Top Menu

10 things that surprised me in Helsinki

helsinki travel tips

In March I spent a week staying in an apartment in Helsinki in my best attempts to experience it like a local.

If you travel as much as I do and you are giant homebody on the inside like me, you really value unpacking your suitcase for a week and tossing your crap absolutely everywhere. I like to think of myself as almost a turtle traveler – I like to take it as slow and mellow as possible. What’s the rush? You’ll miss the best bits.

After I spent a week exploring Lapland in the Arctic Circle, I was beyond stoked to put my feet up and kick back and relax in Helsinki. And while you can’t really ignore the more well-known tourist attractions in Finland, I did my best to see what else this metropolis had to offer beyond saunas and reindeer soup – because trust me, there is SO much more to Helsinki that what you might imagine. I spent my days wandering around the different neighborhoods, following my nose wherever it led me (thank you stretch leggings!) and peeping inside every cute cafe and colorful shop I could find (thank you FinnAir extra baggage allowance).

I was curious to see what I could find out on my own about Helsinki and see what made the capital of Finland tick. Spoiler alert, Helsinki is full of surprises. Here are my best Helsinki travel tips.

Check out 10 things that surprised me about Helsinki. Enjoy!

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

1. Helsinki is a city of design

Helsinki was named the world design capital a few years ago and also awarded the City of Design by UNESCO. I nodded and smiled the first time I heard that, and thought to myself “what the hell does that even mean?” Luckily, it took less than an hour of wandering around downtown to start to get it.

It’s trendy. It’s creative. It’s beautiful. There are so many designers and shops around with the most exquisite pieces and it seems that all of the food spots and bars are designed as perfect as possible. Thank you credit cards!

From canvas printed bags to Finnish style homewares to furniture to ALL the clothes, like the famous brand Marimekko, everyone here as an eye for design. I really loved Makia a local brand that makes great winter gear, especially beanies and I totally splurged on amazing stationary and notebooks at Papershop. I love buying a few local things when I travel, and in Helsinki I had to ship a box home with goodies like hand printed pillowcase covers and even a reindeer pelt. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been feeling very domestic lately. Help.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

2. The amazing cafes I never wanted to leave

Helsinki has no shortage of really quirky and hip cafes. Whether you are grabbing cake and a coffee at a bakery cafe that seems to not have changed in 100 years to a place so minimalist and trendy you could probably be in Brooklyn, you won’t be bored. So many of them have wifi and are cozy places you don’t mind spending hours tucked away reading or working on your laptop hiding from the frosty winter air.

helsinki travel tips

When I travel now I always work so I really love good cafe spaces with free fast internet to hide away in. Not to mention they are inspiring spaces to work in. One afternoon I spent tucked up in the window of a cafe called Andante after getting lost in the Design District for hours. It’s a flowershop slash cafe so you can sit back and literally smell the roses while you relax.

Nearby you can find Plootu a furniture shop and cafe. Seriously.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

Johan & Nyström is another cafe that I spent a lot of time in. Right on the water, its location is fab and the space will blow you away. There are so many cozy corners to hide away in and write for hours. Plus they do a perfect flat white which makes me love them even more.

Another spot I just have to mention is a juice and smoothie bar called Why Join The Navy When You Can Be A Pirate. Best. Name. Ever.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

3. Introverted and quiet 

This is probably my favorite thing I loved about Finland – if I had to describe the main personality trait there, it would probably be introverted and fairly quiet. People talk here when they have something to say. There is not stupid chit chat, no pointless banter, no personal space issues. Just glorious silence and mild awkwardness. End of story.

Hell yes, I’ve finally found my people!

While you might not believe I’m naturally introverted, let me assure you, I am. I don’t like people and I love to be alone and quiet. I’d be a hermit if I could. I hate when someone sits next to me on a bus and I avoid eye contact when I can. Though I do like hugs. If you’re like that then start packing you bags and move to Finland.

Check out Finnish Nightmares on Facebook to see what I mean.

helsinki travel tips

4. Kickass foodie scene

Again, I feel really embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t expecting Helsinki to have a great food scene. It wasn’t that I wasn’t expecting it to be bad, I just didn’t really think about it at all. But let me tell you, not only is it great, it’s pretty damn amazing! Like I would go back to Helsinki just to eat. If that doesn’t tell you something, I don’t know what will.

helsinki travel tips

I was lucky enough to be in town during their annual Streat Helsinki street food festival too and boy oh boy was I in for a treat. While I managed to keep my diet more or less under control in the weeks leading up to in in Europe, it was out the window at the first Mexican food truck burger I got my hands on. From a day of street food trucks lined up downtown to different grills style outdoor sessions on some of the islands to evening master chef meals, to say I ate well in Helsinki was an understatement.

I was also lucky that I had local blogger Kathrin from Luminoucity to show me the best spots to chow down!

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

5. So many islands

There’s something like over 300 islands around the Helsinki area which is pretty amazing. It means you are never far from the sea and nature is just a stone’s throw away, so I count that as pretty unique and amazing for a big European capital.

