Visiting Helsinki? Here’s the Perfect Itinerary

Visiting Helsinki? Here's the Perfect Itinerary

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a coastal city with a rich maritime heritage and is characterised by its Jugend-style architecture. It was named the World Design Capital in 2012 as a recognition of the city's use of design to boost its social, cultural, environmental and economic development. Even amidst urban success, the Finnish capital still preserves much of its green spaces, which occupy over a third of the city. Beyond the city's coastline lies over 300 islands, which make for an ideal getaway from the buzz of the city. 

When you are in Helsinki, be sure to check out the architecture and green spaces within the city and should time permit, explore the islands beyond its shores. Here are some attractions not to be missed when you are in the Finnish capital. 

1. Sibelius Monument

Lovers of classical music should not miss out this landmark! This monument was built to honour the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1927) and is situated in the Sibelius Park. It was sculpted by Eila Hiltunen, the winner of a two-stage national competition held between 1961-1962 by the Sibelius Society to create a monument for the composer. As a work of abstract art comprised of approximately 600 stainless steel pipes, the design of this monument is said to capture the very essence of Sibelius's compositions though this has been subject to intense debate. Check out the Sibelius Monument to decide whether it befits the composer! 

2. Hietahlahti Market Hall

When the Old Market Hall was undergoing renovations, its vendors were housed at Hietahlahti Market Hall. While renovations at the Old Market Hall has since been completed, some vendors decided not to relocate and chose to operate from the Hietahlahti Market Hall. Once a hall selling antiques, the Hietahlahti Market Hall has transformed into a food hall selling a great variety of fresh produce and also houses several eateries, making it an ideal place for people to have a meal. During the summer months, Finland's biggest outdoor flea market, the Hietsu Flea Market, is operational and situated just beside the Hietahlahti Market Hall. 

3. Esplanadi Park

Located at the heart of Helsinki, the Esplanadi Park is fondly termed 'Espa' by locals. During the summer season, the locals would head to this park to spend a leisurely afternoon under the sun or even have a picnic while enjoying performances by street musicians. The Marimekko Fashion Show and Jazz-Espa concerts are held at the park's outdoor stage annually during the warmer months too, contributing to the park's vibrancy. Surrounding the park are rows of cafes and shops so there is plenty to do if you are within the vicinity.  

4. Temppeliaukio Kirkko

Also known as the 'rock church', Temppeliaukio Kirkko is literally built into a rock. This church is a place of worship for the Taivallahti congregation and is also a popular venue for concerts due to its superior acoustics as well as weddings. On sunny days, the church will be naturally lit by the sunlight that shines through its glass window panes. This major attraction may have been the subject of controversy in the 1960s, given the exorbitant costs involved in construction and dire state of world affairs then but since it opened in 1969, public opinion changed and the church has generally been well-received. 

5. Hietaniemi Cemetery 

While some of us may find cemeteries morbid, they are an oasis of calm in a bustling city for the Finns. The Hietaniemi Cemetery is situated close to the coastline and is the location of Finnish state funeral services. There is a section of the cemetery that houses the graves of those soldiers who lost their lives during the wars against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Locals do not only come here to visit the graves of relatives who perished in wars as well as that of famous Finns, but also take long walks on leisurely days. 

6. Helsinki Central Railway Station

The Helsinki Central railway station is both a transport hub and one of the best examples of Jugend-style architecture in the city, making it an ideal photo stop during your time in Helsinki. Designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1909, this railway station opened in 1919 and is among the most beautiful railway stations in the world today. Its exterior is largely made of Finnish granite and notable features of this station are the two pairs of statues holding the spherical lamps and the clock tower. 

7. Suomenlinna

Comprised of six islands, this Finnish fortress is a UNESCO world heritage that is located just ten minutes away by ferry from Helsinki. It was constructed by in 1700s and was owned by the Swedish and later the Russians until 1917, when Finland gained independence, that the Finnish finally gained ownership of the fortress. It was renamed Seomenlinna ('Finnish Castle') and is an ideal getaway for both locals and visitors seeking a respite from the city. You may join a guided walking tour when you are in the fortress. Do wear comfortable footwear as there are many cobbled pavements around the islands.

8. Home-dining Experience

Apart from visiting different attractions in Helsinki, get to some of the people who live in this city! You may do so by booking a home-dining experience with our friendly host Chris, who will prepare a delightful 3-course meal for you! The dining menu can be customised to suit your dietary needs or preferences so the dining experience is indeed personal!  

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Eating like a local in Helsinki

Eating like a local in Helsinki

As a visitor to Helsinki, it is all too easy to head to the eatery nearest to you when you need a meal. But such eateries may be yet another tourist trap, especially if you are in a vicinity populated with tourists. Many of us crave authentic dining experiences when we travel so when you are in Helsinki, why not dine like the locals do?

Here are some eateries frequented by the locals!

1. Karl Fazer Cafe

Karl Fazer is a brand of Finnish chocolate and in this self-service cafe, you can certainly expect to find plenty of chocolate and other sweet treats such as cakes and pastries. But that is not all this cafe has to offer – open sandwiches, salads and coffee are also served here. This cafe is a favourite brunch spot with locals and the crowds you see is proof of the high quality of food it serves. You just need to have the patience to queue. 

2. Cafe Bar 9

With a cosy and laidback atmosphere as well as delectable salads and pasta dishes, it is perhaps no surprise that Cafe Bar 9 is a favourite with the locals. Some of the cafe's signature dishes include its Pollo Limonello and Classic Coriander. Food served at this cafe is affordable for Helsinki standards so if you wish to keep your spending in check, be sure to drop by for a meal!

3. Gottland Deli and Cafe

Situated in a tranquil area of Helsinki, this small cafe is a favourite with locals looking to spend a leisurely afternoon sipping coffee and nibbling on a slice of cake. Apart from cake, this cafe also serves fresh sandwiches and cinnamon rolls and all the food served here is prepared with organic ingredients. Seating may be limited to two tables but the takeaway option is always available. Whether you need a sugar rush or a quick meal on the go, this cafe has something to offer you. 

4. Unicafe

Like what the name suggests, this cafe is owned by the universities in Helsinki and is catered to students but non-students are welcomed too! While non-students like most of us will have to pay a little more, it is still far less than what is charged at most other eateries. For the comparatively small amount paid, you can get a hot main dish, salad and bread. There are also vegetarian and vegan dining options offered so anyone on a budget can dine here. The food here may not be Michelin-standard, but it is of decent quality for the price you pay

5. BLINit Russian Restaurant

BLINIt Russian Restaurant is a favourite among pancake-loving locals. In case you are wondering, a blini is a thin Russian pancake and can come with sweet or savoury fillings. Apart from pancakes, other dishes such as dumplings and soups are served at this small Russian eatery. The dishes served at BLINIt are not only tasty, but also affordably priced, which keeps locals coming back for more.

6. Home-dining Experience

The locals do not dine out all the time and there will always be a group that prefers dining in. So why not dine with a local during your visit to Helsinki? Chris, our BonAppetour host in Helsinki, is a passionate cook and will prepare three-course meal for you! Should you have any dietary needs or preferences, feel free to bring them up and the meal can be customised just for you! 

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