Helsinki – The Quick Guide to Finland’s Largest City!

Finland’s capital just might have what you’ve been looking for in a getaway! Helsinki languishes along the Gulf of Finland to the south, while Espoo, the suburbs, and town of Kauniainen, are found to the city’s west. Vantaa, a rather industrialized city is found to the city’s north and east, and beyond that the city melts away into smaller and smaller towns, farms and forests.

It Gets Dark – But It Doesn’t Get Dismal
Despite the long dark winters, Helsinki is among holiday destinations in the world that bursting with energy and activity, with something interesting around every corner. While it is true that winters bring bitter winds and and short days, Helsinki isn’t immersed into complete darkness. There are several hours of sunlight a day, and besides, Helsinki knows how to do winters! Make the most of those precious daylight hours and get out there to enjoy the snow covered city. Go ice skating on the skating rink at one of more than a dozen outdoor skating rinks found throughout Helsinki. Go cross country skiing in Keskuspuisto, Helsinki’s Central park. Sweat it out in a sauna and then go for a dip in an old fashioned ice hole cut into the frozen waters for the ultimate Finland experience, or visit one of the newer facilities where ice swimming accompanies other spa options. Depending where you go, the icy waters can be lit from beneath for an extra surreal experience. If that sounds a bit too cold for your liking, stick with the sauna!

Every sauna is just a little bit different from the next

Every sauna is just a little bit different from the next

Yes, Finland Is All About The Sauna – Helsinki Is No Exception
You may have already heard that the word “sauna” is of Finnish origin. It’s true that the sauna is a prominent part of Finnish culture, and Helsinki has several options. Saunas can be found pretty much everywhere in Helsinki, from public saunas to personal saunas in private homes, to spa retreats with saunas. It’s common for families in Finland to own or rent a cabin where they also have a sauna for the summer holidays. You can find your way to Kotiharju, in the Kallio district of Helsinki, Åstorgsgatan 1, 00500 Helsingfors, Finland where their wood-burning public sauna is heated daily with room for thirty people. Ditch the clothes, and grab a towel.

They Have Two Official Languages – But Don’t Worry If You Can’t Speak Them
The city and county of Helsinki is the country’s capital area, and known locally as “pääkaupunkiseutu” – if you don’t quite have the pronunciation of that term down pat, don’t fret. While Finnish and Swedish are the two official languages of Finland, you won’t necessarily need to take a crash course in either language to be understood. You’ll discover that English is a commonly spoken language in Helsinki. In fact, even though Swedish is an official language, more Finns actually speak English than they do Swedish.

Helsinki Is Not Only On The Mainland
This capital city is slightly different in that Helsinki isn’t just on the country’s mainland, but it also encompasses several islands in the area. Helsinki is an archipelago of hundreds of green islands. You can find plenty to keep yourself amused on the mainland, or set your sights on one of Helsinki’s islands. The nearby island of Korkeasaari is where you’ll find Finland’s largest zoo…

…A Zoo On An Island? You’ll Find It In Helsinki
Hop on the ferry bringing you across from the mainland and to Korkeasaari in the summer where the largest zoo in the country is waiting. You can also access the island through the Mustikkamaa recreation area any time of year. The zoo is enjoyable all year round, with many of the zoo’s animals venturing out into the winter weather. The big cats are more active during the darker seasons of the year, and the summer months bring out the best in the island’s rich green habitats.

Finnish Cuisine Is Both Seasonal And Satisfying
You’ll find a long list of dining establishments in Helsinki, both formal and casual, serving up authentic Finnish dishes and cuisine from all around the globe. If you crave it, you’ll find it in Helsinki. Make your way to Eeron Keittiö at Ristipellontie 14 Helsinki, and you’ll be enamored with the friendliness and laid back atmosphere, not to mention the delicious Finnish food. Tori, at Punavuorenkatu 2, Helsinki, is a comfortable  downtown restaurant with a unique cozy style and a European and Mediterranean inspired menu – it’s one of the best places in town to try authentic Finnish meatballs.

Finnish cuisine, like in many places in the world that go through seasons of great contrast, is extremely seasonal. It’s also heavily influenced by cultures to both the east and the west of the country. In Helsinki you’ll notice that even in the largest urban centre, the city heavily relies on fresh and natural ingredients that are in season. From the fresh fish, which makes up a large portion of the Finnish diet, to the mushrooms, berries and vegetables that are gathered at just the right time of year, you’ll always be able to find something seasonal in Helsinki.

