It’s time to continue with the guides of European cities which we have been visiting over the last few months, Helsinki has been one of them and we could not forget the beautiful Finnish capital, weirdly, no many travel blogs mention.
We spent 4 days roaming Helsinki but a couple of them busy at conferences so we did not have enough time to visit more places, especially those found outside the city that in less than one day can be great destinations to disconnect and learn a little more about the country’s culture. I know you came here with about two days to visit the city, but if you plan to stay longer you need to know there is much more to do.
If you like you can get in touch with the city with a Free walking tour (remember, is not free) or use the Hop-on Hop-off bus. We preffer to walk on our own so here you will find everything you need to just get lost in the city.
How to get from the airport to the centre of Helsinki
The public transport connection is great, there is a direct train that goes from the city centre to the airport. Every 10 minutes you have trains connecting both destinations. It takes about 30 minutes between the airport train station and the Helsinki Central Station. Fast, not tu expensive and totally reliable.
The ticket is priced at 5 € if you buy from the airport and 5,50 € if you buy from the city, we still do not know why but we had to make the journey more than twice so we are totally sure about this.
At the airport you need to purchased the tickets before starting the walk to the train, you can even buy them at the baggage claim while you are waiting for your luggage. If you come from the city you can buy them at the central station in any ticket vending machine.
Public Transport in Helsinki
Helsinki is pretty small, is possible to reach almost any destination just walking. There is only one metro line (and we never needed it) and the trams move around every corner of the city.
Public Transport in the city is not exactly cheap so if you have time and you want to save money just walk. On the other hand, if you have 2 days and you want to get the most out of the city, I recommend buying an integrated card or get your hands on the Helsinki card which includes some turist attractions aswell as public transport.
Single Ticket: 2,90 € when purchased from the machine or 3,20 € when purchased directly on the bus.
Single Night Ticket (from 2 am to 4:30 am): 5 €
1-day ticket: 9 €
2 day ticket: 13,50 €
3-day ticket: 18 €
There are 4, 5, 6 AND 7-day tickets that go up to 36 € however, once you spend more than 6 days it becomes cheaper to buy a subscription for 14 Days for 28 €
What to see and do in Helsinki
Helsinki is weirdly not a common tourist destination, but that makes it especially interesting for us. You will not find hordes of tourists everywhere, even in the most visited points the influx of people is quite normal at any time of the year.
We visited Helsinki in winter and we do not regret it. Yeah, sure, everything with a ray of sunshine is much better, but what a better plan than to visit the winter country in its most striking time?
Here you have some plans we recommend to enjoy Helsinki in two or three days. Let’s start with a few more common for a first day and two different plans for the second day.
*If you want to continue exploring Finland check out Oulu and Syöte, snow at its purest shape.
Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
One of the most iconic images of the city is the huge white church that crowns the Senate Square. If in pictures it’s awesome having it in front of you is something totally out of this world. A White block that rises in the centre of an altar on top of dozens of stairs and gives a different view of a city without just “Skyscrapers”
The church dates back to 1852 and was built as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. You will see how the country’s history has a lot to do with the Russian as they have crashed in several occasions and in fact, it was not until 1917 when Finland declared its independence from the Russian Empire.
Helsinki’s cathedral is considered to be the little sister of the St. Petersburg Cathedral. If you are a bit curious we recommend you to look for a picture of both side by side to see the huge similarities.
The interior of the building is extremely austere but you can visit it for free if you are interested.
Market Square (Kauppatori)
A few metres from the Senate Square, you will find the market square. In summer you can enjoy an outdoor fish market and throughout the year it is possible to visit the oldest city market in the city dating from 1888.
The market has recently been renewed thinking about tourism and includes all kinds of services in addition to a couple of new and fashionable restaurants inside.
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday from 8 AM TO 6 PM
If you are interested in the markets, you can also visit the Hakaniemi market (located in the neighbourhood of the same name) built in 1914. The Hakaniemi market is slightly different from the central since it has two floors; on the first you can Find all kinds of local food and on the second design shops and coffee stops.
Uspensky: the red cathedral
Another of the most striking buildings in the city is another church, in this case the Orthodox Cathedral of Uspensky which crowns a hill visible from the market square and shines with special light during the sunset thanks to its red bricks. The Cathedral was completed in 1868 and, as in the previous church of the list, there is also an important connection to Russia that can be found on the commemorative plaque to Alexander II.
As a curiosity, it is the largest Orthodox Cathedral in Western Europe.
Tuesday to Friday from 9:30 am to 7 PM
Saturdays from 10 am to 3 PM
Sundays from 12 am to 3 PM
Stepping out a bit of the center you can take the tram number 4 we go to Töölö neighborhood where we’ll find the last two stops the day.
Temppeliaukio: The church on the rock
Another church, yes, yes, it seems boring, but this one also has something particular – in fact very particular – because it was built on a solid rock.
The Church on the rock is not especially old since its construction was finished only in 1969 after a thousand attempts to build a church for the neighbourhood that ended in abandoned competitions or in the middle of a war.
The Rock Church was not popular at a start since after so much expectation what the neighbors wanted was a normal cathedral and none were satisfied when they had the final product in front of their eyes. However, almost immediately became one of the most striking points in the city and in a single summer was visited by more than 100.000 people. Today is an important concert hall and an extremely demanded church for weddings
The church is unique in its typology – it looks a lot like one we visited in Colombia, close to guatapé, although saving distances.
