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An Alternative Guide to Helsinki

Picture of Jessica Wood
Updated: 1 June 2017
Although it’s a relatively small capital city in comparison to other countries’, Helsinki still has many unusual sites and alternative things to do beyond the standard tourist spots. Here are some of the lesser-known attractions, places to shop at, and restaurants to eat at while visiting Finland’s capital city.

See home grown art at Myymälä2 Gallery

For an alternative art space or a chance to support local artists, visit the non-profit contemporary art gallery Myymälä2. The gallery aims to not only cut down on the lines and hefty-ticket prices of the mainstream galleries, but they also wish to provide new artists with a chance to exhibit their work for a less-expensive rental price.

Myymälä2, Uudenmaankatu 23, Helsinki, Finland, +358 40 0101407

Exhibition at Myymälä2
Exhibition at Myymälä2 | © Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr

Relax at Hietaranta Beach

Not many people associate Helsinki with beaches, but there is one beach on the West Coast which provides a place for relaxation, swimming, and boating. Clean, shallow waters and facilities for beach volleyball, basketball, miniature golf, and tennis provide opportunities for outdoor fun. There are also canoes and kayaks for rent, which is fitting as it’s close to where they held the 1952 Helsinki Olympics’ rowing events. It is the perfect place to spend a warm, sunny day in Helsinki or to jump in the sea after a hot sauna.

Hietaranta Beach, Helsinki, Finland

High tide at Hietaranta beach
High tide at Hietaranta beach | © Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr

Pick up bargains at Frida Marina

Shopping in Helsinki can be expensive, but the Kallio District has many vintage and secondhand shops for bargain hunters. Frida Marina is unique for containing a self-service flea market, café, interior design shop, and vintage boutique all in one. In the same premises is Moonk, a store dedicated to selling fair trade and ethically-sourced clothing as well as household items from around the world.

Frida Marina, Kaarlenkatu 10, Helsinki, Finland, +358 50 3810418

Feast during crayfish season

The annual Baltic Herring Festival may be the most well-known Helsinki food event. But at the end of July, Helsinki takes full advantage of the brief crayfish season as well. Crayfish are such a delicacy that people make reservations at restaurants, dress up, and attend crayfish parties to enjoy the yearly treat—complete with huge platters of bright red crayfish and lots of singing. Buying crayfish and cooking them up at summer houses is another popular option. Attending one of these parties is a good alternative way to take part in local tradition and sample a specialty dish.

Be spooked by Helsinki Horror Walk

For those seeking a much more entertaining and alternative city tour as well as a way to learn about lesser-known stories and urban legends, take the Helsinki Horror Walk. It is just one of the many global-ghost tours which will take visitors around the main part of the city to hear strange and supernatural tales. In Helsinki, the walk takes two hours and includes a stop at a mass grave for victims of the Black Plague among other morbidly-fascinating sites.

Unwind at the Kamppi Chapel of Silence

Helsinki is known for its beautiful and unusual churches. One of the strangest, yet most inviting, is the Kamppi Chapel of Silence at the entrance to the Kamppi Shopping Centre. The simply-designed wooden church doesn’t hold any services or ceremonies. Instead, it is intended solely for people to sit in silence for prayer, relaxation, or contemplation. It is a rare place to shut out the outside world and take a moment for silent reflection in order to de-stress in the middle of a busy city.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Simonkatu 7, Helsinki, Finland, +358 92 3402018

The Kamppi Chapel of Silence
The Kamppi Chapel of Silence | © Angelo_Giordano/Pixabay