday 10:00am – 5:00pm
  • Price: 14€, under 18 years-olds free
  • Official Website: http://www.kiasma.fi/en

5. Temppeliaukio (The Rock Church)

Majority of Finns are Christians.  Hence you can find numerous churches around the country.  Even if a modern Finn were to go to church about once a year, our cities were built around at least one main temple.  Temppeliaukio Church, or the “Rock Church” as tourists like to call it, is one of the main attractions in Helsinki.  This church was designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and it’s hidden inside a giant rock in the heart of Helsinki’s city center.  It’s actually on a walking distance from some of the most popular hotels and tourist attractions.

As a church, Temppeliaukio has a mass every Sunday at 10:00am which is a traditional time to conduct it in Finland.  If you don’t want to listen to a ceremony in Finnish, the church also offers shorter prayers every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday in English at noon.  Everyone is welcome.  Please note that you have to buy a 3 Euro ticket from their café and that the opening hours change every week.  You should also consider attending a concert in the Temppeliaukio since its interior design, plus its rock walls offer nearly perfect acoustics.

6. SkyWheel Helsinki

The SkyWheel Helsinki is a huge Ferris wheel located in the bay area, right next to Löyly (sight #7).  You can enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of Helsinki’s skyline, as well as its adjacent islands from this 40-meters high revolving wheel.  During evenings the wheel lights up with beautiful colors, and it’s worth seeing even if you don’t have much time or funds to use it.

In addition to regular cabins, the SkyWheel offers a VIP cabin and even a… sauna cabin.  The VIP cabin has leather seats for up to four people, music, shaded glass and the champagne service.  It also lasts longer than the usual ride, which is 10 to 12 minutes.  As to the SkySauna, it is literally a piece of Finnish sauna (a hot steamy room) stuffed inside a tiny cabin.  Since visiting sauna is a must do activity in Finland, you can do it in style in a 40-meters high Ferris wheel.  Just remember that unlike with the typical sauna, you can’t just leave the SkySauna whenever you feel like.  And it may get hot up in there!

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Helsinki - An Unmissable Gem of Europe

SkyWheel Helsinki, Finland - Global Storybook

  • Address: Katajanokanlaituri 2
  • Time required: 30 minutes or less
  • Hours of operation: Monday – Friday 12:00pm – 6:00pm, Saturday 11:00am – 8:00pm, Sunday 11:00am – 5:00pm
  • Price: 12€ (adults), 9€ (children)
  • Official Website: http://www.skywheel.fi/en/

7. Löyly

When you travel to Finland, you must visit a sauna.  Sauna is a hot steamy room which is an essential part of every Finnish home.  And the easiest way to try sauna is to visit Löyly in the Helsinki bay area.  Löyly is a chick sauna, which has a restaurant and access to the sea.  During the Winter, you can try the popular ice swimming, while during the Summer you can cool down on their terrace.  You should make a reservation in advance since Löyly is not only popular with travelers but also with locals.  The 19 Euros admission, allows you to use its mixed public sauna for up to two hours.

The word “löyly” means the act of throwing water into a sauna’s heater and the resulting steam produced by the action.  Public saunas aren’t as popular as they used to be in Finland, but Löyly has found its own place in Helsinki and Finnish culture.  Since it only opened in 2016, it’s one of the newer and not so well-known touristic attractions in Helsinki.

In addition to trying out a traditional Finnish sauna, plus enjoying some local delicacies in their trendy restaurant, you can also hang out next to a fireplace, swim in the sea, visit a smoke sauna or the once heated sauna and cool down in the cold water basin.  If you are seeking a genuine Finnish experience, this is a good place to start with.  There is nothing more Finnish than relaxing at 100°C sauna.

Löyly Helsinki sauna - Global Storybook

  • Address: Hernesaarenranta 4
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: Monday – Wednesday 4:00pm – 10:00pm, Thursday 1:00pm – 10:00pm, Friday – Saturday 1:00pm – 10:00pm, Sunday 1:00pm – 10:00pm
  • Price: 19€ (includes a towel, seat cover, soap, and shampoo)
  • Official Website: http://www.loylyhelsinki.fi/en/

8. Uspenski Cathedral

Finland’s main religion is Catholicism but there are still several prominent Orthodox churches left from the times of the Russian occupation.  The Uspenski Cathedral is one of the most beautiful remnants of the Russian influence in Finland.  Golden cupolas, breathtaking paintings, and active churchgoers make Uspenski worth a visit.  The Cathedral stands proudly on a high hill so you can easily spot it from all over the city.  Furthermore, the Uspenski Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in northern and western Europe.

