15 Best Things to Do in Helsinki: Cultural Attractions, Nature, and More!

15 Best Things to Do in Helsinki for First-Timers

Finland’s capital has everything you need for a perfect getaway!

Finland’s capital, Helsinki, has been recognised as among the most liveable cities in the world. With high standards of living, efficient public transport, and rich heritage, it’s a place nearly unmatched. Despite its small size compared to other European capitals, you’ll find no shortage of things to do in Helsinki. Here are our top recommendations.  

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Helsinki sightseeing ideas for cultural attractions

1. Visit the Sea Fortress Suomenlinna

things to do in helsinki

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sea Fortress Suomenlinna was built in the 18th century to defend the Kingdom of Sweden from the Russian Empire. Stretching over six islands, the fortress comprises 200 buildings and six kilometres of defensive walls. After Finland gained independence, it was used as a harbour and garrison. 

Military use of the fortress declined post-WWII, and the city converted these buildings for residential, historical, and commercial purposes. Visit Suomenlinna to see outstanding examples of 18th-century bastion architecture and delve into Finland’s military history. 

2. Marvel at the Temppeliaukio Church

rock church

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This church carved into rock is one of the most intriguing places to visit in Helsinki. Completed in 1969, plans for the Temppeliaukio Church date back to the 1930s, when a competition for the building’s design was held. 

Leaving the rock walls exposed was not part of the original plan. However, the winning architects took on this radical idea as they realised that it would improve the church’s acoustics. Today, the Rock Church, as it is commonly known, is a popular concert venue, in addition to being a place of worship. 

3. Admire the minimalist beauty of Helsinki Cathedral

things to do in helsinki

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Of course, you can’t do Helsinki sightseeing without visiting the city’s most iconic landmark. ​​The Helsinki Cathedral was constructed in the mid-19th century as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I, back when Finland was still part of the Russian Empire. The cathedral’s architect, Carl Ludvig Engel, modelled it after Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. 

After Finland gained independence, the name of the cathedral was changed from Saint Nicholas Church to what it is now. Step into this landmark to admire its simple and elegant Lutheran aesthetic. Unlike other famous Catholic cathedrals, the Helsinki Cathedral has plain white walls, a modest altar, and no images of saints. 

4. See the Uspenski Cathedral

things to do in helsinki

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Situated on the highest hill of the Katajanokka district, the Uspenski Cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Northern and Western Europe. This stunning church is a symbol of Russia’s influence on Finnish history and the Orthodox Christian community here. Inside, you’ll find intricate mosaics, a dome designed to resemble a starry sky, and inscriptions in Russian and Cyrillic. 

With its brick red walls and turquoise roofs, Uspenski Cathedral is among the most picturesque places to visit in Helsinki. Due to its elevated position, you can also enjoy panoramic views of Helsinki city and the Baltic Sea from the church. 

5. Take the Helsinki trams

helsinki tram

Image credit: City Clock Magazine

The main mode of public transportation in inner Helsinki is its superbly run tram system. Used by 200,000 passengers every day, it is reliable and efficient despite being one of the oldest tram systems in the world. 

While in Helsinki, you can ride on vintage trams which date back to the early 20th century. These charming trams will take you back in time while allowing you to appreciate the sights of Helsinki’s Old Town. They depart from the city’s Market Square on weekends during the summer. 

Opening hours: 10am to 5pm (summer weekends)

Price: Mk 32.70 (~S$7.89)

6. Shop at Helsinki Market Square

helsinki market square

Image credit: City Clock Magazine

Helsinki Market Square is the best place to shop for authentic Finnish souvenirs and sample delectable local specialities. Here, you’ll find wooden cutlery made by local artisans, freshly caught seafood, fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and more. The Old Market Hall is right next to the Market Square, so you can kill two birds with one stone by making your way there. Established in 1889, this is where you can buy high-quality cheese, fish, fruit and vegetables, cakes, coffee, and tea. 

Also read: 30 Europe Souvenirs to Bring Home from Your Next Adventure

7. Oodi Helsinki Central Library

oodi library

Image credit (L-R): Tapio Haaja; Sayo Oladeji

Oodi Helsinki Central Library is a vibrant meeting place and house of learning in the city centre. The design of the building follows passive energy principles to achieve near-net-zero energy consumption. A striking blend of glass, steel, and wood, it is an impressive achievement of Finnish architecture. 

Inside the library, you can explore three distinct levels: the “active” ground floor, a peaceful “book heaven” on the top floor, and an “attic” in between that features rooms with more specific functions. Come here to admire the building’s state-of-the-art architecture and browse the collection of about 100,000 items in 20 languages. 

Things to do in Helsinki for nature attractions

8. Unwind in Esplanadi Park

things to do in helsinki

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Esplanadi Park (or Espa, as locals call it), is a verdant green escape in the heart of the city. It is one of the best places to visit in Helsinki for music performances, picnics, and strolling. Designed by Helsinki’s principal architect, Carl Ludwig Engel, the park’s layout consists of straight tree-lined avenues and flowerbeds. In the centre of the park, you can see a 4.2-metre-high statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Finland’s national poet and the author of the national anthem.  

9. Go hiking in the Viikki-Vanhankaupunginlahti Nature Reserve

The Viikki-Vanhankaupunginlahti Nature Reserve is just a 20-minute metro ride away from the city centre. If you’re not planning to venture far from Helsinki city, this is the ideal place to get out into nature. This reserve has two beginner-level trails of less than three kilometres, so even if you’re not very fit, you won’t have much trouble hiking here. 

