Helsinki in the summer is an extremely underrated travel destination. Not only is it a respite from the crowds flocking to the south of Europe from June through September (see: 13 Ways To Avoid The Crowds When Traveling), its vibrant architectural and musical cultures have a lot to offer to potential travelers. Couple that with the stunning Lakeland nearby for nature lovers, and you have an excellent summer getaway.
We know what you’re thinking – Helsinki’s great – but isn’t it ridiculously expensive? We’re not going to lie to you, it is one of the most expensive European cities in an as-expensive country to travel to. But if your trade-off is traveling Italy (or most European countries in the south during the summer) versus Finland, we’d argue that Finland does offer a good value for money, especially if you make use of our creative ways to travel on a budget, and spend just a few days exploring what it has to offer.
Stay at the excellent Hotel Finn in central Helsinki – if you want something that’s central, comfortable, and on a budget, this place is hard to beat! Book as early as possible for the best rates.
Helsinki also has excellent lunch specials (e.g. 2 course meal for €10 – yes!) and you can choose to have a döner or grab some eats from a supermarket salad bar for dinner to keep your costs low.
Central Helsinki is extremely walkable, and you can use public transport to get to more far-flung areas.
The price-tag associated with Helsinki can mean that you can’t afford to spend too much time exploring this beautiful city. To that end, here’s how you can enjoy the sights of Helsinki: in a day!
Helsinki Central Railway Station (Päärautatieasema)
Given Europe’s excellent rail system, there’s a good chance you’re arriving in Helsinki by train (have you tried flying into Tampere and exploring Finland by Veturi (VR) train? It’s a great low-budget way to get around Finland and you have gorgeous views of the countryside as a bonus!)
It’s worth stopping to take a look around you at the Helsinki Central Railway Station, which happens to be Finland’s most visited building.
Kamppi Silent Chapel
This is one of our favorite spaces in Helsinki. The Kamppi Chapel, or Silent Chapel, is an oasis of tranquility within the busy city. Save for the occasional loud tourist, it’s amazing to see it serve its purpose, shutting out the noise from outside within its minimalist chapel room.
Finland has all the name-brand stores if you’re in for some bank-fund-crushing. Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, Narinkkatori square with its interesting art installations and surrounding stores, is great for people watching. You may even catch a street musician or two in the summer.
National Museum of Finland
Spend an hour or two learning about the history of the Finnish struggle for self-determination, and the evolution of culture through the ages. This museum is well put-together and covers Finland from the Stone Ages to today in a series of thoughtful exhibits.
Whether you’re going in for a concert, or just to admire the minimalism of the architecture (as is the case in most Finnish buildings!), Finlandia Hall is a good stopover on your walking tour around the city.
Built directly into solid rock, this church is more visited for its value of design over its religious significance. The altarpiece consists of an ice-age crevice.
Enjoy outdoor music at a park in the summer
Finland is indubitably a house and trance music hub, and you will most likely notice this as you walk around the parks and central Helsinki in the summer. There’s music blasting from restaurants, bars, and even large boomboxes set outside nightclubs during the day. There are many outdoor weekend music festivals and parties, and parks often have DJ booths set up in the evening where you can grab a drink and dance along.
Enjoy a coffee/tea at the Tiovo Kuulan Puisto Park
This is a lovely area to watch the kayaks and ducks pass you by as you sip a hot chocolate or cappuccino, either inside or outside on a restaurant deck.
Dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, this pipe-organ-shaped monument is definitely worth the walk from central Helsinki. Enjoy the parks along the way (Helsinki is an excellent “green” city) and take a picture of this piece by Eila Hiltunnen. Don’t forget to check out the head of the composer behind the monument, added to address the critics who argued that Sibelius had composed little organ-music to justify the shape of the monument.
This Russian Orthodox church stands tall against the beautiful skyscape of Helsinki during the day. It’s a stunning building, inside and out. As in most Russian Orthodox churches, no photography is allowed inside the Cathedral.
A short walk from the Uspenski Cathedral, the Helsinki Cathedral has a beautiful square in front of it where you can sit, relax, and hopefully enjoy some summer sunshine.
The Helsinki harbor and SkyWheel are worth a visit when you’re visiting the Uspenski Cathedral. There is an indoor and outdoor pool you can use if you’re in the mood for a dip (to enjoy a traditional Finnish sauna experience, you really need to head to Lapland!)
The Helsinki Art Museum
Have a few hours to kill? Visit the Helsinki Art Museum, if only for its rich décor (set apart from the usual minimalism embraced by the Finnish) and modern art installations.
For the rail aficionados! Take a look at the Finnish tram and rail networks, engine systems used, and more!
There are plenty more churches and monuments you will see along the way while exploring the city (e.g. Mannerheiminaukio, a square to relax in during a summer day): these are just the must-sees in a day. If you’re interested, we’ve also created a free, downloadable walking map of Helsinki with all the above sights, available at Walkli.com. Check if out if you’re in the area!
If you’re looking to splurge on a pampering session, we recommend having a spa day in Helsinki. It may sound silly, but they really know how to do it right! And if you’re after a long couple of weeks on the road, spending €70 on a massage may not be the worst idea.
Fortress of Suomelinna
If you have more time, visit the beautiful fortress of Suomelinna and have a picnic on the island. You really do need a full day for this though, to get there, and back (and we usually go through places quick!). Here is the official website to help you plan your trip and the ferry schedule.
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