Finland, known as one of the safest and happiest countries in the world with its top-notch education, remains as an off-the-beaten-track destination in Europe. Typical tourists would normally go for popular beaches in Southern Europe, or check out medieval architecture in Eastern Europe, rather than exploring Finland. As Finland’s geography lies from up North (Lapland) till the South (Helsinki Metropolitan capital area), it often takes time to discover Finland thoroughly. Nevertheless, you can easily explore the country’s capital and largest city, Helsinki, within 24 to 48 hours! Read on to check out the most crucial sights.
Helsinki Senate Square
Helsinki Senate Square is the most important area of Helsinki. Many important events such as Wappu (Memorial Day of Saint Labor on the first of May), New Year’s Eve or Mid Summer’s Eve, attract thousands of people to celebrate at the Square. Here lies the famous Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral (or White Church), the Government Palace, and the statue of Emperor Alexander II. In case of arriving at Helsinki on normal days, you can always take a walking tour, bike tour or hop on-off bus tour, which often departs from the Square. It takes approximately 5 minutes on tram (tram 2) or 10 minutes (1km) walking to get here from the central station. Note that the White Church is only accessible on Sunday.
Market Square - Harbor area
Take a short walk from the Senate Square via Esplanadi Park and you will see the hectic Market Square just next to one of the most beautiful harbors of Helsinki. Senate Square and Esplanadi Park are most crowded during food festival dates (few times annually) or Restaurant days (every 2-3 months), when local restaurants and street-food stand pop up everywhere.
Senate Square market is a local street market where you can get local street food, fruits, clothes and souvenirs. Although they are more pricey than in small shops situated outside the touristic area, it’s worth trying the different kinds of berries (strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, etc. ) here, which are sold only during summer season. Located just a bit further from the harbor is the classic Red Church (Uspenskin Cathedral).
One of the must-do in Helsinki to sum up the day is definitely visiting Suomenlinna Island. A ferry from the harbor, which often comes every 20 minutes or 40 minutes, will take you there in just about 15 minutes. Sometimes the ferry can come in 1 hour, so remember to check the schedule on a digital broad in front of the gate or on your Helsinki transport app called Reittiopas.
You can purchase a single ticket (Helsinki area ticket - 3 EUR/3.50 USD), which is valid for 1 hour from the machine in front of the gate or use your day ticket/travel card. These tickets can be used for every kind of transportation within Helsinki area or Helsinki Metropolitan Area (including Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa), depending on what zone you chose when purchasing.
Walking around Suomenlinna island while watching the genuine peaceful nature of Finland - the country of thousands lakes and forests - is certainly a wonderful day of enjoying this Scandinavian country. While most tourists come to Suomenlinna to see the fortress and museum, locals tend to hop by the island for fishing or picnic.
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What’s more of Helsinki
It is best to visit Helsinki during summer, when the day is longer than night. If you wish to spend more than 3 days in Helsinki, do not miss checking Helsinki Sibelius Statue, Rock Church, Olympic Stadium and Old Town (vanhakaupunki).
Helsinki is also known for many excellent parks including Esplanadi, Kaivopuisto, Kaisaniemi park next to the centre station, to name a few. If you are keen on museums, Helsinki also has couples of beautiful ones such as the National Museum (Kanssalimuseo), Contemporary Art Kiasma Museum, and Ateneum Art museum.
Most importantly, do not forget trying sauna, swimming in Finland’s lakes and other water sports (e.g. canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddling, etc) before heading up North if you wish to see more of its nature and Northern Light in the winter.
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