Helsinki – A guide to the perfect weekend break

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.

Helsinki Airport Rail Station
Helsinki Airport Rail Station

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

Day 1:

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.

Helsinki Market Square
Helsinki Market Square

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.

Helsinki Market Square tented cafe
Helsinki Market Square tented cafe

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.

Helsinki Old Market Hall
Helsinki Old Market Hall

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.

Inside Helsinki's Old Market Hall
Inside Helsinki’s Old Market Hall

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.

Glass Restaurant, Helsinki
Glass Restaurant

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.

Helsinki harbour and Skywheel at night
Helsinki harbour and Skywheel at night

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.

Day 2:

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.

Helsinki Sightseeing Canal Cruise boat
Helsinki Sightseeing Canal Cruise boat

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.

Narrow Canal, Sightseeing Cruise Helsinki
Along the Canal Sightseeing Cruise Helsinki

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.

Winter Garden, Helsinki
The Winter Garden, Helsinki

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.

Toolo Bay, Helsinki
Toolo Bay, Helsinki

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.

National Museum of Finland, Helsinki
National Museum of Finland, Helsinki

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.

Stained glass window National Museum, Helsinki
Stained glass window in the National Museum

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.

Loyly, Helsinki
Loyly, Helsinki

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.

Loyly Restaurant, Helsinki
Loyly Restaurant, Helsinki

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.

Reindeer steak main course at Loyly, Helsinki
Reindeer steak main course at Loyly, Helsinki

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.

Day 3:

Morning:  After breakfast I suggest taking a walking tour through the city with an experienced guide from Vino Tours and More.

Kallio Library, Helsinki
Kallio Library, Helsinki

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.

Kallio Church, Helsinki
Inside Kallio Church

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.

Harju 8 Restaurant, Helsinki
Harju 8 Restaurant, Helsinki

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).

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

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.

Helsinki City Museum
Helsinki City Museum

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.

Kappeli Restaurant, Helsinki
Kappeli Restaurant, Helsinki

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.

Day 4

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.

Suomenlinna Island, Helsinki
Suomenlinna Island, Helsinki

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.

Beautiful coastal walks on Suomenlinna Island, Helsinki
Beautiful coastal walks on Suomenlinna Island, Helsinki

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.

Marimekko, Helsinki
Marimekko, Helsinki

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.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:

The Arabia district of Helsinki

The National Library of Finland & The Bank of Finland Museum

 

If you use Pinterest please consider sharing and pinning the image below:

A guide to a weekend in Helsinki

 

72 thoughts on “Helsinki – A guide to the perfect weekend break

  1. ThingsHelenLoves

    It all looks fabulous, the market hall looks exactly how a food market should. Love the wooden stall lined walkway. Really enjoyed the mix of low cost or free activities like the gardens along with the more indulgent options. That’s what travel is all about for me, lots of experiences across the board! I’m finally feeling confident enough to rebook for 2022 the the trip to Estonia that didn’t happen last year and I’m considering adding on a few days in Finland. It seems fairly straight forward using the ferry. Anyway, enough from me!

    Your warmth for Finland really shines through in this post, Marion, a really enjoyable read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Helen. Combining Tallinn with Helsinki is very easy with such frequent and inexpensive ferry crossings. We have made the journey from Helsinki lots of times as they are both such interesting cities that contrast so well into one trip. Booking some flights for 2022 seems like the bright light at the end of the tunnel and definitely something to look forward to. Have you any news yet on your move from Wiltshire? Marion

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ThingsHelenLoves

        I’ve been granted permission to stay here until Spring so my daughters can finish their exams in the same place. Mr THL will probably move ahead of us. Just waiting for the order to tell us where 🤷‍♀️ I just try to enjoy the process and anticipation of it all!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s good then Helen as if it’s their GCSE year they definitely don’t want any more disruptions. Wherever you finally end up I’m sure you will all make the best of it as you have done with Wiltshire, Edinburgh and Germany. Marion

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  2. jasonlikestotravel

    A wonderful guide, plenty of things for me to check out next time! 🙂
    Although it has me itching to go back asap! I really need to plan a trip in 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marion, this really is the perfect itinerary for 72h in Helsinki! I can’t think of anything that is missing! Happy to hear you enjoyed yourself, and judging by the pics, you also got to see some autumn. I was wondering, did Helsinki seem expensive to you, coming from the UK? E.g. 29 € for lunch, is that an okay price for you? Personally, I could not afford to eat that menu! Or maybe once a year on a special occasion! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words Snow. We had a great time back in Helsinki revisiting our favourite haunts and a few new ones. Prices are quite a lot higher than in the UK but as cafes offer free refills on hot drinks so you can lingerr awhile I don’t mind. I wouldn’t usually spend so much on lunch at home but whilst away on holiday it’s nice to save up and splash out a bit. It was our first time back since the west metro opened as we timed it badly last time as it opened a few weeks after our last visit! Using the new metro line was convenient but I did miss those gorgeous views from the bus on the lansivyla! Hope the twins are doing well. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Vivid pictures of your journey are most welcomed . Helsinki is a place to travel , I think , in all seasons . If not I may be corrected . Blog on journey is special liking for me . I write a blog on History . But prefer reading blogs on traveling. And your blog is appreciating . Thanks you .

