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 the 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 as 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 under 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 the 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 (Finland just won the happiest country in the world, again). 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 makes traveling to Helsinki an experience to remember.
The Ultimate Helsinki Travel Guide
What to know before traveling to Helsinki
- Transportation. It’s easy! To get into the heart of downtown from the airport, take the “l or p” train between Terminal 1 and 2 right to 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.
- Language. Finnish, Swedish, and English is spoken here.
- Currency & money. On the Euro, cash and credit card is accepted almost everywhere.
- Safety. It’s one of the safest countries to travel to in Europe. With that said, common safety practices should always be taken.
Hotels in Helsinki
On this trip, I stayed in a longterm apartment right in the heart of downtown called Apart Hotel Aallonkoti. The apartments are well designed and only a few minutes walk from the train station. These apartments are perfect for a longterm stay and if you want a bit more space. The apartment building comes with a sauna and has a proper check-in desk as well, so you’ll be greeted on arrival.
For luxury hotels, my top pick is the Hotel St. George. Its modern and luxurious design sets it apart. It has a high-end restaurant, a bakery, and a spa right within the building as well.
Top Helsinki Restaurants
- Juuri: One of my go-to’s for lunch in Helsinki is Juuri. Their Finnish menu is delicious, serves regional ingredients, all in an intimate space. *Reservations recommended.
- Restaraunt Savotta: For a very traditional dinner with a view of Senate Square, book a reservation here. Their menu has traditional platings like game meat log to traditional stews. It’s a must dine at for a taste of Finland while in Helsinki.
- Werner: This underground restaurant is all centered around their open flame grill, serving proteins and vegetables right from it. The salmon here was my favorite on the trip.
- Yes Yes Yes: For a vegetarian option, look no further than this bright and cheerful restaurant. Their tandoori bread and dips are delicious and also be sure to try the halloumi fries!
- The Cock: Always a win in the city, their well-rounded menu has a few different classics to favorites like the tartar.
- Herkku at Stockman: For a more unique dining experience, head to Herkku at the Stockman Grocery store. It may seem strange to dine in a grocery store but it’s a high-end experience centered around a bar at the back of the restaurant. The salmon tartar was delicious and fresh.
- Sushibar + Wine: If you’re looking for sushi, their lunch menu is great and well priced at around 6-7 euros a plate.
- Ekberg Cafe: Dating back to 1852 and Finland’s oldest bakery, Ekberg has traditional pastries and desserts. It’s hard to choose here!
- St. George Bakery: Another yummy bakery in town with fresh bread and baked goods.
- Coffee at: Andante, Kaffecentralen (multiple locations), and Kaffa Roastery.
What 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 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.
Take a boat to Suomenlinna and 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 both an opportunity to walk around and see a historic site is Suomenlinna. Take the JT line from Market Square and get a scenic view over the city as you head there. On the island, there are walking trails throughout the historic Suomenlinna Sea Fortress that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 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 sauna building. It’s a scenic spot to end the day.
Take a tour of Alvar Aalto’ studio
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. Book a tour in advance and explore his 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 design, so I’d head to the website of the Design District 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 the 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.
Walk around Senate Square
One of my favorite areas to walk around is the Senate Square. Head here to see the Helsinki Cathedral and National Library of Finland.
Take a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia
One unique day trip you can do while visiting Helsinki is taking the Tallink Star over to the country of 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 am departure gets you there at 9:30, giving you a full day when you take the 7:30 pm return. With one day in Tallinn, you can easily explore the top sights like Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the old town, and the Tallinn Town Hall. 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.