The seaport capital of Finland, Helsinki offers an excellent insight into a fascinating country. Located close to Russia, the city blends Scandinavian traditions with Russian influences, most evident in its architecture. But what really makes Helsinki so unique is its 100km of coastline and 315 surrounding islands, just begging to be explored. You’ll find many of Helsinki’s attractions close to the sea, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Suomenlinna fortress, as well as magnificent beaches.
Summer or winter, there is plenty to keep visitors busy on a Helsinki holiday, including cosy bars and restaurants in the cold months, and swimming, fishing, cycling and other pursuits when the sun is shining. The gateway to the Arctic North and launchpad to bucket list adventures like seeing the Northern Lights, Helsinki is an ideal destination for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday experience.
Why travel to Helsinki
- It’s been awarded City of Design status by UNESCO – check out the Design Museum to find out why.
- Islands and forests are close by to explore.
- Helsinki is a year-round holiday destination, although the days in winter experience only about 5 or 6 hours of sun.
- It’s a great base from which to explore Finland’s many delights, or further afield into Lapland to visit Rovaniemi, home of Santa, and see the fabulous Northern Lights.
- The public saunas here are legendary.
- It’s home to the extraordinary horn-shaped Kamppi Chapel, and the city’s Art Nouveau landmark, Kallio Church.
- The city’s coffee culture is renowned.
This modern Finnish city offers something for everyone on holiday. Heading to enjoy the famous Northern Lights from Helsinki is just one of the exciting holiday packages available. Let Thompsons Holidays arrange your Helsinki holiday in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Things to do in Helsinki
Helsinki is a modern, bustling city and the gateway to Lapland in the Arctic Circle in Finland’s northernmost region. This picture-perfect coastal city is a mecca for outdoor adventurers who come to enjoy a variety of winter activities including dog sledding, reindeer sleigh rides, skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Finland is also famous for being a bucket-list destination where you can visit Rovaniemi, Santa Claus’ official home, see the Northern Lights in winter, especially in Kakslauttanen, or experience the 24-hour sun in the summer months. Helsinki itself offers so many things to do that you’ll want to return there to enjoy more attractions and day trips.
Things to do in Helsinki
- Sweat it out in a sauna to experience Helsinki’s public sauna culture.
- Shop till you drop in fashion boutiques and in the famous Design District.
- Enjoy a picnic in the city’s lush Esplanadi.
- Take a day trip to the 1UNESCO-listed sea fortress of Suomenlinna.
- Enjoy a performance in striking Finlandia Hall, home to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.
- Enjoy hiking or cycling in nearby Nuuksio National Park.
- See Russian-inspired architecture in Senate Square.
- Visit the impressive Sibelius Monument that honours the famous Finnish composer.
- Explore the iconic and futuristic Church in the Rock.
- Discover the city’s history of fine art in the Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery.
- Marvel at Helsinki’s oldest building, Sederholm House, now a museum.
- Visit art galleries, museums and design studios in Kaapelitehdas.
With its striking modern architecture and fascinating Russian-inspired buildings, Helsinki is a delight to explore. In Helsinki, one can enjoy nail-biting rides at Linnanmäki amusement park, or take a vintage tram ride from Market Square. Close by is Suerasaari Island, an open-air museum. Thompsons Holidays can arrange the ultimate Helsinki holiday package.
Know before you go...
- High season for viewing the Northern Lights is September and October or February and March.
- The best time to visit Helsinki is in Summer (June to August), when you can experience the Land of the Midnight Sun.
- You will fly from Cape Town or Johannesburg to Helsinki in Finland, stopping over in one European destination. You will then fly onto your holiday location from there.
- The shortest flight duration from South Africa with one stopover: 14 hours, 35 minutes.
- South African passport holders require a Schengen visa to enter Finland.
- Passports should be valid for at least 3 months after travel and have blank pages.
- Finland is the same time as South Africa during the winter (November to March) and one hour ahead of South Africa in the summer months (last Sunday in March to last Saturday in October).
- The official currency is Euro (€ or EUR).
- Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are prevalent.
- Tipping is not obligatory, as a service charge is added on to all services. especially in tourist areas. Tip for exceptional service.
- Finland is the eighth most expensive country in Europe, so food is not cheap.
- Finnish (spoken by 93% of the population) and Swedish are Finland’s official languages.
- English is spoken by around 10% of the population.
- Almost 80% of the population is Christian.
- When visiting sacred sites, dress conservatively. (See ‘What to pack’).
- It is safe to drink tap water in Finland, which boasts extremely high quality water. Bottled water is easily available.
- Vaccinations are not currently required, but do check with your travel clinic before you go.
- Smoking is not permitted in public areas such as restaurants, bars and indoor work places as well as on public transport. Airports offer designated smoking rooms.
What must I pack?
- Depending on when you visit, choose items that can be layered. Winter temperatures, while considered warmer than other Nordic countries, are typically minus zero. Be sure to pack the appropriate winter clothing.
- Dress modestly when visiting religious sites
- Comfortable walking shoes.
- Sunscreen, lip balm, hat and sunglasses for summer holidays.
- Mini first aid kit and regular prescription medication.
- Hand sanitiser and insect repellent.
- Travel adaptor.
- Helsinki has an excellent transport system which includes metro, taxis, buses, trams and ferries.
What can I do to be a responsible traveller?
- Wherever possible, buy local food and souvenirs and support local artisans.
- Avoid single-use plastic; rather take fabric shopping bags with you and use refillable water bottles (when local drinking water is available).
- Respect each other's cultures and customs and avoid imposing your beliefs.
- Do not support animal encounters and wildlife activities that are harmful or unethical. Safety tips
- Always have a map (or app) on hand, especially when travelling at night.
- Be safety conscious: don’t display cash or valuables. Leave jewellery and expensive watches at home.
- Keep your belongings safe – use the hotel safe for passports and valuables and watch out for pickpockets and bag snatchers when out and about.
What do I do in an emergency?
- If passports or valuables are stolen, report the theft to the hotel/police immediately.
- Contact the Thompsons Holidays 24-hour care line to assist.
Out of season
We’re sorry! The holiday you’re looking for is not in season. Luckily, we have loads of other exciting options. Take a look!