Best Things To Do in Helsinki

Helsinki is one of the most important cities in the Scandinavian region and one of the cultural beacons of Northern Europe. I tell you what places you can see and what activities you can do in this destination to discover the Finnish capital.

Matías Rodríguez

Matías Rodríguez

10 min read

Best Things To Do in Helsinki

Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland |©Michael Maiwald

Helsinki is the capital of Finland and one of the main cities of Scandinavia, but also one of the cultural beacons of the region, largely because of the number of museums, activities and monuments it offers. Through a tour of these sites, you can discover this destination that has cosmopolitan influences and makes a cult of avant-garde despite having thousands of years of history.

Some of the best things to do in Helsinki include touring the Suomenlinna Museum, visiting Temppeliaukio Kirkko, enjoying a speedboat ride through the city's canals, discovering the local architecture on a guided tour, visiting the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, marveling at Porvoo, visiting the Linnanmaki amusement park and even taking a helicopter ride.

1. Tour the Suomenlinna Museum

Suomenlinna museum|©Kevin Utopia
Suomenlinna museum|©Kevin Utopia

Finland, which like the rest of the Scandinavian countries, has a Viking tradition, keeps a deep naval and military history. One of the best places to discover this facet of the country is the Suomenlinna Museum, located off the coast of the Finnish capital in the old fortifications and military buildings dating from the eighteenth century and that fulfilled official activities until 1970.

The island of Suomenlinna, which was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, houses a museum that reflects the daily life of the soldiers of the fortress over the years, and galleries with artifacts, photographs and military remnants that will allow you to learn about the warrior profile of the Finns since the wars of independence. You will also learn about the importance of this island as a strategic site.

During the exhibitions, you will also have the opportunity to discover the different military technologies of the times in which the fortress was active, in samples that include armaments, uniforms and tools that were applied to the defense of this site and that make Suomenlinna one of the best museums in the city.

On the other hand, if you plan to visit Helsinki in winter, you can see firsthand the harshness of the climate that endured on this site soldiers and inhabitants of the island.

Buy tickets for the Suomenlinna Museum

2. Visit Temppeliaukio Kirkko

Temppeliaukio Kirkko|©Tim Stahmer
Temppeliaukio Kirkko|©Tim Stahmer

Temppeliaukio Kirkko, also known as the Rock Church, is a religious building that fuses modern architecture with the natural beauty of stone. This Lutheran church was excavated directly into solid rock, creating a subway space that was designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and opened in 1969 to captivate visitors from around the world ever since.

The uniqueness of Temppeliaukio Kirkko lies in its avant-garde design and creative use of natural rock as a central element. The bare stone walls and daylight-pierced dome create an idyllic, one-of-a-kind setting. In addition, the acoustics of the space have made the church a popular venue for concerts and musical events, especially during Christmas in Helsinki.

The history of Temppeliaukion kirkko, moreover, is deeply rooted in the search for innovative design that integrates harmoniously with the surroundings. The choice to excavate the church into the rock reflects the architects' vision of creating a place of worship that could merge with the surrounding nature. Thus, this church has succeeded in becoming a distinctive icon of Helsinki and its rich architectural heritage.

Book tickets to visit Temppeliaukion Kirkko

3. Enjoy a speedboat ride in Helsinki

Day boat in Helsinki|©Mika Meskanen
Day boat in Helsinki|©Mika Meskanen

Enjoying a speedboat ride in Helsinki is an exciting experience that will allow you to explore the city from a unique perspective. These speedboats in the Finnish capital, known as RIB boats, offer a combination of speed, adrenaline and the opportunity to discover the charms of Helsinki from the Baltic Sea.

During the speedboat ride you can discover the skyline of the Helsinki Cathedral, the Presidential Palace and the Suomenlinna sea fortress. The speed and agility of the speedboat will allow you to explore the coastline and the surrounding archipelagos in a fun and efficient way, which is ideal if you plan to visit Helsinki in 3 days or even less, and want to get a glimpse of this city skyline.

During the tour, you will be assisted by an expert local guide who will share with you recommendations, information and curiosities about the buildings, monuments and natural wonders along the way. In addition, speedboats provide a dynamic alternative to the experiences offered by the best cruises in Helsinki, which are generally focused on tours of the city's canals.

Buy a speedboat tour

4. Be amazed by Helsinki's architecture.

Senate Square|©Glen Wash Ivanovic
Senate Square|©Glen Wash Ivanovic

You can't say you've experienced Helsinki until you've discovered the different styles and periods that have shaped the unique appearance of the Finnish capital, and one of the best ways to get to know this profile of the city is to take a guided tour of the local architecture.

