How to see Helsinki

After spending a weekend in Finnish Lapland, I spent some time in Helsinki for work. I fell in love with the city. It’s compact, but still filled with amazing architecture. I recommend at least two days to take it all in–maybe three if you want to spend significant time in the distinctive neighborhoods. But if you are pressed for time, you can see the main sights in one day.

Tips:

  • You can buy a cheap SIM card at the R-kioski convenience chain–there’s one in the airport. I got one that would also work in Estonia.
  • Be mindful of the time. Most attractions close at 6 pm (Uspenski Cathedral is closed on Mondays). The stores close at 7 pm.
  • Book an appointment in advance to get a seat at the trendy bar/sauna Löyly Helsinki. It’s the only sauna where you can cool off with a jump into the Baltic sea. If you didn’t bring your own bathing suit, you can rent one from them. You don’t have to go into the sauna. It has a great restaurant and wine bar. The patio is large and has an amazing view of Helsinki.
  • If you are leaving Helsinki airport on an international flight, you will go through passport control in addition to the standard security line. It took me an extra 15 to 20 minutes.
  • I enjoyed staying at Glo Hotel Art. It’s a close walk to the city center and has an amazing breakfast.

Must Do’s:

  • Follow this walking route by Google to see all of the main attractions. It is missing stops at the Helsinki Central Station (Helsingin päärautatieasema) and the new public library, Oodi. Both are worth a quick stop to admire their architecture. You can get through these in a day.
  • I recommend eating lunch or getting a coffee at the Old Market Hall.
  • Go to the sauna every night. It makes for a deep, relaxing sleep. I also think it helped give my skin a lovely glow. You can go to Loyly Helsinki or try a local one. I enjoyed going to Uusi Sauna.
  • Check out the Design District neighborhood.
  • I fell in love with Marimekko (a Finnish lifestyle company) and Iittala (a Finnish glassware company). You’ll see their products everywhere. I recommend visiting their flagship stores along the Park Esplanadi. If you bring your passport number, you can purchase products duty free. You’ll also find their stores in the Helsinki airport, which have the same retail prices as the ones in the city. I bought mugs from Marimekko and votives from Iittala as souvenirs for friends and family.

If I had more time:

  • I would have spent time exploring, Kallio, the hipster neighborhood.
  • I’m a history buff so I wish I had visited the National Museum of Finland. Nomadic Matt has other great museum recommendations as well as other places to visit.

Recommended reading: 

  • A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940
  • Finland’s War of Choice: The Troubled German-Finnish Coalition in World War II
  • A Concise History of Finland
  • An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland

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