Updated September 2023
With a second opportunity to visit Helsinki, I was more than excited to make the return to Finland’s capital. Helsinki has always been a place of inspiration for design, the proximity to the outdoors, and one of those cities that always surprises.
When I went over three years ago on the #MyHelsinkiResidences program with the My Helsinki tourism board, I went during the winter months and saw a side of Helsinki that I hadn’t expected. This time, I was here for summer and was ready to bask in those long days of light and discover more.
I returned to the same program and one I love to partake in. The goal is to live like a resident of Helsinki as there’s no set itinerary, no places I have to be. During that time, I stayed in an apartment in the heart of downtown, given a few travel recommendations, and the keys to discovering the city as I would like to.
The result? Spontaneous adventures traveling like a local and having an immersive experience.
Much of Helsinki had changed since I had been there last. New museums, restaurants, and coffee shops were sprinkled throughout, all places I was excited to explore. But at the same time, it hadn’t. There was still that friendly welcome I remembered from the last visit.
There’s a passion for sharing what makes Finland truly a unique and wonderful country to not only visit but live in. There’s a love for slowing down, being connected to the outdoors, and, of course, that incredible design scene.
It’s all of these things and more that make traveling to Helsinki an experience to remember.
If you’re looking to explore more of Helsinki, be sure to check out my in-depth guides to the best restaurants and best things to do.
Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels and Things to Do in Helsinki:
- Hotel St. George, for the best modern luxury hotel
- Hotel Kämp, for the best design hotel
- Noli Studios Katajanokka, for the best designed apartment-hotel
- Hotel Mestari, for the best hotel for larger groups or families
- Hotel F6, for the best boutique hotel
Things to Do
- Helsinki Architecture Walking Tour
- Visit the Reindeer in Nuuksio National Park
- Take a Day Trip to Tallinn, Estonia
- Tour the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
The Ultimate Helsinki Travel Guide
What to Know About Visiting Helsinki, Finland
How Do I Get Around Helsinki?
The best part of visiting Helsinki is no car is needed. On arrival at Helsinki Airport, take the “L or P” train between Terminals 1 and 2 right to the city center in 30 minutes. Be sure to purchase a ticket before boarding. Once in town, the metro and bus system is extensive. I took Uber pretty frequently as it’s not terribly priced, else, the city of Helsinki is incredibly walkable.
What Language Do They Speak in Helsinki?
Finnish, Swedish, and English are spoken here. Finnish is the national language.
Is Helsinki Good for Tourists?
It’s one of the best Scandinavian cities to visit for travelers. It is easy to get around, has several low-cost flights between other countries, and has lots to do.
What Currency is Used in Helsinki?
On the Euro currency, cash and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. I always advise you to have some cash on you in case.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Helsinki?
For the more milder months, May through September will be the best. With the least amount of rainfall, you’ll have warmer days. Come winter, it can be very cold — some may prefer a winter adventure pending your itinerary.
Where to Stay in Helsinki, Finland
For this trip, I was put in a long-term apartment-hotel stay that is unfortunately no longer available to book. I know there are some wonderful hotels in the city, some of which I stopped by, and wanted to recommend. Read on to see some of the best hotels to book while visiting Helsinki.
Nestled in the heart of the city, Hotel St. George isn’t just another luxury stay. Overlooking the serene Old Church Park, this hotel is a blend of art, design, and holistic care. With 148 rooms, each thoughtfully curated, and five suites that whisper elegance, it’s a haven for those seeking moments of tranquility. Dive into a world of well-being, from a contemporary spa to a gym designed for the modern traveler. Book the best rates here.
Hotel Kämp, located in the center of Helsinki, has been a hallmark of luxury since its establishment in 1887. Situated on Pohjoisesplanadi, this esteemed hotel offers a blend of historical charm and modern amenities. Guests can enjoy a variety of services, from dining at the renowned Brasserie Kämp to relaxing treatments at the Kämp Spa. Additionally, the historic Kämp Bar provides a selection of beverages in a sophisticated setting. Book the best rates here.
Noli Studios Katajanokka, located near downtown Helsinki, is housed in a historic red-brick building that once served as the headquarters for the grocery giant, Kesko. Offering stunning sea views and surrounded by a mix of modernist and Art Nouveau architecture, this hotel is within walking distance of Helsinki’s vibrant city center, the Allas Sea Pool, and the bustling restaurants of Kanavaranta. With 263 stylish studios, guests can enjoy amenities like a modern gym, sauna, restaurant, co-working spaces, and community areas. Book the best rates here.
Hotel Mestari, located in central Helsinki’s iconic House of Master Builders, offers 237 elegantly designed rooms and suites. Renowned for its exceptional service, the hotel provides curated experience packages tailored for guests. The venue, historically a hub for dialogue, is equipped for both intimate and large-scale events. With its blend of beautiful design and luxury amenities, Mestari ensures a stay that’s both comfortable and memorable. Book the best rates here.
Hotel F6, located in central Helsinki just off the well-known Esplanade, is a unique boutique hotel emphasizing genuine service and a home-like atmosphere. Housed within 76 elegantly designed rooms that blend style, comfort, and sustainability, guests are treated to Finnish home-style breakfasts made predominantly from organic local ingredients. The hotel’s bar, Runar, offers authentic flavors in a warm setting. For those keen on fitness, a gym equipped with top-tier equipment is available, and in collaboration with Wolt, guests can have meals from local restaurants delivered directly to their rooms. Bicycles are also available for guests wishing to explore the vibrant surroundings of Helsinki. Book the best rates here.
