Scattered across a network of islands in the south of Finland, Helsinki has a distinct feel that makes it unlike anywhere else on Earth. With its confounding complexity of maritime vibes, Eastern European influences, and Scandinavian chic, visiting Helsinki is like traveling to multiple destinations all at once!
With cozy saunas to huddle in during the winter and fascinating open-air museums to explore during the summer, Helsinki is a fantastic destination all year round. The colder months provide the ideal snowy environment for ice skating, reindeer petting, and indulging in comfort food. While the warmer months are the perfect time for outdoor swimming, strolling through botanical gardens, and island hopping.
Whether you prefer to spend your time meandering through gorgeous city parks, experiencing high-speed thrills at theme parks, admiring the work of remarkable artists, or seeing all the sights from the comfort of a luxury boat, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Helsinki!
With so many amazing things to see and do, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Helsinki. Add these activities and attractions to your Helsinki bucket list, and you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring the Pearl of the Baltic Sea.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Helsinki
1. Relax In A Finnish Sauna At Löyly
Visiting a typical Finnish sauna is one of the must-do things in Helsinki! The city is brimming with excellent saunas, but the ones you’ll find in Löyly are our absolute favorites. This remarkable sauna center lines the edge of the sea and provides you with a peaceful and relaxing escape in the middle of an urban metropolis.
There’s a large group mixed sauna where you can go to chill out with others, as well as private saunas which you can reserve for just you and your travel group. All saunas are just steps away from the icy Baltic Sea, which you can plunge into when you need to cool off.
Just so you know, you can make sauna reservations during the winter, but not in the summer. In the warmer months, the sauna is first come, first served, and all walk-ins are welcome.
As well as the saunas, Löyly also features a fantastic restaurant and outdoor terrace. The menu changes throughout the seasons, with all kinds of light bites and refreshing cocktails available during the summer, followed by comfort food and hot drinks in the winter.
2. Be Amazed By The Temppeliaukio Rock Church
For one of the best sights in Helsinki, head north, past the Hietaniemi area and along Fredrikinkatu until you reach the Temppeliaukio Rock Church. Designed in the late 1960s, most of the church is underground and was carved out of the ancient solid rock that forms the Helsinki peninsula.
From the outside, the church almost looks like a UFO, with a huge metallic dome surrounded by staggeringly tall windows. But head inside, and the church takes on a completely different vibe. A building of contrasts, the millennia-old rocky walls blend into the 42-foot-high dome with ease.
The giant windows mean that the inside of the church is flooded with glorious natural light throughout the day. The copper sheeting of the dome and the natural rock walls also create excellent acoustics, making the church one of the best concert halls in Helsinki. You can visit the church as part of a guided tour during the summer.
3. Get Lost In Central Park
When you need a break from all the Helsinki sightseeing, spend a few hours wandering around the city’s Central Park. Also known as Keskuspuisto in Finnish, this colossal natural space covers almost four square miles of thick, verdant forest. It’s a great place to escape to when the hustle and bustle of Helsinki gets to be too much.
Central Park is found in the heart of the city, beginning at the Olympic Stadium and stretching all the way to Paloheinä forest. Despite what its name may suggest, it’s more of a wild wood than a manicured park, and it’s a fantastic place to visit at any time of year.
During the winter, Keskuspuisto is perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoe hiking. The sight of snow-covered trees glittering in dappled sunlight will stay with you forever. In the summer, you’ll be spoiled for choice with walking, hiking, and cycling routes, as well as lively festivals and rainbows of wildflowers.
4. Learn About Finnish Culture At The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum is one of the very best Helsinki attractions. Tucked away on the peaceful island of Seurasaari, this fascinating museum is easily accessible from the mainland by a footbridge and is sure to be one of the most interesting parts of your vacation.
Guided by the aim of showing you what life was like in Finland centuries ago, the outdoor museum is brimming with farmsteads, homes, a manor house, and countless other natural wooden buildings that have been collected from all over the country. There’s even a church that was originally built in Kiruna way back in 1686!
There are a whopping 87 buildings for you to explore in total, dating between the 18th and 20th centuries. Each building is filled with authentic furniture from the time and period decorations. You’ll also spot staff members walking around in clothes from centuries ago, as well as farmyard animals wandering wherever they please.
5. Start The Day With A Karjalanpiirakka
A Karjalanpiirakka is an amazing breakfast dish that you’ll want to order again and again after your first one. Named after the Karelia region in which they were invented, this dish is a kind of rustic breakfast pie that comes with a variety of fillings.
