From the famous Helsinki Cathedral to exploring the surrounding islands by boat, there are so many things to see and do in Helsinki. If you’re planning on visiting spending a weekend in the Finnish capital, then this Helsinki guide is just for you!
Helsinki is the capital of Finland, full of art, culture and unique design. The locals are really friendly and there’s a big focus on stopping, relaxing, and connecting with nature, something I think is so important. Finland is said to be the happiest country in the world, and it’s not hard to see why. See how to increase your happiness here.
I absolutely love Finland, and I’ve been here a number of times. From exploring Finnish Lapland, to driving the Koli Ice Road, and from going snowshoeing to enjoying a husky safari in Karelia, Finland offers so many opportunities for adventure, and it doesn’t stop there. Tallinn in Estonia is only a 2-hour ferry away, and you can get to Stockholm on an overnight ferry, so it’s easy to turn your trip to Helsinki into an international adventure!
I last visited Helsinki on a cruise, where I saw 6 cities in 7 days: Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Tallinn, St. Petersburg. It was an incredible adventure, and I learned and saw so much in each of these unique but nearby cities.
I also explored Helsinki as part of an adventure exploring Southern Finland, where we also stopped in Hanko and Salo. Check out my 4-day itinerary for Southern Finland here.
I’ve put together my knowledge, tips and tricks from these trips into the ultimate Helsinki travel guide, ready for your next Finnish adventure! Let’s get planning!
A Helsinki guide: everything you need to know about Finland’s capital…
How do you get to Helsinki?
Getting to Helsinki by plane:
Helsinki airport (HEL) is Finland’s largest airport and welcomes international flights every day.
Getting from Helsinki airport to the city centre…
You have a few options:
- Finnair city bus: the most comfortable way to get from the airport to the city centre. It takes 30 minutes and a one-way ticket is €6.80.
- Public bus or train: several public buses (615, 415, 617 and 561) and trains run between the airport and the city. Check upcoming bus and train departures on the airport website here.
- Car rental
What’s the best way to get around Helsinki?
- On foot: Helsinki is a relatively small capital city and perfectly walkable!
- Rent bikes: Helsinki is a great city to cycle round, and there are city bikes available to use. Get more information about how to use the bikes here.
- Public transport: Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) provide a great service across the city, including buses, trains, trams, and the metro.
The best places to eat and drink in Helsinki…
- Cafe Regatta, touristy but worth a visit!
- Nolla, a zero waster restaurant (with vegan options)
- Sose, an amazing vegan cafe with a seasonal menu
- Kahvila Siili, a summer cafe with great coffee
- IPI Kulmakuppila, a great cafe that trains and hires people with learning differences
- Tanner is a music store and restaurant
- Sandro Kallio, good for brunch or a buffet lunch, with lots of veggie options!
- Story in the Old Market Hall for soup, or Mari’s Smoothie Bar for a fresh juice.
- Juuri for ‘sapas’ (Scandinavian tapas!)
- Savotta for traditional Finnish food
- Sunn for brunch!
- Café Ursula, Andante, Kaffecentralen (multiple locations), Kaffa Roastery, Kulma or Cafe Esplanad for coffee and cake
- Yes Yes Yes for a great vegatarian restaurant.
- Restaurant Kuurna for amazing, seasonal food. I think this was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten anywhere!
For a night out in Helsinki, consider Post Bar, Pub Sirdie and Kaikukatu, all in the Kallio neighbourhood!
For cocktails, try Steam Hellsinki or Ateljee Rooftop Bar.
The best things to do in Helsinki…
1. Visit Helsinki Cathedral & Senate Square for the some Helsinki shots.
2. Soak up all the culture in the many museums Helsinki has to offer.
There are so many museums in Helsinki; I’m pretty sure you could fill a few days looking at what the museums have to offer!
Art museums in Helsinki:
- Ateneum Art Museum
- Museum of Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma
- Design Museum
- The Finnish Museum of Photography
- Sinebrychoff Art Museum
History museums in Helsinki:
- National Museum of Finland
- Military Museum’s Manege
- Finnish Museum of Natural History
- Suomenlinna – definitely worth visiting. It’s a maritime fortress spread over seven islands!
- Seurassari Open Air Museum – also worth visiting for some fresh air and to wander around the traditional Finnish buildings on show here!
3. Take the vintage tram from Havis Amanda Fountain at Market Square for a 20-minute journey covering all of central Helsinki’s landmarks!
If you don’t want to ride the vintage tram, ‘modern’ tram line 2 will take you through the landmarks too!
4. Make a picnic and enjoy it at Esplanadi, a green space in Helsinki city centre.
“Espa”, as it’s known by the locals, is a welcome escape from city life.
Another park slightly further out, but worth visiting, is Kaivopuisto Park.
5. Marvel at the unique design of the underground Temppeliaukio Church.
6. Browse the local products, including Finnish cakes and cheeses, at the Old Market Hall.
7. Explore the remaining wooden house districts in Helsinki.
Offering up a bit of real life Finnish history and culture, these districts were built for the working class in the 20th century. Of the few that remain, two worth exploring are Puu Vallila for the coffee shops and bars, and Puu-Käpylä for its green space.
8. Walk the 7km long trail along Helsinki’s coast line.
On the walk you’ll see Hietaniemi Beach (a sandy beach you can relax on during summer!) and the Sibelius Monument which commemorates a famous Finnish composer.
9. Relax and enjoy a sauna.
There are a whopping 3 million saunas in Finland! Many of these are open to the public, and since sauna is a Finnish word, it makes sense to try one while you’re here.
For public saunas, you should try the districts of Kotiharju, Merihaka, Hermanni, or the “Löyly” urban sauna complex.
10. Release your inner child at Linnanmäki amusement park.
11. Visit Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Russian Orthodox church in western Europe.
12. Enjoy crayfish season!
In July and August the seafood restaurants in Helsinki are packed. It’s crayfish season, and this dish is usually paired with a shot of Akvavit. Cheers!
13. Browse the stalls and pick up some souvenirs from the Market Square (Kauppatori).
14. Go skiing in the Paloheinä forest in Helsinki’s Central Park (Keskuspuisto).
15. See Helsinki from the water on a sightseeing cruise.
Book your 90-minute cruise around Helsinki’s islands here.
16. Visit the reindeer and enjoy the nature on a day trip to Nuuksio National Park or Sipoonkorpi National Park.
The National Parks are also great places for adventure sports such as hiking, kayaking and rock climbing!
17. Visit the medieval town of Porvoo to learn about Finnish history first hand.
18. Enjoy a day trip to the beautiful Åland Islands.
These islands between Finland and Sweden are well worth a visit if you can squeeze them into your time in Helsinki!
19. Spend a day in Vantaa.
This suburb outside of Helsinki is full of amazing street art. You can also visit the Fazer Chocolate Factory and go ice swimming in Kuusijärvi Lake!
20. Enjoy the cool, arty Kallio neighborhood.
Students, artists and creatives love this area of Helsinki! Kaiku and Kuudes Linja are two nightclubs you should definitely visit if you like to party.
21. Enjoy the jazz festival at Teurastamo, an old slaughterhouse that is now a cultural hub.
22. Watch the sunset over downtown Helsinki from the island of Lonna.
24. Take the ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.
Yes, on your trip to Helsinki you can visit another country! Tallinn is only two hours away, so could be done as a day trip or an overnight trip.
Check out my 48-hour guide to Tallinn here.
Have you been to Helsinki?
What hotspots would you add to this Helsinki travel guide? I’d love to know!
Love as always and happy adventuring,
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