I visited Helsinki during a bright, if a bit cold, February. It has beautiful architecture and wide open roads so you never feel cramped, plus it’s a capital city so there is a lot to do. I can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime, I wanted to share things to do in Helsinki.
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Visit The Chapel of Silence
The Kamppi district of the city is known for being full of noisy bars and had social problems such as people with drug and alcohol addiction. The Chapel of Silence was built to combat this.
It’s a wooden building, which locals call the Egg of Silence because of its unusual shape! It is cladded with narrow vertical planks which stand out in the concrete surroundings.
It has two purposes. The first is to provide a silent space in the midst of the busy city and the second is to provide welfare with a priest and social worker on site. The owners have forbidden photos for the protection of people’s identities.
If you’re visiting and not requiring social services, you can sit or stand in a small chapel. The designers have made everything look simplistic, and you can still see the wooden tacks holding the pews together.
Inside it’s calm, you can only hear the rustling of coat sleeves against bodies. There’s a faint smell of votive candles burning in a sand pit by the entrance.
The simplistic styling is in the lighting as well. It’s lit from above the high ceiling, giving the impression that you’re in natural daylight.
Thin horizontal planks form walls that tower up to the flat ceiling in light wood which has been sanded smooth but the natural knots have been left visible. It curves around you to echo the building’s oval shape. The wood and lighting make it feel much more open and less imposing than a traditional stone church. Even though the walls a very tall, it doesn’t loom in on you. The building opens up around you like you’re in a clearing in a wood.
The peacefulness in contrast to the busy capital city is the reason why I’ve listed it as one of the things to do in Helsinki. I haven’t seen anything like it elsewhere.
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 8am-8pm. Sat-Sun 10am-6pm
Visit Loyly Sauna…
“In Finland, the sauna is a sacred place,” I was told by our guide Darius. Historically, families would view the sauna as a clean place , so they would be used for places to give birth in and for cleaning the bodies of the deceased. They are perceived as making everyone equal, as saunas are traditionally entered naked, so there can’t be any judgement on clothing or expensive jewellery.
Finland has 3 million saunas for a population of 5 million people. That’s more saunas than there are cars! Visiting a sauna is uniquely Finnish and one of the best things to do in Helsinki.
Loyly is easily accessible on the tram from the centre of the city. It has two public saunas: a smoke sauna and a steam one.
There are LED lights running up the stairs in the smoke sauna, and these offer the only illumination in the black room. In a smoke sauna, you need to be up high and on the raised seating platform my feet were level with the top of stove. The dark always inspires quietness, and the only things I could hear were the crackling coals and a few whispers. The room fits around 12 people in U-shape around the stairwell.
It felt hotter than the steam sauna, like the warmth was hugging my forever-cold feet. The Man Who Knows What To Do opened the stove, poured two ladles of water over the coals and retreated back to his seat. The steam erupted and was so hot it prickled my left shoulder, ear and face until they stung. I found it difficult to breathe and left the sauna onto the sheltered outdoor terrace. I was so hot, steam was rising from my skin.
… And Then Dip in The Sea
The terrace is about 20m from a ladder into the ocean. The ladder stretches long enough to dip my whole body in the sea before stepping back onto dry land again. The first time I felt like I’d cooled down but I didn’t feel like my ‘wellbeing’ had improved.
The second time though, I felt truly clean. I left Loyly feeling energised, refreshed, and addicted to the hot/cold sensation. So addicted, in fact, that I bought an overpriced branded T-shirt to commemorate my newfound wellness.
Price: €19 for a two-hour slot and its advisable to book online in advance. Overpriced T-shirts available for €35
Opening Times: Currently variable, check the website for details but it ranges from 1pm to 10pm.
How to get here: Loyly is a 10 minute walk from the tram stop. Catch Tram 1 towards Eira and get off at Styrmansgatan. Alternatively, you can catch the number 17 bus to Henry Fordin katu stop, which is the final stop on the route.
Visit the Library
I know you’re unlikely to take out a book in a foreign country, but bear with me.
Finland is trying to support the growth of small businesses, in part because of the shockwave that large organisations like Nokia have when they close down.
The Oodi library, built in 2018, is shaped like a ship outside and in. As you go up the escalator, the room opens into the bowels of the ship, where low ceilings and thick pillars create cosy places to sit and work or meet with colleagues. Beyond this, there is equipment that is free to use for small businesses, including: 3D printers, sewing machines, graphic design computers, laser cutting machines and plenty of other equipment that I don’t recognise. There are also recording studios for small bands and rooms to play video games.
At this library, borrowing isn’t limited to books, you can also borrow sports equipment for the afternoon.
When you climb to the top deck, you can walk up the curving floor to the pointed bow of the ship and look over the city. The glass either side is partly frosted to give the illusion of sea spray flicking up into your vision.
