Helsinki is the world's second most northern capital and the largest city in Finland. There are many well known sights in Helsinki such as Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland), Temppeliaukio Church and The Sibelius Monument but these won’t be included in this article.
In this article I've collected the 10 most interesting places in Helsinki that you won't find in travel guides.
Pihlajasaari is a lesser known island compared to Suomenlinna, Korkeasaari and Seurasaari. It is a great destination for a small day trip in Helsinki archipelago. The island is accessible via waterbus that departs right next to Cafe Carusel in Eiranranta. It takes less than 15 minutes for the waterbus to reach to Pihlajasaari but even this short time is enough to leave the noise of the city behind and shift into a more relaxed sea state of mind.
Pihlajasaari consists of two islands that are connected with an idyllic wooden bridge. In the western Pihlajasaari you can find a marina for the boats, sympathetic beaches, a nature trail and The Restaurant Pihlajasaari that is located in an old villa. In the eastern Pihlajasaari there is homely grill spot, a nudist beach and a camping area designated for tents where one can camp during weekends.
What makes Pihlajasaari such a nice place?
Tourists and even the local Helsinki natives haven't really found Pihlajasaari... Yet! Therefore it is pretty quiet and relaxing, weekends and the Midsummer's Eve (Juhannus) being the exceptions. In the Midsummer's Eve a lot of people gather to the island to see the midsummer bonfire. Pihlajasaari has great beaches, interesting cliffs and the island is compact enough that you can walk around it in one visit.
How to get to Pihlajasaari?
Tram number 3 takes you to Tehtaankatu and from there it's a short walk to Cafe Carusel. Next to the cafe JT-Line waterbuses depart to ”Pihlis”.
9. Abandoned villas of Kruunuvuori
The former villa area of Kruunuvuori is located in Laajasalo. Most of the buildings have been burned during the years but there are a couple of old villas still left. Over 100 year old villas are on their last leg so one should visit the place before it's too late.
During the last decade Kruunuvuori has been the most popular urban exploring destination in Helsinki. The place has intriguing atmosphere and it's called a ghost town for a reason. The most famous villa of Hällebo is still somewhat standing and from its beach stairs one can admire Kulosaari, Korkeasaari and Katajannokka.
Why go to Kruunuvuori?
The place is a classic destination for all of those who crave for an urban adventure. One should visit the place now before the last villas are gone. The nature of the area is also beautiful and in late summer one can pick blueberries while admiring the views of Helsinki coast from an eastern viewpoint. There is also a cute little pond that is the perfect place for a small snack break.
How to get there?
Take a metro to Herttoniemi and hop on to the bus number 88. Go all the way to the final stop and start walking west towards the coast.
8. Fields of Viikki
Countryside in the middle of Helsinki! Viikki is the geographical centre point of Helsinki. You can feel like being in the countryside even tough the city center is less than eight kilometres away. In summer time one can spot cows eating grass in the fields. The area is excellent for cycling or running.
Why go there?
Viikki is a lovely green oasis near the city centre. Surrounded by nature it’s a very calming place for the mind. Next to the fields is Viikki arboretum that contains rare tree species from abroad.
How to get there?
Bus line 550 goes past the area. Busline number 79 goes to Viikki from the metro stations of Siilitie and Herttoniemi.
Suvilahti is a former power plant area that has developed into one of the most important cultural centres in Helsinki. It's rough and beautiful – a hipsters paradise! World class artists from all around the world have performed in Suvilahti ranging from Avicii to Kanye West. Many people know the place because of Tuska Metal Festival, Flow Festival and for having the first legal graffiti wall in Helsinki.
Another day, Another set of new paintings. Suvilahti looks different every day. Graffitis change from one week to another and sometimes they spread to a nearby skate park and industrial buildings. Dozens if not hundreds of music videos have been shot in the area because of its urban architecture. Suvilahti is a great spot for taking a couple of colourful and hip photos for your instagram feed.
Why Suvilahti is so incredible?
