14 Easy Things to do in Helsinki
Many people visiting the Scandinavian region might just drop by Helsinki for a day or two. While I highly recommend exploring more of Finland over a week or so, you can still pack in quite a few things to do in Helsinki with a short stopover.
Helsinki is located on the south coast of Finland, just across the water from Estonia. Throughout the city, you will find a mix of old and new architecture, historic towns to the east, forests to the north, and a collection of islands to the south.
We visited Finland in the summer, and some of the following recommendations will be suited to that. However, no matter what time of the year you visit, there are still plenty of things to do in Helsinki.
With one day in Helsinki, you will be able to quickly visit a handful of the destinations in this list. However, to truly appreciate Helsinki and the surrounding area. I’d suggest planning at least three days. This will give you enough time to explore the city and make a couple of easy day trips.
Here is my list of 14 easy attractions to visit in and around Helsinki.
1. Explore Helsinki’s Market Square
The harborside market square is located at the eastern end of Helsinki’s harbour. This is an open-air market where you will find roughly 40 small stalls operated by independent sellers.
There are lots of fresh fruits for sales here. You will find just about every type of berry you can think of, such as; blueberries, strawberries, cloudberries, raspberries, and more. Typically, a punnet of blueberries is just 3 Euros, cheaper than you will find in many other countries.
The Market Square feels a little more touristy than the Old Market Hall just down the road, however, it is still a great place to visit in Helsinki any time of the year.
2. Eat at the Old Market Hall
The Old Market Hall is located just to the west of Helsinki’s harbour. You can easily walk here from anywhere in the city centre. This old food hall has been operating since 1889 where you will find lots of local produce such as; cheese, shellfish, vegetables, tea, and coffee.
I highly recommend trying the varieties of smoked salmon (arguably the best I’ve ever had) and the local Finnish delicacy, Fried Vendace, or what the Finns call Muikku. Some refer to Muikku as Finland’s own version of Fish and Chips.
The Old Market Hall is open all year round, Monday to Sunday from 8am to 6pm.
3. Visit the Hakaniemi Market Hall
The Hakaniemi Market Hall is more of a local destination than the previous two markets. It is located about 2 kilometres north of Helsinki’s Harbour in the Siltasaari district, still within easy walking distance of the city centre.
Again, you will find lots of local products here over two floors such as; bread, pastries, and a huge selection of fresh seafood. Unfortunately, the market was closed for renovations when we visited Helsinki (January 2018 to late 2020).
4. Ride Electric Scooters Around Helsinki
Electric kick scooters on cobblestoned streets don’t sound like a great idea until you realise the cobblestoned streets are really only throughout the city centre. All around Helsinki you will find lots of electric scooters which can be hired through apps like Voi. You pay a charge per minute of riding rather than distance travelled, so it’s best if you have a fairly good idea of where you are going.
Scooters laying on the ground have flat batteries, while scooters standing up are ready for rent. Download the app, scan the QR code, and start exploring. You can also reserve your scooter for a small idling fee in case you don’t want someone else to take it while you enjoy a coffee or explore a church.
5. Visit the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church)
Temppeliaukio Church is an iconic destination in Helsinki’s Töölö district. It was officially opened in 1969. The church is excavated directly into the rock, covered with a dome, and decorated architecturally inside.
The church is frequently used as a venue for concerts however you can visit on most days outside of these official event hours. There is an entry fee of 3 Euro per person. You should check opening hours on the official website of Temppeliaukio Church.
6. Watch Sunset from Helsinki Cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is that huge white-domed building you have probably seen on every blog post about Helsinki, and visible throughout most of the city. It is located just behind Helsinki’s harbourside market.
In the winter you might walk up to the Cathedral and grab a quick photo before retreating to a warm coffee shop. However, in the summer, you will find Finns chilling out on the stairs with a cold beer or cider for sunset. The top of the stairs offers a great view of the old city. And best of all, it’s completely free!