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 8am – 8pm, Sat 10am – 6pm.
Do a Walking Tour
Ben and I booked a private walking tour with BioGeo Traveller on Get Your Guide. It was four hours long with Darius, who has lived in Finland for 20 years and has studied its history. He picked us up from the hotel and took us to lots of historical places whilst he explained the Russian and Swedish history in the country and the first women in Parliament.
I wish I could remember it all well enough to retell it to you here, but you’ll have to go on the tour to find it all out for yourself.
I love doing a tour like this early in my visit to a new place, because I get my bearings in a city and find out a bit more context as to why things are the way they are. It’s also a great way to get restaurant advice!
Price: £55 per person
Opening Times: Available 7 days a week.
Eat Reindeer Soup
Kappeli is the oldest restaurant in Helsinki. They have a different soup each day. Once you pay at the till, you serve yourself from the hotpot, along with bread and a drink. Your soup and bread are refillable as many times as you like until you’re full!
It’s supposedly the best place in the city for salmon soup, which is a delicacy here. I had reindeer soup and it was delicious, kind of like game meat.
Sandwiches and other options are available at the counter, and they serve really nice cakes, too.
Price: €11.90 for a refillable soup
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 9am-11pm
Have a Cocktail
“We share tables here, so you’ll probably be joined by someone soon,” commented our waiter as we sat on short chairs on a table for six. Liberty or Death is at once a baron place of concrete and a busy steampunk apothecary filled with haphazard shelves of curiosities. It’s dark inside and the windows are covered with thick curtains. It gives the illusion of being lit purely by candlelight. I suppose it’s a bit hipster.
Sharing tables goes a bit against the grain for me. I’m used to British pubs where we avoid talking to strangers, but it gives a sense that we’re all sharing something; like we’re a club that we won’t talk about to the outside world.
I was there on International Women’s Day and they had an event with local female cocktail makers, where they each took over the bar and features drinks of their own making for 30-minute slots.
Another great place is Hotel Kamp, Finalnd’s most luxurious hotel, which has alcoholic hot chocolate! It was a delight.
Fun fact: Alcohol was forbidden in Finland from 1920-1991!
Price: Cocktails are approximately €10-15
Liberty or Death: Mon-Thurs 4pm-1am, Fri-Sat 4pm-2am, Sun 6pm-1am
Hotel Kamp Bar: Every day 11am-11pm
Eat Chocolate History
Karl Fazer opened a café on Kluuvikatu 3 in 1891 and it became the first chocolate factory in Helsinki. He was renowned for his confectionary, and the shop and cafe are still in the same place now!
It’s chocolate heaven – there’s so much variety in there. The packets with blue designs are original recipes and brown and other colours are newer inventions.
Fazer’s also famous for sweets and they fill eggshells with nougat!
There are also (disgusting) salted liquorice sweets which Finnish people love. I brought some back for my office and gave them to people as a joke. Most people spat them out after a few seconds!
Opening Times: Mon-Fri 7.30am – 10pm, Sat 9am-10am, Sun 10am-6pm
Visit Soumenlinna Island
Soumenlinna Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built as a military fortress in the 18th Century by Sweden, who ruled the country at the time. It was fortified against a Russian naval invasion. Russia knew that they couldn’t defeat the fortress, so instead they walked round from the North of Finland!
Now, it’s a residential district where people have to apply to live there. Part of the contract of living on the island is that you contribute to its longevity. The island hosts six museums (including a toy museum!), a painted submarine and several cafes.
Aside from the historic buildings and canons, the island itself is scenic and you can look over the sea on many of the walkways.
You need to catch a ferry from the Market Square to get to the island, it takes around 20 minutes. In winter this can be through ice!
With a Helsinki card, you can catch the ferry and get access to the museum for free.
Price: A day ticket for Helsinki public transport, including the ferry ticket, is €8. Tickets to the museums are €5-8 each or are included with a Helsinki card.
Opening Times: Ferry access is available all year round, but check the website to see when the restaurants and museum are open because times vary with the seasons.
There are so many cool things to take back home. Moomins are a classic! Finland is the home of Moomins, and there are a couple of official shops but you’ll also find Moomin-branded items everywhere, including in the Fazer chocolate shop.
There’s an open market square, where various vendors sell reindeer skins and traditional knives with reindeer bone handles. I bought a kit to make mittens from organic, naturally-dyed wool for my mum.
Near the open market, there is an indoor market, Vanha Kauppahalli, which opened in 1889. It’s full of food vendors, and the smell of pastries fills the small space. The wooden stands line the walkway like an old train carriage. As well as fresh food, there’s a variety of Finnish treats you can take home, like the cloudberry sweets and cured meats.
Opening Times: Mon-Sat 8am-6pm
Are you tempted to visit Helinki? Find out what it’s like to stay in Finland’s Most Luxurious Hotel!This entry was posted in City Breaks