These tours will usually begin at the Helsinki Cathedral, an architectural icon that combines neoclassical elements in a prime location across from Senate Square. From there, you can also explore the functionalist elegance of the Eliel Saarinen-designed Helsinki Central Station, which is notable for its facade and multi-purpose interior filled with artistic details.

These tours will also take you through the Kallio district, which is known for its Jugendstil-style buildings, a kind of Finnish art nouveau. You can also visit the National Museum of Finland, famous for its romantic architecture, and see Temppeliaukio, the rock-hewn Lutheran church that is often featured on the best tours of Helsinki.

Also, note that some tours can be customized to suit the specific interests of participants, whether they prefer the classic charm of ancient structures or the contemporary architectural avant-garde that also distinguishes this city.

Join an architectural tour

5. Visit the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral - Helsinki|©Cláudio Amaral
Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral - Helsinki|©Cláudio Amaral

Helsinki is a multicultural melting pot with mainly Swedish and Russian influences, and within the latter the Orthodox religion is present through the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece that stands out for its size and its location on top of a hill.

This cathedral, which was built between 1862 and 1868, is one of the largest of its kind outside Russia, and its presence, with its red domes, is inseparable from the Helsinki skyline, so it cannot be left out of your itinerary around the city, whether you visit it on your own, on a private excursion or on one of the best guided tours of Helsinki.

At the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral you can admire the intricate details of the domes and facades, as well as the frescoes that adorn the interior of the religious building. The richness of the icons and ornamentation, a typical feature of Orthodox churches, reflect the importance of this religion in Northern Europe.

In addition, the cathedral is also a meeting point for religious and cultural events, and one of the best places to visit in the city in December, when the Orthodox prepare for Christmas, which, unlike Catholicism, extends until January 7 of each following year.

Book a private tour

6. Get to know Porvoo

Porvoo|©Svetlana Belokon
Porvoo|©Svetlana Belokon

Discovering Porvoo on your own or on a full-day excursion from Helsinki will allow you to get to know one of the oldest and most picturesque towns in Finland. This town, located about 50 kilometers east of the country's capital, stands out for its cobblestone streets, colorful houses and rich history dating back to the 14th century.

Porvoo's historic center is famous for its pastel-colored wooden houses, many of which house craft stores, art galleries and cozy cafes. There you can also explore the Porvoo Cathedral, a medieval building that dominates the city's skyline and is located very close to the Old Bridge, a stone structure that connects the two shores of this destination

. In addition, during your tour you will have the opportunity to discover the local culture by visiting craft stores and sampling Finnish cuisine in local restaurants. Porvoo is known for its handicraft products, such as ceramics, textiles and sweets, and also for its populous harbor, from where you can board a ferry to visit Tallinn or the Gulf of Finland.

Join a tour to visit Porvoo

7. Taste the local gastronomy at the Market Square.

Kalakukko|©Mikko Kuhna
Kalakukko|©Mikko Kuhna

If you want to get to know one of Helsinki's most interesting profiles, you can't miss out on sampling the local cuisine, and one of the best ways to do that is to wander around the Market Square. This place is a meeting point for local vendors offering a variety of fresh produce and culinary delights that reflect the richness of Finnish cuisine.

Among the options you can try is the famous kalakukko, a pie filled with fish and smoked meat, wrapped in traditional dough. This dish is a sample of Finland's culinary heritage and is a popular choice among visitors, whether you plan to visit Helsinki during the summer or in the winter season.

Another dish you can't miss during your tour is hernekeitto, a green pea soup, typically served with mustard and rye bread. This is a classic option in Finnish gastronomy and highlights the country's preference for fresh and natural ingredients. In addition, the stalls in the square offer specialties such as karjalanpiirakka, a pie filled with rice, carrots and mashed potatoes, accompanied by egg and butter.

Helsinki will allow you to sample fresh local produce, such as wild berries, mushrooms and fish. The proximity of the Baltic Sea guarantees the quality of the products, and vendors offer everything from smoked salmon to marinated herring. In addition, the Market Square is one of the meeting points for guided tours of the city, which you can book on your own or through the Helsinki Card pass, so you can combine a culinary experience with an unmissable sightseeing tour.

