Helsinki is a remarkable city for sacred architecture. A significant majority of Finnish people identify as Christian, and the national religions are the Evangelical Lutheran Church, to which about 70% of the population belong, and the Finnish Orthodox Church which represents just over 1% of Finns. Christianity came to Finland in the 11th century, prior to which paganism was the local religion of choice.
Within Helsinki there is a huge number of places of worship and in these spaces one can meditate, pray or enjoy these architectural splendours for their aesthetic appeal. Visiting Helsinki will naturally include seeing some of these beautiful buildings and spaces in the background, but they should also be visited in their own right as wonderful additions to any sight-seeing around the city.
Somewhere really special and very unique to Helsinki is Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Rock Church. Located in the Töölö district, this Lutheran church was completed in 1969. What makes it particularly distinctive is that it is actually hewn out from the local rock, and therefore has a cave-like feel to it (although with a very modern architectural feel as well). Natural light pours in and illuminates this sacred space through almost two hundred glass skylights, in the centre of which is set a huge copper dome. The rough carved walls of the Rock Church give it fantastic acoustics and so it’s commonly used as a concert venue also. If you get there early in the morning, before the crowds (this is one of Helsinki’s biggest tourist attractions), you should be able to find a peaceful spot to sit and enjoy the sunshine streaming in through the skylights.
Designed by a Swedish architect in the Gothic Revival style, St. John’s Church, or Johannes’ Church, has a distinctly Swedish feel to it, and its two towering steeples would not look out of place in Sweden’s cities. Incredibly bright and airy inside (at first surprising given its dark neo-Gothic exterior), this church is also a popular concert venue owing to its excellent acoustics. Also of theLutherandenomination, Johannes’ Church is one of the largest churches in Finland, and you will be sure to find a quite place for reflection upon one of its 2,600 seats.
The white wooden Old Church, built in the neoclassical style, was completed in 1826, and is the oldest church in Helsinki today. It stands proudly in a park which houses an old cemetery and several memorials and sculptures. The park is also known locally as the Plague Park, because it is where bodies of victims of the plague in 1710 were buried. Both the church and its park are the perfect place for quiet reflection amid the hubbub of the bustling city.
A place to sit and enjoy both solitude and peace is the Kamppi Chapel. Also called the Chapel of Silence, this sacred space was completed in 2012, and makes it one of Helsinki’s most modern churches. Its bare wood architecture makes it a truly stunning building, and anyone with even the vaguest interest in architecture will be left breathless by both the simplicity and depth. It is made entirely from alder and spruce wood, and natural sunlight lends a fresh and warm glow to the chapel. The only regular service at the chapel are Friday evening prayers, and they are well worth attending.
Perched proudly atop a hill overlooking the city, the Uspenskin Cathedral is a magnificent sight. It is Eastern Orthodox and its architecture reflects this, a beautiful ornate and eye-catching building that would not be out of place in St Petersburg. Indeed, this cathedral was designed by a Russian architect and completed in 1868, and is the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe. The Cathedral is home to a magnificent collection of icons, complete with beautiful and striking interior. These, in combination with a breathtaking view out over the city, make Uspenskin fantastic place to visit on your travels to Helsinki.
On one of the biggest of the five islands that comprise the fortress of Suomenlinna stands the Suomenlinna Church. Built for the Russian garrison stationed at the fortress, this originally Eastern Orthodox church was completed in 1854, but is now of the Evangelical Lutheran tradition. Designed by the same Russian architect responsible for the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow the Suomenlinna Church, although different to how it would have looked when first erected, still retains its majestic feel. Today the church is also used as a lighthouse (its signal is morse code for the letter ‘H’ for Helsinki!), and its beautiful island location makes this sacred space a truly wonderful experience.
One of the most striking churches in Helsinki is the Kallio Church. Designed in the National Romantic style with elements of Art Nouveau in the interior, this imposing granite church inspires a sense of awe and wonderment in both visitors just passing by or those who actually step inside its doors. Completed in 1912, Kallio Church is also of the Lutheran faith and this striking church is well worth a visit.
