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I already knew I was going to fall in love with Helsinki before we even arrived. I’m not usually a city girl, but the vibes I was getting just from pictures alone made me feel like I could feel at home there. Once we finally arrived in Helsinki, all of my initial preconceptions were confirmed – it really is a wonderful city! We were lucky to experience a full multi-day itinerary thanks to Visit Finland and My Helsinki, so here is my Helsinki City Guide highlighting our absolute favorites!
THINGS TO DO & SIGHTS
Löyly – Just under 2 years old, this is THE spot to go to in Helsinki for a Finnish sauna experience. Even the locals love it! When we visited, there were more locals there than tourists so you know it’s good. After hopping between the steam sauna and smoke sauna, put on your best brave face and dip into the frozen Baltic Sea for the ultimate boost! Best time of day to go is in the evening because then you can dine on mouthwatering food and sip on delicious wine in their restaurant post-sauna.
Helsingin tuomiokirkko / Helsinki Cathedral – The iconic landmark of Helsinki is this Evangelical Lutheran Church at the heart of the city. Snow, rain, or shine, it’s absolutely beautiful and should not be missed! It’s also a prime spot for taking Instagram pics… just sayin’!
Luonnontieteellinen museo / Museum of Natural History – Fascinating museum featuring animals around the world, including animals native to Finland. Also features a breathtaking staircase that’s a top spot for Instagram pics.
Finnair Skywheel – Helsinki’s version of the London Eye located right next to Market Square. Gives you a panoramic view of the city, plus if you ride in the Veuve Clicquot VIP Experience, you get to enjoy a chilled glass of champagne as you take in views of the city.
Market Square – Open spring to autumn, the square hosts a plethora of vendors selling Finnish food/snacks and souvenirs. In October, the market hosts its annual herring festival called “Silakkamarkkinat”.
Kansalliskirjasto / National Library of Finland – A book lovers’ dream! Picture the Beauty and the Beast library in Beast’s castle, then place it in the heart of Helsinki across from the cathedral.
THINGS TO DO & SIGHTS (con’t)
Helkatti Cat Cafe – While you can dine here for lunch, this spot is more of a “stop here for hot cocoa and play with cats”. Helkatti has 8 felines that call the spot home, and all become your best friend the minute the staff hand you some treats to give out.
Iittala and Arabia Design Centre – A bit outside of the city center, this design center hosts exhibitions highlighting Finnish artists and the masterminds behind the famous glassworks and designs of the brands Iittala and Arabia. There’s also a shop on the main floor to purchase these beautiful pieces for your home. When Tor and I renovate our kitchen, we want to fill it with cookware from these brands! There are also art classes that happen here as well.
Esplanadi – The famous main street of Helsinki lined with shopping malls and designer shops, plus features a really beautiful tree-lined park down the middle.
Designmuseo / Design Museum – One of the oldest museums in the world, get your fashion and furniture inspiration from this museum in the city center.
Day trip to Porvoo – Located just under an hour by bus from Helsinki, it’s the perfect place to escape the city for a day!
WHERE TO EAT
Juuri – One of my favorite restaurants in Helsinki. They have a delicious menu of “sapas” dishes, which is a Finnish version of tapas.
Baskeri & Basso (“Basbas”) – Arguably the most sought-after dinner spot in the city and deservedly so. It’s very difficult to get a reservation here, as it’s stressed you need to books weeks or even months in advance. We booked 9 days in advance for a table at 10:30 pm, however when we called on the day of our reservation at 3 pm, they had three last minute cancellations and were able to squeeze us in at 8 pm. Their menu changes frequently, but we highly recommend going for their four course special.
Atelje Finne – Another one of our favorite restaurants with melt-in-your-mouth dishes, especially their carrot soup.
Passio – We dined here for lunch during the week and loved it. Amazing chicken dish with corn and polenta. Not on a main road so it was nice and quiet.
Restaurant Grön – There are only 8-10 tables max in this restaurant, and the kitchen is small and completely open. You really feel like you’re getting a personalized experience at this restaurant as if you are guests of the chef. They were really kind to change up the menu a bit to accommodate my many allergies.
Löyly restaurant – After the sauna and dipping into the cold Baltic Sea, make a reservation to eat at their cozy restaurant and sip wine by the fire.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Lilla Roberts – A very vibrant, hip, and modern luxury hotel that only opened a few years ago. Its location used to be a police station, and before that it was an energy plant! It’s perfectly located in the city center near the Esplanadi and Market Square. The rooms are very comfortable, and the breakfast was the best we had on our entire visit.
Hotel F6 – Another new and modern luxury hotel in the city center. We only stayed here for one night before flying back to New York, but the deluxe room we were in was very spacious and the beds were really comfy.
I should mention that these are all of our favorite spots in the city when we visited in winter, so this Helsinki city guide reflects just that. We’d love to be able to visit Helsinki again in the summer to add even more experiences and places to recommend to our Helsinki city guide. Be sure to also read our Finland travel guide, which highlights not only Helsinki but also nearby Porvoo and the northern portion of Lapland in Rovaniemi and Levi. Also don’t miss our complete itinerary so you can re-create our once-in-a-lifetime experience for yourselves, too!
Photos by Torrance Coombs.