A beautiful city full of contemplative people, Helsinki, Finland is a must on any trip to Northern Europe. Although we didn’t enjoy the Finnish capital as much as its Swedish or Danish counterparts, there are tons of things to see and do in Helsinki.
From 1809 until 1917, the country was under Russian rule. The topic is considered taboo in Finland, but it’s a necessary element to understanding the country’s culture. In fact, one of the most well known Finnish landmarks today is the Uspenski Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church in the heart of the city.
Aside from their ties to Mother Russia, the Finns share many similarities with nearby Scandinavian countries. With virtually no daylight during the winter and almost 24 hours of sunshine during the summer, Finland is often referred to as the Land of the Midnight Sun. Being sun worshippers, we made the voyage to Helsinki with Tay’s family in June. Here’s everything we learned about Helsinki, we hope it’ll help guide your trip:
Currency: Euros make the world go round. Pull some out and make it rain on your travels. Some shops will accept dollars, but your best bet is to have Euros on hand. It’s also important to note that tipping isn’t necessary when you’re out and about in Helsinki. Service fees are charged ahead of time when applicable (like in restaurants and bars), so you don’t need to worry about calculating conversions when your bill arrives.
Language: True to Finland’s history of multiculturalism, the country has two official languages: Finnish and Swedish. Either start practicing your best “Hyvää huomenta,” or rest easy knowing that most locals speak English. That being said, it never hurts to toss in a “Hei! kaveri!” or a “Kiitos paljon!” when the opportunity arises.
Public Transportation: There are an abundance of public transportation options in Helsinki. Trams, buses, and a metro line run through the city. If you’re only visiting Finland for a short amount of time, consider purchasing an all inclusive day pass. Passes can be used for up to three days and allow riders access to all modes of Helsinki public transit, including the Suomenlinna ferry.
Nightlife: Heavy metal fans, rejoice! Finland is home to most of the world’s innovators in this genre. Headbangers will feel right at home at PRKL Club, a two-floor metal bar that serves food as well as metalicious beer with names like Goat Brew (no goats were harmed in the making of the beer). The Riff and Bar Praha amongst others also blast black metal beats on the regular. For travelers who don’t want a side of guitar solo with their cocktail, check out Mbar, Corona, or Kaarle XII.
Temppeliaukio Church: More often referred to as the “Rock Church,” Temppeliaukio is a Lutheran church in the heart of the city. Made of solid rock, the church’s design is circular and allows natural light to flood inside. From the outside, passerbys could easily mistake the Rock Church for a stunning stretch of Finnish landscape.
Linnanmäki: Boasting over 43 rides, Linnanmäki is an amusement park that plays on elements of Finnish mythology. While the attractions are moreso geared toward a younger demographic, there are tons of restaurants and exhibits for adults as well.
Markets: There are seven different markets that run throughout the year. We ventured to Market Square near Helsinki’s south harbor, a bustling outdoor market that offers a variety of Finnish cuisine (we ate reindeer hotdogs–sorry not sorry) as well as souvenirs.
Suomenlinna: A crazy cool military fortress that protects Helsinki’s harbor. Just a 15 minute boat ride away from the city, Suomenlinna is an amazing way to spend the day in Finland. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, the architecturally impressive fortress sits on six different islands within the Finnish archipelago.
Uspenski Cathedral: An Eastern Orthodox church with strong Russian roots, Uspenski is easily the most beautiful church in all of Helsinki. Dating back to 1868, the house of worship’s exterior features red brick, and green and gold steeples. Inside, visitors will find intricate chandeliers, vaulted ceilings, and an elaborate altar that pays homage to brightly colored icons.
Herring: Pickled herring, herring stew, baked herring, salted herring–the list could go on endlessly. The Finns love their herring, and hopefully you learn to love the oily fish, because it will follow you all around Scandinavia.
Perunarieska: What’s not to love about a potato flatbread? They’re similar to an oversized, doughy latke, and are most often used to accompany warm dishes like soups.
Reindeer: You might end up on Santa’s naughty list, but you’ll enjoy every last devious bite. Served as sausage, alongside mashed potatoes, in stews, or as steak, reindeer meat is a bit tougher and slightly more gamey than beef.
Kaalikääryleet: Cabbage rolls traditionally stuffed with meat and rice. Hearty and comforting, many variations of kaalikääryleet can be found around Europe. And while kaalikääryleet doesn’t taste anything like a burrito, its rolling technique is quite similar.
Have you ever visited Helsinki?