There are so many churches that Helsinki offers its visitors that there is too many to describe here. If you are interested in sacred architecture, and still have time, you should also make sure to visit the Catherdral of St. Henry, the German (Saksakainen) Church, the Holy Trinity Church, and the ultra-modern Viikki Church. Helsinki is a rich and vibrant city for scared architecture and the beauty and majesty of these great buildings will delight and inspire awe in everyone, regardless of religious affiliation. Helsinki is truly a city where one can quietly meditate and reflect, making it a true getaway and a wonderful adventure.
Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a great city to explore on foot. You have easy access to a wonderful culture and shopping and even to large park areas, forests, lakes, and the beautiful coastline which is filled with islands. Helsinki has it all but where to go and what to do when there is so much to see and do? Our local guides have provided us with the best tips.... Enjoy!
We recommend taking a good stroll in the park around the Töölö Bay which begins in the heart of Helsinki. You should check out the wooden villas along the shores which are a reminder of Helsinki's history. The park is now a hub for culture and city events so please look if there is anything going on there whilst you are visiting the city.
Suomenlinna is on UNESCO's World Heritage list and the islands (total of 6) have only 800 residents. On the Suomenlinna you will find a fortress and its museums, restaurants and there are often held events for visitors of all ages. The islands are a popular visitor attraction, for more information on the islands and the ferry schedule, check out Suomenlinna's official site.
Do as the locals and take a dip in the beautiful Allas Sea Pool, located in the heart of Helsinki by the ocean, next to the Market Square. There is a large pool area and magnificent saunas to enjoy. This is the perfect place for wellness and if you want a few hours of relaxation, this is the place to go. The pool is open all year around but for further information on opening hours and more, check out their homepage.
If your not on a tight budget, you should eat at one of the best restaurants in Helsinki, Restaurant Aino. They are known for using Finnish seasonal ingredients and advocating traditional Finnish food, a great success with foreigners and Finns as well.
Salmon soup is a popular traditional dish in Finland, locally known as Lohikeitto. The soup is easy to make and a favorite for many. This is a must-try whilst visiting Finland.
Hotel Torni opened its doors to guests in 1931 and was, at that time, the tallest building in Helsinki. We recommend that you have a drink at Ateljee Bar, on the top floor, and when you make your way to the bathroom where you will get a wonderful view of the city.
Everyone should spend New Year’s Eve in Scandinavia at least once. The cold crisp air, and the lingering of Christmas lights twinkling in the dark make the frozen North an enchanting place to countdown to New Year’s (and since Scandinavia is known as a nature and health hub, it’s probably a good place to kick-start your new year’s resolutions!)
Sometimes visitors to Scandinavia have difficulties distinguishing between the Scandic countries, owing to their many shared cultural and linguistic similarities. On New Year’s you can spot these although each country still has their distinct traditions too.
All across Scandinavian, they love their New Year fireworks as much as most countries do (actually, now that we’re thinking about it, where does the ‘fireworks at New Year’ tradition come from?!), and in most cities across the region you will be able to venture out into the cold night and watch the sky sparkle and explode with colour at midnight. In fact, the locals love getting out into the fresh air for New Year’s and will certainly not stay copped up inside for the evening just because of the cold. Join the fun, but just make sure you dress up warmly, as your beer-jackets won’t really do the trick when the temperatures are well into the minuses! Just remember that there is a saying in the north: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes! So rug up!
In Finland, Helsinki’s Senate Square is where all the firework action will be, and it will certainly be a sight to see, especially against the backdrop of one of the most magnificent settings in the capital. In Sweden, it’s actually Gothenburg, the second largest city, where the best firework action is considered to be. Head down to the river for a true visual feast, or to Götaplatsen which is known for it’s wild and friendly festivities. In Stockholm, one of the biggest events of the early evening is concert at Storkyrkan in Gamla Stan and at midnight the big tradition is the reading of Tennyson’s ‘Ring out Wilds Bells’ at the Skansen. In Oslo you’ll want to head to the Town Hall and in Copenhagen the Town Hall is also where all the action will be, although it has big competition with Tivoli. Be careful though because even though the setting off fireworks in banned in many public spots, at the peak of merriment the locals can often forget this and set of fireworks haphazardly around the adjoining streets.
