Finland – it’s pretty cold. It’s famous for huskies, snow, Northern lights and being Baltic. Helsinki is the largest city in Finland, and the area is home to around 1.5 million people. It’s a sustainable capital, made up of beautiful islands and seems quite relaxed with a focus on food, architecture and, of course, sauna!
We visited Helsinki in February from the UK and arrived to snow and frozen over rivers. It was absolutely beautiful. Spending 2 days in the city was a perfect amount of time to scratch the surface and see the main sights. The whole city had a really nice feeling and we wished we had longer than a weekend to explore a tiny part of the country. We will definitely return one day to explore further North.
My highlights of the city were:
ONE. Helsinki Cathedral
This Cathedral was built as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and is truly beautiful. It’s simple but beautiful inside, and the square it sits in is lovely to walk around and have a drink or some food.
TWO: Uspenski Cathedral
Uspenski Cathedral is the main Orthodox church of Finland and sits on a hill overlooking the city. We especially loved the view of it from across the frozen river.
THREE. Suomenlinna Island
This island can be reached by the ferry from the East side of the market square, and reaches Suomenlinna in roughly 15 minutes. We were lucky that at the time the river was totally frozen over (see photo 3 below) so the crossing was beautiful!
The island is an ex military fortress and has existed through the Swedish era, Russian era and Finnish era. There are a number of museums on the island which are really interesting, and the views out to the sea all around are nothing short of spectacular. I fully recommend at least half a day set aside to do the island justice.
The best of the rest in Helsinki….
- Moomin Cafe – a really fun place to sit and have a drink
- The Rock Church – an amazing church which is underground and very unique
- Flying Cinema – good for kids, or when it’s really, really cold outside. You can put on 3D glasses and have an interactive tour of Helsinki
- Market Square – some lovely buildings and sea views
- National Museum of Finland – an interesting museum charting the history of Finland from Swedish rule, to Russian rule, through multiple wars to independence
- Go to the sauna – It’s a Finnish tradition, but an intimidating one if you’re not used to it. It’s fine to go to a sauna wearing whatever you feel comfortable in – locals may well be naked in some saunas, but wear a swim suit if you’re more comfortable. You should always put a towel down in the sauna (no naked bits on the wood of the sauna!) and expect it to be hotttt (up to about 100C!). Oh and whipping is normal – with birch tree twigs to aid circulation! I recommend Loyly where swimsuits are compulsory for all.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’re planning to visit Helsinki, have any questions, or what you thought of Helsinki yourself in the comments below.