While everyone usually heads over to Suomenlinna, a fortress island in Helsinki, I decided to go to the lesser-known Seurasaari, a small island connected by a bridge filled with historical Finnish houses. It’s an open air museum in summer, but in winter it’s closed so you can just explore on your own.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

Helsinki travel tips

Staying warm in my Parajumpers winter jacket

6. East meets west

Another reason I really liked Helsinki was because to me it felt like a place that straddles both East and West. You can see all kinds of Russian and European influence in the architecture there.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

7. Great coffee culture

Finland is one of the biggest coffee consumers in the world. Speaking as one who has a serious-borderline-obsessive addiction to the bean, I felt right at home. If I’m completely honest here, I found the coffee in Lapland left a lot to be desired, but Helsinki more than made up for it. You actually have to TRY to find bad coffee.

Pretty much no matter where I walked around Helsinki, I was in sure of finding not only good, but exceptional coffee in a cute and cozy cafe. If that doesn’t bump a city up to my favorites list, I don’t know what will!

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

8. All of the colorful buildings

I don’t think I am alone when I admit that when I pictured Helsinki before, it was grey. I think there is a misconception because of the long winters, northern climate combined with its relative closeness to the former Soviet Union that people expect Finland to not be bright and colorful, but trust me, they’re wrong.

While I was in Helsinki I spent some time hanging out with local bloggers and photographers, like Omar El Mrabt. We spent an afternoon exploring some of the secret suburbs and wandering around his favorite spots as he showed me the colorful side to Helsinki that he loves. Follow his Instagram here.

However, don’t expect the locals to be dolled up in all colors. At least the winter fashion consists of a rainbow of navy, black and gray with the chance of seeing a blond American girl in a bright red Parajumpers parka.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

9. Awesome museums

Helsinki has some pretty cool museums. Being a total nerd at heart, I really value my museum time, so I was stoked to spent my winter days getting lost among the exhibits. My favorite museum was the Sinebrychoff, a historic house museum downtown filled with old European master paintings, my favorite. Epic landscapes in an epic setting, I was in heaven!

I spent another afternoon learning about the history of Finland at the National Museum.

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

10. Helsinki is one big secret – shhhh!

I feel like Helsinki is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. It’s not overrun yet with tourists and still has a great local and creative vibe to it. If you love that in a destination, head to Finland. Enjoy!

Have you ever been to Finland or Helsinki? Does a design focused city appeal to you?

helsinki travel tips

helsinki travel tips

Many thanks to Visit Helsinki for hosting me at the #HelsinkiSecret apartment in Finland. Like always, I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me.

160 Responses to 10 things that surprised me in Helsinki

  1. Arianna May 23, 2016 at 8:10 pm #

    How beautiful! And those cafes… they are amazing! And the city! And the pictures with the snow! I have never been to Finland but it was on my to do list… Now I think I will do my best to plan it as my next destination!

    Thank you so so so much for sharing!


    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:51 am #


    • Stani Steinbock January 18, 2017 at 11:22 am #

      I was born in Helsinki into a Swedish-speaking family in 1951 and while I, of course, recognise the buildings in these pictures I must add that all thes cafes and street food festivals are things that weren’t there when I grew up. I moved away in 1979, and since my parents, too, moved away in 1988 I haven’t had a home in my old home town.
      I go there a few times a year, and of course, some things are familiar, some things are new. Wouldn’t like to move back, though.

  2. Edwina May 23, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

    Introverted, great food scene & lots of islands sounds like my kind of place! Now if only it was a bit warmer… I’ll have to visit in the middle of summer!

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:53 am #

      In summer I here Helsinki is just amazing!

      • Henry May 29, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

        That’s true. Summer is really amazing compared to winter. Everything just comes to alive here. Most amazing thing in summer is the midnight sun. In a midsummer in helsinki sun arises around 04:00 am and sets around 11:00 pm and in northen Finland sun stays above horizon the entire night.

        • Em January 17, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

          What most people often don’t realice is that even when the sun sets in southern Finland in the mid summer, it does not become dark. Sun is so close the horisont that the whole night is one long twilight. It is not bright, but you don’t still need no street lights.

    • Martin May 30, 2016 at 3:54 am #

      Just make sure you take plenty of Mosquito Spray Especially if you travel to the Islands with all that Water around you they absolutley Thrive there !!

      • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm #


        • Stani Steinbock January 18, 2017 at 11:25 am #

          When I was small I always left Helsinki with my Granny on the first of June, for Oulu, by steam train (!), about 615 kms north. Up there, at her summer place, she always oiled me inthoroughly with insect repellent. That’s probably why I still love the fragrance of insect repellent: Reminds me of my childhood summers! 🙂

      • Noora May 30, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

        That’s actually a problem mostly in the north. We have mosquitoes in the Helsinki area, but I’ve only ever seen at most a few during the same evening. Helsinki doesn’t have any lakes, and I don’t think they like seawater that much.

      • Maria December 5, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

        Oh no, no mosquitoes in Helsinki – not to worry! Especially not on the islands, there’s a cool sea breeze always to chase them away. Thank you for a fun and informative blog!

