Day 1 in Helsinki
Welcome to the Nordic city of Helsinki, the capital of Finland! Upon arrival, you will go through customs and immigration. Make your transfer to your destination, arrive at your hotel, check in and do not give in to jet lag! There is so much for you to see and do.
If you get here by train, take some time to admire one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, Helsinki Central Station. (Even if you don`t arrive by train you`ll want to be sure to check it out!) The station serves as a hub for Finnish transport and is the most visited building in the nation. It is a prime example of the National Romantic style of Finnish Art Nouveau architecture and was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen.
The building`s main features are its clock tower and the four stone men statues holding globular lamps. The statues are so iconic that the Finnish railway company uses them as mascots and they have even featured in rap-song advertisements.
Start off your day by heading to the Market Square (Kauppatori), the main planned and paved square in central Helsinki. The area is best-known for its outdoor markets and borders the Baltic Sea, at the eastern end is the Esplanadi. Here, you`ll find stands selling Finnish foods, flowers, and tourist souvenirs, and there are often fishing boats lined up in the water selling seafood directly off the boat. In the winter, market stalls are protected under tents, and there is a year-round market hall with more vendors. While here, head for the nearest restaurant or café for lunch before heading out to see more of what this city has to offer.
While you are at the Market Square, you will notice the cathedral located on a hillside of the Katajanokka Peninsula overlooking the city. That is the Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, the largest of its kind in Western Europe. Be sure to drop by there and admire the stunning red-brick exterior and spiky steeples of the cathedral. The interior is as impressive as the outside especially when the sun ray shines into the window illuminating the interior.
Next, make your way to the Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the Rock Church. This is a stunning church that has been carved out of the natural bedrock. Have a seat and look up at the massive copper dome above you. It`s a serene and unique experience, and a great way to kick off your stay in Helsinki.
From the church, make the 15 minute walk across to Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki. It will be the first of many museums we recommend. Kiasma puts on some impressive exhibits from Finnish and international artists. Along with its collections of post-1960 Finnish art, the museum has a theater dedicated to experimental drama, music, and dance.
You`ll want to be sure to check the Helsinki Cathedral. The Cathedral is one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. With its all-white neo-classical architecture and tall green dome surrounded by four smaller ones, there is no mistaking the cathedral when you see it. Due to its spacious stairways and the square in front of the cathedral, this place is a great hangout spot for both visitors and locals alike.
After an exciting day of exploration, find a nice restaurant to relax over some Finnish cuisine. You`ll find the food in Helsinki very primitive in its origins with dishes that have been curated from what`s available to them: fish, meats, berries and root vegetables play a big part in the local cuisine. Also, it`s not uncommon to see elk, reindeer or even bear on the menu! It is also a progressive city with many vegan options around.
You will also find loads of fashionable drinking spots in the city to cocktails with a view once the sun goes down.
After dinner, head back to your hotel for a restful night sleep.
Day 2 in Helsinki
Wake up early today and get your coffee and pastry fix at Ekberg 1852. Helsinki`s oldest (and arguably most famous) breakfast spots. Afterward, head down to Market Square, this is the spot to board the ferry across to Helsinki`s famous fortress, Suomenlinna.
Today, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular things to do in Helsinki (as the lines for the ferry may suggest). A 20-minute ferry trip (using the same ticket as for buses and trams) to the island is offered in both winter and summer, just be sure to be prepared for the cold weather in the winter months.
The fortified islands of Suomenlinna are a part of Helsinki and where you`ll find the fortress of Sveaborg (Swedish Castle) that dominates the island. It was built in the mid 18th century to bar Russian access to the Baltic. Today, the restored castle is used for cultural and recreational use and is included in UNESCO`s list of world heritage monuments. There is a museum, a park, and an arts venue. We recommend the walking tour of the castle that offers some fabulous information on the history of the fortification.
After exploring the castle, enjoy lunch at one of the many cafes on the island. If you`re in need of any supplies, there`s also a K Market just near the ferry terminal.