One quite big distinction between the Scandic countries at New year is that in Norway the focus is on spending the evening with family. In Finland and Sweden however, it is mainly spent with friends (since Christmas was dominated by family and thus NYE is a chance to get away from Uncle Bob’s appalling jokes and awkward conversation!) and many will hold big parties and invite all their friends to celebrate with them. In Denmark, it’s a bit of both. Interestingly, Denmark has quite the set of rituals to follow before the clock strikes midnight. The Queen’s televised speech to the nation earlier in the evening is something that most people will watch, and many will cluster around Amalienborg to watch the Royal Guard Parade. After that the jokes begin, and there is a bit of a Halloween theme as the Danes play pranks on their neighbours and friends, coating trees in toilet paper and smashing china plates on doorsteps! Norway also has a slight Halloween twist on New Years! In Finland, one of the best traditions of the evening is fortune telling! To celebrate the general theme of new opportunities in the new year, the Finns try to predict the future by interpreting shapes formed by molten tin. Of course, the shapes and their fortunes are always positive and you are bound to have a great coming year!
Food is also a pretty important component of New Years, alongside the warming (both physically and metaphorically) beverages consumed. Each country has their own set of dishes that are traditional New Year’s fodder! In Sweden’s Jansson’s Temptation (Janssons frestelse) is a solid favourite. Also popular at the Christmas table, this is a creamy potato dish which takes most of its flavour from cheese and anchovies. It’s delicious, even if its description sounds a little dubious! It’s also super popular in Finland, although there it is called Janssoninkiusaus. Cold cuts are also popular in Finland at this time of year, and so you’ll probably find offerings of cold-smoked reindeer and roast beef all around. In Demark cod is the favourite dish of the evening, but this should also be accompanied by a marzipan ring cake (Kransekage), which is so delicious that it will have any marzipan lover begging for seconds (and thirds, and fourths). In Norway, rice pudding is a favourite treat to see in the new year, and similar to a Christmas plum pudding, they bake it with a hidden silver penny. The idea is that the person who gets the silver penny in their helping will have fantastic luck for the coming year.
After the New Year’s countdown, for those wanting to extend the festivities into the early hours, all across Scandinavia you will be able to find clubs, restaurants and bars that will keep the party going. Make sure you have a look at what’s on offer and book a place, as these parties can get pretty busy. If you’re really in the partying mood, you can even enjoy double New Year! The towns of Haparandra in Sweden and Tornio in Finland and only 5 minutes drive from each other, but they are in different timezones, so celebrate an hour apart. So, you can celebrate first time around in Finland and then an hour later celebrate all over again in Sweden!
We absolutely recommend that you spend New Year’s Eve at least once in your lifetime in Scandinavia. It’ll be something you remember forever! If you need a good outdoors activity to help you recover the next day, our tours run across our Scandinavian cities on the 1st of January! Finally, you’ll need to be able to wish everyone around you a Happy New Year when the clock strikes midnight and we’ve got you covered for that too!
How to wish people a Happy New Year in Scandinavia. These are the sayings:
Finnish: Hyvää uutta vuotta!
Swedish: Gott nytt år!
Danish: Godt nytår
Norwegian: Godt nytt år
Here we‘ll offer a few YouTube videos on some of the most popular Christmas songs in our destinations. They might be a bit different from what you're used to but we‘re sure you‘ll enjoy them all the same. We‘ll give you a little introduction to the origin of the languages, some of them might be hard to learn whereas others might be easier. It depends on where you come from and how quick you are to pick up these exotic new words. Let‘s see if you can learn the lyrics and sing along, loud and clear for all to hear!
Finnish, or Suomi, is spoken by the majority of the people of Finland and about five million people speak the language, most of them reside in Finland. FInnish is a member of the Finnic group, that is part of the Uralic family of languages. Included in the Finnic group is Estonia (see below) and other Baltic countries. The language is believed to be originally a Proto-Uralic language from the boreal forest belt around the Ural Mountains region or the end of the middle Volga. This is thought to be the case because there are many similarities in the structure and the grammar.
