Aerial View of Helsinki

Join Me For A Tour Of Helsinki, Finland

Derek Finland 34 Comments

Aerial View of Helsinki
After recently spending three days in Helsinki, Finland, and luckily discovering that a visit here doesn’t have to be as prohibitively expensive as I once imagined it to be, I thought I would take you on a tour of Helsinki right here on the blog. First, I must admit that this is not exactly a city that immediately appears to offer a great deal for travelers. You do have to work a little harder here to uncover the activities and experiences that will ensure each day is a rewarding one.

But there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little extra work and hopefully, after the excursion we’re about to embark on, you’ll agree that Finland’s capital city is a city worth visiting.

So, let’s begin this tour of Helsinki, or Helsingfors as it is called in Swedish (Finnish and Swedish are Finland’s two official languages)….

A Place to Stay

You’ll need a place to stay, and if it were me, I would definitely check into the Erottajanpuisto Hostel, located right on Uudenmaankatu in the center of the city, where dorm rooms cost 27 Euros (it’s a normal price for Helsinki) and private rooms start at 54 Euros. It’s a comfortable, classic hostel that offers great value and a more-than-ideal location, which is a combination that is as attractive as it gets for budget travelers.

Erottajanpuisto Hostel, Helsinki

Töölö, Cinnamon Buns & 600 Pipes

Once you throw down your backpack or rolling suitcase or whatever you choose to travel with, it’s time to head outside and start walking along Annankatu towards the Töölö neighborhood and the Sibelius Park. It will take you around forty-five minutes or so and you’ll probably get lost, but that’s alright. Feel free to ask anyone on the street for directions as almost everyone speaks English quite well.

The park itself is an ordinary park, but its main, and quite popular, attraction is the Sibelius Monument, a monument dedicated to composer Jean Sibelius. To me, this monument, consisting of more than 600 pipes, looked like a bunch of uninspiring pipes and not much else, however, I most certainly enjoyed sitting on a park bench watching busload after busload of tourists gather around the thing, nodding their heads in approval and snapping dozens of photos as if they had waited their entire life to see this monument with their own eyes.

Sibelius Monument, Helsinki

Once you’ve taken your photos of other people taking photos of the pipes, stand up and continue across the park, heading towards the water about 200 meters away. Cross the street, walk onto the foot path and turn left, which will leave you facing a small red shack with the word “Cafe” painted on the side. Go there. It’s called the Regatta Cafe. Order a coffee and a freshly baked cinnamon bun, an order that will set you back a very reasonable 4 Euros, and then take a seat at one of the small wooden tables outside, right on the water. Of course, you should only visit the Regatta Cafe if you actually like freshly baked cinnamon buns. However, if you don’t enjoy the miracle that is a freshly baked cinnamon bun, I’m not so sure I want you as a reader of this site.

Regatta Cafe, Helsinki

From the Regatta Cafe, it’s time for a long hike, one that takes you across the rest of Töölö and over to the Hakasalmenpuisto Park, where you’ll encounter plenty of foot and bike paths surrounding the Töölönlahti Lake. Walk either clockwise or counter-clockwise around the lake, the choice is yours, until you reach the foot bridge on the other side.

Kallio – My Favorite Neighborhood

Walk across the bridge, which takes you over the train tracks leading out of the city, and just like that you’re in the Kallio area, a neighborhood classified as “enjoyably groovy and hip”, by, well, me, a conclusion I was surprised to actually reach considering that I am neither groovy nor hip.

Now prepare yourself. Tighten your shoelaces, re-buckle your belt, crack your neck and gargle some salt water. This neighborhood is quite full of things to do and you’re going to be busy for the next few hours.

Kallio, Helsinki, Finland

Feel free to tackle the following in any order you wish…

  • Eat lunch in the 100-year old Hakaniemi Market Hall, with a collection of food stalls on the first floor serving up inexpensive, yummy Finnish meals and treats to a hungry lunch-time crowd.
  • Wander through the open-air flea market in the small Karhupuisto Park (Bear Park) or if that’s not operating during your visit, head over to the Valtteri Flea Market, the biggest year-round flea market in the city. Apparently, the quality of goods at Finnish flea markets, and Helsinki in particular, is significantly better than what you might expect from the typical Calven Klain shirts and Raye Ban sunglasses found in most flea markets.
  • Walk north along Broholmsgatan, the longest street in the center of Helsinki (it’s not very long) until you reach the strange piece of artwork in the middle of the road with the Kallio church behind it.
  • Pull out this map of Helsinki and choose among second-hand and vintage shops, cozy pubs and cafes, historic warehouses, local design shops and a coffee roastery for the next stage of your wanderings.

Hakaniemi Market Square, Helsinki

Finally, when you’ve had enough of Kallio and its surroundings, just walk over the Pitkäsilta Bridge back towards the heart of the city center…

Historical Buildings & Hidden Courtyards

Keep walking south and you’ll soon end up in Senate Square, where you’ll find a large, open space surrounded by the Government Palace, National Library, main building of Helsinki University and the huge white Helsinki Cathedral, all built during the early- to mid-19th century.

