Helsinki tourist tips
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Ideas what to do in Helsinki if you have a few days available.
- 2019-06-05 Short version chapter added.
- 2016-11-09 The article got published.
- 2016-07-01 Writing the article started.
Here's a quick list of usual and unusual things to do in Helsinki from the perspective of a first time visitor. My personal restaurants top list is online as well.
- Experience sauna
- Drink salmari, lonkero and sahti
- Visit Seurasaari
- Eat Finnish cuisine in Savotta, Lappi, Saaga (higher-end) or Konstan Möljä, Salve (medium priced)
- Eat Russian cuisine in Saslik, Bellevue or Troikka
- Visit attractions like Suomenlinna, Design Museum, National Archives, The Mannerheim Museum, Oodi, Kiasma etc.
- Visit arenas of 1952 Olympic games
- Sit on Ball Chair in Artek furniture store
- See Embassy of Iraq
- Visit Pasilan kivilinna
- Visit Hvitträsk
The few things you should know about Finnish culture is that we locate inbetween two influential cultures, Swedish and Russian, east and west. Many of us are people of few words but being naked together in a hot room is something we enjoy alot. We are a people with most inventions per capita and our sociaty is regularly considered as the least failed country in the world.
Suomenlinna is our main attraction, the first UNESCO heritage site in Finland. The fortress has been used in tensions between Russia and Sweden. There's a brewery restaurant in Suomenlinna but you can also buy your picnic foods on the island. Reserve 2-6 hours depending on your dining and museum choices.
The most authentic Finnish sauna locates in the countless numbers of private summer cottages around the country so pick one of those if possible. But the urban social saunas in Helsinki are also among the best in the world - at least if you find the spirit (pun intended). My personal favourite is Kotiharju but Arla, Kulttuurisauna and Löyly are good ones too. If you are brave enough, you can also visit Sompasauna or Yrjönkatu swimming hall. You can bring own beer to some of those saunas, at least Kotiharju and Arla.
In Finland a special store owned by the goverment, called Alko, can only sell alcohol bottles to take with you (over 4.7 %-vol, CRAZY UPDATE (2018): the limit is 5.5 %-vol now!). But interestingly Alko actually has a really good variaty of different bottles imported around the world. You probably want to visit the flagship store of Alko and maybe buy bottles of three popular Finnish beverages: Salmiakki Koskenkorva (liqueur), Lonkero (mixed drink) and Sahti (beer).
You can also try sahti, lonkero and salmari drinks in the St. Urho's Pub, next to the Parliament house. This is also your chance to taste an authentic Finnish style pizza, Paradise (often named as Hawaii too). Wondering if they prefer reindeer pizza in Hawaii island.
Finland is known as a country of thousands of lakes. Unfortunately you can't really experience it unless you have a helicopter or travel to Koli. But luckily, the coastline of Helsinki, eventhough it's hilariously a coastline of a sea, gives you a feeling of quite the same. So rent a bike and bicycle around the Seurasaarenselkä. Stop by at the Café Regatta, Sibelius Monument, residents of prime minister (Kesäranta) and president (Mäntyniemi), Seurasaari (outdoors walking park) and Tamminiemi museum where you can see how our big leader lived in the 1970s. Reserve 2-6 hours depending on your choices. If you are out of time, Seurasaari is the place to go. Try Kekkosen hyppy, the seven steps jump in the north part of the island.
In case you want to taste the traditional Finnish cuisine, you should reserve a table in Savotta, Lappi, Saaga or in a bit cheaper ones like Konstan Möljä or Salve. Or maybe you prefer a gastropub? Try Bryggeri, Il Birrificio, Viisi Penniä or Bruuveri.
Okay, so after you have experienced the real nature of Finnish culture, we can rush the main tourist attractions. Go to Kiasma or Ateneum for art. I'm pretty sure the National museum or the Natural history museum of Finland are not interesting so rather go to the Museum of Mannerheim or Design museum. Reserve about 2-3 hours per museum.
Many tourists, especially from Japan, come to Finland because of our architects and designers so you might want to visit the home of Alvar Aalto and his studio or enter Artek, the furniture store where you can buy, or just test, the famous Ball Chair of Eero Aarnio.
Some other popular attractions are Helsinki Cathedral, arenas of 1952 Olympic games, Linnanmäki amusement park and Korkeasaari Zoo.
Finland belongs to the west (EU member, free press, transparent democracy and low corruption) but because we have Russia as a neighbour, there are also many good Russian restaurants in Helsinki which you might want to try out, such as Saslik, Bellevue and Troikka.
In case you are blessed with a longer time in Finland, I have a few recommendations for you.
Rovaniemi in Lapland is the most popular tourist city besides of Helsinki because it offers Christmas fairyland miracles for children and because many snow related activities are easier to do there. But the upper Lapland is real wilderness, therefore more interesting place to go. Remember to check what gear you need.
Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish) is an archipelago with a historically interesting political situation and isolated culture. It's probably one the most peaceful places in the world. All the ferries are free to use if you are travelling by bike.
If you want to visit another city, go to Turku (old capital), Tampere (labor city) or Porvoo (picturesque).