Helsinki doesn’t often appear on travelers’ bucket lists. Even those who dream of exploring Scandinavia usually defer to Norway’s fjords or Sweden’s cities, but Finland’s capital is a destination in itself — and one that’s on the rise.

With that in mind, here’s what you need to know about the city deemed “the Daughter of the Baltic” — and why you should visit the next chance you get.

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Basics

  • Area: 71 mi² (184 km²)
  • Population: 629,500
  • Founded: 1550
  • Languages: Finnish, Swedish
  • Climate: Humid continental
  • Currency: Euro
  • Time zone: EET (Eastern European Time) / EEST (Eastern European Summer Time)
  • Airport: HEL
  • Drive on the: Right

So, why visit Helsinki?

There’s plenty to do, see, and explore in the Finnish capital. The city is a hotspot for design and architecture, and its aesthetically pleasing, vibrant neighborhoods (like its Design District) are a major draw for many visitors. Similarly, architecture lovers will enjoy Helsinki’s clean and minimalist style. In fact, Helsinki is home to the the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe, which includes structures such as Helsinki Central Station, National Theatre, National Museum, Kallio Church, and Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. And though Helsinki Cathedral and Finlandia Hall are examples of different architectural movements, they merit a visit as well.

While travelers’ health and wellness often take a hit during foreign getaways, that isn’t the case in Helsinki. Like the rest of Finland, the capital city celebrates a long-standing sauna culture and emphasizes the importance of locally sourced, seasonal food. With a long list of health benefits attached to relaxing in saunas, and with the obvious advantages of eating right, Helsinki’s visitors can feel great throughout their stay.

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The city’s compact size also makes it navigable and pedestrian-friendly. Many of its main attractions are located within walking distance of each other — but, if your feet aren’t up for the challenge, you can hop on one of the city’s many trams. With 57 million annual passengers and 11 lines spanning the city, Helsinki is well known for its trams, which serve as the main form of transportation within the city and a must-experience element of any stay in the Finnish capital.

And, if you’re itching to explore otherworldly scenery, you’re in luck. Finland is nicknamed the Land of a Thousand Lakes, but the country actually has more than 187,000 lakes within its borders, so the landscape promises to be awe-inspiring wherever you go. Finland’s capital city is located within day-trip distance of the country’s Lakeland and several stunning national parks, and it also happens to be situated next to an archipelago of approximately 330 islands. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do.

It’s also never been easier to be a tourist in Helsinki. With new websites like www.myhelsinki.fi delivering local recommendations, and hashtags such as #MyHelsinki and #HelsinkiSecret picking up speed, it’s no wonder that the city’s tourism industry is outpacing neighboring capital cities. It won’t be long before the Finnish capital becomes a travel destination that’s truly “on the map.”

When to visit

Helsinki stays relatively cool throughout the entire year. In July, the warmest month, temperatures can reach up to 70°F (21°C); in February, the coldest month, they can drop as low as 19°F (-7°C).

But the weather isn’t the biggest reason to visit Helsinki during the summer. As the second-northernmost country capital in the world, the city’s daylight hours vary drastically throughout the year. From May through August, the days are at least 15 hours long, with almost 19 hours of daylight on the summer solstice. Such long days provide incredible opportunities for photographers and travelers alike, so grab your camera and start exploring!

That said, no matter when you visit, you’re guaranteed to experience rainfall at some point. The best way to prepare for this is to pack a raincoat, choose your shoes wisely, and keep a back-up plan up your sleeve.

How to arrive

With about 350 flights per day, including a handful of direct routes from certain U.S. cities, Helsinki Airport is Finland’s largest international airport. It also services flights from all over Europe and Asia, so there are plenty of options for worldwide travelers as well.

And, given its location on the coast, the city is accessible by ferry from Estonia, Germany, and Russia. Most of the lines allow passengers to take a car onboard, although Helsinki is best explored on two feet or via bicycle. Additionally, Helsinki’s port is a stop on many Scandinavian cruises.

From the capital city, travelers can explore the rest of Finland — and beyond — by bus or train.

Whether you’re visiting for business or pleasure, Finland’s capital is sure to impress — and more and more travelers are catching onto that. We’ll meet you in Helsinki!

Header photo by Jarvis Lawson

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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.