What are the most interesting places to see in Helsinki and around? This article will be useful for those planning a longer trip to Helsinki, especially those coming by car! This guide will highlight the best places to see within 100 km of Helsinki, so plenty of day trips to do! The source of this material is my father in law, who has lived in Helsinki for over 12 years!
Getting there: we took a ferry from Tallinn, the regular ferry takes from 2 to 3.5 h, depending on which ferry you choose.
Costs: two adult tickets for the ferry and the car cost me 175 eur, you can get the tickets a bit cheaper if you buy more in advance. We didn’t have too many costs during our stay, as we stayed with relatives, so we ate and slept at home. Entrance fees to the sightseeing places ranged from 2 to 10 euros. The gas cost 1.33 eur/l. Boat rental for 24 h cost us 240 eur and you don’t need a special licence to go boating in Helsinki, you only need to have experience and have to be able to persuade the rental company that you will know how to handle a boat! Boat gas is a bit more expensive – 1.66 eur/l.
Where to stay:
Parking: there is very limited free parking in Helsinki, we parked next to Neste-K Sörnäisten Rantatie 21, it has 24 h free parking, but you have to put time of arrival in the window and the parking is valid for one day. Afterwards, you must move the car (for example, to another parking spot). You can find some free parking for a few hours in the city, but long term parking is scarce.
So, you are in Helsinki and ready to see the beautiful Finnish capital and the best places around, what do you start with?
Uspenskin cathedral is an orthodox place of worship in the center of the city, built in the middle of the 19th century. Recently the cathedral was robbed and a valuable icon stolen and buried. Luckily, the thieves were caught and the icon recovered. Next to it is a yacht parking place and numerous bars.
Helsinki cathedral is one of the most well known sightseeing places in Helsinki! The bright white building with green roof is a Lutheran cathedral. Next to it – Senate square and Alexander II statue.
Another place of worship in Helsinki not to be missed, is the Temppeliaukio or the Stone church. It was built in 1969 and is fully carved in the cliff, leaving the original marks in the stone! There are concerts happening here frequently, as it has very good sound! Entrance is 4 eur.
The Public Gardens
You will definitely see public gardens in Helsinki! Small boxes with herbs and flowers growing in the middle of the city! We really liked the ones at the Pitkänsillanranta street, next to the water.
Right next to the public gardens you will see the granite house or Graniittilinna. There are two restaurants located in, both serving Finnish cuisine. There is a rumor that the chef is the same, so you might want to opt for the cheaper one!
Tervasaari or the tar island
Tervasaari used to be the place for keeping tar due to the fire hazard it poses. Nowadays the island is a popular place for walks, and you can also go swimming. Offers beautiful views to the city and Uspenskin cathedral, as well as ice breaker boats and sails.
Suomenlinna is one of the most popular tourist sightseeing places in Helsinki! The fort was built in the 18th century, and is one of UNESCO sites in Finland. Take the regular public transport boat (the tourist boats are more expensive, the ticket can be bought at the machine) that goes every 10-20 minutes, and the ride will take as long. There are 8 islands in total, and you can easily spend half a day there, as there are many things to do – church that also is a lighthouse, locks, military forts, submarine and cannons. You can swim there and there are cafes and shop. This place is for all things military and nature fans alike!
Seurasaari ethnographic museum
The Seurasaari ethnographic museum was opened in 1909 and you can see traditional 18-20th century houses from all of Finland. There is a water mill, church and the boats that people used to take when going to church. You can only walk in the island (no transportation of any kind). Next to it is a small parking place, so come early if you want to park nearby.
The most hip place of Helsinki is Kallio, especially during weekends in summer! Every free space of the grass will be occupied with young people relaxing, there are flea markets in the squares and you are certain to see a few bakeries! Karhupuiston Grilli hot dog stand is here, a proud must-see place from the alternative Helsinki guide! This is the area where we stayed in Helsinki!
A place of silence and worship in one of the busiest squares in all of Helsinki! No organized church service takes place here and all religions are welcome!
Arabianranta district and Vanhakaupunki waterfall
Helsinki as we know it today, started right here, in Arabianranta district. This district used to have the largest porcelain factory in Europe. Today, known for the rule that every house built here must have a work of art, so the whole area is very design oriented and artsy. Right there is also Vanhakaupunki waterfall. Actually, two of those, what remains from hydroelectric station (which now is a museum). Food trucks are in abundance here, so you can walk around and observe geese on the shores.