    • Pinsu May 30, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

      It’s now 24 centigrades outside 😉 come come 😊

  3. Anna May 23, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

    I increasingly feel like I should pop in – Russia isnt that far – because of so many recent blog posts about Helsinki as a destination. But yours is definitely the best sell I’ve read yet, probably because while most travellers rush through over a weekend or a day trip (lets say, from the Baltics), you actually took the time to get to know this place. The food scene in particular looks very appealing.

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:53 am #

      I think you can ferry over from Russia, not far at all

      • jon May 25, 2016 at 9:30 am #

        Definitely, you can take a ferry over to St Petersburg. If you are American, you can stay for up to 72 hours without a visa. Great option!

        • Liz May 25, 2016 at 11:03 am #

          whaaaaaaat? I didn’t know that, I thought I couldn’t go because of the visa! One of my best friends was in St. Petersburg at the same time.

      • Kirsi May 29, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

        Yes you can. You will sleep in the ferry overnight and in the morning you are in Russia. I took the ferry, which is like a small cruise ship, about 10 years ago so they might have something faster nowadays

      • Michael T. Francis May 29, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

        There’s also a straight train line to St. Petersburg. Travel time: 3,5 hours.

        • Thom May 29, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

          But with train you need a Visa.

  4. Rob Conroy May 23, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    Loved the post! I’ve always thought about visiting Helsinki but have never acted upon it. I am definitely going to visit after reading this.

    The coffee culture alone has got me excited, I’m going to hold you to that “perfect flat white”. I hope it doesn’t disappoint!

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:55 am #

      haha it’s a great space and that cafe is rad!!

  5. Angela May 24, 2016 at 3:57 am #

    I’ll be honest. I’d heard the name before, but I had no idea where it even was! It’s beautiful!! When people ask me why I want to be a writer, I think the honest answer is that I get to hang out and work in coffee shops all day. What an adventure!! I hope it was as fun as it looked.

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      ME too haha!

  6. Louis May 24, 2016 at 4:03 am #

    That Finnish design is on point. Such clean lines. Helsinki looks great.

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      So on point!

    • Stani Steinbock January 18, 2017 at 11:31 am #

      Did you see “The Sausage House” opposite the railway station? When I (who grew up in Helsinki) was small there were a few WOODEN buildings there, and when this “Sausage House” which got it’s name from a gigantic concrete “sausage” (or so shaped) thing around it at about 18 meters from street level, was ready, people were booing and hissing at this supposedly ugly house.
      Recently, when it was suggested that that house would be demolished, people cried and wailed because the house had now been accepted as “iconic” etc.

  7. Danny May 24, 2016 at 4:36 am #

    I had a similar experience when I was in Helsinki two years ago. I thought the place was very quiet and also a bit off the main tourist path. Also, I loved the mix of Eastern and Western influence – Swedish, Russian, you name it!

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      so cool hey?

  8. Megan - Forks And Footprints May 24, 2016 at 4:41 am #

    Never even gave Helsinki or Finland a second thought before, but after reading this I am really interested in visiting! These street food festivals…. do they happen like every month because that’s totally up my alley! Ha!

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      I think it’s once a year but the foodie scene is ON POINT!

    • Tuuli May 25, 2016 at 10:31 pm #

      We also have the Restaurant Day every now and then, I think it’s even more intriguing. For a day, anyone can set up their own restaurant anywhere they want. All the parks, pathways and patios are filled with little restaurants serving food from all over the world. Last time I ate ethiopian, indonesian, austrian and american delicacies (boy, I eat a lot on those days), just to get started. It’s one of the best things in here!

    • Anna May 26, 2016 at 7:58 am #

      Check out and search for Restaurant Day. About once every three months, anyone can open a pop-up “restaurant” for a day, and believe me, many do. You just missed one on 21 May, but there’ll be more.

      • K May 29, 2016 at 10:22 am #

        Well actually this May was the last Restaurant Day. From now on any day anyone can open a pop up restaurant without any permits for a day and the birthday of the Restaurant Day will be celebrated with an international food carnival once a year, the third Saturday of May.

        Nevertheless the food scene here is nowadays intriguing and definitely worth a visit. Welcome!

  9. Katya May 24, 2016 at 5:05 am #

    A pleasure to read – thank you! I’ve been as far as the airport in Helsinki, but it was the best 4 layover hours! Huge, stylish and totally deserted with amazing upbeat gift shops and cafes and Yes, so quiet people – it was there when I moved Finland and Helsinki to the top of my wish travel list 🙂

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      Go back!

  10. Rachel Elizabeth May 24, 2016 at 8:12 am #


    I’m visiting Helsinki after TBEX and totally bookmarking your post! Those cafes look splendid! And I laughed out loud at your “Helsinki is introverted” comment. I’ll be doing a very social whirlwind tour of the Baltic countries before ending in Helsinki, so now I’m planning on enjoying the peace and quiet! I’ll need it!

    Great photos as always.

