24 Irresistible Things to do in Helsinki

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The Finnish capital makes for a great city break destination, or the perfect base to begin a trip into Finland, as there are some great things to do in Helsinki.

Helsinki is a small city, with a compact center that’s easy to traverse and pleasant to explore. It’s home to the best museums in Finland, excellent Finnish and international restaurants and incredible works of both historic and modern architecture.

Being located along the coast, Helsinki offers plenty of outdoor opportunities too, from long walks along the seafront to offshore excursions to nearby islands and open-air museums. It’s a great city to visit and to inspire your trip to Finland, here are the best things to do in Helsinki!

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Pocket Helsinki (Travel Guide)

24 Things to do in Helsinki, Finland

1. Observatoriebergets Park (Observatory Hill)

Observatoriebergets Park (Observatory Hill) in Helsinki

For one of the best photo spots in Helsinki head to the tallest point in the city, Observatory Hill. This place offers great views overlooking the sea and the cityscape. Observatory Hill is filled with paved walkways along with tall looming trees, making the walk up even more scenic.

You can also enjoy photographing these parks’ exceptional rich plant life.

With almost a hundred species of trees, shrubs, and perennials you will have fun photographing nature within the urban city. This was a great place for us to put our drone into the sky to capture the sea ferry heading back to Stockholm.

However, you don’t need a drone to get some great city shots. Observatory Hill is not just a daytime activity other top things to do in Helsinki at night Observatory Hill is where astronomers come to observe the amazing stars over Finland.

This is just one of many stunning green spaces Helsinki has to offer. 

Explore the top things to do Helsinki at your own pace and save money as you sightsee with the great-value Helsinki Card

2. The National Museum of Finland

The National Museum of Finland in Helsinki

Start your trip in the city by visiting the National Museum of Finland, one of the best things to do in Helsinki if you are looking to learn more about the local history and culture.

The heritage building that houses the museum dates back to the turn of the 20th century when it was constructed in uniquely Finnish styles to emulate the country’s architectural traditions.

The exhibitions focus on Finnish history as far back as the first humans to settle in the country in prehistoric times, and there are many wonderful archaeological finds on display here. It’s a great place to visit, and a great place to delve into the country’s history.

Our top recommended tours of The National Museum of Finland:

3. Senate Square

Senate Square in Helsinki

Senate Square is the most important Plaza in the city, and it’s home to an array of tourist attractions and restaurants, making this one of the best things to do in Helsinki.

This is the center of the Old Town, and it’s the most historic part of Helsinki and a great place to explore when you first arrive in the Finnish capital. Many events are held here throughout the year, while the square is flanked by important buildings such as Helsinki Cathedral and the Government Palace.

Our top recommended tours of Senate Square:

4. Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral in Helsinki

Found in Senate Square, Helsinki Cathedral is an iconic sight to see in the city. The dome rises high above the square, and long steps lead to the grand entranceway.

The cathedral dates back to the 1850s when it was built on the orders of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I when Finland was part of the Russian Empire.

Our top recommended tours of Helsinki Cathedral:

5. Uspenski Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki

Looming over the skyline on Katajanokka Peninsula is Uspenski Cathedral. You can not miss this red-bricked green-topped cathedral. Standing atop a hill this largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe is an amazing sight from far away, however, it becomes even more impressive the closer you get.

Most European cathedrals are built right on top of another making them hard to photograph. Since it is placed on a hill, you can get great panoramic views of the entire building from just a few yards away.

Head up the hill for some even better views. Once up on top, you can enjoy great views of the city below.

This Russian-Byzantine style cathedral was modeled after the 16th-Century church near Moscow. Once you have photographed the outside of the Cathedral take a walk inside to admire the chandeliers hanging from the vaulted ceiling and gaze at one of the many icons.

There’s no wonder why after visiting Uspenski Cathedral that it’s on our top things to do in Helsinki list.

6. The Rock Church

The Rock Church in Helsinki

One of the best things to do in Helsinki is to visit The Rock Church, officially known as Temppeliaukio Church. This Lutheran church dates back to the 1960s, but because of its dramatic architectural style, it’s become a firm favorite on the tourist trail.

The church was hollowed out of a rock face in Helsinki, and it’s one of the most unusual places of religious worship in the country. The rock gives the church strangely beautiful acoustics and as well as being a place for religious services is often used as a venue for concerts too.

Our top recommended tours of The Rock Church:

7. Tove Janssonin Puisto

Tove Janssonin Puisto in Helsinki

Just next to the Uspenski Cathedral is a great little photo spot or a spot that gets missed by many people because they head right to the Cathedral. So don’t miss out, head around the Cathedral to Tove Janssonin Puisto.

This little park is where you can get views of the Uspenski Cathedral with some great nature and cityscape shots all in one.

