• Danik Bates

Helsinki: A weekend itinerary to the Finnish capital

Updated: May 7

Helsinki has been known as the most boring and dull city in Europe for a very long time amongst the British (not all the time we may add) but we would like to point out after checking out the city in the depths of winter (where it is horrible as hell with the bitter wind blowing off the Baltic Sea) and in the warmth of the summer sunshine, Helsinki is not a boring place to visit. Compared to other capitals in the Nordic’s and the Baltic’s, Helsinki is one of the smallest and doesn’t need long to explore. It is mostly a business and shopping centre but there are a few top places which have to be hit up. Here are some of our favourite places to check out. Helsinki is certainly not a boring city.

Check out an island

Helsinki has a few islands (about three hundred of them!) but a set of islands worth visiting is the island of Suomenlinna which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is on the top of our list of places to check out in the Finnish capital. This will take a whole day to explore and in the summer, take a picnic. A short ferry crossing from the seafront takes passengers across. Suomenlinna is actually a series of eight islands to which most are connected by bridges.

Originally the island and fortress on it was called Sveaborg (Castle of the Swedes) but then was renamed to Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 when Finland gained independence. The old fortress was built in the 18th century as the Swedes wanted to defend this part of the Baltics from the Russians. However the Russians came along, the Swedes were weak and they gave the fortress as well as most of modern-day Finland to them in 1808. Russia kept hold of the land until 1918. Nearby, the Suomenlinna Church was built in the 1850’s as an Orthdrox Church (under Russian rule) but in 1920, a lot of changes were done to the church and it is now a Lutheran church.

Suomenlinna even has an old submarine which visitors can pay a small fee and check out the inside. The island itself is great in the summer months to take a picnic and relax on the grassy banks next to the sea and see the world go by. We totally loved checking out this area and wished we had more time to see the world go by.

To get to Suomenlinna, take the ferry run by HSL from Katajanokka which is near the old market. The journey takes fifteen minutes and takes visitors straight to the main dock on the islands. There is only one drop-off/picking up point on Suomenlinna. Tickets can be brought at the dock via the ticket machines but one piece of advice we have is that if anyone has brought the Helsinki Card that allows you to use public transport as well as entering the city's attractions, then you can board the ferry for free. Once off the boat on the island, there is no entry fee to pay, go forth and wander. The easiest way to check out all the sights on the island is to follow the Blue Route which is signposted blue. For those who want to stay longer on the island, there is a hostel and for eating, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to have a nibble at.

It has one of Europe’s beautiful cathedral’s with a view

The main landmark of the capital is the cathedral (Helsingin Tuomiokirkko) which can be seen for miles as it is perched on top of the hill overlooking the centre and the seafront. This Evangelical Lutheran cathedral was built in 1852 and this is a must do whilst in the city. As it was built during the Russian Empire, the church was originally called St Nicholas Church in honour of Tzar Nicholas the First. The design of the church is based on the St Isaac Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, just down the road on the Baltic Sea. The cathedral is free to enter but donations are always appreciated. The main feature of the cathedral is the green onion style domes on the roof and the twelve apostles which guard it. Make sure you do two visits here, one being at night time as the cathedral is beautifully lit up.

The cathedral overlooks the Senate Square (Senaatintori) which was also built in the Russian Empire. In the middle of the square is a statue of Tzar Alexander II and hasn’t been taken down (like most other European countries when they had Russian Empire or Soviet statues). The steps leading up from the square to the cathedral is a popular place for people to meet and it's here where visitors can get amazing views from below.

More Russian architecture in the city

Then head to the Orthodox church known as the Uspenski Cathedral which is one of the biggest outside Russia and was built in the 19th century. For us it is the clearest sign of the Russian impact on the country's history. It has a nice dull red brick facade with golden cupolas on top and can also be seen for miles. Check out the amazing painted interior with the high ceilings but make sure you donate some money to light a candle. It is free to enter, however please note that the cathedral is closed on Mondays but open from Tuesday to Sunday every week.

Eat with tractors

Our favourite restaurant in Helsinki for its great good and traditional Finnish cuisine like reindeer steak and mash potato is called Zetor located on Mannerheimintie 3-5 (Kaivopiha). What we loved about this place is that you get to sit among tractors and other crazy gadgets from the countryside and the men’s toilets are plastered with naked lady photos all over the walls (so not a good idea to bring children here). https://www.raflaamo.fi/en/helsinki/zetor

If you are bored with Helsinki……

Then head to the ferry port and Tallinn in Estonia is just over the water and is very popular with locals to go on a booze cruise. Tallinn is a great day trip away if being based in the Finnish capital or about to start a trip south through the Baltic countries.

Check out our guide to Tallinn, Estonia here

But seriously….

Helsinki is not a boring city. On this page are just a few ideas and we didn’t have enough time to explore the rest of this amazing city. There are plenty of museums, eating places and green places to check out so we are sure we will be back. The impression the older people of Britain gave of this city is totally wrong. The local people do smile, have a sense of humour, not dull at all and the food here is among the best in Europe. It is not dull and we highly recommend visiting the area.

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