Helsinki is a pocket-sized city and its sights are almost all within walking distance. Still, there is plenty to see in Helsinki.
From the South Harbour
If you arrive in Helsinki on one of the enormous cruise ferries from Stockholm, you will disembark in the South Harbour, in the heart of Helsinki and walking distance from many of its attractions.
Much of the city’s parkland, including the central favourite, Kaivopuisto, spills down to the rocky shorelines of the Gulf of Finland.
The historical area close to the South Harbour is also a good place to start your exploration of the city.
When Finland was transferred from Swedish to Russian rule in 1809, the Tsarist rulers of the new Grand Duchy decided to switch the capital from Turku, which is in the southwest, to Helsinki.
The Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
The architect Carl Ludvig Engel was commissioned to design a new city centre that would be fitting for a capital; the cluster of majestic neo-classical buildings that resulted, surrounding the Senate Square and close to the Market Square, remains Helsinki’s distinctive historic centre.
The blindingly white Helsinki Cathedral, with its green domes and wide, sweeping steps leading down to the ample Senate Square and the statue of Alexander II, is probably Helsinki’s best-known and most admired symbol, while the columns and facades of the surrounding 19th century buildings are reminiscent of the imperial centre of St. Petersburg.
Between the Senate Square and the Market Square are the Tori Quarters, historical buildings that are now being renovated.
There are restaurants, shops and an indie movie theatre in this increasingly trendy, yet charming area.
When you arrive at the Market Square, you will meet the fountain statue of Havis Amanda – the focus of student partying on May 1st – and the Kappeli restaurant and café at the eastern end of the Esplanade park are to your right as you approach the waterfront.
Across the road to your left, the main Market Square – a bustle of colourful stalls in summer, and a huddle of canopies in winter – spills out across the cobbled quayside, while across the harbour to your right is the indoor Market Hall, where culinary delights are waiting for you.
From the Market Square, you can turn and admire the line of pastel-coloured historical buildings, from the calm blue of the City Hall to the creamy yellow of the President’s Palace.
The Uspenski Cathedral
Nearby, and visible from the Market Square on the edge of the Katajanokka promontory, the red brick and golden cupolas of the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral are another reminder of Helsinki’s eastern heritage.
This Cathedral has the most richly decorated interior of any church – and possibly any building at all – in the city, and makes a memorable and rewarding detour.
The SkyWheel opposite the Cathedral is the newest landmark of Helsinki.
A ride takes approximately 15 minutes and costs 12 euros.
There will be a brand new outdoor sea pool complex called Allas Sea Pool next to the SkyWheel, opening this summer. The spa’s pools and saunas will be open year-round.