Have you ever considered going to Finland? And especially, are you thinking about planning a week-end city-trip to Helsinki, its capital? If you don’t have a lot of time on site, but want to see everything -aka most of it- and really experience the city vibe, this article is for you!
Helsinki is at the very bottom of the country (for some logical and logistical reasons as you can guess), made of a big harbour and almost completely surrounded by the sea, which makes it a very open and cosmopolite city. That also means there is plenty of things to do and experience, a good reason to feel a bit lost when you’re there for a very short period of time trying to decide where to go and what to see in priority!
So, in order for you not to be completely overwhelmed, here is the list of the ultimate 10 (or more..) things to do in Helsinki in 2 days, along with a few bonuses. For those of you who want a more detailed and full itinerary, and some tips about the order in which you should see these spots, let’s meet here; and for all my good food adresses, it’s around there! Also, if you look for more practical information on how to prepare this trip, prices, hotels, others, follow that link – Enjoy reading 😊
1. Allas Sea Pool
My very first recommandation to really embrace the finnish state of mind would be : go to sauna. You probably already know it, saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture, to the point that for five million inhabitants in all the country, there are over three million saunas – an average of one per household. Definitely something you CANNOT miss!
And what’s best than the most popular of them all in Helsinki, located directly in the very center, in the harbour, literally on the sea? Allas Sea Pool is not famous for nothing, and I can tell you I directly fell in love with this place when I arrived.
When to go?
My advice would be to go at the end of the day, for sunset and night time. First, because it’s a half-indoor activity, so going there during daytime would make you “lose” some time in matters of daylight, that you could have used to see something else outdoor ; every minute is precious when you’re in a city for such a short amount of time! Doing a sauna when it’s dark outside, on the contrary, doesn’t remove anything from the experience. Secondly, in Allas Sea Pool especially, when darkness comes there is a little and beautiful tradition that you don’t want to miss and that really adds some charm to the moment : they light tens of candles around the outdoor pool, turning the place into a fairytale. Truly magical.
The whole experience consists in spending around 20 minutes in the 80-to-100-degrees sauna before jumping into the 27-degree outdoor pool with outside temperature reaching the minuses (depending on when you will go of course!). You can even do it the Finnish way, like us, by jumping into the 0-degree sea water pool and crossing it before going back to the other pool. They keep this one just “warm” enough so that it doesn’t freeze, always at the limit between very cold water and ice. Trust me, it’s something, and you have to not think about it too long -otherwise you probably won’t do it – but the feeling after is so intense and stimulating!
- Located on the ferry dock just accross the Old Market Hall and above the sea.
- If you need to use public transportation, the nearest tram and bus stations are both called Kauppatori, and barely a few hundred meters from the entrance.
- Open 7 days a week!
Mon-Fri: 6.30am – 9pm
Ticket sales end 40 min before closing time and swimming ends 20 min before closing time.
- Entrance fee : 14€ (for adults +13) / Kids (3 to 12) – €7 [Free for babies under 2 years old]
The ticket is actually a wristband giving you the access to a locker. The entry is valid for 10 hours.
For more information, you can visit their direct website here.
2. Sibelius monument
Located in the Sibelius Park, in the district of Töölö, Sibelius monument is an impressive and very picture-worthy sculpture dedicated to a Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius. It’s made of more than 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern, in order to symbolize the music.
It’s quite outside the main city center but if you are in the mood for a walk then it’s a perfect option for you, especially as the park itself is beautiful and near the sea!
When to go?
I would advise you to go in the morning, as it gets crowded pretty fast (depending on the season of course). Furthermore, morning light looks super pretty with that type of steel sculptures!
- Free access – the park is completely open all the time and very easy to find; it basically goes along Mechelininkatu road.
- The nearest bus station is Sibeliusparken (quite easy to remember) on the line 24.