Sorry, we don’t have a picture because we’re a mess sometimes and the camera had no battery, but it’s really awesome.
Opening Hours: 10 am to 5 PM
Ticket Price: € 3 per person, free for neighbours and for children under 18
Following the same route of TRAM 4 you are going to…
Monument and Sibelius park
Both the park and the monument take their name In honour of Jean Sibelius, also located in the Töölö neighbourhood.
Sibelius is a world-class composer and his name has given life to all kinds of tools that we still use today (I’m sure if you have ever used the video editor Avid you can recall the name). In addition to being recognized for his musical contribution, he is loved and appreciated in the country as his music is considered to help create Finnish identity after Russia’s independence.
One of his most acclaimed pieces is “Finland” and you can enjoy it here:
The Monument is a work of Eila Hiltunen and dates from 1967, consists of more than 600 tubes forged together with the intention of simulating an organ and is located in the middle of a green area offering great views at the time of the sunset.
Okay, now you saw the most common things to see in Helsinki, is time to reach other places that could be perfect for a second day (or a third if the first two are calm).
One morning in Suomenlinna
In the area of the archipelago you can find an interesting destination for those who have already covered the rest of the city, a fortress island with a living story. Suomenlinna is a currently inhabited fortress and consists of a total of 6 Islands, the inhabitants of Suomenlinna are actually inhabitants of Helsinki as it is just “another” city district. These small islands are the perfect example of the country’s history as they have been present with all their rulers and have played an important role for each one of them. ,
Construction of the fortress began in 1748, when this territory belonged to the Swedish Crownand and its main function was the protection of the growing Russian Empire. However, in which it is known as the Finnish war (between Sweden and Russia) the fortress surrendered to the Russian army in 1808. The reasons for the surrender are not clear, some claim possible corruption, the general who gave the order was never accepted or forgiven by the rest of the soldiers or the Finish people.
In 1809 the territory of Finland was ceded to Russia and became a grand duchy more within the Russian Empire after 7 centuries of Swedish control.
It is possible to visit the islands on a ferry which is part of the public transport system. The ticket costs 5 € per route, if you have the Helsinki Card or an integrated card the ticket is included. The ferry leaves every 20 minutes from the port (in the market square).
It is important to remember that today the island is inhabited and has all the services for the population of the area. It is also possible to make residency requests for artists so please be respectful with the locals and their houses.
A typical sauna evening in Löyly
If there is something that you can not miss in Finland it is the sauna, there are almost 3 million saunas in a country with just 5 million inhabitants (that’s a pretty big ratio). The sauna is a BIG part of the popular culture and is booming.
Löyly was born with the interest of rescuing public saunas and accommodating them to the modern world, an amazing architectural work that hosts one of the most luxurious public saunas in the city.
Löyly is a mixed concept. In the building it is possible to enjoy a complete evening with a dinner, served by one of the best chefs in the country in a unique environment with organic and seasonal products and you can of course enjoy one of the best saunas in the city.
The complex has 4 rooms, the most striking is the smoke sauna, a special type of sauna without a fireplace. To warm the room up they will burn wood in a long stove while completely closed letting the smoke invade the room for hours. Once a suitable temperature is found, the smoke is ventilated and the heat is maintained for several hours keeping that smoked particular smell.
In addition, just after leaving your sauna you will be able to go directly to bathe in the Gulf of Finland, a few stairs down allow direct access to the freezing water to meet the requirements of a full sauna evening.
Since it is a public sauna, it is requested that access is done with bathing dresses (a pitty to be fair since Germany has us totally sold for the naked saunas)
Opening hours of saunas:
From Monday to Wednesday from 4 pm to 10 pm
From Thursday to Sunday from 1 pm to 10 pm
First two hours: 19 €
Additional hours: 10 €
The price includes towels, lockers and shampoo.
It is possible to access saunas on Saturday morning from 7:30 am to 10 am and the price for 2 and a half hours is 19 € per person.
If you still have time left in the city you can give a look to the Nusskio National Park, just a few hours our of the city or enjoy a walking tour on the photogenic town of Porvoo.
Where to sleep in Helsinki
Since we spent so many days we had the change to try a couple of acommodations, both of them with great standards.
The first night we decided for a hotel, we needed a little bit of care and some extra services but we wanted something young and new. We stayed at the Clarion Hotel Helsinki in a beautiful room with amazing views in one of the top floors. The hotel has also a great pool on the roof and serves an amazing breakfast.
For the rest of the days we picked an appartment and went for an established brand in the city: Forenom. They have several appartments all over Helsinki, all of them looked great, ours was huge, it had to beedrooms, an equiped kitchen and the location was perfect. If you are travelling alone you can also check one of the Forenom Hostels (they have three).
Helsinki is for sure not a cheap city, so acommodation prices will be on the high end, deciding for an appartment will also help you save money on food.
Here you can find all the acommodations in the city. If you liked this guide please use our links or this map to make your booking (no matter what you book), this way we can continue sharing information for other travellers and won’t cost you a thing.
So, what do you think? I’m sure there are a lot of things you did not expect in Helsinki and to be fair neither did we. Is a beautiful city with a booming culture and loads of places to enjoy a nice evening.