Popular Things to Do in Helsinki
Food and Drink in Helsinki
Helsinki has become a gourmet city in recent years with four Michelin-starred restaurants and very ambitious young restaurants snapping at their heels. You can eat cheaply at a Burger King or even have reindeer burgers at McDonald's, but it's worth spending a bit more to enjoy what this city has to offer. Restaurants tend to be small in Finland, so book ahead if you can.
Ligon berries are a local specialty in Sweden and Norway. These tart red berries are picked in the wild and used to accompany a variety of dishes. You'll also find bowls of them available at breakfast time -- often eaten with yogurt -- if you stay at a Helsinki hotel.
For a casual sandwich on the go, head for the indoor hall at Market Square.
For Scandinavian-style gourmet lunching, Savoy (Etalaesplanadi 14; open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday) and Sundmans (Etelaranta 16;open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday) are good bets. Ravintola Teatteri (Pohjoisesplanadi 2; open from 11 a.m. daily) is a happening, bustling brasserie.
Best for a Leisurely Lunch. Enjoy a fine view of South Harbour at Pure Bistro, which is the latest venture by Michelin-starred chef Jouni Toivanen. (Katrinegatan 1; +358 50 5246046; open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight Monday to Friday, 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday)
Best for Trends. Spis is an ambitious Nordic restaurant with a variety of tasting menus in the Design District. (Kaserngatan 26; +358 45 3051211; open 3 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Saturday)
Best for Wines. Restaurant Ask, with its emphasis on organic and biodynamic farming, is also very imaginative in its wine pairings. (Estnasgatan 8; +358 40 5818100;open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, for dinner 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Saturday)
Best Cocktail in Helsinki
Finland is a country with a great enthusiasm for food and drink, and no one personifies the its love of spirits better than Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. Field Marshal Mannerheim saved Finland from a Communist Revolution in 1918 and from Soviet invasion in 1940, going on to become president. Marskin Ryypy (literally, the Marshal's Drink) was invented for Mannerheim, a heavy drinker, during World War II. It's a powerful shot of vodka and gin and several other ingredients. Ask for it at the bar of Hotel Kamp. (Pohjoisesplanadi 29)
Don't Miss in Helsinki
The city's waterfront is not only the takeoff point for boats and ferries but is also home to both indoor and outdoor markets (some vendors even sell their wares from boats). At Market Square, locals and tourists shop for flowers, fresh fruits and local delicacy herring. There are cozy cafes that are terrific places for a quick coffee -- and it's a great place for people-watching. (6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday)
Senate Square's prime attraction is the historic Lutheran Cathedral (Unioninkatu 2-9 29; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily). Another religious place worth visiting, also from the 1800s, is the onion-domed Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral (Kanavakatul 1; open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday). The modernist Temppeliaukio Church (Lutherinkatu 3; open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 12:45 to 1:45 p.m. and 3:15 to 5:45 p.m. Sunday) is dubbed the Rock Church because it has been carved out of solid rock (it is a considerable walk to this church, so a cab or trolley may be advisable).
If you want to know more about Finland's history, check out the city's museums. The National Museum of Finland (Mannerheimintie 34; open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday). Attracting quite a bit of attention is Helsinki's relatively new Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma (Finnish National Gallery, Mannerheiminaukio 2; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday). To learn about Finnish modern design, check out the Design Museum (Korkeavuorenkatu 23; open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily).
Music-lovers will want to visit Sibelius Park on Mechelininkatu (a long walk from downtown), home to an unusual monument featuring hundreds of steel pipes that pays homage to famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957).
A 15-minute ferry ride away, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fortress which dates to 1748, is set on a series of interconnected islands. Within the walls are numerous historic buildings and museums. Start at the visitors center and work your way through museums such as: Suomenlinna Museum, which displays military artifacts, the Suomenlinna Doll and Toy Museum and the Coastal Artillery Museum, among others. The fortress is also a residential community -- there are numerous cafes and restaurants as well as a brewpub. (Museums open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday).
Helsinki's train station is one of the more notable buildings in town, guarded by four stone-carved warriors from Finnish mythology. The figures have inspired set designers for the first "Batman" movie and the guardians of Gondor in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."
For lovers of art and artisan crafts, Helsinki is a fabulous shopping destination. The Design District offers numerous boutiques showcasing work from young Finnish designers -- head to Uudenmaankatu Street. The Esplanade, in the heart of the city, is Helsinki's version of Paris' Champs d'Elysee. Marimekko and Iittala each have stores in the Esplanade. If there's a live concert (often at lunchtime there are free dance and music performances), plunk yourself down in the grassy park or at one of the sidewalk cafes. Don't miss Stockmann (Aleksanterinkatu 52) the city's most elegant department store. Beyond the usual fare, it's got a nice array of Finnish-made housewares (candlesticks and the like) and craft items from around the country, including Lapland (the northernmost part of the country and, supposedly, the home of Santa Claus). It's also got a huge bookshop, the Academic Bookstore, with a good selection of works in English.
The Linnanmaki Amusement Park features water slides, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel and an arcade. The park, set on a hilltop on Helsinki's outskirts, also offers a gorgeous view of the city. (Tivolikuja 1; open from 10 a.m. daily)
Korkeasaari, Helsinki's zoo, sits on an island of its own just spitting distance from downtown. Highlights include lynxes, wolves, vipers, brown eagles and, yes, reindeer. (Water "buses" depart from Market Square every 30 minutes; open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily)
Unique Lapland Winter World offers an indoor opportunity to discover the north of Finland with its igloos, tobogganing, kick sledging and tandem skiing inside a huge sports hall kept chilled at minus-5 degrees centigrade. (Savikiekontie 4; +358 500 899 999)