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 metropolises, but Finland’s capital is a destination in and of itself, and it’s also a travel spot 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.
- 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. Helsinki Cathedral and Finlandia Hall are examples of different architectural movements, but they absolutely merit a visit, too.
And while travelers’ health and wellness often take a hit during foreign getaways, that doesn’t have to be 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.
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 simply hop on one of the city’s many trams. With 57 million annual passengers and 11 lines spanning the city, the trams are Helsinki’s preferred form of transportation, and they’re a must-experience element of any stay in the Finnish capital.
And, if you’re itching to explore nearby 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 several stunning national parks and the country’s Lakeland, and it also happens to be situated next to an archipelago of approximately 330 islands. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do.
Finally, it’s 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 even the main reason that you’ll probably want 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 it’s the perfect time to grab your camera and start exploring!
That said, no matter when you visit, you’re guaranteed to experience rainfall at some point. Pack a waterproof jacket, choose your shoes wisely, and keep an in-case-of-rain 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 services flights from all over Europe and Asia, so there are plenty of options for worldwide travelers as well.
And, given Helsinki’s location on the coast, the city is accessible by ferry from Estonia, Germany, and Russia. (Most of the lines allow passengers to bring a car onboard, just in case you’d like to have your own set of wheels in Finland.) 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