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:59 am #

      don’t worry, no one is going to force you to talk there haha

  11. Kaili Willows May 24, 2016 at 9:11 am #

    What a beautiful place! The introverted nature & great coffee scene makes me feel like this would be an ideal destination <3

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 11:59 am #

      It’s great!

  12. Charlotte May 24, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Thank god, someone like me! I don’t like being around people but I love hugs and will hug everyone who I am only a little acquainted with. Quite a contradiction… Now I want to hug you. And move to Finland 😛

  13. Brooklyn Murtaugh May 24, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Those clocks are just fantastic! I would want one so bad 🙂
    Helsinki just snuck up towards the top of my go to list!
    I love how gorgeous and snowy all of the streets look. So beautiful.

  14. Miroslav Hristoff May 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    Introvert, caffee, food and design. Definitely I should consider to move to Helsinki one day 🙂

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

      It’s awesome!

  15. Maggie May 24, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    Beautiful Pictures!! Its seems like you had a great trip to Helsinki. Thanks for Sharing such valuable info and tips about Helsinki.

    • Liz May 24, 2016 at 8:43 pm #


  16. Britt May 24, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    This post makes me so sad that I had to remove Helsinki from my travel plans (just not enough time). The street food festival looks insanely good! The introverted thing is very much a Scandanavian thing- Norwegians are very similar. My couchsuring host in Oslo handed me a book on social etiquette in Norway (with hilarious cartoons) which is also about them wanting their personal space and not liking small talk. it was a super interesting lesson!

  17. Kathrin May 25, 2016 at 12:17 am #

    Ah, lovely article! Good times! So happy you enjoyed Helsinki, it was fun to hang out 🙂 I should have some cauliflower again some time.

    • Liz May 25, 2016 at 11:03 am #

      I don’t think I have had cauliflower since haha. Hope you are well and thanks for keeping me company xx

  18. lauren May 25, 2016 at 9:49 am #

    Oooh catching a festival when traveling is the best!

    • Liz May 25, 2016 at 11:04 am #

      It is!

  19. Melissa May 25, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    I never really considered going to Helsinki before, but it looks amazing! So much so that I just looked up flights for next spring; hopefully with a St. Petersburg side trip thrown in, as Russia has long been my ultimate travel dream!

  20. Ediyie May 25, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

    What is this introverted food heaven you speak of?! 🙂

    After my Stockholm trip, I really want to visit the other major cities in Scandinavia.
    Helsinki is on my list!!

    p.s. Your photos are awesome!

    • Liz May 26, 2016 at 8:21 am #


  21. Lucy May 26, 2016 at 4:04 am #

    I just discovered your blog because I’m going to Finland, Iceland and Sweden next month! Great advice and pictures.

    • Liz May 26, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      Have a good time!

  22. Ron May 26, 2016 at 7:29 am #

    Finnish introverted and quiet lifestyle would work for me. To live there I’d need mountains close by to feel comfortable but from what I can determine the land is flat?

    • Liz May 26, 2016 at 8:23 am #

      they have hills called fells that are beautiful but it’s mostly flat, yes.

  23. Satu fable May 26, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Yes. We love design, food, SAUNA and quiet. I live now part time in Turkey and I can’t wait to visit helsinki. (Right now I am in Helsinki) I lhave a home in cable factory which I also renting when I am in Turkey. Bicycle is ypur best trasportation in summer and island hopping IS the best by public boats.

    • Liz May 28, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

      I love turkey too!

  24. James Cigana May 27, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    Great article!

    I hope to visit Finland one day, but after meeting a few Finnish people I can agree with you on the fact that they’re introverted. Still great people once you take the time to get to know them.
    I love your photos also, some of those cafes look really interesting.

    • Liz May 28, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

      Super great!

    • Karoliina May 29, 2016 at 10:09 am #

      Not all of us are introverted, but imposing yourself on someone else (particularly when you don’t know them) is definitely a social faux pas, as it breaks the cardinal rule of “thou shalt not be a pain in thine neighbourgh’s arse” 😉

      I’m a native of the Helsinki region, and while I love the quiet of it in winter, it’s even more glorious in the summer when the city and the people come alive.

  25. Surprised local May 28, 2016 at 8:33 am #

    Great post, I didn’t know my city was all this 😀 I have to explore it obviously more.

    • Liz May 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

      haha yes you do haha

  26. citizen of Helsinki May 29, 2016 at 12:39 am #

    You would love this great food festival we have in Helsinki in June:

  27. Grace May 29, 2016 at 4:21 am #

    Beautiful photos! Really inspires me to visit Helsinki sometime!

    • Liz May 29, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

      Hope you get there some day!

  28. jan May 29, 2016 at 9:18 am #

    nice post but point 6. you are surprised to find european influenced architecture in a european country? uhm yeah, that s so weird..

    • Liz May 29, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

      You read that wrong, I was talking about the blend of east and west.

  29. jan May 29, 2016 at 9:27 am #

    apart from my bitchy remark i still really enjoyed the rest of your post though!