Have a listen to this wonderful Christmas song. It is sung by Katri Helena, one on Finland’s best-selling female soloists.
Merry Christmas: Hyvää joulua!
Swedish is a North Germanic language and it is the official language of Sweden. There are around 9.6 million people that speak the language natively and it is very similar to Norwegian, and to some extent with Danish. The North Germanic language is part of the Indo-European language group and is the most spoken language out of the North Germanic languages. The origin of Swedish can be traced to Old Norse, from the Viking Era. The Old Norse evolved into two similar dialects: Old West Norse and Old East Norse. The Old East Norse covered Sweden and Denmark.
Today, Swedish has many traces of the English language, so if you speak English you might be able to catch some of the words that are being sung in this popular Christmas song; Mer Jul. The song is written and sung by the band Adolphson & Falk.
Merry Christmas: God Jul!
Danish is, like Swedish, a North Germanic language and is a descendant of Old Norse. Dansih is the official language of Denmark and around six million people speak the language, it is also spoken widely in Greenland and the Faroe Islands due to the fact that the two countries are an autonomous constituent of Denmark. Well into the 17th century, German and Latin were the most important written languages in Denmark and that is why traditional Danish dialects have almost disappeared completely. The language has changed between generations and today it only has remnants of a former case system. Danish is often considered a difficult language to learn because of the vowels, difficult prosody and “weakly” pronounced consonants. We encourage you to try out some of their pronunciations.
This video is a private recording of the Danish folk star Lars Lilholt - a master of the Danish language :-)
Merry Christmas: Glædelig jul!
Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language but it’s no longer certain that it is a valid group for Hungarian. Hungarian is the official language of Hungary, and it belongs to the same family as Finnish and Estonian; the Uralic language family. However, throughout the 18th and 19th century there have often been debates on whether the language might be more related to the Turkic language. Today, Hungarian is part of the 24 official languages in the European Union.
In this Christmas video, you are able to see the lyrics, which might make things easier for you, but we will not promise anything. The band, T.N.T, is a pop band that gained a large popularity in Hungary in the 90s.
Merry Christmas: Boldog Karácsonyt!
Estonian is a Southern Finnic language and it’s the official language of Estonia, spoken by about 1.1 million. The language is in the branch of the Uralic language family, closely related to Finnish, and the interesting thing is that they are not related to their nearest geographical neighbors and Indo-European language speakers; Swedish, Latvian and Russian. Estonian has borrowed up to one-third of its vocabulary from Germanic languages, even though they are not considered to be related from that origin, and from the Russian language. Estonian, Hungarian and Finland are three out of four official languages of European Union that aren’t from the Indo-European origin.
In this Christmas video, you’ll hear the wonderful song Jõuluingel, which mean Christmas Angel. It is a popular Christmas song in Estonia and has been performed by many artists.
Merry Christmas: Häid jõule!
The Finns drink an awful lot of coffee. It is undoubtedly the national drink of choice, and in fact it’s such a popular beverage that the Finns drink more coffee per capita than anyone other nation in the world – 12kg per person per year to be precise! Coffee is such a way of life for most people in Finland that scheduled coffee breaks during work hours are the absolute norm. Coffee breaks are often called aamukahvi, and these are frequently social affairs where many people get together and enjoy a warm cup.Just as the English have afternoon tea, the Finns also have a coffee table for special events.The coffee table is almost exactly the same as an English afternoon tea (sandwiches, cakes, sweet treats), except of course that coffee instead of tea is the main attraction.
The Finns like their coffee quite lightly roasted (especially when compared to neighbouring to Sweden, where a much darker roast is preferred); while you can get darker roasts, the lighter are much more common. The traditional way of brewing coffee in Finland is very similar to that of Turkish coffee.
With coffee being such a popular and ingrained aspect of Finnish life, it stands to reason that when you travel to Helsinki you can find a pretty decent cup of coffee! In fact, in the last decade the Finnish coffee culture has bounded right into the wonderful world of unique, artisanal, and independent cafes, and that means you’re never too far away from a great cup of coffee. So here are some very nice places you can go in Helsinki and enjoy a relaxing coffee time.
