A stylish and compact seaside capital city, with all the charms of Europe, which really comes alive in the summer, Helsinki is hip and laidback, with an air of elegance and coolness that is felt as soon as you step in the city. From airy, open parks to crowded bars and clubs, there really is everything in Helsinki to suit all moods and occasions.
The city centre is very easy to navigate with a map acquired from your accommodation establishment. You can also hire a bike as a cheap alternative; otherwise the public transport is quite easy to use. The tram lines 2 and 3 are especially good for sightseeing as the take you to some of the tourist spots in the city. The street names will throw you a bit, but they are easy to remember.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO:
Seurasaari is located 20 minutes north of Helsinki and can be reached with bus 24. It is a popular spot with the locals in the summer; the island is brimming with wildlife, forest-like scenery and secret beaches and paths. There is also an open air museum filled with 18th to 20th century Finnish wooden buildings. During the summer, there are workshops and events organized at the museum showcasing traditional handicrafts, folklore and customs from Finland.
An inner city sanctuary is the Esplanade Park, which is a very popular spot with the locals in the summer evenings after a spot of shopping is done on one of the two main shopping streets. It is smaller than the other parks, but it has plenty of green grass, benches and terraces to sit and enjoy the evening breeze. There is also a statue of the national poet, J. L. Runeberg to admire. There are also free concerts held on Espa Stage throughout the summer.
Suomenlinna Fortress Island is another great place to have a picnic, a swim and to learn and explore a piece of Finnish history. From a stronghold fortress it has been transformed to a green and charming district, home to 800 residents, that you can take hours looking through the “secret tunnels” and charming 18th and 19th century buildings. It was founded on the islands in 1748, and throughout the whole island there are still remnants of the time when Finland was under Swedish rule to the period of Russian rule in the 19th century. You can catch the ferry from the Market Square that takes about 15 minutes to reach the island; you can use the normal bus ticket or Helsinki card to as ticketing. Otherwise, there is also a water taxi that runs in the summer, but this is a private company and the tickets will need to be bought onboard.
The Ateneum is also known as the Finnish National Gallery. It includes a Finnish art collection from the 1750s to the 1960s, and western art from late 1800s to 1950s. The building itself is a marvel inside, with marble columns and grand staircases. It is one of the most popular museums in Finland and it is a not-to-be-missed attraction.
Kiasma is the Contemporary Art Museum. It has some rather thought-provoking and surprising exhibits, but even if you are not into this type of art, it is still worth going to admire the airy, modern architecture of the building. It was opened in 1998 and designed by Steven Holl. It presents 3 major exhibitions a year, alongside smaller exhibits. The exhibitions are a mixture of Finnish and international artists.
Parliament House is and rather imposing piece of architecture in the heart of Helsinki. It is built in the style of 1920s Classicism. It is open to the public at set times, and groups have to book in 3 days in advance. The parliament can be observed by the public on Tuesdays to Fridays.
Helsinki City Museum:
The Helsinki City Museum offers a window into Helsinki’s past. There are also photography exhibitions held and the Kino Engel cinema shows films about Helsinki daily in Finnish and Swedish, and in English during summer.
There are many shopping options in Helsinki. Aleksanterinkatu and the Esplanadi are two main shopping streets filled with major international and Finnish designers. Along Mannerheimintie, there are also many shopping centers like the Forum and Kamppi. The best souvenir shopping can be done at the local indoor market and at the must-do Markets by the Sea, located in Market Square.
Linnanmäki is a fun-filled adventure park set just outside the city centre, easily reached by catching Tram 3 from the city centre. There are several ticketing options: you can buy a wristband which will give you access to all the rides in the park, or you can pay individually per ride. The entry to the park is free and there are also some free rides you can enjoy. There is a good mixture of rides for young and old. The more adventurous can enjoy the various roller-coasters and thrill-seeking rides, while quieter patrons can enjoy the gigantic Ferris Wheel and other slower rides. There are plenty of rides for kids that they will bountifully enjoy.