Hire a boat for a day
If you have enjoyed Helsinki on foot or on a bicycle, but want to see more, rent a boat! You don’t need a special licence to go boating, just make sure you do have experience and you can persuade the rental company of it! We rented from Buster rent, but you can also use a service like Click & Boat! Note that the waters around Helsinki have many stones and it is not an easy ride, so make sure you do know the signs, how to steer and will be able to navigate also in shallow waters!
Vitträsk blue lake, Hvitträsk museum of architects and rock art – 28 km from Helsinki
There are three reasons to visit Vitträsk lake. First of all, there is a museum that used to be the studio of Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen. The entrance fee is 10 euros.
Right next to the museum is a parking lot – first you leave the car there to see the museum, then explore the surroundings! The second reason to see the place is for the lake itself – go through the garden and down the steps, and you can reach the beautiful, clear lake suitable for swimming.
Third reason is the rock art, believed to be the oldest rock drawings in all of Finland, located on the cliffs to the right from the museum (takes about 15 min to walk there).
Kvarnträsk or Myllyjärvi lake – 29 km from Helsinki
Kvarnträsk or Myllyjärvi lake is a special place that you must visit in the summer! Right next to Helsinki is an excellent swimming location, and the unusual aspect here is that you have to climb up (!) a hill to be able to swim in a bog lake! The water is typical dark color, as in the bog, and the surface will be very warm. People also use the surrounding cliffs for bouldering. It is a popular swimming location with a small parking lot, so the traffic tends to get congested on the small road leading to it, better come on weekdays.
Porvoo – 51 km from Helsinki
Porvoo is an absolute day trip from Helsinki! The town of Porvoo was established in 1346, and you will have plenty to do there for at least a couple of hours! There is parking next to the old town bridge (with free toilets), you can grab a free walking tour map at the town square and walk the tiny streets. Then have a meal in one of the cute little red houses that used to be warehouses. We ate at Fryysarinranta with a view to the river.
Gumbostrand – 27 km from Helsinki
On the way to Porvoo (or the way back), be sure to stop in Gumbostrand! Have a quick meal in “Kioski Gumbo” (free parking next to it), and then drive around to see the beautiful Finnish summer houses (the fancy kind, anyway!).
Askolan hiidenkirnut or Giant’s Kettles – 73 km from Helsinki
An absolute must visit is the Askolan hiidenkirnut or Giant’s kettles, a place of global importance! When the glaciers melted, the resulting waterfall had stones trapped in it, and these stones, turning and turning, created round holes in the base of the waterfall. This area has quite a few of these – 22! The biggest one is 10 m deep and 4 m wide. The entrance fee is 2 euros for adults and 1 eur for children. It will take you about 15 minutes to reach the kettles from the parking lot. No toilet in the park.
Virvik nature trail – 75 km from Helsinki
Around 15 km from Porvoo you can take a nice hike in Virvik nature trail! 2.5km long trail, average difficulty. Many of the surrounding lands are private, but as we were told – if you don’t disturb the locals and don’t leave any garbage, you are free to cross!
Pirunpesä or Devil’s Nest – 109 km from Helsinki
Pirunpesä or Devil’s Nest next to Lahti (there are a few locations with such a name in Finland) is a geologic formation – the 20 m tall cliff walls have formed when a glacial lake melted, and cracks formed. Some of those cracks still have stones stuck inside! You can also hike the 4.5km long trail. Beware that the Nest doesn’t have any safety rails, so climb at your own risk.
Messilä – 111km from Helsinki
Messilä is a popular skiing location in winter, but worth a visit in the summer too! Beautiful houses you can stay in also in the summer, hills covered in lupines and a stunning view to the lake is guaranteed in the summer!
Kiikunlähde blue lake – 119km from Helsinki
Kiikunlähde is a tricky place to visit – best seen my foot or on a bicycle, as there are no formal parking places in the area, but plenty of signs “the lake needs a rest”, as this has been a too popular place among the visitors and locals have had enough! You can only see the lake from a viewing platform or from the other side next to the former mill. The water indeed is very clear, as the lake is formed from underground streams.
The 7 days we spent in Helsinki were full of interesting experience and Finland is an amazing destination to visit right now! It is safe, clean and welcoming visitors!