Helsinki Cathedral, Helsinki

Then, and this step is only for those who work online and find themselves twitching uncontrollably because they haven’t checked Twitter or their email for a few hours, you can walk into any of the dozen or so Wi-fi-connected cafes around the Senate Square. Order a drink, sit down at a table, fire up the laptop (which you’ve been carrying around with you all day just in case you couldn’t handle being disconnected for an entire twelve hours) and spend an hour or two working, or more likely, pretending to work while you mess around online.

Okay, whether your take a work break or not, by now it should be around mid-afternoon and it’s probably a little late to try catching a ferry to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, located on a series of islands just fifteen minutes by boat from the harbor down the road. The fortress is absolutely worth a visit and I’ll certainly write about it in the near future but we’re tired right now and we don’t have much time today, so let’s visit the fortress tomorrow instead.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Helsinki

View of Helsinki

For now, let us proceed along the street known as Snellmaninkatu, but as you do, please make sure you keep your head up and your eyes open wide. Hidden behind the buildings, inside of the mini-courtyards and empty basements, you’ll often find a variety of events taking place such as markets, music performances, art exhibitions and more. You never know what you’ll discover and while you might not walk into random courtyards at home, it’s perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged, to do so in this area of Helsinki.

Market Square & Expensive Blueberries

And at the end of this street, once your courtyard explorations are finished, you’ll run straight into the Market Square, a dense group of booths and stalls selling fruits, handicrafts, baked goods and hot meals that is located right on the water by the ferry port. This is where you’ll want to walk around shaking your head in disbelief, and quite possibly suffer from a very real case of shock, as you notice the exorbitant price of fruit in this country (4 Euros/kg of bananas!). This is also where you’ll debate whether or not you should buy a hand-painted bird sculpture for 75 Euros.

Market Square, Helsinki

Once you’ve either spent all your money or regained consciousness, you may head west along the Esplanade, walking through the well-manicured Esplanade Park that sits in the middle of this wide avenue. You’ll pass cafes, restaurants and hotels all the way until you reach the intersection with Erottajankatu, which is only a couple of blocks away from your hostel and marks the end of this excursion.

Esplanade Park, Helsinki

Time To Eat & Sleep

Of course, if you’re hungry, then it would be a wise idea to walk over to Fafa’s Falafel at this point, where you can pick up a fresh, tasty falafel sandwich – think falafel, goat cheese and pesto! – for about 8 Euros. Fafa’s is only one block away from the hostel but even if it was 200 blocks away, I would still recommend it!

Then, with belly full, and your eyes most likely having a difficult time staying open, it’s time to crawl back to the Erottajanpuisto Hostel, where you’ll be welcomed by the friendly staff and a comfortable bed.

And be sure to rest because tomorrow you’re off to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, not to mention a whole bunch of museums and botanical gardens as well as taking a bicycle trip along the coast!


Tired? Me too. Have you visited or do you want to visit Helsinki and the rest of Finland? Any questions about the city?

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Comments 34

  1. Steve

    As cool and chilled Helsinki is, the 300+ islands really make it unique. We loved being able to hop on a bus or a ferry for 30 minutes and end up somewhere totally different from the modern city centre.

  2. Reyna

    Dear Earl,

    I am heading to Helsinki for my 30th birthday and I found your blog SUPERB! I did not have much idea what to see or where to start. I am an easy traveler, but my boyfriend is sharing with me this experience, so I just can’t get lost (as I tend to do in every place where I go). I am doing more research about the place to get busy and relax at the same time.

    Thank you for the link with the 5 walks around and I will definitely love cinnamon buns!

    All the best and regards from Yorkshire (England),

    Reyna

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Reyna – Definitely go have those cinnamon buns!! You won’t regret it at all. Have a great trip over there!!

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  5. Petri

    Hi!
    Yesterday, hanging in the interwebs, I discovered your blog and first of all I have to say I envy you. I could never have guts to leave everything behind, no matter how poetic that might sound. I love reading the blog, though, so I can have my fix of travelling right from my comfy sofa!

    But to this Helsinki business. I’ve lived here for my short life and as mentioned before, you couldn’t have discovered a better cafe than Regatta. In regatta the extra cups of coffee cost -0.05€, so 21 cups of coffee are absolutely free! And it’snice place even in fall as the blankets and a campfire keep you nice and warm.

    What I think needs to be said is that there’s no word ‘please’ in Finnish so don’t feel bad if we Finns forget it’s excistence every now and then.

    The fruits don’t really cost that much if you go to a supermarket – bananas can be around 2€/kg and in some stores there are constant discounts for varying fruits, so you can get a watermelon for just over 1€. Only the Kauppatori market is expensive but that place is mainly for Japanese tourists 😉 you can get some cheapish and delicious strawberries during the season though.

    Kiasma – the museum of modern arts is definitely worth visiting if you just can stand museums. The art can be some great photographs or somerhing very shoking. I recall a blender with everything that can come out of a human being.

    That’s about it for now.
    -Petri

    1. Earl

      Hey Petri – I would love to have a comfy sofa 🙂 And thanks for the additional information about Helsinki…it’s great to know that Regatta is such a well-respected place by those who live there. If I lived there myself I know that I would go quite often. And I didn’t make it to the modern arts museum this time around…didn’t have enough time unfortunately. That is the problem with short visits to a particular destination!