You can feel like being in the heart of a big city. People and paintings change but party goes on. Especially the DIY skate park built by locals is an impressive sight. It is improved and painted again year after year.
How to get there?
Suvilahti is within a short walking distance from the metro stations of Sörnäinen and Kalasatama.
6. The Haltiala Farm
The Haltiala farm for domesticated animals (Haltialan kotieläintila in Finnish) is a city owned farm for recreational and pedagogical purposes. Haltiala is located near Vantaanjoki on the border of Helsinki and Vantaa. It's a great place for the whole family to visit and feel the farm atmosphere. There you can watch animals such as cows, lambs, goats and pigs. With good luck you can even see turkeys or horses.
There's also cafe & restaurant Wanha Pehtoori that serves lunch during wintertime. During summertime the restaurant has a cozy terrace and a grill. Families and motorcyclists are especially fond of Haltiala. Events are held the all year round, most notable being the Haltiala Hayride country party.
What makes The Haltiala Farm worth visiting?
This is the closest you’ll get to a countryside experience within Helsinki borders. Haltiala offers a great environment for family picnic and a great chance to admire domesticated animals.
How to get to Haltiala?
It's located within a walking distance from the final stop of bus number 67. Bus 67 goes from Helsinki Central Railway Station all the way to Torpparinmäki. Also the bus number 560 takes you to Haltiala.
This is the place where Helsinki was born! In the year 1550 Kustaa Vaasa found Helsinki in the river mouth of Vantaa Vantaanjoki in a place that is nowadays called Vanhankaupunginkoski (roughly translated as Old city's rapid). The rapid is 200 meters long and it has a 6 meter fall. Rapids waters are especially popular among fishermans. Vantaanjoki flows to the sea through two riverbeds. The island of Kuninkaankartanonsaari is between the two and The Museum of Technology is located on the island.
If you decide to visit Vanhankaupunginkoski, on the same trip it is also worth to visit Lammasaari (sheep island) and Kuusiluoto during the same trip. Names may deceive, since from the latter you'll find the famous sheep. You can get easily to these islands by following the duckboards.
What makes Vanhankaupunginkoski worth a visit?
It's the birthplace of Helsinki that also has excellent fishing spots. The sounds and the beauty of the area make it perfect for a picnic. Just by walking a couple of minutes you can also visit Lammassaari and Kuusiluoto to admire birds and cute sheep. Kuusiluoto has a rather worn out pier where one can have a refreshing swim in the sea.
How to get there?
Busses 55, 71 and 78 take you there from the Central Railway Station.
4. The Mall of Puotinharju AKA Puhos
In the 1960s Puhos was the biggest mall in Finland and people might have travelled even from other cities to visit this place. It still has one of Finland's first outdoor escalators that tend to be always out of use. The popularity of Puhos began to decline in 1980s when the massive shopping centre Itäkeskus (nowadays called ITIS) was built right next to it. 1990s was a rough period for Puhos but during the 21st century it has regained new life especially after immigrants opening new shops and services there.
What makes Puhos worth a visit?
You won't get closer to a bazaar atmosphere in Finland. In Puhos you can find incenses, Persian rugs, halal meat and water pipes. The mall has at least Persian, Kurdish and Somalian restaurants. Recently the most famous restaurant in Puhos called Newroz 21 opened a second restaurant in Kamppi.
In the second floor of Puhos you'll find two mosques that gather muslims together on Fridays for the midday prayer. The expansion area of Puhos has Fida secondhand and Alanya which is the biggest ethnic supermarket in the whole mall.
How to get there?
Take a metro to Itäkeskus. Puhos is close to the metro station, on the other side of Turunlinnantie, right next to Kulttuurikeskus Stoa and the library of Itäkeskus. The final stop for bus number 550 is at Itäkeskus so it also provides easy access to the area.
