Helsinki: A Solo Female Traveler’s Guide to Finland’s Capital

Sidney Brown Avatar

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress that can be reached by ferry.

From the moment I arrived in Finland, I absolutely fell in love–so much so that I ended up moving from California to Europe, where I settled into permanent residence in Helsinki in 2022.

I’m the type of person who loves to fully immerse myself in a new country, and over the last two years, I’ve explored much of what Helsinki has to offer. Here are some of my top essentials for a first-time trip to Helsinki, many of which can be seen in only a few days due to the relatively small size of the city and the super-efficient public transportation system (HSL).

Walking tours are very effective for seeing most of the destinations listed below.

Is Helsinki Safe for Solo Women Travelers?

On my first trip to Helsinki, I was completely alone and without a working phone. That being said, even as a young woman traveling alone, I felt very safe in Helsinki.

Though it was tricky to decipher the street signs without Google Translate, it’s completely possible to get around with English only–most people speak it, especially at landmarks, cafes, and restaurants.

Obviously, it’s important to stay aware of your surroundings, but I would definitely encourage women to travel here alone.

One area that can sometimes be a little dodgy is the neighborhood of Kallio, but in recent years this area has been mostly co-opted by hipsters and young people. You may still encounter the occasional addict in Kallio, but they typically keep to themselves.

A big piece of Finnish culture is personal space, respect, and quiet; because of this, you’ll likely be left alone as you explore these spots, my favorite things to do in Helsinki.

Read More: Best Countries to Visit with Kids

Suomenlinna Island Fortress

Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress that can be reached by a ferry leaving from Kauppatori, or the Old Market Square. The ferry ride to Suomenlinna is 15 minutes long, offering an excellent opportunity for sightseeing along the Helsinki archipelago.

Once you arrive you can choose to join a guided walking tour or wander on your own.

What you’ll see:

A Unesco World Heritage site featuring fortress ruins, museums, cafes, and an unmatched vantage of the Baltic Sea.

My recommendation:

Kahvila Vanilja –a super cozy cafe serving soup, Finnish treats, coffee, and more.

A standard HSL ticket functions for the ferry, as well as all buses, city trains, trams, and metro. You can purchase tickets for the ferry at the harbor.

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Words don’t do Suomenlinna justice…it truly is a magical place.
Words don’t do Suomenlinna justice…it truly is a magical place. Photo credit: Sidney Brown

Katajanokka

Take a walking tour around Katajanokka (or Skatta, as the locals call it), an urban island very near Kauppatori.

Here you’ll be able to see the stunning European art-nouveau-style architecture that Helsinki boasts so much of.

Fun fact: Tove Jansson, creator of the popular and much beloved Moomin series, lived in Katajanokka (there’s a park on the island named after her!)

Public restrooms are available in Katajanokka.

Uspenskin Cathedral

The Uspenskin Cathedral sits atop a hill on Katajanokka. Built in the 19th century, the Orthodox Uspenskin Cathedral is a visually stunning piece of Finland’s history with Russia.

Entrance is free.

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Uspenski Cathedral looking regal against a gloomy March sky.
Uspenski Cathedral looking regal against a gloomy March sky. Photo credit: Sidney Brown

Old Market Hall

Also near Kauppatori, you’ll find the Old Market Hall, where you can sit for lunch, browse for locally crafted souvenirs at the boutique booths, or taste local delicacies such as smoked reindeer meat, fresh-caught seafood, and delicious Finnish pastries.

What to eat at the Old Market Hall (or any other cafe):

  • Finnish cinnamon bun, aka korvapuusti. This cinnamon bun is SO GOOD and you can find them in most cafes and grocery stores. They’re best eaten while still warm, and with a cup of strong Finnish coffee.
  • Karelian pie with egg butter. I was wary of this Finnish food for a long time, but when I finally tried one I was dismayed that I never had it before. The base is a Karelian pie (a traditional pastry made with rye bread and filled with cooked rice porridge), with a topping of soft butter whipped with pieces of hard-boiled egg. The result is a comforting, savory snack that’s perfect for a long day of walking around the city.
Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Admiring the beautiful Helsinki Church!
Admiring the beautiful Helsinki Church! Photo credit: Sidney Brown

Senate Square

In Senate Square, you’ll find four historic buildings, all closely tied to Finnish history: Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the University of Helsinki, and the National Library of Finland. All four buildings were designed by Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840).

Helsinki Cathedral is arguably one of the country’s most famous landmarks–for good reason. This Lutheran church features neoclassical architecture and fantastic views of the harbor once you climb to the top of the steps.

Spoken from personal experience, this is a great place to imagine that you’re in a movie; solo atop the world.

Esplanadi Park

Whether you’re hoping to people-watch, rest your feet, or grab a delicious meal, Esplanadi Park is perfect. This beautiful urban park was also designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. In the warmer months, Esplanadi Park hosts street performances and outdoor exhibits.

Oodi Library

Oodi, conveniently situated in the city center, is a prime example of Nordic architecture. Oodi houses live trees, a movie theater, workspaces, and two cafes. There is also a terrace on the second floor open to the public with views of the Finnish Parliament building.