3. Kauppatori, the Marquet Square
You cannot come to Helsinki without passing by the bustling Central Marquet Place! In border of the sea and on the harbour, between Allas Sea Pool, the Senate Square and Katajanokka, it’s literally a (if not the!) crossroads in the city. All the local ferries are arriving and departing from it, and you will find vendors selling fresh Finnish food, souvenirs and so on all year round on the square. A lot of events occasionnally occur there too. Clearly the true heart of the city!
Before the 1800s, there was no square but only a dock for fishermen. It was Johan Albrecht Ehrenström who chose in 1812 to give the new capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland two neighboring monumental squares. The Senate Square and the Market Place were born. In the center of the square, you can see the Stone of the Empress (or Czarina/tsarina stone), which was built in 1835 in honor of the wife of the tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Charlotte of Prussia – later called Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia.
- Free access of course – don’t forget to check if some special event or market is planned for the days you’re in town!
- I recommend to go there two times if possible : the vibe is great during the day but also super magical at night!
- If you don’t go there walking, you can reach it by bus 17 or tram 2 and get off at Kauppatori. Super simple.
4. Senate Square & Lutherian Cathedral
The Senate Square, Senaatintori in Finnish, is probably the most famous spot of Helsinki. Not really surprising, as the cathedral overhanging it, Helsingin tuomiokirkko, is quite impressive and recognisable. It is the only evangelic and white church of all the town, the biggest and certainly the prettiest too, from the outside as on the inside.
Senate Square is also surrounded by the Government Palace – yes the Senate in question – and many beautiful restaurants : a lot of landmarks and famous buildings which compose the oldest part of central Helsinki. Cherry on top: the very typical and picturesque tram is passing in the middle of all this! Stunning.
- Free access – feel free to go whenever you want, even if of course there will be more people during regular “visiting hours” (the afternoon in general) but it’s a big space so it won’t be really annoying in any case – except if you plan on taking some elaborate pictures! Then, as always, go in the morning!
- The tram station, directly on the place, is called Senaatintori (makes sense!), but you can also get off at Hallituskatu if you are on the line 7. It is right in front of the Square as well.
This neighbourhood of Helsinki is one of the most distinguished, but also typical for sure. Quite famous for its architecture, it is located right next to the very center, while at first supposed to be outside the city fortifications that were planned in the mid-18th century. Then a small canal was dug across the base of the headland in the 19th century, turning Katajanokka into an island separating the north and the south of Helsinki’s harbour, and now reachable by a small and pretty bridge. Right in front of this bridge, the Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral dominates the island and the harbour.
If you get around the cathedral by the left after the bridge, nicely covered with padlocks as you can see on the pictures, you will be able to admire the gorgeous passenger harbour and buildings line. This harbour, different from Kauppatori one, is more dedicated to large cruiseferries going to Sweden or Estonia for instance. Looking at the map extract below, you can understand better how Katajanokka is actually positioned in relation to the other spots I mentioned.
Taken from Kauppatori side
- Free access again – you can go directly from either Kauppatori (Marquet Square) or Senaatintori (Senate Square), as it’s kind of in the middle between them both.
- If you’re not coming from one of these spots, get off at Ritarihuone (Riddarhuset) station on the tram lines 4 or 5 or directly at Kauppatori. It’s really next to each other.
- I would recommend to go there at the end of the day, golden hour or even sunset time, to enjoy the special atmosphere and light at the fullest while wandering near the sea. Ideal for a peaceful walk, this place is generally quiet with only a few tourists.
- Have a look at Uspenski Cathedral at the same time!
6. Temppeliaukion Kirkko
This Lutherian modern church, opened in 1969 and located in Töölö neighbourhood, in the heart of Helsinki, is really worth the visit. What makes it undeniably particular is that it has been built directly into solid rock, which is why it is also known as the Church of the Rock or Rock Church. It also happens to be incredibly beautiful as the excavated-interior is therefore bathed in natural light, entering through the skylight surrounding the center copper dome. The whole structure, although impressive, merges really well with the small stone hill it belongs to ; maintaining the original character of the square was by the way the fundamental concept behind the building when it was designed.