  30. Stacy Siivonen May 29, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    Helsinki is pretty disappointing, like most capitals all around the world. There are many other cities in Finland that are even better, like Turku, Vaasa and Hanko. Even though Helsinki has many neat buildings, these cities have even better.
    Helsinki is a sewer for people that cannot make it anywhere else in Finland, yet also it is gentrified. This paradox can be explained so that people are either on welfare and get their food from soup kitchens that are everywhere in Helsinki or they can afford the tremendous rent or house prices. Getting an apartment from one of Helsinki affordable housing project is like winning in lottery.

    • Hohhoijaa May 29, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

      Stacy, O rly? Im a single person living in helsinki suburb and I have below average paycheck and I do just fine. I have never witnessed your soup kitchens either. You are typical Finn, always dissing something after positive writing.

    • Raili May 29, 2016 at 9:38 pm #

      Spoken like a true Finn. Unfortunately.

    • Joni May 30, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      Helsinki is a university city and has a very large number of high tech companies. University, which has premises in the very center of the city, defines Helsinki for a large part, not least by its students which give life to the city. It attracts highly gifted people, many of whom then adopt Helsinki as their hometown and become residents who develop high tech and culture which brings in money and quality of life. Like cities everywhere, Helsinki is considerably richer than the surrounding areas, so it attracts people from there: in the case of Finland, Helsinki attracts young and educated people from all over Finland. It is also the place of government, so politicians, artists, high tech people all meet in the same cafes every day. While there are lots of nice little towns and a few territorial hubs, Helsinki dominates in Finland in all levels.

      Helsinki is also the usual place where international artist come to play their music when they want to add Finland to their tour schedules. Because of this, Helsinki is the absolute center for Finnish music lovers and so many Finns even from hundreds of kilometers away visit Helsinki very routinely.

      • Liz May 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

        Good points!

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

      wow, tell us how you really feel hahah

  31. Anna May 29, 2016 at 7:12 pm #

    Thanks for the post! It reminded me of my plan to play tourist in my hometown. Please come back during the summer, it’s lovely!

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

      I really want to!

  32. Sipi May 29, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Helsinki and Finland is definitively best during summer. It’s good to know, that if you come during midsummer (24.-26.6.2016, dates vary each year) almost everything is closed and there are no people anywhere because everyone has gone to their cottages. This can be seen in all cities, not just Helsinki.

    If you can find a friend to take you to celebrate midsummer, that’s worth seeing too. 🙂 Mind you, that the weather can be anything from 4 to 24 degrees celcius in June, but normally it’s around the 20 degrees mark. If you’re lucky, you can get even 27 degrees.

    July is the main holiday month, so no traffic jams and weather in the 20 degrees mostly. Welcome to Finland!

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

      awesome tips thanks!!

  33. Annnne May 29, 2016 at 7:48 pm #

    I live in Helsinki and I personally would have shown you all this beautiful “wildlife” that surrounds the city. We have huge national parks within 30minutes by car. Living in Helsinki I can choose the heart of the city with all those (quiet) people or then I can easily go to a forest and enjoy the silence like I often do since I have a horse to ride. And one more thing is awesome here… Almost all the people here understand English pretty well and some might even try to say something in English! So don’t be afraid of the weird language, you won’t have to try it 🙂

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      Awesome!! I really wanted to visit some of the places outside the city but I just enjoyed wandering around and taking it easy, next time xx

  34. Laura - Urbaani viidakkoseikkailijatar May 29, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    Great post, and I’m glad yli enjoyed my city! 🙂 You have found good spots and good things in Helsinki. You would of course see a very different city if you visited this city in the summer. Then, instead of introverts you would find outgoing and social people. For me the beauty of this city is the closeness of the sea and nature, and the combination of East and West.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      I really want to return in summer!

  35. Laduu May 29, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    I live here for 9 years and i´ve never been or even heard of those cafes. Guess next time i´m wondering where to go i´ll have some options. Cheers

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      haha you’re welcome xx

  36. Tiia May 29, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    Thank you Liz – as Laduu pointed out, this is a very useful post even for someone who actually lives in Helsinki. I had never even heard of Andante or Plootu, and I also didn’t know Johan & Nyström has flat white in their selection, which is why I always order a cappuccino. I think that will change from now on 🙂

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

      flat white > cappuccino any day!!

  37. Born in Helsinki May 29, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    Actually I consider Helsinki almost perfect! It’s beautiful, peaceful, safe and there is many things to do always. For me, it’s only missing the mountains. One mountain and boom, ultimate perfection.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:56 pm #

      totally agree I love the mountains xx

    • Stani Steinbock January 18, 2017 at 11:40 am #

      Of course no Mount Everests or such – depends on how you define a mountain. I lived 2/3 of my life (from when I was 4 to when I was 15) on a (small) mountain 14 km East of Helsinki City, called Roihuvuori in Finish / Kasberget in Swedish, which apparently used to be a place where they had fires for people on the sea to navigate by.

      I loved it.

  38. NT May 29, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    Hey! Great post! The places you mentioned are definitely the ones that are worth visiting and they represent quite well the center of the city and where the society that inhabits it is going. City is very interesting from an atheistic point of view, very polished, and all Finnish design achievements are highlighted. But this area is also a gentrified bubble, everything is very expensive, targeting the same segment. But the quality of everything is also very good.