Where to Eat in Helsinki
For a vegetarian option, look no further than Yes Yes Yes. I love how bright and cheerful the restaurant is. Their tandoori bread and dips are delicious and also be sure to try the halloumi fries!
Address: Iso Roobertinkatu 1, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
For a very traditional dinner with a view of Senate Square, book a reservation at Restaurant Savotta. Their menu has traditional platings like game meat logs to traditional stews. It’s a must-dine for a taste of Finland while in Helsinki.
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 22, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
The Cock is always a win in the city. Their well-rounded menu has a few different classics to favorites like the tartar.
Address: Fabianinkatu 17, 00130 Helsinki, Finland
For a more unique dining experience, head to The Bistro at Food Market Herkku. Formerly known as the Stockman Grocery Store, the new edition of Herkku is a food market inspired by market halls found around the world. It may seem strange to dine in a grocery story, but the Bistro is a high-end experience centered around a bar at the back of the restaurant. The salmon tartar was delicious and fresh.
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 52, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
If you’re looking for sushi, the lunch menu at Sushibar + Wine is great and well-priced, 10-piece nigiri sets starting at around 15 euros a plate. They now have 4 locations throughout the city.
Address: Kaivokatu 8, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
Dating back to 1852 and Finland’s oldest bakery, Ekberg has traditional pastries and desserts. It’s hard to choose here!
Address: Bulevardi 9, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
Address: Yrjönkatu 13, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
Things to Do in Helsinki
Museum Hop Through the City
If there is one thing Helsinki has in plenty, it’s museums. There is something for everyone here. If you’re looking for contemporary art, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. For a history on Finnish design, the Design Museum has rotating exhibits.
The National Museum of Finland is the perfect spot to get insight into Finnish history and culture. The Helsinki Art Museum or HAM features unique exhibits that are thought-provoking. And for those looking for international art, head to the Ateneum Art Museum.
Take a Boat to Suomenlinna, Tour the Sea Fortress, then Hop Over to Lonna for a Sauna
Surrounded by many islands and the sea, Helsinki is a great spot to get out into nature. One island nearby that offers an opportunity to walk around and see a historic site is Suomenlinna. Take the JT line from Market Square and get a scenic view of the city as you head there.
On the island, there are walking trails throughout the historic Suomenlinna Sea Fortress which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want something that is more informational, I would book this guided tour that takes you throughout Suomenlinna.
What I would do afterward, is take the JT Line right over the island of Lonna and reserve in advance a two-hour sauna experience. The island is very small and has a restaurant in addition to the public sauna building. It’s a scenic spot to end the day and perfect for a traditional Finnish sauna experience.
Book a Guided Walking Tour
With so much to discover in Helsinki, one of the best ways to learn and experience the city is with a knowledgeable local. While I was able to do this with a local I knew myself, I did some digging for the best walking tours with a guide in the city.
The first one I found was this small group walking tour (137 reviews, 5 stars!). It’s limited to 8 people and the local guide takes you through important historical and cultural sights throughout the city. This other small group tour in Helsinki was rated similarly in case the other one sells out.
For those who are into architecture, you’ll fall in love with Helsinki. With Finnish architects like Alvar Aalto and alike, there is a lot to love. This Helsinki architecture walking tour will take you to some of the most important architectural sights in the city, giving you background on the buildings.
One of the most unique things I did this time was taking a tour of Alvar Aalto’s studio. Well known for his work in architecture and his furniture at Artek, his studio is just a quick 10-minute drive from the city (Uber will take you there). Book a tour in advance and explore the studio and space that he worked out of.
Shop Local Designers
With a strong design scene, Helsinki is the ultimate shopper’s paradise. You may want to bring an extra suitcase as it’s that good. There are so many places to shop for design, so I’d head to the Design District’s website and select the category you’re looking for as it’s broken out accordingly.
Try a Finnish Sauna at Löyly
It’s a must-experience when in Finland. Löyly is just a quick Uber ride away from downtown and has an incredible location on the sea. You’ll need to reserve in advance a two-hour window at the sauna here.
I’d come for lunch or a bite before or after and then steam away in their two sauna rooms. To cool down, you can even jump in the sea if you’re brave enough.
Walk Around Senate Square
One of my favorite areas to walk around is the Senate Square. Head here to see the Helsinki Cathedral and the National Library of Finland. Continue on through the winding neighborhoods into the center.
One unique day trip you can do while visiting Helsinki is taking the Tallink Star over to Tallinn, Estonia. I’d book a ticket on the boat in advance and make the two-hour journey to Tallinn for the day. The 7:30 a.m. departure gets you there at 9:30, giving you a full day when you take the 7:30 p.m. return.
One meal not to miss while there is at the traditional restaurant, Olde Hansa for local, Estonian food. Afterward, I’d head to the Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform for a view over the city and consider exploring the area of Kalamaja.
On one of my first Helsinki trips, I headed out to Nuuksio National Park to visit reindeer. It was dead of winter, and with snow falling, it felt like a storybook scene. It’s a bit of way out of the city, so it’s recommended to do this on a guided tour like this one.
Once there, you’ll have the opportunity to see and interact with the reindeer. This private tour is one of the top-selling and does sell out so book in advance.
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1. Book Your Flights
Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.
2. Book Your Accommodations
Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.
3. Book Your Tours & Experiences
4. Book Your Car
Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.
5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access
Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.
6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.
My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are: