Ah, Helsinki. The queen of understated cool. She’s not loud and in your face, the way some metropolises can be. To discover the best of what she has to offer, you’ll have to look closer and pay attention. But once you do, you’ll be rewarded. Helsinki embodies some of the best bits of Finland itself; an elegant pragmatism that is relaxing and beautiful.
The city centre revolves around the central railway station, which buzzes with the comings and goings of train passengers seven days a week. The centre is a jumping-off point from which to explore the rest of the capital, but also a destination in its own right. This list of the Helsinki City Centre’s best neighbourhood tips will help you make the most of your visit.
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In the vicinity of the Central Railway Station, art and design lovers can hop from one museum and architectural masterpiece to another. Within just a 10-minute walk of each other, you’ll find two branches of the Finnish National Gallery, modern art space Amos Rex, Helsinki’s stunningly modern central library, the Art Nouveau central railway station, and a 19th-century botanic garden.
Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden
Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden is a year-round refuge with its four-hectare outdoor garden and ten glasshouses. The outdoor gardens can be enjoyed for free, while there is an entrance fee for the glasshouses. Indoors, even in the middle of a blizzard, you can stroll through deserts, rainforests and tropical wetlands. A highlight are the giant water lilies, which bloom through the summer until about October and are big enough to hold an adult human (it’s tempting to test this, but don’t try climbing on them).
Helsinki Central Library Oodi
You might be surprised to find a library on a sightseeing list, but once you visit, you’ll understand why it’s a must-see. The Helsinki Central Library Oodi, or just Oodi for short, is an architectural masterpiece. Completed in 2018, Oodi is reminiscent of a sci-fi ship from the outside. On the inside, you’ll find everything from communal sewing machines and 3D printers to video gaming rooms and chess sets. It’s not until the top floor that you’ll find books in a light-drenched open area with a cafe, rooftop terrace overlooking parliament, a kids’ play area, and lots of comfy chairs. In an age of digitisation, Oodi redefines the role a library plays in society.
The Amos Rex Art Museum was originally based on the personal art collection of Finnish businessman and philanthropist Amos Anderson (1878–1961). In 2018, the museum moved into the Lasipalatsi (“Glass Palace”) building across from the Kamppi shopping centre. Lasipalatsi first opened in 1936 as a visitor’s service centre for the 1940 Summer Olympics (which Helsinki didn’t host until 1952 because of WWII). To prepare the site for Amos Rex, Lasipalatsi was renovated and underground levels were added which now house the museum’s exhibition spaces. Five otherworldly domes sit above the museum, letting daylight in from the square above. The museum’s collection contains mostly Finnish modern art from the 1900s, which is accompanied by experimental exhibitions.
Overlooking the same square as Amos Rex, you might not initially recognise the Kamppi Chapel as a religious structure. From some angles, it looks like an egg. From others, like a spaceship. Though technically run by Lutheran congregations of Helsinki, the chapel welcomes people of all life philosophies and backgrounds. The chapel is silent inside, and not even whispering is permitted in order to maintain a quiet space for prayer or reflection in the busiest area of the Finnish capital. The chapel is free to visit, so step inside for a moment of peace and to admire the ethereal wooden structure.
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is part of the Finnish National Gallery, as is the Ateneum Art Museum. Its four floors house constantly changing exhibits, performances and events. Guided tours in multiple languages are regularly organised which are included in the admission ticket price, and paid workshops can also be booked. Get ready for your concept of art to be expanded!
Ateneum Art Museum
While Kiasma covers modern art, Ateneum presents Finnish art from the 19th century until today. Their collection includes more than 20,000 national treasures. Fun fact: Guests at Bob W can admire prints of artworks belonging to Ateneum, including Helene Schjerfbeck’s and Ellen Thesleff’s self-portraits. Ateneum is being renovated from March 2022 and will reopen in early 2023. Follow their website for reopening updates.
Helsinki Central Railway Station
With about 200,000 daily visitors, Helsinki’s Central Railway Station is Finland’s most visited building. Granted, most people visit the station because they’re taking trains to other parts of the capital of the country, but it’s worth a visit purely to admire the architecture as well. Opened in 1919, it is the crown jewel of Helsinki’s Art Nouveau buildings. It’s easy to spot by its clock tower and grand, arched entrance flanked on each side by two lantern-bearing male statues. The statues are often dressed up for special occasions, like black and white masks for the time Kiss came to perform in Helsinki, or giant face masks throughout the pandemic.
There are a few things you should know about dining out in Helsinki. Lunch specials are a great deal on weekdays when workers run out to enjoy a quick bite. These lunch specials commonly also include tea or filter coffee after the meal. Tap water is available for free in most restaurants as well. Tipping is also not customary in Finland.
One thing you’ll also quickly notice (especially if you’re not from a Nordic country) is the high price of alcohol in Finland. It’s heavily taxed and regulated by the government, which is reflected in the prices of pints and cocktails in restaurants. It’s also interesting to note that anything harder than beer or cider is only sold in state-run shops aptly named “Alko”, which have shorter opening hours than regular grocery stores.
Cafes and breakfast
Fazer is a household name in Finland, best-known for their chocolates and sweets, which you’ll find in every shop in Finland. Lucky for you, Fazer also has a series of cafes around Helsinki where you can start your day deliciously with sweet or savoury breakfasts and coffee drinks inspired by their chocolates.