    There is not much diversity, and casual interaction among strangers or spontaniety is very rare in the streets. It’s not in the culture. Apart form design, lot’s of music is going on – classical, jazz, choirs, rock etc. etc. Lots of people do music. But the problem also is that many cultural events are regarded as a borgeois activity (e.g. ballet, opera) and mostly old people go there. Even though a student tickets are super cheap. A lot of interesting architecture, and everything is maintained extremely well. This is pretty amazing. But also, no spectacular masterpieces or panoramas. A lot here is in details.

    Also, someone mentioned national parks nearby, e.g. Nuuksio. That is definitely a place to visit while here, in my opinion. In general people in Finland are very into nature, they will not know history of any hostorical building in the city, but they will know 10 types of seaguls, for example. It’s great! 🙂 Also there are a lot of manor houses in the area (in the outskirts of the city) that have great restaurants.

    In general, I think that the best thing about Helsinki as a city is that it is very well designed for people who want to live an active life, you can access forest-parks from anywhere, even the centre. This is something that is rare to find in big cities. But this is something you experience when you live here. For tourists the city will definitely be interesting as it is quite different form others, and has its own strong identity.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

      Thank you!!

  39. Dave May 29, 2016 at 9:43 pm #

    Then there is the whole other culture in summer. Hit the road and head to a mökki (summer cottage), and spend your days near one of the lakes, fishing, barbecuing, maybe drinking a bit, having sauna and swimming in the lake and generally just hanging out doing largely nothing else.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

      I would LOVE that!

  40. Hannele May 29, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    City is the most beautiful in the end of May or in the beginning of June. There are lot of events and festivals. After beginning of holidays in July city is more silent as people run to the countryside.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      Good to know xx

  41. Magnus Ehrnrooth May 29, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    You will love Helsinki if you love to get rid of a lot of money and if prohibition
    and everything that follows this is your style. If not, you will damn the country.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      um what?

  42. keke May 30, 2016 at 2:24 am #

    Glad you liked my city! Even as a local there are many places pictured that I don’t recognize. Perhaps you should add a bit of written context to some of the pictures?

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      Most of them are around the words near them but I can try!

  43. Peter May 30, 2016 at 4:04 am #

    I guess you haven’t seen Sörnäinen or Helsinki in general on a Saturday night after 1am. It’s probably the biggest shithole one can step into.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      can’t say that I have.

  44. Martin Glantz May 30, 2016 at 4:48 am #

    Thanks for the post! We locals tend to look at our town with eyes that are used to all the nice things and beautiful architecture and need someone form the outside to remind us how good we really have it.
    And to all you planning to travel to the north: if you´re not a big fan of winter, come during the warmer season from late April to the end of September. The actual summer is short, from late May to late August, but as one commentator above put it, everything pretty much comes alive during that season, both the nature and the people.
    Stay for more than a couple of days, leave the tourist districts, explore. Helsinki and Finland are very safe in all possible ways, and mobile phones and the internet work almost everywhere (Helsinki even has its own free Helsinki network for public spaces).
    Check out the Finnish festival an event calendar: a few hours on a train will take you out to most big happenings and in Helsinki there is something going on at all times.
    Be and feel most Welcome!

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

      I really want to come in summer!

    • maggie June 1, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

      I am planning on coming to Helsinki in June 23 and love local music – live music – guitar, etc. Do you have any recommendations?

  45. Patrick May 30, 2016 at 5:55 am #

    We nowadays also have quite a few special tea shops in Helsinki, which import tea from China, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere, for those who prefer tea.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      OH I would I have loved that, enxt time!

  46. Finn May 30, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

    10 things…? Muslim. Second muslim… Third muslim. Ten fuc%^ing muslim?

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      Check yourself man, that’s not fucking cool.

  47. Andrew May 30, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    If you spend more than few days (i.e. a week) here, make sure to take a ferry trip to the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia. From Helsinki 4hrs travel on a cruise ship, or with a catamaran roughly 1.5hrs. You can combine with 2 awesome cities with just one trip. But if you wanna go real hardcore there’s also daily connection to Stockholm, Swe, that would be 15hrs or so, one way (2nights). Just be sure that you dont exit the ship during the night when it docks on Åland islands, that’s the concentration camp where we sent our worst swedish speaking minority and they have become feral over the years.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm #


  48. Ilkka May 30, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Der Introvet,

    I’m happy for you that you found a paradise in Stadi (as Helsinki in called in native language). There are about 10 million pelple in Finland, half of which are living in winter (winter finns) and the other half in summer (summer finns).
    You will see the change in spring time. Not yet, because just now in write this in a full train in a total silence which in normal still for one or two weeks. After that it all suddenly chages when the summer finns reincarnate and the train is full of talk and chat. But truly this is a paradise for introverts and you can write harry potters in any cafe in quit & peace. Just relax and enjoy the spirit of Stadi.

