So, you looked online and found affordable tickets to Helsinki. But you are wondering if the Finnish capital city is truly worth your time. Congrats, you have come to the right place! I will be happy to answer that for you because I spent three days in Helsinki with my child.

Helsinki in March, Allas Sea Pools in Background
Helsinki in March, Allas Sea Pools in Background

I will be honest, Helsinki wasn’t a part of my plan. I actually flew to India from Germany with Finnair. Considering my travel addiction, I couldn’t help but find a way to break my journey in Helsinki with a long layover – just because I wanted to visit a new country. (Long layovers are possible, and I have done this before with Turkey too!)

Planning a last-minute trip to Helsinki and not sure about what to book? I will help you, here are my super quick handpicked suggestions:

The canal cruise and the day trip to Nuuksio National Park were both sold out in my case because I waited till a week before my trip to book. 

Here are the hotels that you should consider booking:

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, stands as a testament to the country’s rich history, vibrant culture, and innovative spirit. From its days under Swedish and Russian rule to its current status as a modern European city, Helsinki offers a captivating blend of old-world charm and contemporary allure.

Let’s go over the specifics and the experiences that make Helsinki a great place to visit. I will also mention some drawbacks of visiting Helsinki – so that you can make an informed decision.

Water / Ice Around

Helsinki Cityscape with Frozen Sea all around, Helsinki Cathedral in the background
Helsinki Cityscape with Frozen Sea all around, Helsinki Cathedral in the background via Unsplash

Helsinki’s geography is quite unique. Nicknamed “The Daughter of the Baltic” or “The Pearl of the Baltic”, Helsinki is spread out over a peninsula and a whopping 315 islands. So there’s the sea all around and the time we visited, it was all frozen and the resulting landscape was strangely beautiful.

Helsinki city center itself is located on a southern peninsula called Helsinginniemi (“Cape of Helsinki”), which juts out into the Gulf of Finland. Interestingly, this southern peninsula is rarely referred to by its actual name and is often called Vironniemi (“Cape of Estonia”).

Helsinki City Center

My Child enjoying the area near Helsinki Market Square
My Child enjoying the area near Helsinki Market Square

Helsinki city center is a vibrant and walkable district that offers a variety of attractions for visitors. The major highlights of the city are right here and that’s why it is the perfect spot to start your Helsinki itinerary.

It is easy to reach Helsinki city center with tram lines 4 & 5, just get off at Tove Janssons Park station and start from there. You can also get on tram line 5H. If you are taking the metro, then get off at the “University of Helsinki” station.

Helsinki City Center with SkyWheel in the background
Helsinki City Center with SkyWheel in the background

All the city’s sights that are worth seeing are within walking distance from each other. Because I was here with my 5-year-old, I didn’t expect to see everything but I was surprised that we covered most of the things in our small walk in the city center.

If you decide to ride the SkyWheel (the giant Ferris Wheel), know that it is totally worth it. It moves slowly and you will see a lot of famous landmarks from up above and get an interesting bird eye view. We loved it!

Tram passing by the Helsinki Cathedral
Tram passing by the Helsinki Cathedral via Unsplash

There’s the Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki Cathedral, Senate Square, Market Square, SkyWheel Helsinki, Esplanade Park, Helsinki City Museum, the lovely Aleksanterinkatu Street, and Old Market Hall. The super popular Allas Sea Pools are also right here.

Walk around and enjoy the vibe of Helsinki in this area. You can get something to eat at Fazer Café Kluuvikatu or Market Square. You can easily spend a day here if you also include the SkyWheel and Allas Sea Pools. Consider enjoying the rooftop cafe and bar with a view at Allas Sea Pools.

If you visiting Helsinki in winter, then the Senate Square right here is the location for the Christmas Market.

Historical Landmarks & Architectural Marvels

Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki City Centre with my kid
Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki City Centre with my kid

If you enjoy exploring historical places and architectural marvels, then Helsinki will keep you busy. The city has enough iconic landmarks such as the Helsinki Cathedral, Senate Square, Sibelius Monument, and the Uspenski Cathedral, which showcases exquisite neoclassical and Orthodox architectural styles.

Don’t miss the chance to wander through Helsinki’s charming residential areas, where neoclassical buildings intertwine with modern design.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Helsinki, Finland
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Helsinki, Finland

What’s more, you can also embark on a journey to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here one can delve into centuries of Finnish military history while soaking in breathtaking views of the Baltic Sea. I talk more about this in my Helsinki with Kids post.

