Visiting Helsinki, Finland’s beautiful capital city is a delight at any time of year. Located on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, the Helsinki archipelago consists of over 300 picturesque islands and wherever you are in the city, it is never far from the sea.
Getting there: Helsinki International Airport is located in the neighbouring city of Vantaa with frequent services to many European and Asian destinations. Trains run from the airport into the city centre every 15 minutes with a journey time of half an hour. Single fares are €4.20 with the ticket valid for 80 minutes allowing onward transfers to trams and buses, enabling visitors to reach their accommodation with ease.
Suggested 72 hour Helsinki itinerary
Finland is in the Eastern European Time Zone (EET) two hours ahead of the U.K. so it will probably be mid-afternoon by the time you are checking into your city centre hotel.
After settling in, take a walk to the bustling Market Square (Kauppatori) located at the South Harbour. Browse the traditional market stalls selling fresh produce, fish, flowers, local handicrafts and souvenirs such as Lappish wooden cups, knitwear and Reindeer rugs.
Live like a local and pop into one of the orange heated cafe tents where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a delicious cinnamon bun in comfort, even on the coldest winter days. Suitably refreshed, stroll along the harbourside where you might see the large Silja Line ferry preparing for its daily 5.00 p.m. departure to Stockholm.
To one side of the market square lies the Old Market Hall which first opened its doors in 1889. In this quaint old building with its ornate wooden booths you can inspect all the different types of salmon on offer, take a look at the wide selection of local cheese, bread and pastries and perhaps be tempted to stop off for a pre-dinner drink in one of the cosy small cafes and restaurants.
Wander through the tree lined Esplanade Park on the way back to your hotel and later enjoy dinner in one of the many inviting restaurants catering for all tastes and budgets. I can recommend The Glass located in the Kämp Galleria on the Esplanade. The restaurant is located on the lower floor next to the K1 exhibition space of the Finnish Museum of Photography.
This casual dining restaurant features a rum bar with more than 50 types to choose from. In addition to the evening à la carte menu, a three course lunch is available on weekdays priced at €29.
To round off your first evening stroll along the seafront east from the market square passing the Suomenlinna Ferry and make your way around to the Allas Sea Pools and the Helsinki SkyWheel. An unusual feature of the SkyWheel is that one of the cabins is actually a sauna! The Sky Sauna can accommodate up to 5 people with tickets including use of a private lounge/terrace and hot tub at ground level.
Morning: After a leisurely breakfast head back to the Market Square and take one of the boat trips on offer. We enjoyed the Helsinki Sightseeing Canal Cruise which travels alongside the beautiful Helsinki shoreline through the archipelago, passing the historic Suomenlinna Fortress, the zoo on Korkeasaari Island and then continuing through the Degerö Canal.
From there the boat passes the fleet of icebreakers working tirelessly through the winter to keep Finnish ports open before returning to its jetty in the South Harbour. The 90 minute boat trip features commentary in Finnish, Swedish, German and English and there is a cafe on board serving light refreshments to enjoy out on deck or indoors if it’s not so warm. Boat trip €25 and included with the purchase of a Helsinki Card.
Lunch: After disembarking from the boat enjoy a tasty bowl of creamy salmon soup served with dark rye bread in one of the cosy market square cafes.
Afternoon: After lunch, hop on a tram (Line 2) from the corner of the market square/ Esplanade to the Winter Gardens in the Töölö district. The gardens are free to visit and the palm house is open daily except Monday. The exquisite palm house contains not only palms but also ancient camelback trees whilst in the cactus house there are many varieties of succulents and cacti to be viewed. The gardens themselves are ablaze with fragrant roses flowering throughout the summer months.
From there, I suggest walking back into the centre along the shady footpath beside Töölö bay. Along there you will be able to view grand old villas across the water and Finlandia Hall designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The area is popular with joggers and cyclists with opportunities for paddle boarding during the summertime.
Just across the road from Finlandia Hall at Mannerheimintie 34 stands the National Museum open daily except Monday 11.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m. with standard admission €14 or free with the Helsinki Card.
This beautiful building constructed in Finnish Romantic Style covers Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day with something to interest everyone. Galleries include the traditions of the Finnish sauna, with a collection of scoops created by children over the years in school metal work classes, to the excellent Story of Finland exhibition upstairs.