Temppeliaukion kirkko is also frequently used as a concert venue due to its excellent acoustic quality, created by the rough, virtually unworked rock surfaces. It is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city; half a million people visit it annually! Unfortunately, we couldn’t personally enter, because of a concert taking place inside on the day we went. I found this picture below on the internet (free of use if I’m not wrong) so that you can still have an overview of what it looks like on the inside.
Please note that it was not taken by me, on the contrary of all the others.
- Entrance fee : 3€ (for adults +18) / Free entrance for members of Töölö parish, children under 18 years and visitors with a valid Helsinki card.
- Tram stations : Kauppakorkeakoulut or Sammonkatu on lines 1 or 2.
- Be sure to check if there is any concert or event occuring inside before going, otherwise you could get stuck outside like us! Also, don’t forget that no sightseeing is allowed during the mass on Sunday mornings (but if you want to, participating the mass is of course free of charge). You can use their Facebook page right here to check the planning, it is pretty active.
The name Kamppi stands for several things : it is first how is called a neighbourhood of Helsinki center, with its heart part of the Central Business District. But it is also the main railway and bus station, which is located in a modern terminal built entirely underground and opened in 2005, and now hosting as well a big shopping mall. This whole structure has been the largest single construction site in the history of Finland.
Therefore being a very newly developed area, Kamppi’s main square architecture is extremely modern and innovative, especially the new funky belongings of Amos Rex Art Museum that you can see below. Now constitutives of the square, called Lasipalatsinaukio, these were finished in 2018, right before our visit. The entrance of the museum is nearby and the exhibitions take place underground. But the architecture of the place is already a spectacle by itself!
Betweeen Lasipalatsinaukio square and the underground bus terminal, there is also this intriguing and extremely modern edifice below, that is nothing less than a chapel! Yes, quite surprising right?
Kamppi Chapel was opened only in 2012, reinforcing the fact that this area is definitely the newest of the city, but also the busiest. Day and night, it’s a huge anthill full of people!
- Kamppi neighbourhood, squares, shopping mall and bus/railway station : free access
- Amos Rex Art Museum : open from 11am, and until 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays, 6pm on Fridays and Mondays, and 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Closed on Tuesdays. Find all the information about booking and fees through this link.
- As Kamppi is the biggest station in terms of subway, bus and trams, I cannot give you all the options here, but there’s one sure thing : you will easily find it!
8. Wander in Helsinki colorful streets
This point is mainly aimed at colors lovers, photographers and/or instagrammers, because oh how pretty and picturesque Helsinki streets can be! I didn’t photograph all of them but here is my top 3.
1) Huvilakatu street : located more south of Helsinki, in Ullanlinna district, it is composed of a very homogeneous sequence of residential buildings built at the beginning of the 20th century in Art Nouveau style. These buildings, all of different colors, are particularly remarkable and highly photogenic.
2) Fredrikinkatu street : this one is longer, with the prettiest part located right next to Temppeliaukion Kirkko (you know the Rock Church), on the way to Kamppi. Most of its buildings were created at the beginning of the 20th century too.
3) Katariinankatu street : leads directly from Kauppatori to Senaatintori, you will find it on the right when you’re on the Marquet Square and facing the City hall. Very nicely decorated with a lot of fairy lights and pennants garlands, it is also full of beautiful restaurants and nice bars.
1) 2) 3)
Take advantage of your visit of the different spots located around each of them to push the ride. If streets 2) and 3) will surely be on your way at one time or another anyway, as they are very busy and connecting the spots to each other, the first on the contrary is less central and further south. It is necessary to move more to find it, but personally it is the one I preferred! Rather go in the morning to have fewer people.
How to go there :
- Huvilakatu street: you can go either by tram line 3, getting off at Eiran Sairaala or Kaptensgatan; either by bus line 24, with get off at Kapteeninpuistikko; otherwise it is at walking distance of Kaivopuisto park.
- Fredrikinkatu street: directly in front of you when going out of the Rock Church (Temppeliaukion Kirkko); otherwise take the tram line 1 or 2 and get off at Kauppakorkeakoulut. A lot of buses stop at this station too.