Finnish Saunas

Finland is famous for its sauna culture, and Helsinki is no exception. Visitors can experience the traditional Finnish sauna at public saunas like Löyly or Kotiharjun Sauna for a truly authentic cultural experience.

Below are some free public saunas in Helsinki where visitors can enjoy the traditional Finnish sauna experience:

  1. Löyly Public Sauna: While Löyly has a paid sauna section, it also has a free section where visitors can access the sauna experience without charge. Located near the waterfront in the Hernesaari district, Löyly is a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
  2. Kotiharjun Sauna: Kotiharjun Sauna is one of the few remaining traditional wood-fired public saunas in Helsinki. It has separate sauna sessions for men and women, and while there’s a fee for the sauna, on certain occasions, they offer free entry, typically on Saturdays for a couple of hours.
  3. Kulttuurisauna: Kulttuurisauna is a modern urban sauna located near the waterfront in the Merihaka district. While there’s usually an entry fee, they occasionally offer free sauna sessions as part of special events or promotions.
  4. Sompasauna: Sompasauna is a unique community-run public sauna located in the Sompasaari district. It operates on a donation basis, so while entry is technically free, visitors are encouraged to contribute to its upkeep if they can.

Consider visiting the Allas Sea Pools right by the water with an amazing view and warm saltwater pool.

Culture & Culinary Experiences

Helsinki Market Square
Helsinki Market Square

If you like experiencing new cultures and food, then Helsinki is an amazing place to find something for you. Immerse yourself in Finnish art, history, and culture at institutions like the Ateneum Art Museum, the National Museum of Finland, and the Design Museum. Discover the stories behind Finland’s fascinating past and its contributions to the world of design and art.

Foodies would love Helsinki’s vibrant Market Square for the Local Cuisine. No, it isn’t as elaborate as something in Asia but still you would enjoy indulging your taste buds. Sample local delicacies, fresh produce, and traditional Finnish treats. Don’t miss the chance to try hearty Finnish dishes like salmon soup, reindeer meat, and Karelian pastries.

Cafe Regatta in Helsinki
Cafe Regatta in Helsinki

Experience Helsinki’s thriving coffee culture by visiting cozy coffee shops scattered throughout the city. Whether you prefer a trendy café in the city center or a quaint spot tucked away in a residential neighborhood, Helsinki offers a perfect blend of caffeine and ambiance.

My favorite one was Cafe Regatta, which is a cozy waterfront coffee house with a lovely atmosphere.

As the sun sets, Helsinki’s nightlife comes to life, offering some options for entertainment and socializing. From chic cocktail bars to speakeasy-style clubs, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Finland’s capital.

Head to Trillby & Chadwick for amazing cocktails and an elegant vibe, Liberty or Death for a Speakeasy style experience, St. George Bar for an old-world charm, Sling In for a laid-back evening, and industrial-chic bar – Chapter for a stylish experience.

Green Spaces

Inside Lenin Park in Helsinki
Inside Lenin Park in Helsinki

Helsinki boasts an abundance of green spaces which are green only when the city isn’t under snow – so in summer months. We visited in March and all the parks were covered with snow. We didn’t mind because it gave us a Winter Wonderland feeling.

The Play Area with Musical Instruments near Sibelius Monument
The Play Area with Musical Instruments near Sibelius Monument

These green spaces include the sprawling Central Park and the picturesque Botanical Gardens, offering serene retreats amidst the bustling cityscape. Take a leisurely stroll, have a picnic, or simply unwind in these verdant oases.

One of the best play areas that we visited was near the Sibelius Monument and we were told that it is new. This spot had musical instruments that one could play.

Helsinki is Family Friendly

Play Area inside Helsinki Airport
Play Area inside Helsinki Airport

If you have seen my pictures on Instagram or have read my post about traveling to Helsinki with a kid, then you already know about this city’s family friendliness.

It starts right from Helsinki Airport where there are nice play areas, mama-baby toilets (with a small WC for toddlers), and free-to-use strollers among other things. If you get on public transport in Helsinki, children under 7 ride for free. Also, if the child is under 6 and is in a stroller, then one parent (not both) gets to ride for free too.