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Inside Oodi Library.
Inside Oodi Library. Photo credit: Sidney Brown

Kiasma Modern Art Museum

Kiasma, or the Museum of Contemporary Art, boasts incredible architecture as well as a wide variety of seasonally changing art installations. This museum is a great place to get a deeper look into Finnish culture via art. Many of the exhibits feature work by Scandinavian artists, but are not limited to Finnish art only.

Displays are all written in English, Swedish, Finnish, and Russian.

SheBuysTravel Tip: On the first Friday of every month, admission to Kiasma is free!

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - An otherworldly light exhibition on Kiasma’s top floor.
An otherworldly light exhibition on Kiasma’s top floor. Photo credit: Sidney Brown

National Museum of Finland

Located near the city center, the National Museum of Finland is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with Finnish history.

There is a ton to see here, with exhibits featuring information about Finland’s natural, cultural, and political history. I visited this museum on my first-ever trip to Helsinki, and it taught and inspired me so much! Never before would I have known about the history of sauna in Finland, or the indigenous Sámi people.

Displays are all written in English, Swedish, Finnish, and Russian.

Sibelius Monument

Dedicated to the prolific Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, this metallic monument is a dazzling sight to see. Additionally, the monument is placed centrally in the quaint Helsinki neighborhood of Töölö, where you’ll find beautiful sprawling parks and the beloved Cafe Regatta.

My recommendation

After strolling through Sibelius Park surrounding the monument, enjoy a vegan hot chocolate and a Finnish pastry at Cafe Regatta. In every season it’s beautiful here, whether you’re visiting in the snowy winter, vibrant autumn, or glorious summer. The cafe has a terrace with excellent views of Hietsu Beach.

Best Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland, as Recommended by an Expat - Sibelius Park in the fall is like a fairytale.
Sibelius Park in the fall is like a fairytale. Photo credit: Sidney Brown

Temppeliaukio

Temppeliaukio, or ‘rock church’ is exactly what it sounds like–a church carved into solid rock. This Lutheran church is often used as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustics–if that’s your jam, definitely check out upcoming performances during your visit. Temppeliaukio is also located in Töölö.

Kamppi

Kamppi is nestled right in the middle of the city center, hosting a bustling mall, as well as many restaurants, boutiques, a movie theater, and two museums–the Helsinki Art Museum and Amos Rex (also an art museum).

Temple of Silence

The Temple of Silence is a free, silent haven amidst the busy city of Kamppi. It’s a great example of both Finnish architecture and culture–to Finns, silence is a necessity just as saunas are.

For a solo traveler, this is a great place to catch your breath and regroup–again, spoken from personal experience.

Public Saunas

While a sauna might be a luxury for many, Finns consider it a necessity–so much so that there are 3 million saunas in Finland.

Visiting a public sauna is both relaxing and educational–you’ll learn firsthand about this core facet of Finnish life.

Great public saunas to try:

Löyly

Löyly (pronounced LOW-loo) gets its name from the ladle used to throw water on the sauna’s internal oven, which in turn generates steam. Löyly features four Finnish saunas, a restaurant, a bar, and an outdoor terrace.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s even a place to dip in the freezing cold Baltic Sea after you’ve steamed inside. This may sound wildly unpleasant, but it actually feels amazing–it relaxes your nervous system and encourages circulation. 

Tickets are 22 euros, which gives you access to all four saunas for 2 hours.

Allas Sea Pool

Located right beside Kauppatori is Allas Sea Pool. Here you’ll be able to swim in an outdoor sea pool and explore five different saunas. There are also private booking options available, where you can enjoy private saunas, showers, and lounges.

Public Sauna Tips

  • Public saunas are typically mixed-gender, meaning that bathing suits are required. The Finnish tradition is to do saunas nude, but this is not required in public settings.
  • This really depends on the person, but I’ve found that doing sauna has an extremely relaxing effect. Meaning, if you’re planning on going to the sauna in the morning before a full day of sightseeing, maybe reconsider your schedule. You’ll likely feel sleepy afterward, so it’s better to aim for a sauna experience in the evening.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated–bring your own water bottle!

Other Things to Do in Helsinki

Day trip to Tallinn, Estonia

From Helsinki’s main harbor, you can easily take a ferry to Tallinn. The ferry ride takes 2 hours, transporting you back in time to the medieval heart of Estonia. Old Town Tallinn is accessible solo or via guided tour.

Here you’ll see modern, Soviet, and medieval architecture blended together in one otherworldly destination.

At the end of the day, simply take the ferry back to Helsinki to continue your journey.

Conclusion

Overall, Helsinki is a fantastic, safe, and dreamy European destination for a solo female traveler. As Finland experiences each season distinctly, you’ll get a different perspective of the country depending on when you go.

For a first-time trip, I recommend summer–the days are long, the weather is amazing and there are tons of events hosted throughout the city.

Sidney Brown Avatar
Sidney Brown is a storyteller and novelist most interested in writing about friendship, intimacy and alternate dimensions. She is passionate about egg sandwiches, long walks, and watching trees like they’re TV. She was born in California but nowadays lives in Helsinki, where she labors slowly and joyously on her second novel. Her first book, Godlike, Weeping (2023) is available online. You can also find her on Substack under the name gemini rites, where she publishes personal essays & expat diaries.
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