Situated on the Baltic Sea, Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is a modern city of over 650,000 people, and the second most northern capital in Europe. Its unique maritime geography, with much of the city straddling countless islands of the inner archipelago, gives the Daughter of the Baltic its distinctive character. Helsinki has cultural influences from both the East and West, and blends its modern and historic architecture with wide open spaces so loved by Finns. It is a city packed with cultural riches, from its numerous museums and galleries, to its orchestras, opera companies, dance groups, and other performing arts..
Many of the islands in Helsinki’s gorgeous archipelago are easily accessed, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Suomenlinna for example has ferries leaving the Market Square harbour every 20 minutes, and there are hourly connections to the island zoo Korkeasaari. Some islands feature sauna facilities, summer restaurants and cafés, swimming beaches, and even host events, while others are nature reserves and open for hikers and birders. Back inland, and nature abounds in the city, with parks and forested areas within minutes no matter where in the city you happen to be. For example, Keskuspuisto stretches north for ten km from the Töölönlahti bay to Vantaa, and features rich and diverse nature typical of the southern coastal region of Finland.
Visitors to Helsinki find many of the city’s most beautiful attractions are free to visit. The Market Square and Market Hall are hugely popular, while the nearby Helsinki Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral are among the most photographed landmarks. Finland’s most unusual place of worship (and concerts) is Temppeliaukion kirkko, the Church of the Rock, and not far from there is the lovely Sibelius Park, where you’ll find the Sibelius Monument. Bargain hunters will find treasure at the Hietalahti flea market, while design lovers can browse the Torikorttelit or Helsinki’s Design District. Other notable attractions are the Kamppi Chapel of Silence and Oodi Central Library, or the delightful Art Nouveau apartment blocks in the Katajanokka district. Getting about Helsinki is simple and cheap, all the city’s public transport is interconnected, so the same ticket works on the trams, metro, buses and trains.
Korkeasaari Zoo – the island of animals
One of Helsinki’s best loved attractions, Korkeasaari Zoo is uniquely located on an island in the Baltic, easily accessible from the city centre, making it an ideal day out for families with children, nature lovers, outdoorsy types, couples and groups of friends. A hilly island covering 22 hectares, there are many hiking trails, circling and intersecting the hilly island. In addition to the restaurant and cafés, there are both outdoor and indoor picnic places and other places with BBQ grills and coals where you can cook your own food. Even though famous Helsinki landmarks like Uspenski and St. Thomas cathedrals are clearly visible, Korkeasaari’s island location is ideal for enjoying the tranquillity of the surrounding archipelago and its unique nature.
Korkeasaari Zoo is home to over 150 species that range from the Himalayan slopes to the African deserts and from the northern coniferous forests to the Amazon jungle. A stroll through Cat Alley introduces you to big cats like Asiatic lions, Amur igers, Snow leopards, and Amur leopards. Other big favourites on the island include the photogenic Red panda, Dwarf mongoose, Pygmy marmoset, Black lemur, and Red wallaby. Korkeasaari Zoo’s two tropical houses are the largest and most diverse in Finland; In Africasia you’ll discover tropical birds, snakes, and a family of dwarf mongooses, while in Amazonia you’ll find pygmy marmosets and other small monkeys, agoutis, parrots, lizards, and many more.
Korkeasaari works for biodiversity, and by visiting the zoo, you support this work and contribute to the preservation of wildlife. Korkeasaari keeps and breeds endangered animals together with other zoos involved in conservation efforts in order to help secure a future for the species.
During the summer the zoo is open daily from 10am to 8pm, with Helsinki’s long summer evenings providing opportunities to enjoy the island when there are less people there. The summer program includes animal feeds and short guided tours. It is easy to get to Korkeasaari – the 16 bus leaves regularly from the central railway station, and JT Lines operate a ferry from the market square leaving hourly. The nearest metro is Kalasatama, with the zoo about a 10 minute walk from there via Mustikkamaa, or visitors can use the handy city bikes available throughout the city and with a station next to the zoo entrance.
SEA LIFE Helsinki – discover the amazing underwater world
Located next to Linnanmäki Amusement Park, SEA LIFE Helsinki takes visitors into an amazing underwater adventure where they are wowed by the beautiful and fascinating creatures of the deep sea. With incredibly close-up views, be taken on a magical tour of the world’s oceans and their wonderful diversity of life, from the tropical oceans to the Arctic Sea, stopping at the Baltic Sea along the way. Pass through a transparent tunnel inside the 250 cubic metre ocean tank, watching as sharks pass overhead. Learn new things about ocean conservation through Sea Life’s exhibitions, which present many species whose environments are threatened by pollution and other environmental damage caused by humans.
