On our way to Kakslauttanen in early March we had a few hours stopover in Helsinki and on our return we had another night stopover so overall you could consider this as one full day in Helsinki. We personally found that this was enough time to get a feel of the city and see the most important parts. Plus, Helsinki is quite small and we didn't find it to be as lively as other Scandinavian cities, such as Stockholm, which I personally love. FYI, it was freezing cold when we went so do wrap up warm.
On a side note, it's important to know a bit about the history of Helsinki to understand the reason behind the different architectural influences. The city started as small fishing village under the Swedish Kingdom. After the Finnish War in the early 19th century, Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as part of a treaty and the city then grew dramatically. Finland only gained it's independence in 1917 after a civil war...
On our return we had an amazing dinner at Juuri that had just reopened. We ordered a mixture of Sapas (small portions) to start, a main course and dessert each - everything was absolutely delicious and perfectly served. They serve traditional Finnish dishes with a modern twist and always use local seasonal organic products. I read somewhere that apparently it's Jared Leto's favourite restaurant in Helsinki so this should be a good indicator for you.
We stayed at the Klaus K hotel which was very modern and stylish. I remember having a delicious breakfast with plenty of healthy options. We had an early flight in the morning so it was practical to be close by the station to get our train to the airport.
Here are some of the most iconic places you should visit to make the most of your stopover in Helsinki:
This promenade in the centre of Helsinki is really nice to walk down. It's a popular spot for the locals to relax and is also where many important events are held. The scenery obviously changes a lot depending on which time of the year you're visiting. It was early March when we went and it still felt like the winter season with snow and not much green vegetation...
Suomenlinna is a sea fortress renowned by its unique history as it was firstly used to defend Sweden, then Russia and ultimately Finland throughout the years (as I mentioned above). It's one of the most visited attractions in Finland and there is no entrance fee - just the ferry ticket. You can get a guided tour if you want upon arrival but we didn't find this necessary as it's nice to walk around the island by yourself and in any case, there are lots of informative description posts to get all the information you need about the sights. It was quite a fun experience, especially the ferry crossing (15-20 mins) through all the ice-covered waters.
I actually spotted this cathedral from a distance from the harbour and had to go see it up closer. It's the largest Orthodox Church in Western Europe and the architecture is extraordinary. I loved the golden cupolas and redbrick facade which is a clear example of past Russian influences...
At the end of the Esplanade Park next to the South Harbour you will find Helsinki's famous international market. You can buy many things such as traditional market foods, handicrafts and local souvenirs. There are also some heated tents where you can sit down and enjoy a hot drink - perfect for the cold winter days.
This beautiful redbrick church is worth the visit. I heard that it’s very in demand for weddings due to its lovely exterior and is also a place for music concerts.
Old Market Hall
This market has been opened since the late 19th century and is the place where you will find everything from local Finnish cheese, fish and cakes to tea and coffee. There are a few cafes and restaurants where you can sit down for a hot drink or a bite to eat.
This huge square is an important location in Helsinki as on each separate side you will find the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. This is also why it's a prime location for protests and demonstrations.
This is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Helsinki located on the northern side of the Senate Square. They say it's even one of the most photographed monuments of Finland.
If you have an extra day then it's worth visiting the iconic Kamppi Chapel of Silence, the Sibelius Monument and the Temppeliaukio Church which was excavated directly into solid rock. If you're looking for some amusement then head over to famous Linnanmäki Amusement Park (open since 1950) or go for a ride on the Helsinki SkyWheel to see a 360° view of the Finnish capital.
Have you ever been to Helsinki? Which is your favourite Scandinavian city?
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English and French wanderer. Based in Paris. Tasting the world through one escape to another...