January: burbot, a cod-like fresh water fish, and roe (the fish eggs) with blinies – a Russian pancake
February: Runeberg torte, pea soup and laskiaispulla (Shrove buns)
March to April: lamb, mämmi (a type of Finnish Easter pudding), pasha – another Russian inspired dish
May: fresh perch, fresh whitefish, pike-perch, sima (mead) and tippaleivät (May Day fritters), nettles
June to July: new potatoes, fresh salmon, Finnish sausage, fresh herring, field strawberries, blueberries, and cloudberries
August: seasonal root vegetables, fresh crayfish, wild duck, yellow chanterelles, apples
September: fresh Baltic herring and vendace, hare, trumpet chanterelles, harvested lingonberry
October to November: lamb, cabbage, fresh elk and reindeer meat in a variety of ways, goose
December: rosolli salad, seasonal root vegetable casseroles, ham, ginger biscuits and Christmas pies, Finnish glögi (a mulled wine Christmas drink)

You Can Get A Taste Of Helsinki While Seeing The Sights – Multitasking In The Capital
In the mood for a beer, sparkling wine, cider or a soft drink? Are you in the mood for a beverage and a tour of Helsinki at the same time? The city’s SpåraKOFF Bar Tram will take you on a tour lasting roughly forty minutes, and making stops at the Railway Square, Linnanmäki amusement park, Opera House, Aleksanterinkatu and the Market Square. The bright red tram-turned-pub on wheels operates during the summer only, from Wednesdays through to Saturdays, once an hour between 2:00 pm and 9:00 pm. The €7  fare will get you on board for the tour, drinks are priced individually.

If the idea of a drink combined with a great view of the city sounds perfect, but you’d rather be stationary, make your way to Café Ursula at Ehrenströmsvägen 3, 00140 Helsinki. You’ll be treated with one of the best views of Helsinki you could possibly get while enjoying a fantastic meal or a glass of wine. Sit outside in the warmer months and enjoy the fresh air, or get cozy indoors and watch the ice floating on the sea.

Accomodations Limited To Boring Hotels? – Think Again
Helsinki boasts a number of interesting places to hang your hat at the end of a long day’s touring. Check out The old jail at Katajanokka, Merikasarminkatu 1, 00160 Helsinki. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from the historic harbour and Helsinki market square. Free WiFi, unique décor and a friendly staff are waiting for you at this old converted Helsinki jail.

Helsinki vacation cottage rental

Helsinki vacation cottage rental

If you’re looking for something different, head to a Helsinki vacation rental where you can spread out and feel at home. Try any number of apartments located in the city centre, most featuring great views of Helsinki right from your own window. You’ll be right where all the action is – and the best part is that a great many of these Helsinki vacation rental homes have their own sauna.

If you’d rather get out of the downtown core of Helsinki and explore the outskirts of the nation’s capital, then you might consider seeking out a Finnish summer cottage during the country’s warmer months. Spend your Helsinki holidays at a picturesque cottage outside of the bustle of the city, where you can enjoy the attractions and conveniences of downtown Helsinki by day, and retire to your own private cottage against a natural backdrop by night. Relax in the fresh outdoors, swim and take part in outdoor activities at your own pace, in the comfort of your own summer home.

Get A Dose Of Culture At Any Number Of Helsinki Museums
Pay a visit to the National Museum of Finland, located at Mannerheimintie 34, Helsinki, and see what’s in store. The National Museum of Finland carefully displays the Finnish history going back to medieval times and leading up to the 19th century, portraying life in the region over a period of more than one thousand years. Many different temporary exhibits on a wide variety of themes come through the museum.

Helsinki’s Designmuseo Design Museum is another favourite, located at Korkeavuorenkatu 23, 00130 Helsinki. A delight to behold, this museum is packed to the brim with various displays of all sorts of designs from industrial to fashion to graphic design. You’ll see scores of furniture, machines and articles of clothing, each unique and inspirational in a wide array of colours, shapes and sizes. It’s a very visually impressive and mentally stimulating Helsinki attraction.

Suomenlinna – See The Island, And Visit The Submarine
The UNESCO World Heritage List includes Suomenlinna, Helsinki’s fascinating island fortress. Suomenlinna can only be acessed via the ferry service that runs from the Helsinki Market Square to Suomenlinna all year long, or the water bus service that operates during the summer months.

Suomenlinna Fortress

Suomenlinna Fortress

The twenty minute ride to Suomenlinna is an experience itself! Once you arrive, you’ll find plenty of things to do around this unique historic site. There are eleven restaurants and cafés available, many different interesting museums including a submarine.

The submarine Vesikko is found here in Suomenlinna, and it’s one of the number one attractions not only on the fortress island but in Helsinki altogether. The sub was used during the Second World War, and continues to educate visitors from all over the world. Upon arriving at the restored submarine, you might be surprised by how relatively small it is, considering the job it was intended for. You’ll witness the submarine in all it’s cramped glory in the interior of the sub where about 20 men would be working steadily beneath the sea. Throughout the times of the Winter War and the Continuation War, the Vesikko operated in the Gulf of Finland carrying out convoy, safety and patrol duties. The dock area of Suomenlinna was the base for the Finnish subs. When the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 would no longer allow Finland to have submarines, all of the Finnish subs ended up being destroyed – all but Vesikko. Vesikko was ultimately restored and repurposed as a museum and Helsinki tourist attraction, and opened its hatch to the public in 1973. Take note that Vesikko is only open during the summer season, and does not have wheelchair access.

Remember to get in from the cold and bitter winds and enjoy a warm drink in the winter, and take advantage of the long days of sunshine in the Helsinki summer! Get out and enjoy the Finnish landscape, and take part in a variety of Helsinki cultural activities. Savor every bite of delicious fresh fish, get sweaty in the sauna and plunge into the icy waters. Every part of Helsinki has something different and exciting waiting just around the corner.

Visit the European destinations category to learn more about other places to visit in Europe!