As the capital of Finland and its largest city, there is no shortage of things to do in Helsinki. Beyond the tourist sites, there are many ways to experience Helsinki like a local. Whether you’re staying for a semester or a few years don’t miss out on these 10 must-do’s.
Student overalls are a tradition held by students in Finland and Sweden. They’re worn during student parties and events. Wearing the color of your faculty makes your friends easy to spot in the crowd at Vappu (Finnish labor day celebrations) or a crowded student cruise to Sweden. If you don’t buy the overalls you may end up regretting it while all of your friends run around collecting various patches to sew on.
Two of the easiest places to go from Finland, there’s no excuse to not go. If you plan ahead, a trip to Tallinn may only cost you 10 euros. Then there are the student cruises to Sweden, only to be done if you want to meet students from all over the world but also don’t feel like sleeping for a weekend.
This is a staple in Finnish student life. A sitsit can only be described as a themed three-course dinner with singing, drinking, toasting and an after party. Oftentimes there will be patches for the overalls at the sitsit afterparty. Also, who doesn’t love to be served a meal including more wine than you could want?
The sauna is a staple in Finnish life and part of the national identity. With a population of roughly 5.5 million and over three million saunas in Finland, you won’t struggle to find one when you’re ready to go. While many saunas are attached to apartments, there are still several public saunas available to visitors. Löyly, which means the steam that comes when you throw water on hot stones in a sauna, is a great sauna to go to when you’re in the mood for sauna and food. Allas Sea Pool offers the unique experience of swimming in the sea and using the sauna in the heart of Helsinki.
Nestled right on the water in Töölö, Café Regatta is a cozy place to visit all year round. This café is set up in a traditional Finnish cottage that is 115 years old and family owned. Buying a coffee or tea includes refills and with each refill, you get five cents back. Whether you go in the middle of winter to huddle around a fire clutching your warm coffee, or in the summer to soak in the endless sun, Café Regatta is a must.
Located in Espoo, Startup Sauna is the place to be if you’re a budding entrepreneur. As an accelerator, Startup Sauna has helped over 200 startups and has over 70 pro-bono coaches available to startups in the accelerator program. The best part is that their 1,500 square meter space is available to anyone who needs a coworking space, and it has free wifi!
Northern Finland is a one of a kind place. Going far enough to cross the Arctic Circle there is no end to the things you can do and see, especially if you like nature. In the winter time, you can go visit Santa Claus and his reindeer. There are sleigh rides to take and husky sleds to ride. Of course, you can’t forget about the northern lights. In the summer, there is just as much to do. Santa works year-round and you can watch the sun stay bright all night.
This sea fortress is built across six islands in the Helsinki Archipelago. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Suomenlinna was built in 1747 by the Swedish as a naval defense base known as Viapori. A year after Finland’s independence from Russia in 1918, Suomenlinna was given to Finland and renamed to how it is known today. Whether you see the icy fortress in the winter or in the summer when it is covered in blooming flowers, Suomenlinna is not a sight to miss. You can reach the fortress by ferry using your regular transportation card.
Traditional Finnish food can be something quite strange like Mämmi (a traditional Easter dessert), or quite delicious like Korvapuusti (cinnamon rolls). There are many directions you can go in when having traditional Finnish food, and most of it is delicious. Just to name a few, there is the Karelian pasty, rye bread, cardamom bread, smoked reindeer, and salmon soup. If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous then you should try the famous squeaky cheese called Leipäjuusto, pea soup and pancakes (but only on Thursdays), and then there is Salmiakki (salty licorice), of course.
Learning Finnish is quite difficult, and very few people can master it in a few years, let alone in a semester. While you can get around Helsinki (and most of Finland) with English, a few Finnish words are always useful.There are basic greetings to know, and it’s always useful to know how to get yourself through a coffee shop, grocery store, or bar. Bonus points if you learn a joke and get your Finnish friends to crack a smile.
About the author
A native Floridian herself, Emilee is already one year removed from the Sunshine State on her way to earning a Master’s in Media and Global Communications at the University of Helsinki. She also happens to be busy doing an internship at Emended, energizing our digital content with her unique perspective. For August, Emilee is hosting a three-post blog series on her experiences of being an international student in Finland. Follow Emilee on Twitter