7. Visit Suomenlinna Fortress
Suomenlinna is a sea fortress spread across six islands in Helsinki’s archipelago. It was originally constructed in 1748 and controlled by the Swedish until 1808. The fortress then fell under Russian rule from 1808 until Finland’s independence in 1918.
You will find a series of fort walls and walking trails to explore around Suomenlinna’s islands. There is also a brewery and a few restaurants on the island, making it a great half-day or full-day trip from Helsinki.
Ferries run directly from Helsinki’s Market Square to Suomenlinna all year round. The trip takes about 15-20 minutes one way.
8. Sunbake and Gelato in Esplanadi
Esplanadi is a leafy green walking strip which runs through the middle of Helsinki’s old town. During the summer months, it is a popular place for the Finns to gather and sunbake with a gelato or a cold drink. There are a few restaurants and cafes located at either end of Esplanadi which seem to be fairly busy through the summer. There is also occasionally live music held at the end of Esplanadi closest to the harbourside market square.
9. Ride the Vintage Tram
Experience the old times in Helsinki by riding the vintage tram around town. The vintage tram makes a 20-minute loop around the centre of Helsinki passing the City Hall, Market Square, Central Railway Station, and Helsinki Cathedral.
The vintage tram departs from the Havis Amanda Monument, nearby the Market Square, every half hour from 10am to 5pm. The tram runs from mid-May to end of August, weather dependent.
10. Breakfast at Café Regatta
Korvapuusti (cinnamon rolls) is one of my favourite Finnish foods, especially when eaten for breakfast with a strong filtered Finnish coffee. One great place to get an early morning korvapuusti is at Café Regatta. This beautiful little café is located by the water in Helsinki’s Töölö district. The café is a small wooden building, which is a very typical style seen throughout much of rural Finland.
Café Regatta is located about 3 kilometres north of Helsinki’s harbour. It is just a short walk from the Sibelius Monument and a little beyond the iconic Rock Church.
11. Try the Finnish Sauna at Löyly
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Finns love their saunas. It is estimated there are about 2 million saunas in Finland for a total population of just over 5 million.
The Finnish sauna at Löyly is located right by the sea with a great view across the harbour. There are both private and public saunas available here. I suggest the public sauna, which is typical as the Finns would do it.
Outside of Finland, you will typically find electrically heated saunas. However, at Löyly you will also have the option to use a wood-fired sauna or a traditional Finnish smoke sauna. Try both to see which you prefer.
12. Day or Weekend Trip to Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. Almost every corner you turn around is another photo opportunity. Across the old town, you will find small alleyways leading into hidden courtyards with beautiful cafes and restaurants. In the summer months, there are countless sun-drenched bars along the roadside where you can get a pint at half the price of that in Finland.
Tallinn is located just across the water from Helsinki, on the opposite side of the Gulf of Finland. It takes about 2 hours to cross over. There are 3 different companies operating ferries from Helsinki to Tallinn, each priced differently with varying amenities.
13. Day Trip to Nuuksio National Park
If you’ve only got a few days in Finland and won’t get to explore the forest elsewhere, then I highly suggest making a day trip from Helsinki to Nuuksio National Park. This national park also referred to as Noux, is located just over an hour from Helsinki, accessible by public transport.
There are plenty of things to do in Nuuksio National Park like camping, hiking, kayaking, berry picking, and mushroom picking. It is truly a nature escape right next to Helsinki. You can also extend your stay in the wilderness with a night in one of the nearby log cabins or campgrounds (tents can be rented).
To get from Helsinki to Nuuksio National Park you can take the train to Espoo, then change for one of the many buses headed directly to the park. It is about a 2km walk from the bus stop to the park headquarters.
14. Day Trip to Porvoo Wooden Town
You cannot visit Finland without exploring one of the historic wooden towns like Porvoo, Raahe, or Neristan. Porvoo is the closest wooden town to Helsinki, just over an hour away by bus. Here you will find narrow alleys lined with historic wooden buildings painted in vibrant colours. It is a very photogenic town.
Many of these old houses have been converted into guesthouses, cafes and restaurants, making it a tourist-friendly yet an authentic place to explore. Get in now before tourism here absolutely booms.