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Helsinki is one if my favourite cities and it’s natural surroundings and coastal boardwalk trails remind me so much of places in Canada you kindly take me to in your blog posts. I hope you might get an opportunity to visit one day. Thanks for your ever welcome thoughts. Marion

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have never visited Scandinavia and I feel this leaves a large gap in my travelling experience which I would like to fill as soon as possible! I thoroughly enjoyed your Helsinki post which is packed with so much interesting, informative detail – as usual! I have ‘pinned’ for future ref.
    You were able to fit in a great deal in your 72 hours. I think I would start with the market, the Winter Gardens and the Canal Trip …

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I loveddddd Helsinki. We went in February and everything was covered in snow. I loved the rock church, and the cathedral is so impressive. We also did a boat trip over to Suomenlinna which was incredible through the icy covered water. Thanks for bringing back lovely memories 🙂

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    1. That’s great that you’ve also experienced Helsinki Hannah. The first time I visited was at Easter in 2006 and the Baltic sea was frozen then and we adored the boat trip cutting through the ice over to the fortress too. Thanks so much for commenting. Marion

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  6. I only had a day in Helsinki in 2012, but it was enough to get a brief taste of what the Finnish capital had to offer! I was especially impressed with the Temppeliaukio Church, which is literally built under a massive rock, as well as the fact that, despite being a big city, its air was so fresh that it almost smelled sweet! I’ll have to return to see more. 🙂

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    1. The Rock Church is incredible Rebecca, we had visited there previously when music was being performed and it’s acoustics are incredible. I hope you get back to Helsinki for a longer stay as it is so beautiful everywhere you wander. Thanks so much for taking an interest. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s really worth going to Helsinki. We love Helsinki and especially its architecture. Only the sauna in the Sky Wheel is not the sauna in H:ki we would recommend. By the way, we loved Helsinki best in winter. It’s a great adventure to go from Stockholm to H:Ki through the ice of the Baltic Sea. When we lived in Finland we had to do it once a month and it always was the highlight of the month.
    Thanks for sharing
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

        1. We’ve also stayed at Saaisskellä twice over Easter having flown into Ivalo from Helsinki fir a weeks ski holiday staying at Holiday Club Saariseljä Hotel . Really beautiful, can’t wait to return. Hope you have a good week, so nice to hear from you again. Marion

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  8. Fantastic Itinerary Marion! I’ve always been interested in Finland and it was so interesting to go through Helsinki and the many places to visit there. I have now added sauna in the skywheel to my bucket list because there just seems no better way to look out over such a beautiful city. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. That is a busy itinerary Marion. So much to see and do in this Northern city. What time of year were you there and what were the temperatures like? I still want to get to Scandinavia if I can, nut given where I live, a weekend pop over won’t work. Thanks so much for all the ideas. Allan

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow, there is a lot here to sink one’s teeth into. I shall need to re-read this at some point, in order to fully digest the city as an overview. Helsinki is definitely on our list and I can only hope that, one of these years, we’ll get round to it. In the meantime, it’s been fun to absorb your virtual guide. I find myself equally uncomfortable/fascinated about the reindeer steak. Such a beautiful creature, but you know, If I were in Helsinki I’d probably try it, just the once.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Tania, Helsinki is beautiful so hope you are able to visit soon. I too have a dear blogging friend there and we have now met up several times and look forward to each others company. Hopefully next year she will visit me in the UK too and that will be so.nice. Have a great week. Marion

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  11. What a lovely guide to Helsinki, the second most Northern national capital after Reykjavik, Iceland-I enjoyed it immensely. A few of my friends had a chance to explore it and they were always praising Helsinki as a great city to explore on foot or on a bike because it has an excellent public transportation system that includes boats to the islands and trains to other destinations in Finland. I still can’t believe that I never made an effort to visit as it is located just a short ferry ride/flight away from my home country Latvia. Hopefully one day 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much for your interest in my guide to Helsinki Aiva. It’s such a beautiful city and the sea is so close wherever you might be. We spent a weekend in Riga a few years back, I loved it there too but we were a bit unlucky with the weather so I would like to return. Marion

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I always knew there is much to see in Helsinki and you just proved that you could not get bored there for a couple of days! Love the out- and inside of the Old Market Hall and the boat trip sounds like a great idea to explore further. And how beautiful is that stained glass in the museum!
    Hmm, and your dinner of reindeer steak looks really delicious 😋.
    And what a beautiful photo you took during the evening of the harbour and Skywheel – so colourful!
    Thanks for a great overview Marion, I’m looking forward to read more about your visit to Finland!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. I’ll be quite honest. I’ve visited all the countries in Scandinavia and I’m not a big fan. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, it’s probably the weather. However, Scandinavians are great, particularly those in Finland where my beloved has a number of friends.

    Liked by 3 people

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