Kaffecentralen is a small chain of three cafes in Helsinki and their coffee is always made lovingly by top-notch baristas who really care about the quality of their coffee. Centrally located, you get not only well-priced coffee but also the chance to buy a great range of coffee accessories. Moko is a fabulous concept store/coffee shop fusion, and here you can get a great coffee as well as browse their fantastic range of homewares, fashion and bits and bobs from around the world. At Cafetoria you can get locally roasted, award-winning coffee from a small company that really knows their stuff. Here you will find lots of different origins and varieties of coffee to choose from, as well as lots of accessories.
If you want a visual as well as taste sensation, you can’t go past Andante, a coffee shop and flower shop all in one, where the coffee is as fantastic as the flowers are beautiful. There are also a whole host of beautiful accoutrements you might want to buy for the coffee lover in your life!
If you want a truly special meal to go with your coffee, Cargo is an absolute must! This vegetarian coffee shop and restaurant uses seasonal produce, and not only does a great coffee, but also fresh juices, sweet treats and offers breakfast and lunch.
If you’re after a coffee shop with a completely different vibes, Helsinki has lots of those too! Café Regatta is a truly fantastic experience. A little red cottage over-looking the sea, Café Regatta is opened year round, and offers guest a special atmosphere and delicious traditional treats to accompany your coffee. You can grill your own sausages year-round and in the summer you can enjoy a relaxing day by the water, even hiring a variety of boats to make the most of your time by the seaside. IhanaKavila is another unique experience, being a coffee shop inside an old shipping container. The surrounding area is set for future redevelopment, but in the mean time is home to an urban streetscape, with graffiti fences, communal gardens, street art and skateboarding parks, along with lots of outdoor events in the summer. It’s a great atmosphere and a completely different experience from a city corner café. For yet another completely different vibe, head on over to Café Vanille, a beautiful and very traditional coffee shop with a range of homemade treats, which is set in a little wooden cottage in the old Russian Quarter on the islands of Suomenlinna.
The perfect accompaniment to a fantastic cup of coffee is a fantastic sweet treat. Finland certainly doesn’t disappoint in this department, and you should make the most of finding the best cup of coffee by also finding your favourite Finnish treat! Like other countries in the region, Finland does a roaring trade in buns. Korvapuusti (cinnamon/cardamom buns) and mustikkapulla (blueberry buns) are a quintessentiallyScandinavian delicacy that no travel adventure would be complete without. Likewise, don’t forget to tuck into another regionalfavourite, fruit pie, particularly lingonberry, blueberry or apple (they’re even better if you’re lucky enough to try one which has been homemade).
For those partial to pancakes, it’s well worth trying out two local favourites, which you may find are a bit different to what you are used to at home. A pannukakku is a fat pancake baked in an oven and served with berry coulis. Similar to a crepe, a sultsina is made of rye flour and served with copious quantities of fresh cream and cinnamon sugar. Also delicious is omenalörtsy, donut-like parcels filled with sweet apple filling.
If you’re after something really decadent and typically Finnish, you can’t go past a lakkakakku (a cloudberry cake with slatherings of whipped cream) or a täytekakku (layers of sponge cake soaked in sweet liquid, usually milk or juice, alternating between layers of fresh fruit and mounds of fresh cream. Also a traditional dish, and something distinctly Finnish is vispipuuro, made from lingonberries and semolina, or Hanna-tädinpikkuleivät, little biscuits made with potato flour. If you are lucky enough to be in this wonderful northern country around Christmas time, be sure to try not only the local gingerbread biscuits, piparkakku, but also joulutorttu, pinwheeled tarts filled with prune jam.
Wherever you go for coffee, and whichever treat you choose to make your coffee that extra bit special, we know you’ll find the perfect place when you visit Helsinki to relax, and enjoy the local coffee scene and Finnish culture!
On our blog you will find travel tips and inspiration across our destinations. You'll find anything from food and drink recommendations to must-see attractions, hidden gems and seasonal events.