Is Helsinki Worth Visiting?
I spent the last two days of my summer Scandinavian/Baltic adventure exploring Finland’s capital city: Helsinki.
I’ll be honest (aren’t I always?). I was nervous adding Helsinki to my itinerary. I met a few travelers who didn’t like this city very much. Like, at all. So I repeatedly wondered to myself, “Hmm, is Helsinki worth visiting? Or will I regret it very much?”
Why so much reluctance surrounding Finland’s capital city? Shouldn’t I feel excited about any new destination?
The most common complaints were Helsinki was “boring” and “expensive” – especially compared to its Baltic neighbors. Normally “boring” and “expensive” aren’t adjectives I wanna hear attached to an upcoming destination. Part of me even considered extending my stay in Estonia, even if such a change would screw up my flights.
However, as my trip was winding to a close, I longed for relaxation. The Baltics were high energy experiences, to say the least. Boring suddenly sounded appealing. I looked forward to savoring peace and quiet in Finland, and kept my hotel reservation. And guess what? Helsinki totally delivered.
Are you thinking of visiting Helsinki too? My beginners guide to Helsinki will help you plan your trip to Finland’s capital city. And yes, hopefully I will prove to you that Helsinki is worth a visit.
Why You Should Visit Helsinki
Over all, I thought Helsinki was a unique city. It’s scenic location on the Baltic Sea made me and my camera feel very happy. And, even as a solo traveler, Helsinki is wonderful to explore alone. It’s very low pressure.
In particular, I adored the diversity of churches. My favorites were Temppeliaukion
So, yeah, if you like churches, Helsinki is great for your needs.
Furthermore, you ought to visit Helsinki for its food, especially the sort of food that lives in the Baltic Sea. Nom, nom, nom. My favorite spot was the Market Square, located in the south harbor. Although packed with tourists, I came here twice to enjoy some seafood and watch the cruise ships.
Finally Helsinki is a very safe destination for solo female travelers. I spent two days in a hotel and actually didn’t meet any other travelers on my stay (trust me, I needed the break), but even though I was alone, I never felt the slightest bit uncomfortable walking around Helsinki, day or night.
Transportation to Helsinki
Helsinki is super easy to tie into a trip to the Baltics, especially if you’re visiting Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia.
On my own trip, I took the Linda Line Express which is the fastest ferry ride between Tallinn and Helsinki. You reach Helsinki in under two hours. I opted for this ferry since I was limited on time. However, even though Linda ferries are zippy, they can get canceled if the seas are rough. Other ferry options exist too – such as Tallink Silja Line. Bigger ferries also mean bigger bars if alcohol tickles your fancy and you don’t get seasick.
And, of course, Helsinki airport is connected with much of Europe. Finnair is the country’s largest carrier, flying to 108 destinations. So, if you’re in Vilnius or Riga, Helsinki will only be a quick hour flight away! Even my fearful flyer self can handle a journey that short.
Where to Stay in Helsinki?
Helsinki has plenty of options when it comes to accommodation – especially hotels.
I didn’t have too much luck finding a hostel that suited my needs, haha. I suppose this is one of the reasons why backpackers think Helsinki is boring. If you hear of a cool hostel in Helsinki, please let me know and I will add it to this post.
For this visit, I stayed in Hotel Katajanokka which is an interesting hotel because the building used to function as a prison dating back to 1837. Each hotel room was originally two jail cells. Cool and spooky!
At the end of the day, I was happy with my choice. In particular, I loved this hotel’s authentic atmosphere, free breakfast, and incredibly helpful front desk. Hotel Katajanokka is in a great location, too, and easily walkable to all of the main sites.
Exploring Helsinki in all its Beauty
Helsinki is super easy to explore. I didn’t take public transportation once, instead opting to walk everywhere. If you’re feeling lazy (don’t blame you), you can opt to take trams around the city center. You can purchase single ride tickets or passes for the entire day.
What did I do on my full day in the city center besides visit tons and tons and tons of churches?
My first stop was the National Museum of Finland where I learned all about Finnish history. The museum’s exhibits spans from the middle ages to the 19th century. Depending on the day, you can get free admission into the museum, which is a great option for budget travelers.
Then I took photos of the Helsinki Central Station (don’t judge, I think train stations are cool), and explored the harbor. At Market Square, I enjoyed fresh salmon and fried vandace, small freshwater fish. And yup, you eat them whole! Yummy.
Like I said earlier, Helsinki was super safe and easy to explore on foot. Throw away the map, explore the parks, shops, and cafes, and take your time enjoying the city. There aren’t any overwhelming sites, like the Louvre or Vatican City, that demand a ton of your time, so avoid sticking to a strict schedule.
Instead take in the city’s unique vibe.
Venture to Suomenlinna: A Day Trip Making Helsinki Worth Visiting
Suomenlinna is a great place, perfect for nature lovers and solo travelers alike, and a definite reason why visiting Helsinki is worth your time and money.
Now Suomenlinna, one of Helsinki’s biggest attractions, is actually located outside the city itself. Suomenlinna, a fortress located on a cluster of islands close to Helsinki, allows visitors to soak up nature. Trust me, this place is a gem on a glorious summer day.
Only visit if the sun is shining. All of the attractions are outdoors, and I don’t know about you, but I’d be miserable here if it rained. Keep an eye on the weather.
The fortress is amazing. You feel like you’re back in time, searching the open seas for intruders, and you’re free to climb and roam as you wish. Just make sure to watch your step on the uneven stairs. A twisted ankle wouldn’t be very pleasant. Bring good walking shoes.
Keep it in mind that Suomenlinna itself is free. No one can charge for walking on your own two feet.
However you need to pay for a boat to reach the island. Kind of like Alcatraz in San Francisco. So it’s “free but not really free” if you know what I mean. Another suggestion is to catch an early boat. I went on a gorgeous day and took a boat at 10 am., which turned out to be perfect. I returned at 1 pm. and noticed cruisers swamped the mid-afternoon boats. Avoid at all costs unless you want to give yourself a raging headache, in which case, be my guest.
To summarize: Finnish nature is gorgeous, and if you don’t have time to see its countryside (like me), then you need to make going to Suomenlinna a priority.
Is Helsinki boring for Solo Travelers?
Helsinki has a reputation for being boring compared to the nearby Baltic cities. I even heard the same sentiments, “oh, Helsinki is boring,” from fellow solo travelers, and I was close to changing my entire itinerary.
So, yeah, this is one of the main reasons people wonder whether Helsinki is worth visiting or not.
I didn’t think Helsinki was boring at all. Then again, I arrived to Helsinki at the end of a very hectic and social trip, so I appreciated having a break from the backpacker scene.
If you are looking for bar hopping and parties, then, yeah, maybe Helsinki will be boring for you.
However, if you want a quiet city stay with a dose of nature, then Helsinki is worth visiting and will definitely meet your needs.
So is Helsinki worth visiting? Absolutely yes!
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