With the rise in popularity in Finland's northern Lapland region and an attractive Helsinki stopover program offered by the country's largest airline (Finnair) the country's capital is ready for its closeup, in any season. From Helsinki's idyllic surrounding islands to the city's attractive neighborhoods, market squares and cafes ripe for exploration, here are the top things to do in Finland's capital.
Visit the Suomenlinna Fortress
Built in the 1700s on six islands, Suomenlinna Fortress is to this date one of Helsinki's most popular and famous attractions open year-round. The island is home to about 800 inhabitants and you can enjoy different museums, shops, cafes, and restaurants for. To reach this Helsinki attraction, take a ferry from Helsinki's Market Square. Suomenlinna fortress is also one of Finland's UNESCO world heritage sites.
Experience Helsinki's Market Square
Helsinki's waterside Market Square hosts numerous colorful tents hawking everything from freshly foraged local produce to reindeer pelts and salmon feasts. Ferries leave from Market Square bound for the city's nearby islands, and the historic Old Market Hall is the perfect place for a bite to eat or a coffee -- look for hearty soups, open-faced seafood sandwiches and even reindeer meat pies, if that's your thing.
Visit Helsinki's Nearby Islands
Seurasaari --Helsinki's museum island -- is one of the biggest attractions in the city. The open-air museum on Seurasaari shows Finnish traditions and buildings from the 1700s to the 1900s and offers visitors workshops and events for the whole family in summer. Seurasaari is also the location for annual celebrations like Christmas, Easter and Midsummer's Eve in summer.
Or, for exploration on a smaller scale, head to Lonna -- a former military base that's brand new on the local island hopping circuit. Lonna now hosts a restaurant and cafe, and even a sauna.
Explore Helsinki's Diverse Churches
While the Helsinki Cathedral and the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral are the most obvious places of worship to grace the outskirts of the city's Market Square (both are open to visitors daily), a bit of exploration further afield yields the discovery of two unique options. Near the city's central railway station, the Kamppi Chapel, or the "Chapel of Silence" offers just that -- a soothing wooden space dedicated to quiet reflection within the center of Finland's largest city.
Go to the Beach
Many think that Finnish weather is too cold for swimming, but along with warm summers, Helsinki offers over 310 islands and a coastline close to 100 kilometers long. Helsinki visitors and locals alike love the swimming beaches here.
Impossible to pronounce for non-natives, but wonderful to visit: Töölönlahti Bay in Helsinki. The park around Töölönlahti Bay starts directly in Helsinki, and is a popular destination even for Helsinki residents! Besides a quiet and relaxing afternoon, Töölönlahti Bay also offers visitors the colorfully planted Winter Garden, the Sports Museum and the Finnish National Opera, the Olympic Stadium, Finlandia Hall and the Linnunlaulu district of the wooden villas.
Another popular beach is Hietaniemi Beach (short "Hietsu") which every Helsinki local knows. If it's too crowded for your taste, visit the other big beach at Seurasaari.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park
Linnanmäki Amusement Park in Helsinki is a very popular attraction for families with children, and offers the beautifully illuminated "Carnival of Lights" each October concluding the summer season (open May to late September). Make sure to experience the Carnival of Lights with your children, if you can. There is also a special winter event in February.
Admire the Helsinki Central Railway Station
One of Helsinki's most recognizable attractions is the Central Railway Station in Helsinki. It opened in 1919 and has four granite guards at the main entrance. Today, Helsinki's Central Railway Station is considered to be one of the most admired Finnish architectural works. National and international rail services are available here. The new Ice Park with skating and live entertainment (Nov to March) next to the train station is a great attraction in winter!