10 things to do in Helsinki – from saunas to flea markets!

If we think of Finland, the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a bunch of reindeer with red noses and an endless winter, isn’t it? However, Helsinki is a different capital that has many things to offer to anyone who is willing to discover the charm of this small but beautiful city. Until relatively recently, Helsinki used to go unnoticed by many travellers who chose to visit other Nordic countries. It could be said that Stockholm is like the older brother who studied medicine and of whom his parents are proud, and Helsinki is rather like the rebellious and young brother who chose to study Fine Arts. And it is precisely this nonconformist attitude that makes Helsinki unique for any backpacker. If you’re looking for things to do in Helsinki on a limited budget, here are a few expert tips that will do you good!

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1. Visit Löyly and get into a Finnish sauna

A sauna in Finland? Well, what a surprise! The truth is that from the outset it doesn’t seem very original nor does it break the stereotype that we foreigners from Finland have. But if you want to live an authentic Finnish experience, it’s something you have to do. Each public sauna has its own character and personality. In Helsinki, the crème de la crème of all of them is right in the middle and is called Löyly.

This is a sauna built with wood of sustainable origin where you can live a 100% Finnish experience. Get rid of a few toxins and then go out for a “refreshing” dip in the sea. And if you go in the middle of winter, don’t worry, because they make a hole in the ice so you can keep getting into the water (yes, you’ll have to give it courage!). In Löyly you will also find a restaurant and cocktail bar where they prepare all kinds of organic food and sustainably caught fish.

Price: a two-hour session in the sauna costs 19 euros. It may be a bit expensive, but Finland in general is expensive and this is one of the best saunas you can get into.
To get here take bus 14 or 18N from Kamppi.

📷 Löyly

2. Enjoy a good brunch at the Fazer Café in Kluuvikatu

Having a cup of coffee accompanied by a cinnamon bun is an essential part of any Nordic experience, so we can’t think of a better place for it than the place where the Finnish bakery was born. Since its creation in 1891, Fazer Café has become one of the best places to visit in Helsinki. Don’t forget to visit this emblematic place to start the day well and enjoy its incredible brunch: delicious and crunchy toasts, turkey, ham, smoothies, ice-cream cakes, sweet rolls that taste great… Seriously, everything is great!

Price: brunch costs 14.90 euros and is served between 7:30 am and 10:30 am on weekdays, from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturdays and from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Sundays.
Nearest metro stop: University of Helsinki

3. Walk through the Design District

The Helsinki Design District is the epicentre of creativity for Finns. This impressive neighborhood located in the heart of the capital extends over 25 streets and has more than 200 buildings. A stroll through this part of the city is the perfect plan for any culture-minded traveler, and best of all, you won’t spend a single euro! As the name suggests, the area is full of designer and antique shops, clothing stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants and showrooms.

You can start by visiting the Design Museum and its complete collection to quickly catch up on Finnish design. And if you’re willing to spend some money, treat yourself to a unique object from iconic Finnish brands such as Marimekko, Artek and Iittala.

Price: walking through the district is free; entrance to the Design Museum costs 12 euros.
Nearest metro stop: Central Railway Station

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4. Visit the fortress of Suomenlinna

If you’re not into art, what do you say we go see a few islands? As you know (probably from Instagram), Finland is a country with thousands of lakes and islands, but none of them will catch your eye as much as the Suomenlinna Marine Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In reality this historic enclave full of small hills, cobbled roads and old canyons occupies a total of six islands connected to each other that offer a total contrast with the city center of Helsinki. And that is only 5 minutes by ferry from the Market Square! Take the opportunity to visit this quiet place where the Finns meet on summer days to enjoy a picnic, sunbathe, stroll through its beautiful streets and discover the restaurants that are in the heart of the island.

Price: a single ticket on the ferry costs 2.80 euros
You will arrive at the fortress by taking the ferry at the Plaza del Mercado.

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5. Wear your boots at the Old Helsinki Market

If you miss the charm of the old days (the ones you never really lived), don’t miss an excursion to the Old Helsinki Market to cure your nostalgia. Fortunately today you no longer see the endless queues you saw before babushkas who waited for hours in the cold to buy kielbasas (sausages), but the market itself is still a fascinating and very vintage place that will transport you directly to the past.