- Katariinankatu street: you will probably take it to go from Kauppatori to Senaatintori or inversely. Otherwise, you can take the bus 17 and get off at Salutorget, or any transportation going to Kauppatori/Senaatintori.
9. Esplanadi park
The Esplanadi, or Espa as it’s known locally, takes 5 minutes in total to be crossed from the start to the end, and links downtown Helsinki to the Market Square. It may be small, but it’s a lovely area, filled with benches and trees of course. Centered in the urban park is a statue of Johan Ludwig Runeberg by his son, Walter Runeberg, along with other public art pieces.
It also houses the Kappeli restaurant, which opened in 1867. In front of the restaurant, there is an outdoor stage, hosting numerous live music performances all along the year. It has a very pretty architecture too!
- Free access of course – go have a walk there before or after doing Kauppatori, depending on your itinerary!
- The tram station to access it would be Erottaja on lines 1, 3 and 6, or Ylioppilastalo on line 1.
- I wouldn’t recommend any special moment to go, but maybe it’s better by day than night as there is not that much lights in the park.
- However, that is not valid for Christmas time, as I’ve heard that the place is magically decorated and also hosts some Christmas markets at its end during that period! Therefore, definitely plan your visit there at night if you go to Helsinki in December. Find more tips about What to do in the city during winter here.
Bonus : Overview of Christmas’ magic
A few Christmas trees and decorations had already been installed in Keskuskatu street (or Centralgatan in swedish, sometimes used as well), which is a big shopping avenue in the center, on the way between Kauppatori and Kamppi. We were often passing there. A good way to imagine how magical the city can become for winter holiday season!
10. Kaivopuisto: sea & park
If Kaivopuisto’s neighbourhood is more isolated from the center compared to the other places mentioned above, it is still one to see, if you have enough time, and even more if you visit Helsinki in spring or summer. The parc especially was built on the foundations of a former thermal spa resort, that had made of Helsinki a very popular holiday destination in the 19th century. Since this spa was later closed, the park now occupies most of this area, and its location on the Baltic Sea makes it ideal when the sun comes back. Filled by the inhabitants in summer to tan, picnick or participate in sports events or concerts, it is also the traditional celebration spot for the new graduates at the occasion of Finnish Labor Day: Vappu.
For us in November, the weather was far from ideal to sit in the grass, yet I could easily imagine how nice this place must be when the good days come back! Do not hesitate to go check it out and have a walk along the sea at the same time. The view on Helsinki and its bay is truly stunning there!
- Free access – as said above, I particularly recommend you to go there if it’s sunny, during the day or at the beginning of the evening!
- You will need to take the tram number 3, and the station is simply called Kaivopuisto. You can also access it from the Olympia Terminaali which is a ferry and bus terminal, but not sure you will need this.
- The park is constantly open.
Bonus : Another viewpoint on the sea, Kaisaniemi marina
If you are going up to the center, or after visiting it, and you feel like walking a bit more, continue until Kaisaniemi park. City garden as well, it is, in plus of very nice, bordered by a small sea inlet; this marina is very pretty when the evening comes, as you can see on the pictures above. These ones were taken on the path following the railway, from where the view is the most beautiful according to me.
We spent half a day on Suomenlinna island, located in front of Helsinki. As it constitutes a entity on itself, I decided to dedicate a full separated article to it, that you will find here. Come read me there too, as it’s definitely a place not to miss!
“Ok, great, but in which order should I do all of this?”
That’s probably what you think right now, am I wrong?
As Helsinki is quite a small capital, you have multiple options in terms of itinerary. Still, for those of you who like to make things simple and save some time by following an easy guideline, I have summed up our itinerary in another article. Find here below a quick overview but click here to have more details about how we went from one point to another during 48h!
Hope you found this article helpful. Do not hesitate to email me or contact me directly on Instagram @blondiewanderlust if you have any question about Helsinki! Be sure to check the other articles for a full review, and otherwise I’ll see you soon in another article!