After lunch, get on the ferry back to Market Square. Make your way down through Market Square to go on a walk down the Esplanadi. It`s a beautiful green space with numerous statues to admire. Take a left on Korkeavuorenkatu, to explore the design district. This is where you`ll find The Design Museum, a wonderful spot to get acquainted with the world famous Finnish design. There are numerous exhibitions detailing Finland`s world-leading designs. From the ball chair, Nokia mobile phones, glassware, and mobile games including Snake and Angry Birds, this country is powerhouse of innovative product design. Not all designs are equal however. The bike chair they designed to use a computer is a hilarious concept!
Spend the remaining part of your day experiencing a Finnish tradition, the sauna. Finland, and Scandinavia have a love affair with the sauna, so you won`t be hard-pressed to find a sauna in Helsinki.
There are numerous public saunas in Helsinki, but for your first experience we`d recommend the Löyly, for an ultra cool, totally hip sauna experience. Located right on the Baltic Sea, the first thing that will amaze is the architecture of the building. The sauna here is mixed gender, so swimsuits are mandatory. There are 2 saunas which you can use, a smoke and a wood-burning sauna. Once you`re well and truly heated up, there`s the option to run outside and jump in the freezing cold Baltic Sea - refreshing!
A visit to Löyly requires you to book in advance. This ensures you have access to a locker for your belongings too. We recommend booking a 6pm - 8pm session, so you can go out to dinner afterwards. If you’re totally relaxed and don`t want to move, you can grab dinner at Löyly too. The restaurant offers cozy fireplaces and really delicious food.
Day 3 in Helsinki
On your last day in Helsinki learn about the history of the area by exploring the excellent museum in the city. Spend your morning discovering the history of the postal service in Finland at the Post Museum. It may sound like a truly boring museum, but it is actually quite interesting to see the evolution of mail service from sleds and ships to modern postal service.
Another excellent museum worth exploring is the National Museum of Finland. This impressive museum has a large collection of artifacts and does a great job of providing lots of detail. It tells a chronological story of the history of Finland with great description, it is a relevant and educational stop to create a basic understanding of Finalnd`s history from pre-historic to the present day. Sticking with the history theme, you may want to squeeze in a trip to The National Library of Finland. Aside from its vast array of heritage, the library itself has a magnificent architecture with an equally interesting history.
Some other suggested museums in the area are the Finnish Museum of Photography and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. Both of these offer some great collections to be discovered.
Finish your day by going on a mouth-watering culinary experience and join a food tour. There are plenty of gourmet tours offered in Helsinki, which will make you feel like a local. Tours will introduce you to iconic Finnish dishes and will take you around the market. If you are into complete cultural immersion, join a cooking class. This tour will introduce to traditional Finnish flavors and learn the best way to cook authentic Finnish food.
Additional Days in Helsinki
If you have additional days to spend in Helsinki, take a day trip!
Located about 20 miles west of Helsinki is the Hvittrask Museum. Built between 1901 and 1903, Hvittrask was built of logs and natural stone and became a home and studio for the architectural team of Eliel Saarinen and Armas Lindgren. It also served as a boyhood home of the world famous architect Eero Saarinen, who became well known in the United States. Hvittrask is surrounded by gorgeous English-style garden on the shore of Lake Vitträsk.
Alternatively, head to the beautiful seaside town, 80 miles west of Helsinki, Hanko. This is a bilingual beach-blessed port town of about 10,000 people. Because of its location, Hanko has been contested for more than a thousand years. The Swedes and the Russians fought several battles here in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1809, the Russians took over several Swedish forts. The town itself wasn't officially founded until the 1870s and later served as a key transit point for Finns leaving for the United States during the starvation times. The Finns and the Russians fought a very bloody battle here in 1941. The architecture of the town speaks to its history with a mix of Swedish and Russian styles. It's full of excellent cafés and restaurants.
Your Last Day In Helsinki
Depart your hotel for the airport for your return home. We recommend that you purchase a private transfer, if so a representative will meet you at the hotel in time to take you to the airport for your flight out.