See for yourself and you’ll know why it made our top things to do in Helsinki list. Maybe, if you’re like me, you may like to take things a little slow and see what develops, you can sit and enjoy the sights and sounds on one of the many park benches.

I found a great pair of boots sitting in this park next to one of the park benches, but Lina would not let me mess with them. It was a wonderful time as we pretty much had this park to ourselves to photograph.

8. St. John’s Church

St. John’s Church in Helsinki

Located in southern Helsinki is the largest stone church in Finland. One thing I really love about the outside of this church is its forest-like entry path with large trees leading up to the church. The exterior has massive granite footings with great red brickwork and two large copper green-topped towers.

Once inside, you can not miss the circular rose windows painted in all different colors. Your eyes will head up to one of the many chandeliers and sconces that also light up the church ending at a large altarpiece.

You can capture some great photographs inside and outside this church making it an easy choice as one of the top attractions in Helsinki.

9. Market Square

Market Square in Helsinki

Market Square is one of the most popular squares in Helsinki and it’s located in a beautiful spot overlooking the Baltic Sea.

The square has long been an important market place and the tradition well and truly continues to this day, with plenty of vendors setting up shop through the week selling everything from fresh fish to souvenirs.

It’s also home to some of Helsinki’s most important buildings and you’ll find both the Presidential Palace and the City Hall at Market Square.

Our top recommended tours of Market Square:

10. Havis Amanda Statue

Havis Amanda Statue in Helsinki

Head across the street from the Market Square to find a large nude female statue called the Havis Amanda. This mermaid statue stands in seaweed with four fish spouting water at her feet surrounded by sea lions.

Throughout the day you can find locals and travelers enjoying a seat next to the fountain. This is a great spot to just sit and photograph whatever happens around you.

With busy city streets, local markets and great cafes you are bound to get some great photographs.

11. Esplanadi

Esplanadi in Helsinki

Next to Market Square, you can enjoy the pleasant outdoor gardens of the Esplanadi. Pedestrian walkways are fringes in either side by tall, green trees and it makes for a great escape from the busy streets of the city.

In summer, the Esplanadi becomes particularly busy when the sun is out and the days are longer, and you’ll find locals and tourists alike spending the long evenings enjoying the public park and the fresh air.

In the Esplanadi, you can also find a historic restaurant, serving great local food, while many events and concerts are held here throughout the year too.

Our top recommended tours of Esplanadi:

12. Huvilakatu St

Huvilakatu St in Helsinki

Helsinki is a beautiful city to walk around and photograph. Tucked in a residential section of town is Huvilakatu Street.

You cannot miss this section of Helsinki. Huvilakatu Street is one of the prettiest streets in the city of Helsinki. It’s a short stroll to the sea and Kaivopuisto St. which boasts brightly colored buildings lining each side of the street.

Here you will be able to capture the local sights and some great urban shots with colorful buildings.

13. Skywheel of Helsinki

Skywheel of Helsinki in Helsinki

You can not miss this massive Ferris wheel along the bay in Helsinki. It’s one of the top attractions in Helsinki. It’s just a few minutes walk from the main market along the water.

Just like most European cities, you must head up to get some great city shots. We opted out of riding the Skywheel, however, on one side you can get some great views of the bay along with the main market, and on the other are great views of Uspenski Cathedral.

It’s a fun way to relax and look out over the city. If you’re feeling like a true local you can even take a ride in the Sauna Pod.

If you’re looking to photograph the Ferris wheel against the cityscape you will need to head to the pier across from the market square, it’s also a great spot for night photography of the Skywheel.

14. Helsinki Olympic Stadium

Helsinki Olympic Stadium

One of the city’s most enduring landmarks and one of the best things to do in Helsinki is the Olympic Stadium. The stadium was built in the 1930s, but World War II disrupted the hosting of the Olympic Games here until it was held in 1952, to huge crowds and applause.

The stadium regularly hosts sporting events and music concerts, and tourists can even climb the tall tower for expansive views over the rest of Helsinki.

15. Ursins Klippa

Ursins Klippa in Helsinki

Located along the Gulf of Finland, there’s a great park with a nice walking path and large rocks that meet the sea. This is just one of many Helsinki’s green spots and is a great place to head to while it’s nice out.

You will be able to find locals and travelers enjoying their days here. One of the top things to do in Helsinki is to grab a spot on the lawn or on one of the many park benches, or even on the large rocky shoreline.

Spend the day photographing the boats sailing by or if you love wildlife snap some photos of the birdlife along the rocky shore. It’s a pretty active place in the middle of the day. We saw many joggers and bikers.

If you like to photograph locals doing action sports, you can spend some time at the skate park photographing their moves.

On a sad note: We couldn’t spend much time here since a large storm was rolling in and we had other photo spots to shoot.

16. Suomenlinna

Drone view of Suomenlinna Fortress in Helsinki

To get out of the city, then one of the best things to do in Helsinki is to take a boat over to Suomenlinna. This small archipelago of six islands is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s both a historic and scenic place to visit.