Here, you’ll find pristine alder forests, wetlands, and coastal meadows. The area is an important bird sanctuary, with sightings of over 300 species of birds. The famous bird painter, Magnus Von Wright, visited the wetlands here several times in the 19th century. Some of the birds you may encounter while hiking include lesser spotted woodpeckers, thrush nightingales, citrine wagtails, sedge warblers, and bearded reedlings.

Also read: Uber Introduces Reindeer Sleigh Rides in Finland’s Lapland Region

10. Hike on the Porkkalanniemi peninsula

You can reach the peninsula of Porkkalanniemi by a two-hour train ride or a 45-minute taxi ride from Helsinki city. On this peninsula, you can enjoy breathtaking views of rocky coastlines, untouched forests, and the sea. The trails here are quite short and would be perfect for children and the elderly alike. 

Visit during the summer to see the trees in the forests laden with blueberries. If you’re a bird enthusiast, plan your trip in the spring, when the Arctic geese and other waterfowl pass by the peninsula on their migratory journey. 

Relaxing things to do in Helsinki

11. Experience a Finnish sauna

sauna helsinki

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A Finnish Sauna differs from typical steam saunas as it uses dry heat. Stones are heated up with electricity to radiate heat into a wooden room. This kind of sauna has health benefits like detoxification, relieving stress, and muscle relaxation. 

For a reinvigorating sauna session with gorgeous waterfront views, head to Löyly. This wellness complex has three wood-fired saunas, an outdoor swimming pool, and a restaurant that serves up Finnish classics like salmon soup and meatballs. The wooden sauna building has wide terraces that give visitors places to sit and enjoy the sea view. They also act as Venetian blinds to reduce the use of energy to cool down the building. 

If you want a more traditional experience, try out Kotiharjun Sauna, the last wood-heated public sauna in Helsinki. Do it like the locals: Soak up the soothing steam in the sauna and then cool off outside. 

12. Unleash your inner artist at the Kiasma museum


Image credit: Kiasma Museum Official Facebook Page

Housing over 8,500 works of contemporary art, Kiasma is dedicated to increasing public engagement with art. The museum holds many exhibitions, guided tours, and workshops to make art accessible to everyone. If you come on Saturdays, you can try your hand at puppetry, photography, and painting at their workshops. 

The museum also offers free guided tours in Finnish, English, and Russian that cover the highlights of their current exhibitions and the museum building. 

13. Go on exciting rides at Linnanmaki Amusement Park

If you want to take a break from Helsinki sightseeing, relive your childhood memories at Linnanmaki Amusement Park. Test your courage on the Vuoristorata, a 1951 wooden roller coaster that still runs with manual brakes. If you’re looking for a slower ride, take the park’s Ferris wheel or go for a spin on a vintage carousel that plays organ music. 

The theme park is owned by the Children’s Day Foundation, a network of renowned children’s welfare organisations; all of the ticket sales from the park help fund their work. Get a serotonin hit and contribute to a good cause – what more can you ask for? 

Also read: A Guide to the Best Theme Parks Around the World Worth Travelling For

Underrated things to do in Helsinki

14. Take a ferry to the Aland Islands

aland islands

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If you’ve had enough of Helsinki sightseeing, why not go on an excursion to the Aland Islands? This island archipelago mid-way between Finland and Sweden boasts medieval stone churches, art and history museums, and cafes where you can enjoy homemade local pastries. 

The ferry ride from Helsinki to Mariehamm, the capital of the Aland Islands, takes 11 hours. This might sound like a painfully long trip, but if you take an overnight ferry, you won’t have to spend many waking hours on board. 

15. Wade into Finland’s coffee culture

Did you know that Finland consumes more coffee per capita than any other country in the world? It is the norm to drink three cups a day, and even mandatory to have two 10- to 15-minute coffee breaks in a working day. 

Finnish coffee culture is truly one-of-a-kind and it would be a shame to miss out on it when in Helsinki. Most of the coffee (or kahvi) that Finnish people drink is made with light roast beans and with a filter machine. Finns also use a wooden coffee cup known as a kuksa when camping outdoors. 

In Helsinki, you can drop by popular cafes like the Cafe Regatta and Encanto Art Cafe for an authentic Finnish coffee experience. Located in the Töölö neighbourhood, Cafe Regatta serves up fluffy cinnamon buns and hot coffee in a rustic red hut by the sea. Encanto Art Cafe, on the other hand, offers the chance to savour speciality coffee and vegan pastries while participating in art workshops. This cafe is along Maneesikatu street in the Kluuvi neighbourhood


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Make sure to buy a kuksa from one of Helsinki’s markets as a keepsake. The indigenous Sami people are the first to use this style of wooden cup for eating and gathering berries. Today, Finnish people drink their coffee from it when outdoors. It’s a tradition not to wash your kuksa with soap or detergent, as this will wash away its luck. Instead, the kuksa should simply be rinsed in a stream or dishwasher. 

Also read: 7D Nordic Itinerary: Chase Northern Lights, Ride Husky Sleighs, Visit Santa’s Hometown & More!

So, that concludes our list of things to do in Helsinki, Finland. It may not be the first to come to mind as a go-to Europe destination, but it definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list. What are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Helsinki today! 

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About Author

Joyce Lee
Joyce Lee

Joyce is an aspiring writer who lives on black coffee and Netflix. In her free time, she reads, goes for long walks at sunset, and dreams of faraway places.