Finland was the fourth Nordic country we visited, and it certainly lived up to our expectations. We traveled from Tallinn, Estonia by cruise ferry to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Helsinki is a bustling city along Finland’s south coast and is the center of Finnish culture, education, politics, and economics. We enjoyed walking around the different areas of the city, from the busy shopping district to the various parks and waterfront paths, and taking in the eclectic range of church styles. We also really loved the harborside Market Square which hosts a year-round market full of fresh produce, freshly prepared food, souvenirs, and crafts alongside an Old Market Hall. Be sure to check out the HSL app for train tickets and timetables for getting around Helsinki.
Top Things to do in Helsinki
Helsinki Cathedral is set above the surrounding plaza by numerous steps that lead up to this neoclassical style cathedral, characterized by its white color and green domes on top. It was completed in 1852 and is home to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
The Esplanadi is a park in central Helsinki that runs between two main roads connecting to the Market Square, opened in 1812. The park is a nice place to enjoy an afternoon coffee near the fountain or watch a live performance at the outdoor venue.
Market Square is Helsinki’s central outdoor market that sells a variety of things from clothes to handicrafts to produce to prepared food. It is a great place to pick up a souvenir or two and enjoy a walk along the harborside.
Tips: Be sure to confirm the opening hours before you go, as it generally opens in the morning and is closed by late afternoon.
Old Market Hall
The Old Market Hall is located steps from Market Square and is a covered indoor food hall that dates back to 1888. There are 25 different food vendors in the hall, selling things like coffee and pastries, fine wine, fresh meat and fish, and chocolate.
Tips: You can view the current food hall vendors here.
The Uspenski Cathedral sits atop a small hillside in the Katajanokka district, not far from Market Square. This Eastern Orthodox cathedral was completed in 1868 and has an detailed exterior with a very ornate and colorful interior, flanked by various religious icons.
Tips: The cathedral is open free of charge, but note that it is generally closed on Mondays during the winter months.
Temppeliaukio Kirkko (“Rock Church”)
The Temppeliaukio Church, or “Rock Church,” is a very unique and popular Lutheran church built directly into solid rock with a copper-lined dome in 1969. It is a popular venue for shows and concerts due to the fine acoustics of the jagged and rough rock walls and surfaces. This distinctive church is definitely worth a visit when in Helsinki.
Tips: Due to its popularity, Rock Church can get quite busy during the day with tourists. You can purchase tickets at the Kesakahvila Cafe behind the church or at Anne's souvenir shop across the street from the church entrance. You can also gain entry with the Helsinki Card.
Aleksanterinkatu Shopping Street
The shopping street of Aleksanterinkatu runs through the bustling retail and shopping district in Helsinki. One prominent store is Stockmann’s, a famous department store that has been around since 1930.
The Kaivopuisto Park is a landscaped park along the waterfront, south of the city center. It is a great area for an afternoon stroll with views out to the neighboring islands and has various on-site cafes.
Tips: Visit the Kaivopuiston Mattolaituri Oy cafe during warm weather for harborside cocktails.
Located in the middle of Helsinki’s busy Narinkka Square, the Kampens kapell, or “Chapel of Silence,” is a contemporary and ecumenical church chapel built for personal reflection. It symbolizes finding a moment for silent meditation in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. With its simplistic and windowless design, it is very aesthetically unique!
Food and Drinks in Helsinki
This Finnish gastropub is located right between Market Square and Helsinki Cathedral, and serves beers brewed right in house. The atmosphere is cozy and they serve delicious meals with fresh ingredients from a menu that changes seasonally.
Located in the heart of Helsinki across from the Esplanadi, this Finnish restaurant serves up modern and authentic Finnish dishes in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Be sure to book a table at this popular restaurant in advance and note that they have an outdoor terrace open during the warmer months.
Where to Stay in Helsinki
Clarion Hotel Helsinki
The Clarion Hotel Helsinki is a relatively new hotel, located in the West Harbour region (perfect if you are traveling via ferry to Helsinki like we did). The rooms have great views of Helsinki and have a comfortable, relaxed style. Be sure to check out the hotel bar for a cocktail or glass of wine in the evening, called Sky Room, located on the hotel’s top floor with floor to ceiling glass. They also have an open-air rooftop pool, where you can take in the views while enjoying a swim.
Travel to Helsinki
Ferry Between Helsinki & Tallinn (Estonia)
If you want to know how to get to Helsinki from Tallinn, we recommend the cruise ferry. We took the Eckerö Line ferry, but there are several ferry options (also Tallink Silja and Viking Line). It took us a few hours on this ship, which felt more like a cruise ship, but you can also take a faster route on a smaller ferry called Linda Line. We decided to spend a bit more for a ticket and get lounge access, which we highly recommend if you want a quieter space. The lounge had a nice seating area, dedicated bathrooms, and plenty of complimentary food and drinks.