One of the best things to do in Helsinki is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. It is one of the biggest attractions in all of Finland and has its own museum, a bunch of cafes and lots of land you can explore on foot! To get a full understanding of the fortress and its history, arrange to go on one of the guided tours - they’re available in English, Swedish, Russian and Chinese.
The Tori Quarters is an exciting part of the city. Where the "old town meets the new", it was part of the historic centre of Helsinki but is now being opened up to residents and visitors with shops and restaurants - and it’s growing! It’s also home to the Helsinki Street Food festival, which you should also be sure not to miss.
Over winter, the Helsinki Ice Park is nothing short of perfection. There’s nothing better to do in Helsinki in the cold months of the year than slipping on your skates and attempting, however in vain, to gracefully glide across the frozen ground. If you’re not feeling up to that, there are classes to help you improve, or a cafe selling hot drinks if you know that you’re beyond help ;)
Now this is something that the hardy Finns think is super fun; your own body might violently disagree if it’s used to warmer, mediterranean waters! The water supposedly "becomes swimmable" over summer when the sun stops setting; in reality, it’s still bloody cold in there. Still, it’s a fun experience and you’ll be rewarded with warm clothes and hot drinks afterwards, and you’ll certainly be revitalized!
The Night of the Arts has been running for 28 years now. It’s a carnival which runs through the entire city but changes every year with a new theme and main attractions. It’s an art event. In pubs, book shops, cafes and buildings around the city there is artwork for show and thousands of participants drinking and having fun until around midnight. Those who really go for it are up until the early hours, really making the most of the excuse to party!
Pop up concerts are one of the new "big things" in Finland, and in Helsinki in particular. For example, pop up restaurants. Every few months, a restaurant will appear in the middle of a busy street for a day - it is hugely successful, and then it disappears! Another trend is pop up classical shows, where talented young musicians will put on free, spontaneous shows around the city to spread some goodwill for classical music.
Twice a year, the city transforms itself into possibly the world’s largest second hand market. Basically it is grounded in the belief that "one man’s trash is another man’s treasure" - you take all the trinkets, clothes and garden items that you never use or don’t want, and basically offer them up to the public! You can find great items for virtually zero cost, and it’s a great way to recycle cleanly.
Open for brunch, lunch and dinner (or any times in between for a beer), Sandro is a massive crowd pleaser. Regional dishes like slow roasted lamb or fresh seafood fill the menu, and their drinks list includes a bunch of cocktails! It’s not overly cheap, but is currently little-known enough that you can consider it "local" and away from most tourists - for now.
Sometimes all you need is to hide away from the hustle and bustle, cosy up with a good book and drink hot coffee from perfectly roasted beans. That's what you get at Kahvila. There’s a terrace for sunny days, and plenty of sandwiches and sweet treats if you get hungry, but the coffee and atmosphere are the stars of the show - 10/10.
Named after the former private law enforcement agency in London, this speakeasy bar is cunningly hidden away in the city behind an unmarked wooden door. Pass through the door and you’ll find an old fashioned telephone: ring and ask to arrange an appointment with Trillby. If there’s space, they’ll invite you through a second set of doors. While getting in is quite an experience, it gets even better inside. Good (if expensive) cocktails and truly remarkable furnishings. Great place.
A sort of bistro-bar-butcher hybrid, this is the perfect place to go if you want well-seasoned and cooked meat, and plenty of it. Whether it’s a beef burger or a huge slab of pulled pork, they’ve got you covered. In summer you can sit out on the terrace, and the restaurant has a really casual feel so it’s not too intimidating for students.
This is, in my opinion, one of Helsinki’s best ideas - a pub tram. Its red color is famous to anyone who knows the city, and it offers a truly original and delicious way to explore the city. To be honest, even if you’ve been in Helsinki for years now, it’s still well worth doing. Authentic Finnish beer and vodka are served on board, as well as a range of soft drinks if you’re not feeling the hard stuff. Really cool, highly original and great fun.
In addition to all cool places mentioned above, we have a blog post about secret spots in Helsinki recommended by locals themselves!