Traditional Karjalanpiirakkas are made with thin rye pastry, but today it’s also common to find them made with a wheat-based pastry to improve the texture. The pastry is typically filled with cooked rice before being topped with a combination of butter and diced hard-boiled egg.
It sounds unusual, but the filling is wonderfully soft, rich, and comforting. It provides the ideal texture and flavor contrast to the crisp, earthy rye pastry.
Kotileipomo Anna-Liisa Sorsa dishes up incredible Karjalanpiirakkas. At this bakery, the breakfast pies are handmade and come in the traditional variety, as well as ones made with barley and lingonberry and ones stuffed with reindeer meat.
6. Have A Fun-Filled Day Out At The Linnanmäki Amusement Park
If you’re in search of high-speed thrills, one of the best things to do in Helsinki is to plan a day at the Linnanmäki Amusement Park. Just east of the city’s Olympic Stadium, you’ll find a fantastic theme park that has been operating since 1950. A popular place for locals as well as visitors, the theme park is jam-packed with rides suitable for all ages and height limits.
For little ones, there are mini rollercoasters, a playhouse, a carousel, and a pirate ship, plus spinning teacups, bumper cars, and a haunted hotel for bigger kids. For daredevils, there’s a great choice of speedy rollercoasters, many of which also reward you with incredible views of Helsinki and Linnanmäki.
You’ll get some of the best views from the top of the Ferris wheel and the 174-foot-tall observation tower. The 197-foot-high Rocket ride and 246-foot-high free-fall tower also give you incredible views of the surrounding area – if you’re brave enough!
7. Party At The Helsinki Samba Carnaval
If you can’t make it to Brazil for the world-famous Carnival, you’ll find the second-best thing in Helsinki. Each year in June, the dramatic Helsinki Samba Carnaval is organized by the Finland Samba Schools Association.
Definitely one of the most fun things to do in Helsinki, this annual event sees the streets transformed with colorful decorations, upbeat music, lively dancing, and all kinds of mesmerizing costumes worn by expert dancers showing off their samba moves.
The amazing program changes every year but usually includes performances from different samba groups, samba lessons, get-fit dance classes, award ceremonies, drag shows, and various workshops.
We definitely recommend you make time to check out the opening ceremony. It really is spectacular and is as close as you’ll get to watching the opening parade in Rio de Janeiro. The event usually ends with a lavish brunch and movie afternoon, the perfect way to chill out after an action-packed week.
8. Admire The Fascinating Monument At Sibelius Park
One of the coolest things to do in Helsinki is to visit Sibelius Park. This open-air art attraction was launched in 1967 and was designed by Eila Hiltunen. At first, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the park, but today it’s a popular tourist attraction.
Dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the park was originally open to criticism because of the Sibelius Monument. It comprised a collection of long metal pipes, which created music when they moved in the wind. Decades ago, this was seen as crass and distasteful, and a bust of the composer was added to please the public.
You can still admire both pieces of artwork today. If you look at the Sibelius Monument from far away, you may struggle to spot it. It was purposely built so it blends itself into the rock face. Whether or not you agree with it, it’s a unique piece that certainly sparks a conversation among classical music lovers.
9. Discover Your Inner Art Critic At The Museum of Contemporary Art
When it’s too cold to explore outside, one of the best things to do in Helsinki is to seek shelter inside the Museum of Contemporary Art. Not only is the place wonderfully warm during the winter months, but it’s also full of thought-provoking and out-there artwork that will really amaze you.
Also known as Kiasma in Finnish, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a masterpiece all on its own. Even though Helsinki is highly regarded for its innovative architecture, the building was actually created by the American architect Steven Holl. The eye-catching curved exterior winds its way inside and provides the perfect environment for a modern collection of contemporary art.
The majority of the displays are made up of post-1960 Finnish artwork, but it’s much more than just watercolor paintings and clay sculptures. There are one-of-a-kind pieces made out of everything from glass and feathers to tin cans and colored blocks. Many of the displays take up an entire room.
10. Test Your Taste Buds With Pickled Herring
If you’ve got an open mind when it comes to food, one of the top things to do in Helsinki is to try some pickled herring! Hugely popular throughout Finland, this dish originated because pickling was an excellent way of preserving food before refrigerators and freezers existed.
Now that we’ve got plenty of ways to make food last, pickled herring still appears on many menus throughout the city, simply because it tastes great! In Helsinki, pickled herring is usually cured to extract excess water and then brined in a combination of vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, and raw onions. All the different ingredients give the fish a delicious, complex flavor many find addictive.
In Helsinki, pickled herring is most often served on thick slices of rye bread or alongside boiled new potatoes. It really is packed with flavor, so you need something mild and subtle to balance it out.