    • Liz May 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

      hahaha that’s awesome

  49. Michaela May 30, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    Hi! Great post thanks! Agree on many things after living in Hki for a half a year. However, I would just admit something to your stereotype of “introverted people”. I am not really sure if it’s really that. Many Finns enjoy silence, but I think that when they are seeing people the main thing is just to be “honest” but not “unpolite”. Being honest seems to be more like avoiding pretending to be over interested on the person if you are really not, but still be polite. However, being unpolite means often a bit too noisy. People like to keep their public spaces calm because they don’t want to interrupt others. If you are also dominating the social interaction in a group, that may be considered inpolite, too. Finns seem to believe that you should give all the people the space to speak and That is not exactly the same as the people would be introverts, that would be too simplistic. I think it’s more about the cultural context of how they value their understanding of politeness and honesty. That is where many tourists get it wrong. There are those hidden norms just like in Japan.

    • Liz May 31, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      Good point but as you can see, it’s hard to describe haha. But being polite in Finland isn’t the same as being polite in another country – in fact, many people overseas might see it as being rude, I don’t think it’s the right word, or even if there is a right word for it.

  50. Lee May 30, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I also think Helsinki is awesome. I used to live there and often miss it, specially seaside and sailing. I just visited the new attraction Löyly (just the cafe, still have to test sauna )

    • Liz May 31, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      awesome tip thanks!

  51. Adele Of Kuopio May 30, 2016 at 8:18 pm #

    Hi, fab post! The introvertidness of a Finn changes from town to town. As Helsinki is the biggest there is a lot more of it, as people like their anonimity.
    I now live in Kuopio which is the “capital” of the lake district & here people are a lot more sosial. After moving to finland from the UK the atmosfere in Helsinki felt too oppressing & after visiting Kuopio I found my home. But I still visit Helsinki regularly. And when I say more social I’m comparing to other places in Finland 😉

    Finland is one of the safest places in the world & there are lots to do & see all over. I have often wondered why its not more popular, but think the expence of it is a put off for many backpackers atleast. As Finland is quite expencive when it comes to food, shopping & accommodation. What people should also realise is that for some quality you are willing to pay just a little bit more.

    What is true for all cities and places in Finland is, that if you want to be left alone you will be. Thats why a lot of the internatonal stars that visit love it so much. They can sit in a local pub or a cafe or take a stroll in the park with their kids & a finn will give them their privacy.

    This country is an unexplored diamond for many & I feel very lucky to call it home.

    • Liz May 31, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

      it is, can’t wait to go back!

  52. Proud student from Helsinki May 31, 2016 at 6:02 am #

    Hi! I have lived my whole life around different parts of Helsinki. I dont usually read blogs etc. nor comment anythin I have read. You got the exeption because your writing really moved me. Its rare to hear good things about quiet introvert people and our city. You did write down what I have wanted to say but couldnt find words for. “Cafes where you can sit and write for hours [alone].” So thank you for your words. You are welcome to visit Helsinki again so maybe you can be the person sitting next to me in bus and the one I dont need to say hello to.

    • Liz May 31, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      hahahahaha I love that!

  53. Hanuman Chalisa June 1, 2016 at 4:55 am #

    Wow! Never thought Helsinki would be so fantastic, must add to my bucket list!

  54. J. June 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    The coffee culture has – true enough – picked up during the last ten years or so.
    But please be aware that you should in a coffee shop always order something a bit more special. If you just order a cup of coffee youbare guaranteed to face the worst cup of coffee of your life. The normal coffee which Finns consume tons and tons of is VERY lightly roasted (there is a history of greed behind it I will nlt get into here) and thus so bitter it is definitely an aquired taste. I just have never aquired it. And getting a decent cup of TEA is next to impossible.
    The winter which honestly lasts for half a year is dark, cold and wet. May – August is the best time. And as one reply pointed out: you maybwish to get out of Helsinki a bit and half an hour away you have pretty amazing national parks. Try Nuuksio.

  55. Sophie Deschamps June 1, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    I have been to Helsinki twice in the last 12 months and I love it so much, I’d actually move there. The food scene is amazing and Zetor is a brilliant restaurant that you must try
    Summers are great in Finland. Even when I went in October last year it wasn’t cold but this time in May it was glorious.
    Helsinki is a beautiful city and Finnish people are just the best.

  56. Jukka-Tapio Rannisto June 2, 2016 at 1:02 am #

    OK.. I was born in Helsinki, but now living in Sydney, Australia. I can understand that when you travel you look for beautiful sites and things to say about your destination, nothing wrong with that. Helsinki is a beautiful nice sized city where you are able to walk around easily. These photos are from the best parts of Helsinki.. Eira, Ullanlinna, Katajanokka, Esplanadi, Kauppatori and Senaatintori… there are of course other suburbs in the Northern & Eastern parts of Helsinki… so this image you see is true but limited, but no worries 🙂

  57. Heidi June 2, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

    What a great description of my home town. Welcome to Finland.

    • Liz June 4, 2016 at 7:53 pm #

      Thanks for having me xx

  58. james anderson June 3, 2016 at 1:44 am #

    Beautiful photos!! I went to Norway at the end of January to take pictures and I couldn’t believe how pretty it was. It was definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, with Iceland not far behind. I great pleasure to see all images and give information is so effective.

