Things to Do in Helsinki Finland

Things to Do in Helsinki Finland

As the capital city of Finland, there are a lot of things to do in Helsinki. This is true at whatever time of year you visit – we’ve visited Helsinki in both summer and winter, and we’ve never run out of things to do.

Helsinki is a cultural hub, and in our opinion is the best place in Finland to come for culture, shopping, museums, fine dining etc. There’s an incredible array of museums to visit, as well as a UNESCO world heritage site, lovely cafes and bars, green spaces, outdoor art installations – and lots more.

Today we’re going to share with you a complete list of the best things to do in Helsinki, including many of our personal favourites. This will give you loads of ideas for your visit, whether you are visiting Helsinki in winter or in summer. We’ve provided both free options and paid options to cover a range of budgets.

After our guide to things to do, we also share lots of tips for visiting the city, from how to get to around, to where to stay, to how to save money on your Helsinki sightseeing. Let’s get going!

Things to Do in Helsinki

This is a fairly comprehensive list of things to do in Helsinki, which will give you more than enough choice to fill multiple days of sight-seeing in the city.

Note that there are a few activities and attractions which are seasonal, and we have noted these down. However, there are plenty of things to do in Helsinki in winter to keep you busy for days!

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is one of the most popular attractions in Finland, for both locals and visitors, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dating from the 18th century, the fortress was built in an effort to guard what was then the Swedish Empire against the threat of Russia. It was also built as a munitions store for the Swedish Army and Swedish Navy.

The fortress is a massive affair, spread across six linked islands, with huge walls, gun emplacements, and a large number of buildings.

It saw action in 1809, when it fell to the Russians. This marked the end of Finland being a part of Sweden, and the fortress (and Finland) then came under Russian rule.

During the Russian period, the fortress was extended and added to. It also saw action again, during the Crimean War, when it was heavily shelled by the English and French fleets. However, despite heavy damage, they were unable to capture it.

Finland gained independence in 1917, and the fortress is today largely a tourism attraction. There is still a small military presence on the islands, and areas that are off limits to visitors as a result. These are well sign posted so you can’t miss them. It’s also a residential island, with many residents living here permanently.

In terms of what to see in Suomenlinna – there’s a lot! First, you can just explore the islands and various parts of the fortress. You can do this yourself, and it is free to just wander around Suomenlinna Fortress.

If you want to learn a bit about what you are seeing, a good option is to take a guided tour with the Ehrensvärd Society. These operate from the Suomenlinna Museum. Tours run daily from June to August, and on weekends at the other times of year. You can see summer times here, and other times here.

As well as the guided walking tours, there are a number of museums and other attractions you can visit on the island. These are as follows:

Suomenlinna Museum

The Suomenlinna Museum tells the history of the fortress and islands in general, and is where the walking tours depart from. If you only visit one of the museums here, we’d suggest making it this one.

Suomenlinna Museum is open year round, you can see opening hours here. There’s a fee for admission.

Military Museum

The military museum tells the history of Finland’s various defence forces and their roles in both war and peace time. There’s a wide range of military hardware on display, and lots of display panels guide you through what you are seeing.

The military museum is open year round, you can see opening hours here. There’s an entry fee. Tickets also give you access to the Submarine Vesikko, which is a World War 2 submarine that is open for visitors. However, this is only open during the summer months.

Toy Museum

The Toy Museum is home to a wide number of different types of toys, dating from the early 19th century up to around the 1960s. A variety of toys are on display, including a number of wartime themed toys and games.

The Toy Museum is open daily in the summer season, as well as for some weekends in the Spring and Autumn. Opening times and ticket prices are available on the website here.

Ehrensvärd Museum

The Ehrensvärd Museum focuses on the history of Suomenlinna fortress during the time of the Swedish rule of Finland. It’s found in the original commander’s house, and the collection includes paintings, furniture, weapons, and models of ships.

Like the toy museum, the Ehrensvärd Museum is open daily in the summer season, as well as for some weekends in the Spring and Autumn. Opening times and ticket prices are available on the website here.

Customs Museum

The last museum on Suomenlinna is the customs museum, found on Susisaari island. This museum is all about the history of customs and smuggling in Finland.

The Customs Museum is free to visit, but is only open in the summer season.  Opening times can be found here.

As well as the various museums, there are also a number of cafes, restaurants and shops on the islands.

As you can see there’s more than enough to do on Suomenlinna, especially in the summer months, to fill at least half a day of exploration if not more.

The Fortress can be reached via a short ferry ride from Helsinki. Ferries run daily, year round, and a return ticket is €5, purchasable at the ferry terminal. See ferry times and prices here.