Located next to the square of the same name, the atmosphere that is breathed inside the Old Market is warm and cozy. Its interior space has been open to the public since 1889 and it continues to sell the best cheeses, meats, vegetables and sweets, among other products. Within this complex you’ll find several cafeterias where you can sit back and enjoy the food and atmosphere, so if you want to savour the authentic Finnish cuisine, there’s no better place!

Price: free, you only pay for what you eat.
Nearest metro stop: University of Helsinki

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6. Enjoy art at the Ateneum Museum

Any backpacker knows that when travelling to a new country it is essential to participate in its cultural activities. And while there are many ways to worship the arts in Helsinki, most Finns would agree to recommend the Ateneum Museum as one of their must-see visits.

The famous works that are part of the Ateneum collection are deeply rooted in the collective culture of the Finns, as most of us have seen them throughout our lives on various school excursions. Paintings and works of art range from the 19th century to the modern era, allowing the viewer to draw new perspectives between the past and the future – you don’t have to be a critic to enjoy a spectacular work of art anyway!

Price: the normal ticket is worth 17 euros.
Nearest metro stop: Central Railway Station

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7. Meditate in the Kamppi chapel

Nordics are not particularly religious, nor do they often talk much about their beliefs in public, so it is unlikely that you will encounter any outstanding displays of spiritual expression. However you are welcome to meditate in silence and stop at the “Chapel of Silence”, a beautiful chapel that is (literally) in the middle of it all, right in front of a shopping center located in the heart of the city.

The place invites you to rest and disconnect in one of the most crowded areas of the country. This peculiar architectural feat made of alder wood was erected to remind the inhabitants of Helsinki that although the world is losing its head, we must not let that happen to us. Cheer up and enjoy one of the most peculiar things to do in Helsinki. No matter where you come from or where you go, you are always welcome!

Price: free
Nearest metro stop: Kamppi

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8. Have a drink at the Moomin Kaffe

Regardless of whether you know the magic tales of Tove Jansson or if in your childhood were present the fantastic moomintrolls (yes, those beings that apparently did not have genitals), we recommend you to visit the Moomin Kaffe in Helsinki for its elegant design, quiet environment and because all its decoration based on Jansson creatures will provide you with first class material for your Instagram. Although theme cafés are seen as a tourist trap, moomins are so beloved in Finland that they are part of Finnish national identity and culture, so you certainly have to go and pay tribute to these adorable creatures!

And if not, at least it’s worth visiting the Moomin Kaffe if only to have a cup of Finnish coffee and ask yourself how these trolls will manage to have offspring…

Price: free, you only pay for what you eat
Nearest metro stop: University of Helsinki

9. Walk around the Market Square

Finland’s most famous market, and also the most visited, is in Helsinki’s South Harbour, at one end of Esplanadi Park. In summer their stalls are filled with typically Finnish red fruits, in autumn with freshly harvested blueberries and mushrooms, and in winter with warm wine and warm clothes. The latter is probably the best time of the year, as you can stroll through the market with a pile of handmade hats and gloves, or simply taste the delicious Karelian cakes at the cozy coffee stalls – you’re sure to warm up even on the coldest days of winter!

Nearest metro stop: University of Helsinki

10. Feel like Bambi on the ice in Jääpuisto Ice Park

A charming winter amusement park known as the Jääpuisto Ice Park is set up every year next to the Helsinki train station. Its famous ice rink is usually open between November and March, so if you don’t know what to do in Helsinki in winter, you’re already late in putting this at the top of the list.

The rental of ice skates, helmet and sledge is included in the entrance fee. There’s also an Ice Park Café where you can enjoy a warm drink between rounds (or when you’re tired of falling on the floor!).

Price: 6 euros
Nearest metro stop: Central Railway Station

As you can see, in our list of the best things to do in Helsinki there is something for everyone! So if you want to live a 100% Finnish adventure, don’t forget to get into a sauna, let yourself be hugged by a person disguised as a moomin and eat cinnamon scones to bursting point. PS: Ah! And don’t forget to take a look at our amazing hostels in Finland.

About the author:

Karan Ahluwalia is a Finnish writer who lives in London, but is about to embark on a great adventure after her master’s degree. She speaks five languages, loves international food and misses the snow and seasons in her home.

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