    • Liz June 4, 2016 at 7:56 pm #


  59. Thomas June 3, 2016 at 9:57 pm #

    Finland looks really nice with its unique architecture. Working in an events promotion company in London, I have attended several foreign culture events and some were about Finland. People who are more informed about this country explained that the architecture was influenced by Sweden and Russia and Finland is now considered as one of the best countries for architecture.

    Thomas @

    • Liz June 4, 2016 at 7:50 pm #

      It’s awesome for architecture!

  60. Zombidle June 16, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    Gorgeous photos! Helsinki is one of my favorite places.

    • Liz June 19, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

      I can see why xx

  61. Alice June 18, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    I am always so so happy if I find this kind of cafes in a city! It’s just so good to sit down, have a cup of coffee and look around for the rest of the time. How creative people are with these places. Listening to the locals talking in their own language, wandering what they are saying. Are the peace and quiet, this article makes me want to go to Helsinki straight away;) Thank you!

    • Liz June 19, 2016 at 7:18 pm #

      have fun!

  62. MumbaiAbout June 19, 2016 at 5:36 am #

    So beautiful. Very colorful and nice. Looks like the city is just so calm and moves at a sweet pace.

    • Liz June 19, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

      that’s true!

  63. Ken August 6, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

    Excellent write-up. I was in Helsinki last year and as much research as i always do for every trip, it was a city that I unexpectedly fell for. It’s now one of my favorites!

    Really loved your perceptive analysis of the general Finnish character and I’m trying to think back if that’s what I encountered (I believe so!). As an aside, my boss’s boss is Finnish but I think he’s been away so long from the home country that he’s lost that introverted trait lol.

  64. Amy August 15, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    I am so happy you got to explore Helsinki like a local! We are ex-pats out here now 2 years and we absolutely love it! I think all of the ten things you listed above surprised us too, but were also factors in why we decided to stay for another 2!
    (Also, I literally cannot go into Papershop or I leave without my money!)

  65. Laurie | New Yorker Meets London August 18, 2016 at 8:44 am #

    Um…you have just convinced me to book a ticket to Helsinki asap! The food scene there looks incredible!!

  66. Lera September 1, 2016 at 8:22 pm #

    Thank you for amazing story.
    i like Finland too.

    hello from russia 😉

  67. Kishor September 15, 2016 at 8:54 pm #

    My current budget does not allow me to stay for more than three days here. I hope to get to stay longer than I think. Sitting in cafes alone and writing is what I want to do. Thanks.

  68. Nina December 4, 2016 at 5:44 am #

    I so miss my home town. I love its tidyness, old time charm with clean lines and layers of different arhitecture eras. It is safe and beautiful.
    Now the city has come to live with the sea water pool and a huge restaurant and entertainment area by the coast and the amazing sauna anyone can try out!

    I loved your photos they captured the essential. When you travel, you want to see the beautiful things, and there are many more places to discover.

    Compared to SF where I live now, Finland is not expensive at all. Nor if you compare it to any northern European City. Well, maybe Germany is cheaper..

  69. The negative man December 4, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    Well, you need to be rich, or sponsored, to enjoy Helsinki. Also laws are rigid, do not expect to stay in a pub “until late” (on the other hand, you could not afford to)

  70. jens December 5, 2016 at 1:40 am #

    Most young Helsinki folks are from the countryside, they are ok but the basic stadilainen is a selfish snobby prick. fuck them.

  71. clément January 17, 2017 at 5:51 am #

    If you want a bad coffee, ask for an expresso… wherever you are…

  72. Kathy sinkkonen January 18, 2017 at 6:34 am #

    as a proud Finnish American with 100% Finnish ancestry I’m just so happy that the world learns about this beautiful graceful place it is truly a land of peace and beauty

  73. Armand January 18, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    Good evening,

    Did you have any difficulties / problems not speaking/ understanding Finnish whilst shopping, going out, at restaurants etc.?

    Armand Ting-Saelges


  1. 10 Things That Surprised Me In Helsinki | Bloggsom - May 23, 2016

    […] post 10 things that surprised me in Helsinki appeared first on Young […]

  2. 10 things that surprised me in Helsinki | - May 23, 2016

    […] By Liz […]

  3. 10 things that surprised me in Helsinki | Top Travel Plans - September 10, 2016

    […] Original Article […]

  4. #HelsinkiSecret Residence – A great year behind and a thrilling one ahead | Nordic Bloggers' Experience - December 28, 2016

    […] Liz Carlson from New Zealand visited the #HelsinkiSecret Residence last March. Read 10 things that surprised Liz in Helsinki here. […]

  5. The LuxPad List: Top 10 Destinations to Visit in 2017 - LuxPad - January 9, 2017

    […] 10 Things that Surprised my in Helsinki […]

  6. The LuxPad List: Top 10 Destinations to Visit in 2017 - January 11, 2017

    […] 10 Things that Surprised my in Helsinki […]

Leave a Reply