We love Helsinki! The bright and vibrant colors along with the fun and quirky building shapes and super friendly people in Finland made it an absolute joy to tour!
Helsinki was the fifth country on our Baltic cruise tour, and definitely did not disappoint. We especially loved the National Museum of Finland and climbing on top of the rock church.
This article is published in partnership with Princess Cruises. All content and opinions belong to Mama Loves Food.
Table of Contents
I’ve tried to cover all the important points of visiting the city, but if you just need some quick info, feel free to use the table of contents below to jump around!
What to do | What we did | What to pack | What is the weather | Where is Helsinki | What time is it | Shopping | Downtown | Where to eat | Local events | When is the best time to visit | What you should know before visiting | Fun Facts | Why you should visit | Major points of interest | Getting around town | Other ports on this trip | Where we’ve cruised with Princess | Recipes inspired by our travels | Must-read cruising tips
What to do in Helsinki, Finland
- Temppeliaukio (Rock Church) – This one-of-a-kind Lutheran church is built into a solid rock. Natural light pours in from the church’s glazed dome and the rough stoned interiors amplify sound, making it a unique concert venue.
- Senate Square / Cathedral – This is center for arts, culture, religion, politics and education. Carl Ludvig Engel designed its four main buildings, including the famous landmark Helsinki Cathedral, in the early 19th Century.
- Market Square – Experience the energy and excitement of this seaside city. The square offers a festive atmosphere with rows of tents and stalls selling fur clothing, jewelry, food and souvenirs and more.
- Porvoo – It was first documented in the 14th century, making it the second oldest town in Finland. Many aspects of the area have been left untouched by time, making it a great place for exploring.
- Sibelius Park and Monument – Dedicated to famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the park and unique abstract monument was meant to reflect the rugged natural beauty of Finland, as inspired by Sibelius’s work Finlandia.
- Finnish Farm and Home Visits – Discover the heart of Finland’s countryside with a visit to a working farm in Sipoo and experience home life as you’re invited in to a typical Finnish home in Sipoo.
- Suomenlinna Fortress – This sea fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a great place for picnics and sightseeing. Enjoy walking tours, museums, handicraft shops, cafes, restaurants, a library, even a beer garden.
- Kiasma Modern Art Museum and National Museum of Finland – The stunning Kiasma, is part of the Finnish National Gallery features contemporary art. The grand National Museum, within a neo-medieval castle, offers exhibits from prehistoric times through today.
What we did in Helsinki
One of the things that is wonderful about cruising with a big group is that not everyone has to tag along for every adventure. A few of our kids were tired of touring so many days in a row, so they were able to stay on board while we took the rest of the kids to explore the town.
We did self-guided walking tour in Helsinki and managed to see quite a bit considering our late start and early-ish departure time. The kids favorite (and mine too if we’re being honest!) was the National Museum of Finland. It was so well done, we could have easily spent a few hours in the museum alone.
Word to the wise – Helsinki has multiple cruise ports, so pay close attention to where you started and where you need to end if you’re not going on a cruise-led tour!
What to pack for Helsinki, Finland
The styles in Finland generally lean toward neutral colors with pops of colors in accessories. A black and tan layering wardrobe will have you fitting right in. During all seasons, footwear is pretty standard, boots or booties for city walking and sneakers or comfortable hiking boots for outdoors/hiking areas.
Spring, though it doesn’t start until April/May, brings cool but pleasant temperatures ideal for touring the city or park areas. With temps in the 40s and 50s, layers and long sleeves are still recommended, but can be paired with lighter items, a sundress, blouse or tank can be paired with a cardigan or tights, for men short sleeves or t-shirts with a light jacket and pants or jeans.
Summer is similar to Spring, only a little warmer. You can pair the blouses or tanks with skirts for women or shorts for men. A light jacket or sweater is still always recommended.
Winter is long and cold, so if you are travelling between November and May, be sure to pack warm, dry clothes with lots of layers. Temperatures can average 17F and at times be negative, so you will want thermals, stockings/tights or other under layer garments to pair with your long trousers, jeans, sweaters and coats.
A wool hat, scarf and mittens are also must have accessories. Finland is also known for its saunas, so bring a swimsuit any time of year if you want to try one.