There are 8 different Aquarium Zones in Sea Life, each providing insights into a particular ecosystem. Start from the Rainforest, walk along to Tropics and dive in to the Ocean Tunnel for a close-up with sharks. Admire magical Seahorses, funny guys at Raypool bay and continue to meet and greet creatures at Rockpool. Discover and explore in Sea Lab and learn about protecting our oceans in Conservation Cove. Due to the diversity of animals living here, feeding times are varied from tank to tank, for example the piranhas in the Rainforest zone are fed at noon on Saturdays. You can use the link to scheduled feeding times to plan your visit.
One of the best ways of getting the most out of a visit is to join a guided tour. For a more immersive experience try the Hai Hupi experience, where you can discover why the biggest shark is called Sweetie, which is Sea Life’s most dangerous creature, or its greediest, with a guide who can tell you this and so much more during the tour. You even get to feed some fish! Take a peek what’s behind closed doors on Behind the Scenes tour, where you’ll learn all about how the animals are taken care of and what actually goes on in the aquarium while you discover areas that are normally only accessible to staff. SEA LIFE Helsinki is open every day of the year except December 24th and 25th.
Old European Masters at Sinebrychoff Art Museum
The Sinebrychoff Art Museum is the only museum in Finland specialising in artworks from the 14th century to the 1850s, and holds some of the most important paintings from the old European masters in the country. The first floor and the basement are reserved for changing exhibitions, while the second floor houses the permanent collections of the house museum. The art collections include Swedish portrait art, Dutch and Flemish art from the 17th century, and gems of Italian and French painting. Sinebrychoff has Finland’s largest collection of miniatures and Fits only painting by Rembrandt, The Monk reading.
The house museum, which is the former home of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff, consists of an art collection exhibited in beautifully furnished and decorated rooms on the second floor. It includes 17th and 18th century portraits from Sweden, Dutch genre painting and a large collection of miniatures. Entrance to the house museum is always free. The Museum shop features new merchandise related to exhibitions, beautiful products based on the collection, interesting art books, and charming gift items.
This summer’s exhibition ‘Alexander Lauréus – To Rome’ provides an eye-opening and comprehensive look at the artist’s life and work. Born in Turku, Alexander Lauréus enjoys an undisputed position as a key Romantic-era artist. The works are on loan from more than twenty different lenders in Finland and Sweden, including several pieces from private collections and works never before exhibited in Finland. Visitors follow Lauréus on his journey from Turku to Stockholm, and from there via Paris to Rome, where he died aged 40.
Guided tours for groups can be booked for the special exhibitions, the house museum, or the collections. Tours must be booked at least a week in advance, and the languages available are Finnish, Swedish, English, and Russian. The museum opens out to Sinebrychoff Park at the rear, which is one of the most popular parks in the city centre, especially with picnicing families. Southpark Restaurant is a beautiful and atmospheric restaurant located on the edge of the Sinebrychoff park, offering tasty lunches on weekdays and a rich and delicious brunch on weekends.
Ateneum – Finland’s most renowned art museum
The Ateneum Museum of Art in Helsinki is the best-known museum in Finland and the home of Finnish art. The works in Ateneum’s extensive collections date from the 19th century to the modern era, and its hugely popular exhibitions of both Finnish and international art regularly open up new perspectives into the past and future.
Open through September 17th, the Albert Edelfelt exhibition provides an international perspective on a Finnish master, with an overarching view of the Edelfelt’s life work. One of Finland’s most renowned and popular artists, Edelfelt spoke several languages and travelled widely across the Nordics and Europe, living a portion of his life in Paris. The exhibition presents portraits of his family members, artist colleagues, and prominent figures of the time. There are also landscapes and views from Paris, as well as work from the artist’s travels in the south of France, Italy, and Spain. Also included are many beloved works considered to be national treasures, such as Boys Playing on the Shore (1884), The Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (1887), Women of Ruokolahti on the Church Hill (1887), and Conveying the Child’s Coffin (1879).
The new collection exhibition, “A Question of Time”, reflects on the major questions of our time through art, while also offering fresh perspectives into Finland’s oldest and most extensive art collection and how it was built. The exhibition contributes to the public debate of our century through four themes: The Age of Nature, Images of a People, Modern Life and Art, and Power. Alongside the iconic, beloved classics of the Finnish artistic canon, the new exhibition also features more rarely seen works. Guided tours can be booked at least a week in advance on the website.