And if you happen to be a guest of Bob W, you’re luckiest of all because you can add discounted breakfasts at our partners Fazer Café Kaisaniemi, just across the street from Bob W Helsinki City Centre, and Fazer Café Citycenter to your stay.
Another great breakfast spot is Kanniston Leipomo, which also has several locations around the centre. For the best selection of their freshly baked breads and pastries with seasonal, local berries, come early in the day. Don’t let the long Finnish names of baked goods like “mustikkapiirakka” intimidate you; just point to what looks good and enjoy. Kanniston Leipomo on Yliopiston Street is also a Bob W partner where guests can enjoy breakfast at a discount.
For lunch and dinner
Sandwich Club (pun intended?) is a deli-style sandwich and bagel restaurant just a block off the Helsinki Cathedral. After travelling around the US, the owners fell in love with the sandwich culture there and decided to replicate it in Finland (with their own twists). You can get classics like a B.L.T. or Cubano, but there are bountiful veggie and vegan options as well with homemade ‘facon’ (seitan ‘bacon’), ‘sham’ (seitan ‘ham’) and ‘mock lox’ (cured carrot). The shop itself is petite, but during the summer you can also devour your sandwich in the inner courtyard.
Pizzeria Via Tribunali
Just across the street from Sandwich Club, Pizzeria Via Tribunali is Finland’s only certified Neapolitan pizzeria, which means you know it’ll be good. Though it looks small from the outside, there’s plenty of seating inside. Their pizzas come out of the domed, wood-fired oven with soft, thin crusts that are crisp on the edges and a little juicy in the middle, just as they should be. Delish!
On a quiet side street in Kruununhaka, you’ll find Restaurant Kuurna, a small bistro with just a handful of tables. They serve two- and three-course menus that change weekly and are based on the availability of top-notch local and seasonal ingredients. Certain crowd-favourites, however, like their pepper steak and beef tartare, are always available. Be sure to make a reservation to guarantee yourself a seat!
Torikortteli is three square blocks of bars and restaurants, cultural venues and unique boutiques of small-scale Finnish brands sandwiched between the Helsinki Cathedral and the Presidential Palace. One such brand is Lapuan Kankurit, which produces sustainable apparel, linens and accessories for the home and sauna at their mill in Laupa, Finland.
Design fans will enjoy a trip to the Artek flagship store. Artek has been a pillar of the Finnish design community since 1935. The two-storied shop frequently hosts events and features Artek’s full range of furniture (including the chairs you’ll find in Bob W’s apartments), and curated design products from other Finnish and Nordic brands.
Hakaniemi Market Hall
Just across the bridge from Helsinki City Centre in Kallio is Hakaniemi Market Hall, an indoor/outdoor market. In the mornings and when the weather is good, stalls outside sell produce and local foods. Indoors, stalls operate year-round selling handicrafts, knick-knacks and speciality groceries. There are also several casual restaurants inside Hakaniemi Market Hall with a big emphasis on seafood. Try an open-faced sandwich piled high with succulent crayfish on dark bread or a creamy salmon soup, two Finnish delicacies.
Bars and nightlife
Trillby & Chadwick
The detective agency of Trillby & Chadwick is a secretive place, so you won’t find much about it online. This speakeasy advertises itself as a detective agency, a theme that carries over into its elaborate, novel-like menu. The entrance is an unmarked door on Katariinankatu, one street over from Pizzeria Via Tribunali and Sandwich Club.
If you manage to find the door at all, you’ll have another mystery to solve before being let into the bar itself. I can’t say much, except that the handcrafted drinks and atmosphere inside are well worth the effort.
If you’re looking for the perfect place for a date or saucy night out, look no further than Bardem. Dark and sultry interior? Check. World-class bartenders? Check. Menu of fresh, original cocktails? Check. Need I say more?
Sports and wellness
When the weather permits, Esplanadi Park is central Helsinki’s favourite place for picnics. This petite, rectangular park is lined with Helsinki’s fanciest shops and restaurants. At one end of the park stands the Swedish Theatre, and on the other Havis Amanda, Ville Vallgren’s beloved 1908 statue which depicts a young maiden rising from the sea.
Kaisaniemi Park, just behind Bob W Helsinki City Centre, is a larger green area great for jogging or strolling. There are also three bays near the park – Kaisaniemilahti, Eläintarhanlahti and Töölölahti – which you can jog around if you’d like to add some kilometres to your jogging route. Kaisaniemi Park is home to Kaisaniemi Botanic Garden.
In Helsinki, your outdoor adventures aren’t limited to the mainland. Tervasaari is a small island connected to the city centre by a 250-metre road. It’s surrounded by docks where hundreds of ships moor, ranging from yachts to rowboats. The island itself has a maze of walking trails, a summer theatre, beach, dog park and cafe.
If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor sports, Fitness 24Seven is a chain of gyms all around Helsinki. Guests of Bob W get one complimentary gym pass per person per day to visit any Fitness 24Seven, including the closest one to our two central Helsinki locations in Hakaniemi.
Whether you’re coming to Helsinki for a night or a month, stay like a local at one of Bob W’s two properties in downtown Helsinki. Bob W Helsinki City Centre and Bob W Kluuvi are each only a minute from the Central Railway Station.
Get complimentary access to Fitness 24/7 and fixed-price Breakfast Passes to Fazer Café or Kanniston Leipomo for deliciously lazy mornings. For the best rates and perks you won’t get elsewhere, book directly on bobw.co.