  6. remy @ cool travel blogs

    Just to echo what has been already said here really…it may seem like somewhere that is at the end of your ‘to visit’ list but Helsinki is definitely a place worth bumping up a few places just due to the wealth of variety available. Well worth a visit 🙂

  7. Ekaterina

    4 euros/kg of bananas is expensive even for Finland. In normal shops it’s usually 1,19 or 1,99 e/kg. That market isn’t the cheapest place to buy fruits for sure 😀

    Have you visited Nuuksio or Heureka during your trip?

    1. Earl

      Hey Ekaterina – I didn’t make it those places unfortunately…I basically managed to see Helsinki, Kimito, Turku and Tampere with the time I had. But as for the fruit, I wish I had known where to buy bananas for 1.19/kg as I never saw anything under 3 Euros!

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  9. Michelle

    I have also been to a castle/fort place in, i think the Caribbean. We spent 2-3 hours just getting there and looking around. It was pretty interesting. I think it was a site for when they were in war and had to defend themselves. I forgot what it was called, but I took some nice photos and we ate ice cream afterward! 😛 Anyways, Finland seems interesting! 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Stu – Accommodation is pricier than most of the world but it’s still possible to keep overall costs relatively low. For 2 people you have 54 Euros for a room (there are some cheaper options too), 20 Euros for food and say 20 Euros in entrance fees/transportation, so you’re looking at 94 Euros per day (47 Euros each), which isn’t terrible for this part of the world. It’s not Thailand of course but for those interested in this part of the world, traveling here will cost less than several other countries in Europe.

  10. Kathy

    I would love to go visit Finland and Denmark and all those Northern countries. But now that I have seen the pic of the cinnamon bun I am even more interested. It looked absolutely divine…. I am afraid my travel has become very food motivated 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Kathy – Nothing wrong with food motivated travel at all 🙂 And in Finland, it might be against the law to start your day without a coffee and fresh cinnamon bun!

  11. OutsideTheGuidebook

    Lovely article with some pretty neat pictures Derek! I went to Finland a few years back and my girlfriend at that time, a Finnish local girl, bought me something called “Muikoot” to eat.. a certain kind of salty, fried fish. Very tiny, very salty, somewhat tasty. One could see a lot of the seagulls feeding on ’em by the harbourside. Did you taste their cider?

    1. Earl

      @OutsideTheGuidebook – I actually ate some very delicious Muikoot myself while I was in the town of Tampere. It was an excellent meal that I had from a small outdoor food stall in the main market square. And I did taste the cider as well, naturally!

      1. Kika

        Hihii:) It is “Muikku” and while we are at it (again:D), this is to some that want to get a taste of really traditional Finnish food called “Kalakukko”. Free translation is “Fishrooster” which makes no sense what so ever even to a Finn… except the fish part.

        This is a rye bread loaf willed with “Muikku”s and pigs meat (the part in their sides) and you have to bake it in a special oven for 5-7 hours. It should be found in Helsinki markets in summer time. You take a slice and spread a huge chunk of real butter on it and it is…gaaaaah….*heavenly*. It can be served either warm or cold:)

        Ok:D Culinary lesson over:P

  12. Kika

    Oh! So glad to you visited Helsinki! :)) And I’m even more happy to see that you found Regatta, one of my (and every other person from Helsinki) places to spend a lazy Sunday morning basking in the sun! I wish we would’ve been home we would have totally hosted you:)

    And I hear you with the fruit prices. We are currently traveling in California and are just at AWE of the prices here! I mean here you can get 5 corn cobs with a dollar! Not in Finland, where you sometimes have to bay 50 cents for one corn cob, or even more! Checking the scenes in the States I really understand why the raw food enthusiasm started here and not in Finland:P

    Anyone else interested on visiting Finland: Check out Turku as well, the former capital. And try to get to know a Finn and get an invite to a summer cottage. I think the real culture happens there with proper wood heated saunas and long conversations by the setting sun with some Finnish bear on your lips! The best time to visit would be around Mid Summer Celebrations in late June! Summers in Finland are so different than the winters and you get a chance to enjoy the days that never end, since the sun doesn’t set:) Summer is the time when most Finns are more relaxed and out going:)

    Food wise I recommend trying salmiakki (you can find it every where, even in ice creams and chocolate:), some Karjalanpiirakka with melted butter and Finnish blueberries and strawberries are the best:)

    Earl! If you ever visit again be sure to send us a line and we would be happy to host you and take you to my fathers Inn to celebrate the mid summer:)

    1. Earl

      Hey Kika – Thanks for the comment and the additional information! Reading your tips makes me want to turn around and go straight back to Finland. And the next time I do make it there, I will definitely get in touch with you…thank you for the invitation 🙂

      1. Kika

        I will definitely hold you to that promise:) The mid-summer celebrations are around June 24th or so. So maybe next year? 😛 Anyway, give us a email any time and we’ll sort something out:) Have safe travels until then!

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