The Ateneum Bistro restaurant and café offers seasonal bistro styled dishes. In addition to lunch and à la carte dishes, the restaurant serves sweet and savoury delicacies to enjoy with coffee or tea. The Ateneum Museum Shop sells a wide range of souvenirs related to the museum’s collections and temporary exhibitions, as well as books, cards, and gifts. The Ateneum museum shop includes the shop in the courtyard, the poster shop in the ticket sales hall, and an occasional pop-up shop in connection with an exhibition. Visitors are welcome in the museum shop without viewing the exhibitions.
Kirkkonummi – Nature Experiences and Charming Cultural Sites
Located just 30 km west of Helsinki centre, Kirkkonummi is an interesting destination packed with fascinating cultural sites and nature attractions, an ideal day trip for all where there’s plenty to see and do, even for longer visits. Kirkkonummi offers visitors the opportunity to breathe in the fresh forest air, or to travel to the seaside to admire the rocky beaches and experience the authentic island atmosphere.
Porkkalanniemi in Kirkkonummi is an easily accessible and unique nature destination, where you can find forest, sea and rocky beaches in one place. The area is an excellent day-hiking destination with trails and camp shelters. You can pack a bike on the train and go on a nature trip to Porkkalanniemi. Other wonderful natural destinations are Linlo island and the Meiko nature reserve.
In addition to amazing natural attractions, Kirkkonummi also has cultural treasures. These include the main library Fyyri, which received the prestigious Finlandia Award for Architecture, Hvitträski‘s internationally renowned National Romantic studio home, and the Ragvalds Museum Farm and its traditional yards which will especially delight history and architecture lovers.
Families with children can experience farm animals and nature moments at Rehndahl’s beautiful animal farm, where you can pet and get to know the happy animals.
The nicest cruises from Helsinki to Stockholm and Tallinn
One of Helsinki’s most appealing aspects for visitors is the maritime feeling and easy access to other capitals around the Baltic Sea. Tallink Silja offers easy and enjoyable mini-holidays. The most modern Tallink Shuttles offer numerous daily departures to Tallinn and Silja Line’s luxurious white ships have daily overnight cruises between Helsinki and Stockholm via the Åland Islands.
Silja Line‘s roundtrip cruises to Stockholm are an ideal way to combine the Royal Swedish capital into your itinerary. The sea journey passes through the most beautiful Scandinavian archipelago. You will have an exciting overnight cruise both ways with some excellent onboard dining, great activities & entertainment, a spa, and fantastic duty-free shopping opportunities. During the day you can visit Stockholm and explore the city’s sights.
The unique 142m long Promenade onboard sister ships Silja Serenade & Silja Symphony is truly the magnificent heart of the ships with a lovely atmosphere. Kids will love the Sunflower Oasis Spa and its whirlpool hot tubs, and the supervised play centers. The whole family can enjoy many great live shows that take place on every journey.
You can also choose to visit the beautiful capital of Estonia, Tallinn, which is just 2 hours from Helsinki. Fast Tallink Shuttles MyStar and Megastar have up to 6 daily departures to Tallinn offering the nicest crossing over the Gulf of Finland. The frequent schedule allows you to stay up to 13 hours exploring the historic medieval city with its beautiful towers or the modern city districts with many attractions.
Whether you choose a one-way or roundtrip cruise with Tallink Silja ships, you can be sure to get wonderful new memories. The company has been awarded the Sustainable Travel Finland label as the first shipping company in the Baltic Sea.
Summer Adventures in Beautiful Lake Tuusula
Located less than an hour away from Helsinki city centre, Lake Tuusula was once home to one of Finland’s most prestigious group of artists, and the homes they once lived in still dot the lakeside paths, providing visitors with a chance to step back in time to the Golden Age of Finnish Art. These include Ainola – the home of Sibelius; Halosenniemi – the wilderness studio of painter Pekka Halonen; Suviranta – the former studio residence of painter Eero Järnefelt; Erkkola – home of poet J. H. Erkko; and the Aleksis Kivi Memorial Cottage.
The lake also provides visitors with an excellent opportunity to experience the nature of southern Finland, best explored by bicycle, which can be rented from Järvenpää Art Museum and from hotels by the lake. The full route circling the long lake is 26 km long, but there are shorter alternatives. For example, the scenic museum road Rantatie is approximately 4 km in length, and passes many of the cultural sites. Experience rural Finland in miniature in the Sarvikallio area, making sure to stop at the Sarvikallio viewing point, in Fjällbo Park, and along the Vanhankylänniemi nature trail.
Visitors exploring Lake Tuusula will find plenty of restaurants and cafés along the route, with delightful summer cafés open during the season. Lake Tuusula also hosts numerous events during the summer, beginning with its Midsummer Celebrations
Tuusula is part of Helsinki’s public transportation network (HSL) so you can get there conveniently by bus or train / bus combination with different route options. For food lovers there is a local food festival in September.