The Swedes built a fortress here in the mid 18th century to defend Helsinki and to command the Baltic Sea. The Russians added to the formidable defenses, but today it’s a museum and nature reserve.

From Helsinki, you can take a ferry or cruise across to Suomenlinna where you can spend the day exploring the ruins of the old fortress and taking in the spectacular scenery on the Baltic Sea.

Our top recommended tours of Suomenlinna:

17. Kaivopuisto Park

Birds in Kaivopuisto Park in Helsinki

Kaivopuisto Park is one of the best-known parks in Helsinki. With the sea to one side, rock cliffs and green lawns to the other this is what makes Kaivopuisto Park one of the attractions in Helsinki.

Just take a stroll down the boardwalk by the sea and you will notice rowboats lined up, geese floating in the water, and kids playing in the park. This park offers a unique landscape where, in the winter, you can find locals sledding and in the summer enjoying a picnic.

There are several cafes and restaurants along the shore where you can grab something to go, or enjoy a bite to eat along the shore. It offers many spots for you to photograph the boats as they navigate around the scattered islands. It is also a great location to photograph at sunset.

18. Seurasaari Open Air Museum

Seurasaari Open Air Museum in Helsinki

Another great offshore excursion to make from Helsinki is a trip to the Seurasaari Open Air Museum. Found on the island of Seurasaari in the Baltic Sea, the museum offers a great chance to delve into Finnish heritage and culture.

The museum houses many traditional Finnish style dwellings and buildings constructed using authentic techniques that were once found in villages across the country. The island is also a beautiful, scenic place to visit and it’s incredibly popular during long summer days for picnics and outdoor activities.

Our top recommended tours of Seurasaari Open Air Museum:

19. Porvoo

town of Porvoo is one of the oldest and most historic places in Helsinki

The town of Porvoo is one of the oldest and most historic places you can visit in Finland, and it’s a charmingly picturesque destination to spend the day exploring.

It’s not far from Helsinki and it makes for a great day trip, and with a history dating back to at least the 14th century, it’s full of remarkably well preserved medieval architecture.

Compared to Helsinki, Porvoo is small, and you can relax at the local cafes and restaurants, visit the museums and stroll through the old neighborhoods without a care in the world!

Our top recommended tours of Porvoo:

20. Old Market Hall

Old Market Hall in Helsinki

One of Helsinki’s most iconic buildings and a must-visit while you are in the city, in the Old Market Hall. This fantastic indoor market has held pride of place in the city for well over one hundred years, and you’ll find that it’s packed with local vendors selling some uniquely Finnish products.

The market is best known for its local food and there are plenty of local delicacies for sale within its walls. You’ll keep returning day after day to try all the different food on offer, with everything from smoked herring to freshly baked bread for sale!

21. The Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki

For a look at Finland’s thriving, modern, cultural scene, call in at the excellent Museum of Contemporary Art for a look at the country’s creative side.

Also known as the Kiasma Museum, since the 1990s the art gallery has been displaying the best of Finland’s modern art, with exhibitions proudly showcasing national artists to the public.

Our top recommended tours of The Museum of Contemporary Art:

22. The Waterfront

Boats along the waterfront walking path in Helsinki

Being situated in the shores of the Baltic Sea, Helsinki has plenty of waterfronts to explore.

There’s a long boardwalk and walking path that connects much of the harbor and the seafront to the city center and you can spend hours strolling along the Baltic Sea, with beautiful views and plenty of places to stop off at along the way to refresh.

With around 5 miles of pathways, the waterfront is an excellent place to exercise or to just take in the fresh sea air, and you’ll find plenty of locals and tourists with the same idea, no matter the weather or time of year!

Our top recommended tours of The Waterfront:

23. Sauna Experience

Outdoor public Sauna in Helsinki

There’s nothing more Finnish than a sauna, and when you are in the capital, experiencing this local pastime is one of the best things to do in Helsinki.

Saunas are everywhere in Finland, and it’s so ingrained into the Finnish identity that you’ll find that every hotel and guest house is more than likely to have their own onsite sauna facilities.

Relax in the hot steam and enjoy a day of doing nothing at all, the Finnish way!

Our top recommended tours including a Sauna Experience:

24. Take a Day Trip to Tallinn

Estonia capital of Tallinn - one of the best day trips from Helsinki

Directly south across the Baltic Sea from Helsinki is the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Fast ferries connect the two cities several times a day and the journey time can be as little as two hours each way.

With great transport connections, visiting Tallinn makes for an excellent day trip from Helsinki. You can explore the old town of Tallinn, walk along the medieval city walls and visit the national museum to learn more about Estonian history and culture.

This way you will be able to see how it both compares and is at the same time very different from Finland.

Our top recommended tours of Tallinn:

More on Scandanavia:

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24 Irresistible Things to do in Helsinki


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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.

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