Before visiting Helsinki, I didn’t know much about the place, to be honest. Yes, I knew it got freezing during the winter and that Santa Claus lives there, but other than that, Helsinki was a mystery. Going in with zero expectations, Helsinki absolutely blew me away. Vibrant, clean, fun and with a lot to do, the city quickly jumped up a few places on my European Favourites list. Here is what you should see, eat and do in Finland’s beautiful capital.
Marvel at the Helsinki Cathedral
Probably one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture in all of Scandinavia, the pure white Helsinki Cathedral is a sight to behold and a major landmark of the city. The cathedral was built between 1830 and 1852 as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, the then Grand Duke of Finland. Until Finland’s independence in 1917 it was known as the St Nicholas Church. Today it is formally known as the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki and is regularly used as a place of worship and for special events like concerts and weddings.
The Helsinki Cathedral is also one of the most visited sites in Finland, and it is believed that nearly 400 000 tourists visit the famous attraction each year. With its bright white walls, pillars, green domes, bell towers and larger than life sculptures of the twelve apostles guarding the city from the roof of the church, it is easily the most Instagrammable spot in Helsinki. The cathedral is open year-round between 09:00 and 18:00, and admission is free.
Sit in silence
In the middle of the city centre in Narinkka Square sits the Kamppi Chapel, also known as the Chapel of Silence. Completed in 2012, the chapel is ecumenical, welcoming everyone irrespective of religion, philosophy or background. There is, however, one requirement – once inside, you must be completely silent. The chapel’s primary purpose is to be a place of peace, quiet and calm that offers a welcome escape from the busy, bustling city around it.
Designed by architects Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola and Mikko Summanen, the Chapel has won the International Architecture Award and has become a major tourist attraction in the city. It is visited by around 300 000 tourists per year. Standing 11,5 meters tall, the outside of the chapel is clad with spruce while all the internal walls are made of alder and the fittings and interior doors from ash wood. The entire building is soundproof and can accommodate 60 people at a time. There are no regular services on a Sunday, but short prayers are offered now and again. My favourite thing about the Kamppi Chapel is that employees of the church and the Department of Social Services and Health Care are on hand in the lobby of the chapel during opening hours. You can talk to them any day of the year if you feel you need help, regardless of where you are from. There is no need to make an appointment, and all conversations are anonymous and without cost. Admission to the chapel is also completely free.
Visiting the Kamppi Chapel is a must, but beware – absolute silence is required. No photos are allowed inside the chapel as even the clicking of cameras is considered as noise. this is truly the perfect place to sit down, relax and enjoy the awesome atmosphere.
Cook your own sausage
Once you’ve had enough of the city and you are ready for lunch, hop on the tram and take the 15-minute journey to Cafe Regatta in Töölö, a bright red cottage sitting on the edge of the sea. Not only does Cafe Regatta serve the best coffee and the most delicious cakes and cinnamon buns, but they also allow you to cook your own sausage on an open fire. It seems silly, but it was definitely the highlight of my trip to Helsinki. The outdoor seating is right on the water with good views, and the cafe has a very relaxed atmosphere.
Take in the arts
After lunch, walk another 5 minutes away from the city and you will find yourself face to face with the massive Sibelius Monument. Built in honour of the world-famous composer Jean Sibelius by artist Eila Hiltunen, the monument was unveiled on 7 September 1967 and has since become a popular tourist attraction and something not to be missed. Made from over 600 steel pipes welded together, the monument resembles organ pipes. It is also home to a bust of the composer on one side.
Eat up and try something new
Stop, sit down and eat your heart out in Helsinki. The city offers a fantastic selection to all foodies, from the best salmon soup I have ever had at Restaurant Story in the Old Market Hall to fresh berries from one of the colourful stalls in the Market Square. I highly recommend that you book a table far in advance at Konstan Möljä, a traditional Finnish buffet-style restaurant where you can enjoy the very best of Finnish cuisine, including reindeer.
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NOTE: All information and prices are correct at the date of publication. Please check official websites for up-to-date prices and use an online currency converter for current conversions.
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