- The capital and largest city of Finland, with a population of ~600,000 (metropolitan population of 1.4 million).
- The economic, political, cultural, and technological hub of Finland.
- Known for being a major international city that retains a small town feel.
- Nickname: Daughter of the Baltic (note: nickname aside, Finland is still considered to be one of the Nordic countries).
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Spoken languages: primarily Finnish (English and Swedish are also widely spoken).
- Best time to visit: from May to September (warmest time of year).
- Arriving via airport: taxi fare to the city centre is 40 Euro, while the bus is 4-7 Euro.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel accommodations in Helsinki are on the expensive side. Budget accommodations in the city range from 35 to 70 Euro (at the city’s youth hostels). Higher end hotels are generally located in the city centre. Some budget conscious travellers find it cheaper to buy a last minute return cabin boat trip to Tallinn, as they can sleep on the boat and return the following morning for about 20 Euro.
- Public transit in Helsinki is combined into a single ticket program that covers buses, trains, trams, metro, and the Suomenlinna ferry. Ticket prices depend on how far or how long you are travelling. The network is easy to navigate and the operators are friendly and helpful when you need directions.
- Taxis are available inside the city. While taxis are expensive, the fares are government regulated so you don’t risk being overcharged. Taxis are only available for hire if the their light is on.
- Bicycles can be rented all over the city, and are for a good way to explore Helsinki. Free bike route maps are available at all public libraries.
- Drinking age is 18 (though you need to be 20 to purchase high proof alcohol).
- The hip nightlife areas of Helsinki are all close together so you can easily move among them. These are Iso-Roobertinkatu, Central Railway Station, and Kamppi.
- The gay nightlife area of Helsinki is very active, and is centered in the Iso-Roobertinkatu and Eerikinkatu areas.
- For a budget nightlife experience, head outside of the city center to the Kallio area.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Located in the central Senate Square, the Lutheran Cathedral (Tuomiokirkko) of Helsinki is a well known symbol of the city. Entrance is free.
- A unique church experience in Helsinki is The Church in the Rock (literally dug into solid rock). Concerts are often held there.
- Located in central Helsinki, the Sibelius Monument is a unique monument that resembles organ pipes. Built in 1967 from over 600 pipes.
- The Olympic Tower is a relic of the Finland’s Olympic host city history – the observation tower at the top provides an amazing view of the city. A ride to the top costs 5 Euros.
- Visiting Suomenlinna Island is a must for any visitor. The island fortress has held a pivotal role in the regional history, and offers some great cafes to sit and relax in after exploring.
- Explore the Senate Square, home to many of the city’s museums and architectural marvels.
- Take a walk through the Toolonlahti Park. Located northwest of the central railway station, the park offers beautiful views of the bay along with a number of attractions (including the National Opera).
- Esplanadi Park in the heart of the city is a favorite spot of both locals and tourists. During the summer, the park hosts many free concerts.
- The public saunas in Helsinki have a rich history, and are a big part of Finnish culture. Check out Kotiharjun Sauna, the last of the wood burning public saunas. Note that men and women have separate areas.
- Helsinki is known for two types of food: fresh seafood and Russian. The best Russian food in the world is said to be here – a great chance to try it without making a separate trip to Russia.
- Traditional Finnish Food is very heavy on the meat and potatoes – if you are vegetarian, look for restaurants serving different (international) cuisines.
- Dangerous areas: none in particular, as Helsinki is generally very safe. In any case, solo travelers would do well to avoid Kaisaniemi Park (near the Central Railway Station) at night.
RECOMMENDED HELSINKI GUIDE BOOKS
- Rick Steves Snapshot St. Petersburg, Helsinki & Tallinn
- Lonely Planet Finland (Travel Guide)
- My Top Five: Helsinki
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days