This post (likely) contains affiliate links, including Amazon Associates links, and I may receive a small commission if you click one. This is at no extra cost to you.
Helsinki can often been seen as an ‘underrated’ city break, but that doesn’t seem exactly truthful. The perfect stop for 24 – 36 hours, either as a day trip from Tallinn, or before you head off to Lapland. The cool, vibrant and infinitely interesting capital of Finland has a lot to offer to visitors all year round.
I visited for two nights, arriving late on the first day and leaving early in the morning. Giving me one entire day in the city – and it was perfect. If you have a short time in the city, then this list of marvellous things to do in Helsinki will give you a fantastic day.
So, let’s explore the best things to do in Helsinki.
1. Suomenlinna – Things to do in Helsinki
It is 15 minute ferry ride from Kauppatori, in Helsinki, to this interesting spot. In just a few minutes you will be on a man made fortress that spans over 7 islands.
It was built by the Swedish in 1748, to defend their eastern territories during a period of war with Russia. In 1808 the fortress, and it’s ships, was transferred under the Russian Imperial Government. Only in 1918 when Finland gained it’ independence did it come under control of Finland. In 1991 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Perhaps some what of a summer destination, however it is an incredibly interesting wandering all year around. In the summer seasons there are cafes and restaurants open on the island. You can also take guided tours, only on Saturdays in off peak.
Suomenlinna, 00190 Helsinki, Finland | Map
2. Helsinki Cathedral – Things to do in Helsinki
Pretty hard to miss! This beautiful green domed building stands proud, looking over the city. This whitewashed building definitely needs to be on your list of things to do in Helsinki. It doesn’t take too long to wander around, so perfect to pop into – once you have climbed all the steps to reach it!
A landmark for those arriving by sea, and now a symbol for the whole of the city. It was completed in 1852, and originally built asa tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. After Finnish independence in 1917 it was called Helsinki Cathedral.
Unioninkatu 29, 00170 Helsinki, Finland | Map
3. Cafe Regatta – Things to do in Helsinki
The highlight of the city for me! This cafe is over 100 years old and is located right on the water. This cafe is exactly what I wanted when I thought of traditional Finnish vibes. The building was originally built as a shed to store fishing nets. It started serving food as a summer cafe in 1952, and then has been in it’s current iteration since 2002.
Cafe Regatta is open every day of the year from 8am – 9pm. It is an incredibly popular spot, for tourists and locals alike. So if you visit during peak hours, expect there to be a queue.
And what to expect? It is now famous for it’s blueberry pie and cinnamon buns. It also has the most delicious hot chocolate, with lots of options for toppings. And one of the fun thing you can do, buy hot sausages and cook them yourselves on the open fire.
Make sure not to miss this cafe when in Helsinki!
Merikannontie 8, 00260 Helsinki, Finland | Map
4. Sibelius Monument and Park
Just a minutes walk from Cafe Regatta, is the Sibelius Monument. The monument in this park is hard to miss. When the originally monument opened, it was not without a little criticism. Originally it was just the eye catching collection of metal pipes, these create music when the breeze flows over them. Designed by Eila Hiltunen as a monument to the great Finnish composer was unveiled in 1967
Later a sculpture, a more traditional one, of Sibelius was added later in responses to complaints about the original concept. However the pipes are incredibly fascinating to see and, I would say, definitely more interesting! Located the middle of a peaceful park to wander around.
Mechelininkatu 39, 00250 Helsinki, Finland | Map
5. Temppeliaukio Rock Church
Helsinki’s Rock Church. Designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in the late 1960s, the underground interior of the church was carved out of and built directly into the ancient solid rock of the Helsinki peninsula.
You might think it be dark inside, however, is drenched in dazzling natural daylight thanks to the glazed dome. The church also hosts concerts, and the natural setting of the rocks provides great acoustics.
Lutherinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki, Finland | Map
6. Uspenski Cathedral
This list might be a little church or cathedral heavy – but they are all so incredibly unique, and each one is so different from the others! This cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe, and demonstrates Russia’s long term engagement with the country of Finland.
Sitting atop a hill, it is hard to miss with it’s red-brick towers and golden cupolas. The cathedral has many valuable icons. One, St. Nicholas – the Wonder Maker, was stolen in 2007 in the middle of the day when the church was packed with tourists. It has still not been found, the search continues both in Finland and abroad!
Kanavakatu 1, 00160 Helsinki, Finland | Map
7. Old Market Hall
One of my favourite spots in Helsinki, and particularly fabulous for grabbing a quick bite to eat. It is open all day, Monday to Saturday. But head there a little after opening time to ensure more of the stalls are open. The building, right next to the water, was built in 1889, as a permanent place to house Helsinki’s markets.
The building is architecturally really interesting; a striking byzantine revival building. Inside are lots of stalls selling a range of wares. If you would like to pick something up you’ll be tempted by all sorts of stalls selling fresh produce including meat, fish, fruit and veg, but also Finnish cakes and cheeses. And even some homeware goodies.
Eteläranta 125, 00130 Helsinki, Finland | Map
8. Helsinki Central Library Oodi
Without a doubt, the most interesting and wholesome library I have ever visited. This isn’t just a place to hire books, but a hub for community, research, meet friends, relax and generally be a peace. Before even beginning to explore what this place has to offer, be astounded by the beautiful architecture.
It is spread over three floors, and sits under the high undulating ceilings, which almost seem to float above you. On the top floor, the full length windows offer views of the city which seem to go on forever. Oodi is a wonderful space to read and work with 360-degree views of the city.
Alongside the books, there are also computer rooms, a movie theatre, recording studios, games rooms, print rooms, and makers’ space complete with sewing machines. If you have a hobby, this is the place to practice it. Additionally a great place to eat, with a café on the ground floor. Entry to the library is free.
Töölönlahdenkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki, Finland | Map
9. Kamppi Chapel
An incredibly peaceful and evocative place. Sitting in this chapel, right in the middle of the city, you feel the calm and peace washing over you.
Yes, another religious location on this list, but definitely worthy of a place and again so different from the others. It’s location is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this chapel. It welcomes any visitor, regardless of religion. A wooden bath-shaped chapel on the edge of a busy square, the construct is designed to give a moment of silence in one of the most hectic areas of the city.
Inside is an incredibly minimalist design, wooden lined and simplistic. It is fresh, clean and unassuming. The tranquility wraps around you like a cocoon, leaving you feeling warm and safe.
Simonkatu 7, 00100 Helsinki, Finland | Map
Interesting in other European cities? Find some inspiration here – European City Break Bucketlist