3. Mustavuori Caves
Caves, chasms and trenches. All of these can be found in the nature reserve of Mustavuori (in English: Black Mountain!). It has the biggest and most impressive caves in all of Helsinki that are accessible to anyone. Enormous caves have been the venue of concerts and illegal techno raves to where party people have found their way just by using coordinates. The trenches of the area are part of defence structures built by Russians during the first world war. Similar remains are scattered all around Helsinki but Mustavuori has the most impressive bunkers.
What makes Mustavuori special?
In the structures and caves the human-built features blend together with the nature in a magical way. Chasms form dangerous drops and dark caves offer exploration possibilities for adventurous visitors.
How to get there?
Bus 560 takes you there from Vuosaari metro station. Exit at Fallpakka bus stop that is the first one when bus turns from Kallvikintie to Itäväylä.
2. The Helsinki Central Park
Did you know that in Helsinki you can walk from The Central Railway Station all the way to Vantaa through one park? This park is called The Helsinki Central Park. It has an area of approximately 700 hectares and length of almost 10 kilometres. The Central Park is really large and has so much to do that this article cannot even include everything.
Here are some popular ways to enjoy The Central Park:
- Jogging around Töölönlahti
- Riding a sled down the Paloheinänmäki
- Taking the kids to swim at Pirkkola pool
- Marvel at the rapid at Pitkäkoski
- Travel on skis during winter or bicycle in the summer around the park paths
- Train at outdoor gyms of Pirkkola and Paloheinä
- Take a coffee break at Maunulan Maja Cafeteria
Why go to The Central Park?
It's an adventure! The park is so big that one can even get lost. The park has a lot of different animals, trees and plants. Spending time in nature provides relaxation and one can forget the hassle of the city.
How to get there?
The central park starts right at the city center that is accessible via many different transportation methods. The park ends at the northern border of Helsinki where busses number 66, 67 and 560 take you.
Lapinlahti is the hidden gem of Helsinki. It is an oasis of peace right next to the city centre. Lapinlahti is a beautiful park-like area behind The Hietaniemi Cemetery. The place is known for its old hospital that was founded in 1841. The hospital was the first mental hospital in Finland and it was shut down in 2008. Carl Ludvig Engel planned the hospital and it was one of the oldest mental institutions in Europe.
The hospital of Lapinlahti has a fascinating history. The brother of Jean Sibelius, Christian, worked there as a Senior Doctor and national author of Finland Aleksis Kivi was a patient there at one point. There are rumours that Finland's first water operated toilet was built in the hospital. Today the white walls of hospital have been painted yellow and inside these walls entrepreneurs, artists and organisations are doing their work.
The building also has a cafeteria Kahvila Lähde and a food waste restaurant Loop. In the second floor of the main building there's a mental health themed exhibition called Mental Museum that's worth a visit. The museum has free entry.
The area of Lapinlahti has a quiet beach for those who want to avoid the traffic of Hietsu. Next to the beach there are nice cliffs where one can admire a nice sea view of Helsinki. Next to the cliffs there's a red brick building called Venetsia that has been named for its location. The building is surrounded by water. Venetsia was originally the hospital's bakery, laundry and dormitory for the staff.
What is in Lapinlahti:
- Mental health museum called Mental Museum
- Helsingin vanhin edelleen toimiva yleinen sauna
- Art gallery called Kammio that has been built in an old morgue
- Allotment garden
- And so much more!
Why visit Lapinlahti?
Lapinlahti is the hidden gem of Helsinki not ”spoiled” by tourism. There are surprisingly many Helsinki natives who have never visited the place so it's still ”cool”. The park in Lapinlahti is really beautiful and it feels like miles away from the busy streets of Kamppi and Ruoholahti. Nature, history and art... That's what Lapinlahti is all about!
How to get there?
Lapinlahti is within a short walking distance from the metro stations of Ruoholahti and Kamppi. Tram number 8 goes to Mechelininkatu. From there you can walk to Lapinlahti in five minutes.
Which of the places I introduced have you already visited?
Which of these places would you like to visit next?