Another fun way to see the fortress, and get a handle on its size, is to take a helicopter tour. We did just that with Rotorway Helicopter Services, which gave us a lovely view of the fortress as well as the city itself.

Holders of the Helsinki Card get ferry transport to and Suomenlinna Fortress, access to all the museums on the islands, and the walking tour, included for free with the card.

Skywheel Helsinki

It’s hard to miss the Helsinki Skywheel, a large ferris wheel that sits by the harbour near to both the Uspenski Cathedral and the dock where the Suomenlinna Fortress ferry departs and arrives from.

If you want to get a nice view across the city, this is definitely one of the better ways to do that. Helsinki does not have very many high points, which means that the 40 metre high wheel offers lovely views across the city.

It’s even heated, meaning you can ride it year round in comfort.

If you want a really unique Finnish experience, you can even take one of the special SkySauna cabins, meaning you get a Finnish sauna experience whilst riding a Ferris wheel! Only in Finland…

The Skywheel operates every day all year round, and is open between 11am and 5pm or 11am and 6pm, depending on the day of the week. There’s a fee to ride the wheel, with discounts available for Helsinki Card holders. You can see full pricing information and opening times on their official website here.

Helsinki City Museum

If you want to learn about the history of the city of Helsinki and its people, then you need to visit the Helsinki City Museum.

This free museum, a short walk from the Cathedral, is spread across five buildings – each from different eras in Helsinki’s development. It has permanent exhibitions covering the history and development of the city, ranging from the evolution of the architecture, to the lives of the people in the city.

The museum is free, and open daily from 11am – 7pm in the week, and 5pm on weekends. See opening hours and more information for you visit here.

Helsinki Cathedral

One of Helsinki’s most recognisable landmarks is Helsinki Cathedral, which is a cathedral of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the largest religious body by membership in Finland, with around 70% of Finns as members.

Whilst this isn’t the mother church of the religion (that is Turku Cathedral in Turku), it is nonetheless an important place of worship. With its elevated position above Senate Square it is a well known part of the Helsinki skyline.

The cathedral dates from 1852 and holds regular services of worship. It is also open to visitors, and it is free to visit. It is open daily from 9am – 6pm throughout the year, with extended opening hours until midnight from June to August.

Uspenski Cathedral

Right next to the Skywheel and a short walk from Helsinki Cathedral, you will find Uspenski Cathedral. Built in 1868 during the time of the Russian Empire in Finland, this red brick church with golden cupolas is certainly reminiscent of many of the churches you will find in Russia.

Uspenski Cathedral is the main cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland  and the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. It is a striking building built upon a hillside looking over the city and harbour area.

The Cathedral is open every day in the summer (June – August) but is closed on Mondays outside of this time.  It is free to visit.

You can see more opening hours and more information on the official website, but note that at time of writing this is only in Finnish or Russian, so you will need to use translation if you don’t speak those languages.

Canal Cruise

If you visit Helsinki in the warmer months, generally from May – September, then we can highly recommend taking a canal cruise.

Departing from the Market Square, these boat cruises generally last around 90 minutes, and take you on a tour of some of the peaceful canals that run through the city. Most tours also pass by highlights of the city like Suomenlinna Fortress.

We took one of these tours on a warm summer day and had a lovely time. We particularly enjoyed the fact that the boat had a bar on board so we could enjoy a drink as we saw the sights!

If you have a Helsinki Card, this comes with a canal cruise. Alternatively, you can book a canal cruise here.

Market Square

The area of Helsinki by the water where the sightseeing boats and the Suomenlinna ferry departs from is known as Market Square. This is home to one of the most famous and well known markets in the city, with vendors selling all sorts of crafts, souvenirs, and traditional Finnish food.

This is a good place to get a well priced snack or meal. Sometimes there are also performers here playing songs on traditional instruments.

The market is usually open every day, although vendors may change from day to day. Opening hours are usually 8am – 4pm Mon – Say, and 10am – 5pm on Sundays.

The Old Market Hall

Right next to Market Square is the Old Market Hall. This purpose built building was opened in 1889, as a covered market alternative to the traditional outdoor marketplaces.

Over a hundred years later, and the format hasn’t changed a great deal. There are still multiple food vendors selling all sorts of food items, from cheese to meats and local specialties. There are also cafes serving hot and cold food that you can eat on site.

The Old Market Hall is open all year from Monday – Saturday, from 8am to 6pm.

National Museum of Finland

If you are a museum lover, you are definitely in for a treat in Helsinki, as the city has an incredible array of museums to choose from covering seemingly every interest.