It was built at the time when Finland was part of Russia, so the locals started to use it in 1868.  Just like all the traditional Orthodox cathedrals, Uspenski is full of vibrant decorations, colors, and fancy details.  It’s treated as one of the leading attractions in Helsinki even amongst locals who don’t live in the capital city.  You can walk around the open areas surrounding the cathedral or, if you’re lucky, there might be a mass on which you can attend.

  • Address: Pormestarinrinne 1
  • Time required: 30 minutes
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday – Friday 9:30am – 4:00pm, Saturday 10:00am – 3:00pm, Sunday 12:00pm – 3:00pm
  • Price: Free
  • Official Website: https://hos.fi/kirkot/uspenskin-katedraali/ (only in Finnish)

9. The Old Market Hall

Indoor markets are an essential part of larger Finnish cities spread around the country.  Helsinki’s own “Kauppahalli,” which means “old market hall” is one of the best-known examples.  It has been the number one place to buy food and supplies since 1889!  After Finland joined the European Union, its selection had expanded a lot.  You can not only buy products from Finland but also from most other European countries.  From coffee to tea, spices, cheese, fish, meat, and crafts – you’ll find it all this vibrant place.

You shouldn’t skip trying some reindeer meat while you are walking around the market.  You can get it from a few places and in a few different recipes.  Another very traditional Finnish delicacy to buy in the Old Market Hall is a cinnamon roll bun named “Korvapuusti.”  If you will need any help or recommendations, the staff in the market is very friendly and speaks good English.  They’re very used to foreigners and all kinds of questions, so you will get the best tips when it comes to picking the most authentic local food.

  • Address: Eteläranta
  • Time required: 30 minutes
  • Hours of operation: Monday – Saturday 8:00am – 6:00pm
  • Price: Free
  • Official Website: http://vanhakauppahalli.fi/en/

10. Finnish National Museum (Kansallismuseo)

The Finnish National Museum is one of the most important cultural museums in the country.  It’s dedicated primarily to the ethnic history of Finland and it covers a very wide period from the ancient times to the modern days.  Its permanent exhibitions are still evolving, and they include some powerful displays, paintings and illustrations, photographs and videos, all related to the story of Finland as well as our citizens.  Some of these exhibits are highly interactive and allow one to touch its objects with one’s hands.  They are particularly popular with kids.

The museum also hosts a number of rotating temporary displays set around a specific topic, as well as workshops and events.  It’s worth checking its official website to see what’s currently on.  In addition, it also offers some guided tours in different languages, plus a cafeteria where one can grab a snack.

  • Address: Mannerheimintie 34
  • Time required: 3-4 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday – Sunday: 11:00am – 6:00pm; Wednesday: 11:00am – 8:00pm; closed on Mondays
  • Price: 12€ (adult); free every Friday 4:00pm – 6:00pm
  • Official Website: http://www.kansallismuseo.fi/en/nationalmuseum

11. Linnanmäki Amusement Park

Linnanmäki is the most popular amusement park in Finland which hosts over a million visitors annually.  Since Finnish Winters are usually cold and snowy, Linnanmäki is only open for a few months a year.  Though there are also some occasional Winter events in Linnanmäki hence keep your eyes open if you’re planning a trip to Helsinki outside the Summer months.  Linnanmäki was opened in 1950, and it always belonged to a non-profit foundation which donates money to charity.

There are about 40 rides, though new ones keep appearing almost every year.  Most of them are only accessible with a paid ticket although Linnanmäki also has a few free rides.  The panoramic sightseeing tower is popular among the tourists, while locals prefer to hop on some wilder rides.  You can see Helsinki from above when riding many of the rollercoasters.  However, the tower is the only one which offers an opportunity to take some photos.

  • Address: Tivolikuja 1
  • Time required: 2-6 hours
  • Hours of operation: closed in Winter, Summer hours may vary
  • Price: depends on a ride
  • Official Website: https://www.linnanmaki.fi/en

12. Winter Garden

Finland doesn’t have many public gardens full of flowers because of the unsuitable weather conditions.  Our gardens just cannot operate the entire year.  Helsinki’s Winter Garden is the only exception, since it’s situated in a greenhouse it remains open all year round.  The Winter Garden features over 200 different plant and flower species, and it has been open for 120 years.  If you don’t know much about plants but want to learn something new, you can pre-book an official guided tour before your visit.

