From the city's iconic churches to the must-see museums, there are plenty of things to do and see in Helsinki. Here are ten of our favorite attractions in the Finnish capital—many of which are free!
Helsinki: Top Ten Attractions
1. Helsinki Cathedral
Towering over Market Square, the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral (also known as the Lutheran Cathedral) is a major landmark with a seriously steep set of stairs. Built in 1830, the church is modeled after Saint Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. Services are still held, though most visitors are tourists. The cathedral is open daily from 9 AM to 6 PM, and admission is free.
2. Ateneum Art Museum
The Ateneum is home to the largest collection of art in Finland, and it boasts a stellar selection of exhibitions featuring both Finnish artists and international superstars such as Picasso. Admission costs €6 (free for visitors under 18), though fees are higher in the event of a special exhibition. The Ateneum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM, Wednesday through Thursday from 10 PM to 8 PM, and Saturday through Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission is free from 5 PM to 8 PM the first Wednesday of each month.
3. Esplanadi Park
Smack-dab in the city center, Esplanadi Park is small and pleasant; the perfect place for a picnic in warmer months. The park is lined with plenty of cute cafés, so if the weather is chilly, head indoors and admire Esplanadi's many statues over a cup of coffee.
Built by Sweden in the mid-1700s to protect Helsinki from Russia, Suomenlinna was once the Baltic's largest sea fortress. Today, the island is a lovely place to visit—provided the weather is warm. In addition to old buildings, canons, and museums, Suomenlinna has plenty of restaurants, cafés, and theaters. The HKL ferry to Suomenlinna leaves from Market Square. A round-trip ticket costs €3.80, and entrance to the island is free.
5. The Church in the Rock
Another of Helsinki's must-see churches, the Church in the Rock ("Temppeliaukion kirkko") is exactly what it sounds like. Completed in 1969, the church was dug out of solid stone. With a roof lined with copper strips, the church boasts, ahem, solid-as-a-rock acoustics that make it a popular concert venue. The church is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM and admission is free.
6. Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
The Kiasma Museum is situated in a stunning steel-and-glass building in central Helsinki—and the art inside is just as cutting edge. Kiasma boasts a huge collection of modern art, plus a theater for live performances and film screenings. Guided tours are available for free. Admission costs €7 (€5 reduced), though entrance is free on the first Wednesday of the month from 5 PM to 8 PM.
7. Market Square
Situated harbor-side near Esplanadi Park, the open-air Market Square is crowded with stalls selling fresh fish, produce, and other treats. In winter, it hosts the Christmas Market, where you'll find knit hats, scarves, and furs. If you're looking for souvenirs, you'll find some here as well.
A tribute to Jean Sibelius, Finland's most famous composer, the Sibelius Monument is a striking sculpture of the musician's face plus 600 pipes arranged to resemble a giant organ. The monument is located in Sibelius Park, a bit removed from the city center, though tram line 3T has a stop nearby.
One of Helsinki's most scenic spots, Töölönlahti is a bay located north of the central train station. With a pretty green park and both the Finlandia Concert Hall and National Opera nearby, it provides a pleasant dose of nature along with some of Helsinki's prestigious cultural institutions. The City Winter Garden is also nearby.