like a local - 9 great ways to learn Helsinki

Finland was the very first country I have traveled to. It was 1992 and my mom and I took a bus from St-Petersburg across the border all the way to Helsinki. I don't remember much from that trip only that for some reason we bought skiing and two woolen scarfs. Many years have passed since that journey, I have travelled to different countries trying to absorb as much as I could, learning different cultures and their way of life, but the feeling that Finland is special has stayed with me for all these years.

It is high on my favorite countries list and I by now have good friends living in Helsinki. Visiting Helsinki has become a yearly tradition which I try to preserve. Helsinki is some of the Worlds coziest and stylish capitals, where you can reach everything by foot or bike, where everything is thought through with a note of care and childhood. Afterall, Finland living standards are rated among the Worlds leaders.

Perfect for a weekend trip or for staying and living your life, Helsinki should be high on everyones must-see list.

Hope that my tips on 10 great things to do in Helsinki the local way will engage you in planning your own trip. Oh, and I still wear those woolen scarfs =).

rent a bike

Despite of being the country's capital, you will be surprised to find how compact Helsinki is. One of the best things to do while getting to know Helsinki is renting a bike. It's a bike friendly city with bike lanes and special areas for biking along the coastline. It's not completely flat, but why not to train your muscles a bit, right? 

  • You can rent a bike at your hotel, check in advance if they offer the service - most hotels and hostels do.
  • There are plenty of bike renting shops all over the town - like Stadi Bike Shop.
  • There are also bike rental station from City Bikes spread all over the city where you can pik up and drop of your bike any time you wish. It is best if you register and install an App beforehand.

helsinki design tour

Finland and Helsinki in particular is a paradise for design lovers. Finnish closeness to nature is represented everywhere. You will be amazed how perfectly Finns implement their love for nature in all things design - from furniture to clothes.

Helsinki has it's own Design district, the one all scandinavian design lovers should consider visiting. Check this page for the detailed infomation of the latest venues as well as for the map of all design shops and activities the city offers.

There are also some nice outlets and factory shops located within the city premises and which are easy to reach. My favorite ones are:

  • Arabia Factory shop (Haemeentie 135) which is worth a visit for it's located in a nice old factory building and offers a great selection on Arabia and iittala products along with Finnlayson and Pentik factory shops. Factory tours are also highly recommendable!
  • Marimekko Herttoniemi Outlet (Kirvesmiehenkatu 7) is for those in love with those big flowers and awesome prints. 

helsinki architecture tour

Helsinki mixes architectural styles in an unique and appealing way - Russia influenced buildings from the beginning of the XX century, neo-classical, art nouveau and Nordic Classicism styles peacefully reside with modernism creations. Many prominent world-famous architects like Alvar Aalto called Helsinki home.

For Finnish  Modernism must-see's have a look at this page. Here are my favorite creations:

  • Temppeliaukio Church a church build into a solid rock is a perffect example of integration of how nature is integrated into the daily Finnish life.
  • Kamppi Chapel of Silence standing in the city center right in the middle of busy squary next to Helsinki Bus station and shopping malls this little wooden chuch provides visittors with peace and quiet. To me it always serves as a remider that we should stop for a moment and dedicate at least 5 minutes to our thoughts and peace our mind.
  • Kiasma. A contemporary art museum located in an uniquely designed building is worth a visit! 
  • Alvar Aalto tours. There are different tours dedicated to this world-famous architect, be sure to check this page for more information.

sauna experience

You can't leave Finland without visiting a sauna at least once. Sauna is a very important part of Finnish culture. According to Wikipedia There are five million inhabitants and over three million saunas' in Finland. This is just to give you a sauna importance scale!

In Helsinki and in other larger cities in Finland with multistorey buildings there is at least one sauna in the basement! Sauna is used for social events, for neighbours chats, family outings and birthday celebrations. Don't miss on that!