The Winter Garden has three different galleries, each with their own theme.  One of them is called the “palm room” because it mainly features palms, spruces, plus the oldest plants in the Winter Garden, the Japanese camellias.  The second room is for cactuses and succulents, while the third one is for older houseplants, chamaeropses and magnolia grandifloras.  During the Summer you can also visit a beautiful rose garden in front of the glasshouse.

13. Sompasauna

I’ve recommended a few saunas on this top sights list, but their prices have been quite high.  Fortunately, Helsinki also has a free sauna for those on a budget.  Yes, it’s 100% free.  Sompasauna is located in the urban Kalasatama bay district, outside of central Helsinki.  However, the free sauna comes with a few cons: there’s no staff to heat up the fireplace.  And at Winter, you should bring your own water to throw into the stove as well as wood for the fireplace.  Also, you can’t rent the basic sauna necessities, like towels or swimming suits.

Remember that Sompasauna is a public sauna.  That means even the locals come to use it.  Its small rooms may quickly get packed and having a swimsuit on isn’t required.  Yes, you did read that right!  Finnish sauna culture is full of interesting sides like people being comfortable naked around strangers.  If you are in trouble or aren’t sure about something, just ask around for help.  Finns are always happy to help foreigners who want to learn more about Finnish culture and customs.  Someone may even offer to hit you with their pile of branches.  Don’t be scared, that’s just another sauna tradition we have here.

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Sauna

14. Tram Line 2, 3, 4 & 6

You can take a hop-on-hop-off bus in Helsinki like in all the major cities in Europe, but it’s a rather expensive way to see everything.  Especially, if you are on a budget – just use a tram.  Finns do this often because paying double for the expensive tourist bus just isn’t worth it.  You can even download some free audio guides for the tram lines from the internet (just make sure that it’s for the new tram routes and not for the old ones) and then buy a day ticket to see all the major sights.

Routes 2 and 3 make a circle around the central area and pass all the most important touristic attractions.  Route 4 is known as the tram that takes you to the art districts of Helsinki and it ends in the area of Löyly, SkyWheel and the Uspenski Cathedral.  The third sightseeing tram is route number 6.  It’s known as the design and culinary tram since you can visit Helsinki’s design district, best museums, and its market halls.  You can either travel the whole circle or hop on and off the tram to explore the attractions more closely.

Helsinki tram sight

  • Address: Helsinki
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: 24/7
  • Price: one-hour ticket 2,90€, day ticket 9€
  • Official Website: https://www.hsl.fi/en

15. Bad Bad Boy Statue

If you’re going to see only one statue in Helsinki, make it the Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija.  This sculpture is a newer addition to the city’s urban design, and locals have strong opinions about it already.  You will either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between.  Eight and a half meters tall, this pinkish statue portrays a pissing boy.  Toija’s artwork was initially installed in Sweden, and it came to Finland in 2014.  You can find it in the Jätkäsaari area.

The statue has inspired strong reactions during its tenure in Sweden, though Finns have slowly gotten attached to it.  Particularly since the sculpture is not located in front of the president’s palace like it did before.  Helsinki has many other statues worth seeing, while the Bad Bad Boy fits best for those who aren’t that interested in history or traditional art.  The Bad Bad Boy is a good example of the modern and international vibe which Helsinki has been trying to develop during the past few years.

Bad Bad Boy Statue, Helsinki, Finland - Global Storybook

Photo: Joaquin Ossorio Castillo/shutterstock.com

  • Address: Tyynenmerenkatu 11
  • Time required: 15-30 minutes
  • Hours of operation: 24/7
  • Price: Free

16. Eduskuntatalo (The Parliament)

The Finnish parliament has been meeting here since 1931 because other buildings were too small to accommodate 200+ people who were voted into the government after Finland gained its independence.  It took many years to plan and build this 25 meters high building which is best-known for its tall pillars.  Moreover, this old building has been recently renovated, so it looks even better now than before.  You don’t have to go inside to admire its beauty.  Just take a photo in front of its long steps like the locals and other tourists do.

To visit the parliament you should pre-book your tour in advance, though they only accept groups of over six people.  The building is majestic from the outside but inside you can also see some splendid art, Finnish design and of course politicians, who are almost like celebrities to Finns.  If you want to drink some coffee after your visit, there’s the Kansalaisinfon café plus an information center which belongs to the parliament.  The cafe’s address is: Arkadiankatu 3.