In winter, this is especially good as many of the outdoor attractions are closed, plus it can be quite cold! So having warm museums to explore will stop you from getting cold, and give you plenty of things to do.

The National Museum of Finland is, as the name suggests, a museum dedicated to all things Finnish. If you were to only visit one museum in Helsinki, this would likely be a good candidate. It covers everything from the history of Finland through to the culture, people, art, and goes from the Stone Age to the present day. There’s also an on-site cafeteria for coffee and snacks.

The museum is open through the winter from Tue – Sun, 11am – 6pm (11am – 8pm on Wednesdays). From May to Aug, it is also open on Mondays.

There’s an entry fee to visit, although it is currently free to visit on Fridays from 4pm – 6pm.  It’s free for holders of the Helsinki Card and the Museum Card, and for those under 18. You can see full details of pricing and discounts, as well as detailed opening hours and closure dates on the official website here

Amos Rex

One of the newest museums in Helsinki is Amos Rex, which opened in 2018. It’s found underneath the Helsinki Plaza, with bubble like protrusions from the gallery emerging into the plaza space.

The museum primarily has temporary exhibits, meaning that when you visit there is always likely to be something new on. These exhibits are from both local and international artists.

In our experience visiting, Amos Rex is certainly one of the most popular museums in the city – it was the only art museum where we had to queue for over 20 minutes to get in!

There’s a fee to visit, and it’s included on both the Helsinki Card and the Museum Card. It is open every day except Tuesdays, from 11am until 5pm, 6pm or 8pm depending on the day of the week. See full opening times and prices here.

Kiasma: Museum of Contemporary Art

If you are interested in contemporary art, then you will want to head to Kiasma, which is the contemporary art branch of the Finnish National Gallery.

This is home to the largest collection of contemporary art in Finland, with over 8,000 works in the collection, and around 100 new works added each year.

The art in the collection is primarily from Finnish artists and those from nearby countries, and primarily dates from the 1970s. Kiasma also adds to its collection by commissioning work.

Kiasma is spread across five floors, and as you would imagine for such a sizeable art collection there is plenty to see here. There’s also a theatre on site, as well as workshops. You can see the calendar of events and workshops here.

There’s a fee to visit, although it’s free if you are under 18. Holders of the Museum Card and Helsinki Card have free access. Free admission on the first Friday of every month. Combination tickets are also available which include Ateneum and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

Kiasma is open every day except Monday from 10am. Closing times vary between 5pm and 8.30pm depending on the day of the week. You can see all the pricing and timing hours here.

Map of Things to do in Helsinki

To help you with your planning we’ve put all the attractions from our list of things to do in Helsinki onto a map. You can also see this on Google Maps here.

Saving Money on Attractions in Helsinki

As you will have noticed from the long list of things to do in Helsinki, many of the attractions and activities have an entry fee.

Whilst there are certainly some free things to do in Helsinki, such as the museums operated by the Helsinki City Museum, this is not generally the case.

If you are planning on only visiting one or two sites, then paying for the ticket entry individually probably makes the most sense.

However, if you plan on visiting a few attractions in Helsinki, and are also thinking about using the public transport network, it is possible to save some considerable money using city discount passes.

The two main attraction passes in Helsinki are the Helsinki Card and the Museum Card.

The Helsinki Card is a city pass that comes in 1, 2, and 3 day versions. It offers entry to the majority of attractions on our list, including the museums, as well as attractions like the Zoo and Aquarium. It also includes the hop on hop off bus, canal cruise, and a wide range of other sights. You can see the full list of attractions here.

There’s also the option to include a travel card on the Helsinki Card, plus it comes with discounts on things like the airport shuttle bus and the Skywheel.

The Museum Card is a little bit different. It’s valid for a whole year, and actually works across all of Finland – not just Helsinki. It covers over 280 museums across the country, and we saw many locals using it for museum entry in Helsinki – which makes a lot of sense given how it is valid for a year.

The disadvantage of the museum card is that it is only for museums. So if you want to see other attractions, you would have to pay for these separately.

They are however both excellent cards and offer a lot.

So which one to get?

I would say that if you are visiting Helsinki for a short time, say one to three days, then the Helsinki Card is likely going to be a better option. It includes extras like the Canal Cruise and Hop on Hop off bus, plus you can add public transport, making it really useful for your time in the city.

If you are going to be in Helsinki for a little longer, or think you will also be visiting museums in other parts of Finland as well, then the Museum Card might make more sense – especially if you are not planning on doing any additional attractions.

Manuel G. Smith

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