The Baltic Herring Festival, which takes place in Market Square for a week each October, is a spectacular place to try pickled herring. Here you’ll find pop-up stalls selling all kinds of incredible pickled herring for you to try.
11. Visit One Of The Oldest Zoos In The World At Korkeasaari Zoo
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Helsinki with your family, spend the day at Korkeasaari Zoo. Founded way back in the 1880s, this zoo is one of the oldest in the world and is home to a hugely successful breeding program for endangered animals.
The zoo has been particularly successful in breeding beautiful snow leopards and other magnificent big cats, including the Siberian tiger, all of which you can see during your visit.
All the environments here have been carefully designed to be as close as possible to the animals’ natural habitats, so you can catch a glimpse of how they behave in the wild. A huge effort has been made to collect almost 1,000 different species of plants from all over the world to make the 150+ different species of animals feel at home.
If you’re planning on visiting in the winter, make sure you check out the tropical houses. Not only will you get to see some exotic animals and stunning plants, but you’ll also get to keep warm!
12. Take A Boat Trip To Suomenlinna
For one of the best things to see in Helsinki, hop on a boat and take a ride to Suomenlinna. An imposing sea fortress that dates back to the 18th century, Suomenlinna is made up of six small, linked islands protected by solid defensive walls and centuries-old artillery.
The Fortress of Sveaborg dominates the islands and was built in the middle of the 18th century to stop Russian forces from accessing the Baltic. Unfortunately, the fortress failed and fell to the Russians in 1808, and they went on to make it even bigger and stronger. It was returned to Finland in 1918 and was given the name Suomenlinna, which translates into Finnish Castle.
Today the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features a captivating museum where you can learn about everything that went on here. We suggest you follow the clearly-marked Blue Route, which takes you past all the most important sights on the island, including Piper’s Park, King’s Gate, and the Great Courtyard.
13. Discover Finland In The National Museum of Finland
If you want to gain a greater understanding of Finland and discover how it came to be the place it is today, one of the best Helsinki activities is to spend a few hours at the National Museum of Finland. Also known as Kansallismuseo in Finnish, the museum is bursting with exhibitions that will answer all your questions and fill in all the gaps.
Built in the National Romantic Art Nouveau style, the museum opened in 1916 and quickly became the country’s top historical museum. Although it looks a bit like a Gothic church from the outside, it’s full of fascinating treasures that provide a stellar insight into the history and culture of Finland.
One of the most interesting parts of the museum is the Finno-Ugrian collection. Here you can admire a comprehensive selection of traditional costumes and everyday items which were used centuries ago. The prehistoric section is also noteworthy and is the biggest permanent collection of archaeological pieces in Finland.
Even the entrance to the museum is spectacular. It’s decorated with stunning ceiling frescoes inspired by the Kalevala – Finland’s national myth. They were painted by Akseli Gallén-Kallela, who is widely regarded as Finland’s most famous artist.
14. Rediscover Your Love Of Cartoons At Animatricks
Animatricks is one of the best spring festivals in Helsinki. The biggest animation event held in the city, Animatricks has been going on for more than 20 years and is all about animated movies.
Although the festival is just four days long, the program is packed with loads of cool things to see and do. There are Finnish and international film screenings, opportunities to meet professional animators, drawing workshops, competitions, masterclasses, and documentaries. If you want to get into animation or you just like cartoons, this is the festival for you!
Don’t miss out on the awards ceremony. The grand event takes place toward the end of the festival (check the website for the exact dates) and is almost as glitzy and glamorous as the Oscars!
Tickets are available for individual movie screenings, but if there’s a lot you want to see, you’ll save a fortune by buying one of the festival passes.
15. Be Open-Minded And Try Reindeer
If you’re open to broadening your foodie palate, one of the top things to do in Helsinki is to try reindeer. This nutritious protein is hugely popular throughout Finland, although some would say it’s got a rather acquired taste.
Reindeer meat is really dark in color with a strong, salty flavor. Because it’s so popular, it’s pretty affordable and has recently been declared one of the healthiest proteins you can eat.
You can try reindeer meat in many different forms from grocery stores, cafes, and restaurants. Reindeer steaks, stews, pizzas, sandwiches, and salads are all really common!
We had some of the best-ever reindeer meat at Lappi Restaurant. This romantic restaurant dishes up typical Finnish cuisine, including several different varieties of reindeer meat.
The reindeer carpaccio with blueberry vinaigrette is an incredible appetizer. The grilled reindeer fillet with cranberry sauce, potato cake, smoked parsnip purée, and honey turnip entrée is also fabulous.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Helsinki. What’s your favorite thing to do in Helsinki?
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