17. Unique Lapland Helsinki Winter World

This place is largely unknown to many locals but it is admired by all the tourists.  And there’s a good reason for that.  Finns get enough of Winter every year but foreigners who come to Finland during the Summer love to see a piece of magical snowland.  The Winter World lets you try some Winter sports and see “Lapland” in the southern-most part of Finland.

A ticket to the Winter World is quite expensive, but if you want to experience Finnish Winter in the middle of Summer, then it’s worth the cost.  The ticket includes one drink from the ice bar, the sliding hill, tandem skis, kick sleds, warm clothes, and other Winter fun at -3 degrees Celsius.  For Finns, that’s a balmy weather, but for someone not used to the cold and snow, it will be freezing.  At some additional cost, you can also try other Lapland-style activities, like husky dog safari rides.

ice bar Finland

  • Address: Savikiekontie 4
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: During Winter it’s only open for groups; during Summer it’s open to everyone
  • Price: 34€ (adult), 29€ (children 4 – 14 years)
  • Official Website: http://winterworld.fi/

18. Design Museum

Finns are all about cool design.  Marimekko, Alvar Aalto, and Iittala are just a few examples of the fine Finnish brands.  The three-story Design Museum has been recognized internationally and it offers a chance to learn more about Finnish design.  The museum is practically located in Helsinki’s design district so you can also visit some creative local shops before or after exploring its exhibitions.  If you want to buy some cool high-quality souvenirs – the products with Marimekko’s Unikko pattern, Iittala’s Aalto vase or Moomin cups are as Finnish as they can get.  Try to find them at the Design Museum!

The museum also offers free guided tours in English.  You can find more information on their website.  For those who don’t care much about design, this is a cool place to take Instagram photos or trendy profile photos for your other social media sites.  The exhibitions change occasionally but they are always arranged with a great style.

  • Address: Korkeavuorenkatu 23
  • Time required: 1-2 hours
  • Hours of operation: Tuesday 11:00am – 8:00pm, Wednesday – Sunday 11:00am – 6:00pm
  • Price: 10€ (adult)
  • Official Website: http://www.designmuseum.fi/en/

19. Kamppi Chapel of Silence

This is one of the newest places of worship in Helsinki.  Whether you believe in God or not, the Kamppi Chapel is a good place to relax in a quiet atmosphere.  Some locals even call the moment you step into this tiny modern Chapel magical.  You can’t find a calmer place anywhere else in the city center, and Finns love their time alone.  Kamppi is a quiet haven in the midst of the busiest part of Finland.

This Lutheran Chapel was built quite recently, in 2012.  The eleven and a half meters tall building is not only a symbol of the modern Finnish architecture, but it also changes the traditional idea of Finnish churches.  The Kamppi Chapel of Silence is more like a place to find peace within yourself than a church for those who want to have a conversation about God.  Though its kind staff would always be happy to talk to you about religion as well.

20. Korkeasaari Zoo

Korkeasaari is one of Helsinki’s islands, but it’s not just a regular island.  It’s also a zoo!  It was opened in 1889, and it’s home to around 150 animal species.  It’s one of the oldest zoos in the whole World.  You can find local Finnish animals as well as those that wouldn’t survive in Finland on their own. Korkeasaari is also protecting the wild animals, and their wildlife clinic even received praise for its good work in 2017.  You can be sure that the animals here are receiving excellent care.

Additionally, you will fall in love with the funny bears and scary lions.  The glasshouse with monkeys, snakes and other animals is also popular amongst locals who don’t usually see these animals around.  Winters bring quiet time to Korkeasaari, but it’s not a bad thing since you can enjoy seeing the animals without additional hassle.

The zoo also organizes several special events throughout the year.  Its best-known and beloved one is the 25-year-old tradition called the “Cats’ Night.” During the event, the Korkeasaari would be open until midnight, and you can see wild cats in their natural habitat.  It’s one of the must-see events in Helsinki during Autumn though remember that you must buy your tickets online in advance!

  • Address: Mustikkamaanpolku 12
  • Time required: 2-4 hours
  • Hours of operation: vary (check the website)
  • Price: 12€ (adult), 6€ (children 4 – 17 years)
  • Official Website: https://www.korkeasaari.fi/helsinki-zoo/

Please note: all prices are valid for 2017 only.

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