Top Things To Do in Helsinki
We flew into Helsinki airport as the starting point for our 2 week Baltic trip taking us through the Baltic states and ending up in Poland. Here’s our list of the top things to do in the modern capital of Finland.
Meeting Moomin in Helsinki
Ateneum is a great art museum in central Helsinki. If you are interested in art it is always worth checking out what current exhibitions they have on offer. On our visit the Ateneum held an exhibition to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Finnish author/ artist, Tove Jansson. Tove Jansson is probably best known for her series of Moomin books. The exhibition was well presented with rooms and rooms of both collected and borrowed work, and plenty of information offered in both English and Finnish. Admission is 13€ pp.
A few of the 300+ Helsinki Islands
A 15 minute ferry ride from Kauppatori will take you to Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland), a world heritage site, is a sea fortress built over six islands and is a living community with a population of around 900 residents. It’s a popular place with fun things to explore. On the day we were there, there was a Japanese ceremony as part of the Spirit of Samurai Festival including archery displays. It drew in crowds of people and we watched it for a bit before our minds wondered and we went for a walk to see what else could be discovered. The islands are green and lush, and on a sunny day are a popular picnic spot for locals of Helsinki. It was refreshing to take a walk on this little oasis outside of the city where there is the fort, bunkers and canons to check out and exploring is made easy by sticking to a blue route mapped out with directional signs and information boards providing historic facts along the way.
We came across a cute little toy museum with a cafe attached housed in an impressive old style building. The cost of the entrance is about 6€ pp. It’s not a huge museum and it won’t take you long to look at, but it’s sweet and nostalgic, and if your heart isn’t made of stone you’ll leave with a smile on your face. However, if you’re saving your pennies or just don’t like toys, give it a miss. If you fancy a pit stop then check out the cafe which has a lovely little courtyard, nice views of the sea and if you’re lucky, a bit of sun – their hot chocolate is pretty tasty too!
Getting Hot and Naked Finnish Style
Nowhere is better to take some time out to recharge than a Finnish Sauna. If you’re from the UK you probably wear a swimsuit or wrap a towel around yourself before getting in one, in Finland people go completely naked. That’s right folks, inhibitions can be left at the door because although you could possibly keep your clothes on, you’re going to look weird. We decided to go to Kotiharjun Sauna which is the last traditional wood-heated public sauna in Helsinki, with separate facilities for men and women. You can’t miss the building, it has a big red lit up sign saying SAUNA and there will be a bunch of men outside in their towels, beer in hand, cooling down. Steve and I paid 10€ each, which includes use of their towels.
There were quite a few ladies in the sauna: groups of friends, a pregnant lady, even a baby (in a baby bath), this was Finnish norm and everyone was naked except for me. So I dropped the towel on the wooden bench; if you’re not used to the heat of the sauna you’re going to need to sit on something. It felt strange being naked for all of 10 seconds and then I wasn’t bothered. After an hour or so I was done, and I felt great. I walked out to get changed and there were groups of ladies eating, chatting and playing cards; a quick break before they continue with their steam time. Saunas are a social activity in Finland, something I hadn’t seen in any other country, definitely not to be missed and certainly a top thing to do in Helsinki.
Travelling through time at an open air museum
If you want to take a ride out of the central city area, catch a bus to Kimito Island and Archipelago National Park. The scenery is stunning and there is plenty to discover. We checked out the open air museum, Sagalund. The site contains old traditional buildings and staff dressed in olden day outfits; you can walk around the village at a cost of 5€ pp. The site is well maintained and preserved; if you’re into Finnish history this will be of interest to you.
Spending a night in prison
If you’re after a hotel with a bit of a twist then Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka may be for you. Hotel Katajanokka is a past prison dating back to 1837 and was still in use until 2002. It is a nice red brick building where they have preserved the interior hallways to resemble what it once was. Rooms are comfortable and modern and you get a breakfast included served in the Jail Bird restaurant which is a good start to the day. Prices vary depending on room (standard is approx. 100€ per night) and is a bit pricier than other local hotels, however if you have a penchant for prisons or have always wanted to stay in one without being arrested, you won’t be disappointed. Don’t worry, the rooms are spacious and at least the size of 2 cells, and despite being a prison, probably the best Best Western I have stayed in. We managed to escape the prison and make our way across the sea into Estonia to continue our Baltic trip.
Bonus tip: Take tram routes 2 & 3 for an authentic and scenic “figure of 8” tour around Helsinki.