*Make sure to check out our comprehensive cruise packing guide, complete with a free printable checklist!*
What is the weather in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki’s “warm” season, or Summer, spans early June to early September. Temperatures will average in the upper 60s or low 70s, and mid 50s at night. Forecasts are generally comfortable and partly cloudy.
Winters are longer and more drastic, and typically forecasted as dry, windy, mostly cloudy and freezing. From approximately November until April/May, temperatures will be very cold, averaging in the 20s and 30s, but during the peak period in Dec-Feb can reach below freezing temps in the teens or lower.
Spring and Fall, though very small windows of May/Jun and Sept/Oct respectively, are a transition period generally in the 40s and 50s with mostly pleasant forecasts.
Where is Helsinki?
Helsinki is a seaside city located on the southern coast of Finland. It is situated 26 meters above sea level on the Gulf of Finland, across from Estonia.
Its location provides a landscape of beautiful islands, forests and green parks, surrounding a bustling metropolitan, capital city.
What time is it in Helsinki, Finland
The city of Helsinki operates on EET (Eastern European Time) and EEST (Eastern European Summer Time) in the summer.
EET (Eastern European Time) is seven hours ahead of EST (Eastern Standard time), eleven hours ahead of Alaska Standard Time (AKST), ten hours ahead of PTD time zone (Pacific time zone), and nine hours ahead of MST (Mountain Standard Time).
It is important to note that Copenhagen does observe daylight savings time (DST) and switches to EEST (Eastern European Summer Time) between the last Sunday in March and last Sunday of October.
Shopping in Helsinki
Shopping here is predominately in malls, forums and more formal storefront style shops. Here you can find everything from fresh local produce to the latest fashions. Popular places are Kamppi Shopping Centre, Hakaniemi Market, Market Square and Shopping centre Ruoholahti.
If you are looking for a more unique gift to take home, there are various curiosity shops, flea markets and antique stores scattered throughout the city.
Kamppi is centrally located and the primary business district in Helsinki, making it the most common consideration of city centre or downtown.
Here you will find some of the larger shopping malls, business centers, historic architecture and a wide range of dining and entertainment options all in one location.
Where to eat in Helsinki, Finland
- Levant Restaurant
- Konstan Molja
- Restaurant Olo
- Green Hippo Cafe
- Ravintola (multiple locations)
- Baskeri & Basso Bistro
- Everest Katajanokka
- Friends & Brgrs
- See more highly rated eateries in Helsinki!
Events in Helsinki, Finland
- Flow Festival – A popular art and music festival held in early August, you can hear international artists from rock to jazz. The festival also includes other arts such as film screening, visual arts, talk shows, design events and more.
- World Village Festival (Maailma Kylassa) – Held every May, the World Village Festival is a free event that presents art and culture from all over the world. Enjoy a variety of dance performances, concerts, food and more.
- Helsinki Samba Carnaval – Inspired by the Brazilian Carnival, samba dancers in colorful costumes fill the streets during this lively festival in June.
- Helsinki Comics Festival – The largest comic related festival in Northern Europe, this event brings exhibitions, competitions, presentations and industry guests, discussions and lectures to Helsinki in September. As one of the most popular festivals in Europe, it is visited by over 20,000 attendees annually.
- Summer Sound Festival – While it lasts only 1 day, this electronic music festival attracts millions of people, making it the largest EDM held in Northern Europe.
- Northern Lights – The Northern Lights become most visible here from September to October and February to March. If you are willing to brave the cold and almost endless nights here, the Northern Lights might make it worth it.
When is the best time to visit
Though it is also the more expensive and brings the largest crowds, Summer is the best time to visit Helsinki.
Specifically from June-August, the great weather is ideal to experience all of the beautiful outdoor attractions and sites, from harbours to inner city beaches to surrounding forest hikes. The city also hosts a multitude of festivals throughout the summer months.
What you should know before visiting
- Avoid Taxis. While they are safe and comfortable (usually high end vehicles), they are also heavily regulated (translation: very expensive). Helsinki has a wonderful and cost effective tram system that runs until midnight. If you extend your evening beyond that and need a taxi, look for a designated pickup point or have one called, they do not pickup street side and cannot be hailed.