My favorite saunas in Helsinki are:

  • KulttuurisaunaThis one used to be my favorite until it became too popular and busy with tourists. It is still worth a visit though. Beautifully designed with a mixture of Japanese and Finnish influence (the owners wife is from Japan) it is located on shore of the sea and offers great views over the city from the steam room.
  • Urbansauna Kallio. Helsinki classics. It's the one you will recognise from photos. Every time passing by you will see people siiting outside cooling off. Located in a regular living house it represents the authentic way urban saunas function.
  • Allas Sea Pool A new addition to Helsinki is this awesome sea pool located right in the city center, offering great swimming experiences. It also has a sauna to warm up. I haven't tried it yet though.
  • Löyly Sauna. Located a bit outside of the city on shore of the Baltic sea this is a very trendy and posh sauna with gorgeous design and perfect service. It can get very busy during weekends - a lot of bachelor parties and social events take place here, because it's one of the biggest saunas in the city. It is easy to reach by bike and is worth visiting for it's restraunt and outside sitting area!

Check out this post  - Quick guide to Finnish sauna: 10 tips for beginners is you are new to the sauna world.

helsinki from above

It's incredible how compact Helsinki looks from above. You can see the coast line and the ferries docking in the harbour. Another great experience to live.

  • Ateljee Bar. Inside Torni hotel this bar offers some of the best views over the city and some of the most over priced drinks ever!! You don't need to stay for a drink though, just climb the stairs, enjoy the view and go have your drink somewhere else.
  • Clarion Sky Room Another new addition to the city skyline, the syk room  offers great views ovr the Hietalahti harbour area.
  • Loiste. Old school feeling and central location. I wouldn't recommend ordering food though.

island hopping

Helsinki is not only about the mainland, it also consists of 330 beautiful islands worth a trip. Helsinki is not particulalrly a busy city, but if you are looking for peace and quiet head directly to the islands. 

  • The most popular is Suomenlinna - which is also declared as Unesco Heritage site. It's a neighbourhood of Helsinki and is famous for it's old fortress one could explore on a tour or on your own. there is no entry fee - you just pay for the ferry. All boats and ferry's depart from Helsinki Market Square.
  • Kausinaari. It's mostly about nature, camping and beach life here.
  • Pihlajasaari. Great for a day visit this island has a lovely old restaurant and pretty changing cabins.

Check out this page on how to reach the islands.

kallio district

What once used to be a workers district is now holding a reputation of hipster and bohemian area. Here you will find the most trendy coffee shops, ravintolas (eateries) and shops. Kallio is also a great place for local life and local fashion spotting.

cleaning day

This event is a lot of fun. Cleaning Day is celebrated across the country, but it is especially great in Helsinki. The whole city transforms into a huge flea market - everyone is outside chatting, bargaining and exchanging things! I participated once and it was a perfect opportunity to give the old things a new start!

There are also different performeance across the city turning the Cleaning Day into a real Festival.

Also perfect for those who search for scandinavian design bargains - I bought my favorite Marimekko dress for 25 Euro at a Cleaning Day a couple of years ago.

Check this post about detailed information on the Cleaning Day.

 

festivals

Helsinki hosts some of the best festivals, including Helsinki International Film Festival and Art Goes Kapakka as a part of Helsinki Festival. Very well organised venues with a lot of style and local flair.

I visited Helsinki Festival in August 2016 and it was simply great - along larger performances there were smaller ones taking place in saunas or private flats. How fun is this?!

family and kids

Finland is a very family oriented country and it's capital is a good proof to it. There are plenty of activities to choose out of - check this map and pick your favorite. There are all sorts of paygrounds and children free zones and areas all over the city.

Public transport is free for parents pushing a pram - how awesome is this?!

extra tips

  • If you are staying for more than one day in Helsinki it is worth checking out Helsinki Pass which gives it's holder discounts and special offers on transportation, cultural venues and sightseeing. 
  • My Helsinki is a great source for all information about the city as well as latest updates and tips given by locals.

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