Evening: No visit to Finland should take place without a visit to a sauna so I suggest pre-booking a sauna experience and dinner at Löyly, Hernesaarenranta 204, (terminus of Tram 6). Löyly is located in a wooden building created to blend with the natural surroundings with a beautiful terrace to enjoy a drink on a summer’s day.
The sauna is like nothing else as there are two large saunas in which to relax and from where you can watch the waves gently lap the shore through the cleverly designed slats of the sauna. When it’s time to cool off you can sip a beer on the outdoor terrace or go for a dip in the sea from steps leading down from the sauna terrace. Alternatively, you can be like us and rest awhile in the cosy relaxation room sitting around a large wood burning stove. Sauna reservations are for two hours so there is no need to rush. Pamper yourselves with luxurious toiletries provided in the changing rooms and then move into the restaurant for dinner.
The restaurant has large windows overlooking the sea and is furnished in chic Nordic style. Try the signature creamy salmon soup to begin and then perhaps the reindeer steak or duck breast for mains, our choices which were both absolutely delicious and beautifully presented. Service is efficient with friendly servers and as it’s such a popular place I suggest booking ahead to avoid disappointment as the evening is without doubt a memorable experience.
Morning: After breakfast I suggest taking a walking tour through the city with an experienced guide from Vino Tours and More.
Bespoke tours can be tailored to what you would like to cover, be it a guided tour of the city centre’s main sights or an exploration of lesser known parts of the capital favoured by locals. We opted for a tour of Kallio, starting from the Central Railway Station we enjoyed a stroll around Töölö Bay on our way to Hakaniemi visiting its indoor and outdoor markets and admiring the handsome art nouveau architecture all around this district.
Continuing further we visited the wonderful old Kallio library and learnt about its history before climbing the hill to its equally beautiful church which is a landmark building that can be seen from far away.
Lunch: If you are in the Kallio district then I suggest Harju 8 as this laid back bistro offers daily specials and a soup buffet in a cosy setting.
Afternoon: Take the metro back into the centre from the nearby Sörnäinen metro station, two stops to the University of Helsinki station. You will then be just steps away from the majestic Senate Square dominated by the majestic Lutheran Cathedral, open daily, voluntary admission €5 towards church upkeep).
From the cathedral steps there are splendid views of the Neoclassical architecture of Senate Square. The square is dominated by buildings designed by Carl Ludvig Engel including the cathedral, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland.
The oldest stone building in Helsinki is Sederholm House on the southeast corner of the square and this is home to the Helsinki City Museum which offers free admission and is open daily. This very interesting museum documents the city’s history from its earliest days to how we see it today. The galleries are designed in an easy to view format and I recommend visiting.
Evening: My dining suggestion would be Kappeli with its beautiful yet central position on the Esplanade. The restaurant serves Finnish delicacies with a Scandi twist.
Morning: Take the Suomenlinna ferry from the Market Square (the regular HSL transport ticket includes this service). It takes just 12 minutes to reach the UNESCO World Heritage Suomenlinna fortress that over the years has served in the defence of three realms, Sweden, Russia and Finland.
On reaching the island, pick up a map from the tourist office located in the pink building to your left and depending on time, plan a route around the fortress taking in the King’s Gate, The Great Courtyard, Suomenlinna Church and the Docks. Enjoy dramatic cliff top views and breathe in the fresh Nordic air as you explore the island. Before leaving, enjoy a cup of coffee and a bite to eat in one of the island’s inviting cafes or restaurants.
Afternoon: Back in Helsinki there should be just enough time to hit the shops and stock up on some souvenirs to take home. Leading Finnish brands to look out for are Marrimeko, Arabia, Ittala, Pentik and Finlayson which all have stores on and around the Esplanade. These products can also be found in the upscale Stockmann department store on Mannerheimintie which also features an extensive food hall in its basement where you can buy Paulig coffee, Fazer chocolate and much more.
I hope my suggested itinerary helps with planning a short break to Helsinki, it’s a beautiful city and one of my all time favourite places.
Our visit was supported by Marketing Helsinki and as always all views and opinions are entirely my own.
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