Buy the Helsinki Card tourist pass

8. Visit the Linnanmaki amusement park.

Carousel, Linnanmäki|©Sami Oinonen
Carousel, Linnanmäki|©Sami Oinonen

Visiting the Linnanmaki amusement park in Helsinki will allow you to discover a world of fun and entertainment for the whole family. This iconic park offers a wide variety of rides, games and shows for visitors of all ages. From roller coasters to classic carousels, Linnanmaki is a place that combines adrenaline-filled experiences with the tranquility of its surroundings.

One of the most outstanding attractions is the Vuoristorata roller coaster, a vintage installation that has been part of the park since its opening in 1951. In addition, Linnanmaki features interactive games and activities, as well as live shows that keep visitors entertained throughout the day.

The park also has a social function, as the Linnanmaki Foundation was created to raise funds to help underprivileged children in Finland, and this organization is funded by the rides' entrance fees. Therefore, it is one of the most respected sites by locals and also one of the most chosen by tourists, especially those who come to Helsinki with children or family.

In addition, due to its location in the city center, from there you can also enjoy other entertainment alternatives in the city, such as the Flying Cinema experience or the concerts of the Finnish National Opera.

Book tickets for Flying Cinema

9. Take a helicopter tour of Helsinki

People in helicopter|©Jori Samonen
People in helicopter|©Jori Samonen

Are you one of those who, when visiting a destination, want to discover its most exciting activities? If the answer is yes, in Helsinki you will find this alternative in the helicopter tours, which are very popular in the city and will allow you to see the main sites of this destination from a different perspective.

This activity will allow you to contemplate the panoramic views of the city from above and discover the emblematic monuments, such as the Helsinki Cathedral and the Senate, from a fascinating perspective that reveals the harmonious combination of classical and modern architecture that characterizes the Finnish capital.

During the tour you will also get to see and fly over the Baltic Sea, marvel at Helsinki's coastline and the coastal architecture lining the canals. The surrounding islands, such as Suomenlinna and Vallisaari, will give you an overview of the natural wonders surrounding Finland's largest city. In addition, the helicopter will allow you to see the city in a short time, an ideal option if you have scheduled a tour of less than 2 days in Helsinki.

During the experience, you will also have the narration of the pilot and an expert local guide, which will enrich the visit and provide you with detailed information about the points of interest and local culture.

Join a helicopter tour

10. Discover the best sites of the city on a sightseeing bus.

Olympia Terminal|©Kevin Utopia
Olympia Terminal|©Kevin Utopia

If you want to get to know the attractions of Helsinki in a traditional way, you can opt for the tourist bus tour, an experience that will allow you to explore the highlights of the Finnish capital in an economical and effective way. These hop on-hop off buses will also allow you to hop on and off at various strategic stops to enjoy the city at your own pace.

Among the emblematic sites that you can see from the bus are the Helsinki Cathedral, the modern architecture of the Oodi Library and the Hakaniemi Market. However, it will also take you to more out-of-the-way sites such as Helsinki Harbour, where you can enjoy views out to sea and discover the lively harbor scene, lined with cafes and restaurants.

In addition to offering a comprehensive overview of the city, tour buses often have recorded commentary or live guides who provide information about Helsinki's history and culture. On the other hand, if you plan to visit Helsinki from November onwards, from these buses you can discover the Christmas illuminations and decorations that characterize the city.

List of hop on-hop off bus stops in Helsinki

  • Senate Square, Helsinki's epicenter and meeting point for guided tours.
  • Olympia Terminal, the most important pier in the city.
  • Kaivopuisto Park, one of the most popular green lungs of the Finnish capital.
  • Compass Square, the most visited dry square in the city.
  • Eira, a district known for its traditional architecture and historical charm.
  • Hernesaari LHB & LHC Cruise Terminal, the busiest in the city.
  • Loyly, the epicenter of Finland's sauna culture.
  • Flea Market, Helsinki's haven for used treasures.
  • Swedish Theater, one of the most visited cultural sites in the city.
  • Central Market, ideal place for lunch and starting point of the canal cruise.
  • Amox Rex / Kiasma / Art Museum, Helsinki's "Museum Island".
  • Temppeliaukio Church, one of the masterpieces of local architecture.
  • Sibelius Monument, a tribute to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
  • Olympic Stadium, epicenter of Helsinki's sports history.
  • National Opera House, cultural reservoir of the city.
  • National Museum / Parliament, one of the most traditional sites of Helsinki.
  • Ateneum Art Museum / Central Railway Station, a combination of masterpieces and traditional architecture.
  • Botanical Garden, the natural heart of Helsinki.

Buy tickets for the sightseeing bus