- Tipping is Optional. Due to a healthy minimum wage, there isn’t much of a tipping culture here. It is usually considered sufficient, if not generous, to round up or drop a coin in a tip jar.
- Locals aren’t Rude. While it might first appear that locals are distant or even rude, it is more of a different cultural norm. “Awkward” silence is enjoyed. Doors are rarely held for the next guest. Eye contact generally isn’t sought. Personal space is revered. But the culture is still friendly and always willing to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for a recommendation or directions when needed.
- Euros are the Currency. While some other Scandinavian countries and cities use their own currencies, Helsinki uses the Euro. Though it can fluctuate, current conversion is about 0.9EUR to 1USD
- Clean water. Helsinki has some of the cleanest tap water of all big cities in the world, so drink up!
- Salty licorice. One of the most popular candies is salty licorice or Salmiakki. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if you’re up for it, try and piece and see what the local fascination is all about.
- Helsinki wasn’t the original capital of Finland. Alexander I of Russia moved the capital from Turku in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence (and coincidently move it closer to the Russian capital of Saint Petersburg)
- Lots of islands. The city of Helsinki is comprised of 300 small islands, interconnected by bridges and waterway transportation.
- Heated streets. As cold and snowy as their winters are, there is no snow ever on the sidewalks or streets. The city heats the granite slabs from underground so any snow or ice melts immediately.
Why you should visit Helsinki
Tour the coastline and take a swim in one of the many beaches. Hike the many forests or parks. Sample amazing and unique Finnish cuisine. Take in the sights and sounds of a festival.
Endless Summer is a real thing when the days last a full 24 hours. And when you’ve finished all of that, enjoy a nice, peaceful, trip to a sauna. Helsinki, while it has a few local attractions, is primarily a city focused more on experiences versus sites.
Major Points of Interest
Throughout Europe you can see the amazing architectural designs of churches built centuries ago. Temppeliaukio, while only built in the 20th century, gives an awe inspiring view of a uniquely designed church built into the existing rock landscape.
The interior is solid rock. The copper dome allows for sunlight to light the space naturally. The altar is built into an ice-age crevice. The acoustics are so good in this natural space, the church is frequently used as a concert venue as well.
Built by the Swedes in the mid 18th century as a sea fortress and one time navy base, this historic landmark, now known as the Castle of Finland, is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions and a great place for summer picnics.
Built in 1830, and originally called St. Nicholas Church, this neoclassical Lutheran church is located on Senate Square. Marking its independence from Russia, the church’s name was changed in 1917. White columns and zinc statues of the 12 Apostles define the exterior, while inside you can dine in a cafe that used to be a crypt.
Getting around Helsinki
Helsinki has a great public transport system (HSL) consisting of bus, tram, metro, local railway and ferry services. We found that Google maps was fantastic in helping us figure out which type of public transportation to take where, and when!
Make sure that if you are taking public transportation you allow yourself enough time to get back to the ship, and pay close attention to which port your ship is docked in as Helsinki has multiple cruise ports. We came very close to not making back to the ship! (Oops!)
Helsinki also has taxi service (although an expensive option) as well as Ubers.
Ports on this trip
- Copenhagen, Denmark – Copenhagen was the starting point on our Baltic Sea cruise, and what a fabulous way to start. The capital of Denmark totally stole our hearts!
- Berlin, Germany – Berlin is a city rich with history and culture and was my 12 year-old’s absolute favorite stop on our trip. Definitely worth the drive in from port!
- Tallinn, Estonia – If you’re looking for a cobble-stoned storybook style European town, Tallinn is where you want to set your sights. I left thoroughly enamored with this magical town.
- St. Petersburg, Russia – St. Petersburg was a wonderful surprise to me! I had no idea how beautiful and rich with history the city is, and the food was so delicious too!
- Helsinki, Finland – We love Helsinki! The bright and vibrant colors along with the fun and quirky building shapes and super friendly people in Finland made it an absolute joy to tour!
- Stockholm, Sweden – Stockholm is a beautiful walkable city filled with gorgeous architecture, canals, and brightly colored buildings. I could easily have spent a week wandering around and soaking in the sites.