Sea Life Helsinki
Sea Life Helsinki

This isn’t all but the entire city has so many family-friendly attractions, parks, and things to do to ensure that your little travelers will have a good time.

Good Spot to Start Your Finland Trip

So who doesn’t have Northern Lights on their wishlist? Guess what, you can experience the magic of aurora borealis in Finland’s Lapland and that makes Helsinki a perfect starting point so that you can rest here for a day or so before moving north.

Moreover, you can also do small day trips from Helsinki. Venture beyond the city limits and embark on day trips to explore Finland’s pristine natural beauty. Visit Nuuksio National Park for hiking, Suomenlinna Fortress for historical insights, or the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum for a glimpse into traditional Finnish life.

I wanted to book a day trip to Nuuksio National Park but I waited till a week before my trip and I was shocked to see that it was sold out for the entire month. Also the same for a sightseeing canal tour on a boat.

Simple Public Transport

Inside a Tram with Helsinki HSL Card
Inside a Tram with Helsinki HSL Card

When you arrive in Helsinki, you can download the HSL app on your phone and buy day tickets based on the zones. I bought a 3-day ticket for zones A, B, C, and D. There isn’t much price difference in including more zones, and this way you can be sure that you won’t have to buy a separate ticket if you already didn’t include the zone.

If for some reason you aren’t able to buy from the HSL app, you can just head to one of the many kiosks with the “HSL” logo and buy a card at the counter.

Helsinki’s public transportation includes trams, metro, buses, and ferries. Together they make it very easy to navigate the city. I ended up using just trams and buses.

Now the HSL Card is just for public transport but if you are looking for a card that has it all, then get a Helsinki Card for not only convenient access to public transit but also discounts on attractions.

Happy People

Did you know that Finland has been awarded as the happiest place on earth year after year for the 7th time in a row? We all know that happiness is infectious and when you meet the happiest people, you will come back happier to your country. So, if that isn’t a valid reason for visiting Helsinki, I don’t know what is.

Drawbacks of Visiting Helsinki

Helsinki is a good destination but it isn’t the best destination in Europe. I will share some of the drawbacks you should consider before booking your trip, starting from the most obvious ones:

Cold and Extreme Weather

Sledge Ride on Frozen Seurasaarenselkä
Sledge Ride on Frozen Seurasaarenselkä

Due to its location, Helsinki is cold even in the summer months (usually). Some may hate it and others will love that the sun is visible almost around the clock from June to July.

In the North of Finland, you can also witness the Midnight Sun – a fascinating natural phenomenon inside the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set beneath the horizon from May to August. It can be a bit confusing if you aren’t used to it.

If you are a winter person then it makes sense to visit Helsinki during Christmas time and fall in love with this city. But be prepared for very short days in winter. The sun rises around 9:00 am and sets around 3:30 pm. This can be a bit of a bummer if you’re hoping to do a lot of sightseeing outdoors.

For those who are seeking a warm destination, consider Portugal or Italy or Croatia instead. Or just fly somewhere in Asia, South America, or Africa.

Helsinki is Expensive

Helsinki is known for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe. You may find that accommodation, dining, and entertainment can be quite pricey compared to other destinations.

Limited Nightlife

While Helsinki has a growing nightlife scene, it may not be as lively or diverse as some other European capitals. Bars and clubs tend to close relatively early compared to cities like Berlin, Barcelona, or Budapest.

Practical Tips for Your Helsinki Adventure

Best Time to Visit: While Helsinki is enchanting year-round, the summer months (June to August) are particularly delightful, with longer days, warmer weather, and loads of outdoor events and festivals. I visited in March and some of the attractions like Linnanmäki Amusement Park were not yet open.

High Season Considerations: Keep in mind that the summer months are also the high tourist season, so be prepared for higher prices, especially for accommodation and tours. Alternatively, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) for fewer crowds.

A few other destinations that you might want to consider visiting your small children are Amsterdam, Brussels, or Hamburg because there’s a lot to do.

Is Helsinki Worth Visiting?

In conclusion, Helsinki is a one-of-a-kind destination and isn’t for everyone. Many will love it and have the best time here but others might just hate it because of the extreme weather.

Nonetheless, the city is prepared to handle cold weather with saunas, cozy interiors, heated rooms, and ice skating rinks, and gives off a total winter wonderland vibe for a memorable experience.

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