Darby's Destinations Luxury Travel - Italy

What to See and Eat in Helsinki

Experience Sauna Culture and Nordic Cuisine in Helsinki

September 1, 2023

Finland’s capital city sits at the south of the country overlooking the Gulf of Finland and towards Tallinn. This Nordic city is somewhat overlooked in favor of its Scandinavian neighbors of Copenhagen and Oslo. As a tourist destination, Helsinki offers thought-provoking architecture, beautiful green spaces, exciting seasonal cuisine, sauna bathing, and close proximity to Finnish nature.

What to See in Helsinki

Start your Helsinki exploration in Market Square. This harborside market brings together artisans and food vendors with treats and souvenirs to reflect the season. From here, you can wander into Esplanade Park where musicians perform during summer and locals loll beneath the sun. To the east stand the Uspenskini and Helsingin cathedrals.

There is an impressive supply of museums and galleries in central Helsinki covering maritime history, contemporary art, and the unique Finnish postal system. The National Museum of Finland takes you back to the Stone Age. All artifacts are annotated in English and you should anticipate spending a minimum of three hours.

If your itinerary allows, an outing to one of the Harbor Islands grants an entirely different perspective of Helsinki. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Suomenlinna sea fortress was built as a defensive structure during the 18th century. Ferries from Market Square take 20 minutes and you can spend a morning touring the museums and parks. Even better – pack a hamper and make a full day of the summer rays.

Of course, no trip to Helsinki should exclude a sauna experience. If your hotel doesn’t have its own suite, make a reservation at the waterfront Löyly. This modern sauna house is named for the steam released when water is cast onto the heated stones in a traditional sauna.

What to Eat in Helsinki

Finnish cooking responds to the seasons with meat dictating winter menus and fish dishes and berries headlining summer dining. Consumed across the Nordic and Scandinavian regions, Poronkäristys is a traditional dish of sauteed reindeer meat that is slowly simmered in stock. It’s usually served with mashed potato and a dollop of lingonberry jam.

Kalakeitto is a Finnish fish soup made with a fresh haul of salmon, rainbow trout, vendace, pike, or burbot. Chopped vegetables, onions, and the chef’s fish of choice are prepared in a buttery, creamy stock. Loimulohi refers to the preparation of salmon where filets are nailed to wooden planks and cooked over open flames.

Karjalanpiirakka, or Karelian pasties, are made from rye dough. These oval pies are stuffed with rice porridge or potato and topped with diced boiled eggs and butter ahead of eating. Karjalanpiirakka may be eaten at any time of day but they are particularly popular at breakfast.

Appointed with sculptures by Johan Gunnar Finne, Ateljé Finne exclusively serves Finnish meat and seafood alongside organic bread, greens, and eggs. The menu is revised every two months according to what’s in season and the wine pairing draws out the flavors.

Design your bespoke trip to Helsinki and the Nordic countries with the help of a travel advisor. Contact me when you are ready to book your trip to Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and beyond.

Ready to embark on your own journey to the extraordinary?