What the capital of Finland lacks in size (its population is around 600,000), it more than makes up for with its striking architecture, fun food scene, and abundant green spaces. Its charming Esplanade Park leads to South Harbor’s Market Square, featuring an array of craft and food stalls, while some of its museums are free on certain weekdays.
What We Love
The Rock Church: Excavated out of bedrock and completed in 1969, the modernist Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) is a must-see. Designed with a copper-lined dome and slanting windows, it has a nature-meets-space-age ambiance and great acoustics.
The Finnair SkyWheel: A 10-minute ride is playfully called a “flight” as passengers soar 131 feet above the city. Opened in 2014, the giant white wheel with 30 gondolas adds a touch of whimsy to historic Katajanokka harbor.
Best Known For
Central Railway Station: This art nouveau terminal dates to 1919 and was designed by Eliel Saarinen — father of Eero Saarinen, famous for his circa-1962 TWA terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport — and its massive granite façade features two pairs of muscular men holding spheres of light.
Senate Square: The city’s oldest section features four early 19th-century neoclassical buildings designed by Carl Ludvig Engel, including the white Helsinki Cathedral and the Government Palace.
Sibelius Monument: Copenhagen may have the "Little Mermaid," but Helsinki’s Sibelius Park has this striking 24-ton sculpture created in 1967 from 600 welded-steel organ pipes by Eila Hiltunen to honor Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
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Who It's Best For
Anyone Who Enjoys Walking: This compact city center is easy to explore on foot — and you’re certain to discover great photo ops along the way.
Curious Foodies: Finnish cuisine is full of savory dishes you’ve probably never tried before, from kalakukko (Finnish fish pie) to poronkäristys (Finland’s version of meat and potatoes — reindeer meat, that is).
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Street Names Boggle the Mind: Finnish can be a tongue-twister, and some of the city’s more peculiar street names — case in point: Papukaija Zagulan polku — are a mouthful. Keep your map handy.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.