Helsinki is termed the “Daughter of the Baltics” and is a picturesque city at the Southern tip of Finland. Much of the city is modeled after St. Petersburg, making the architecture stunning to take in.
We traveled to Helsinki and Tallinn in February. I’m in love all of the Scandinavian countries, and I have always wanted to travel to Finland. More specifically I’m DYING to visit Lapland, but we decided to make this trip about visiting two countries rather than a week up north. Next time!
Helsinki is a lively, thriving city. With an eclectic food scene, charming buildings, and a fun hipster scene, this city definitely deserves a spot on your travel list. I have to say that winter probably is not this city’s best season, but we had an amazing time regardless!
Read on for my must-see places and must-do activities in beautiful Helsinki!
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Finnish, Swedish (you can easily get around Helsinki with English)
- Cost: expensive
- Tipping: none!
- Wi-fi: widely available in most cafes and shops
- Best souvenirs: Kuksa drinking cup, Iittala glass, knitwear, Finnish vodka
» How to get to Helsinki
By plane: Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport is the main airport. It’s easy to get to the city center via train (~$6), bus (~$6), or taxi (~$40).
By train: Long distance trains from Finland, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg end up in Helsinki at the Central Railway Station in the middle of the city center.
By boat: There are ferry routes to Helsinki from Tallinn, Estonia, and Stockholm, Sweden.
» Where to stay in Helsinki
*Getting an AirBnB flat could be a great option too, most of the listings can be very affordable!
» How to get around Helsinki?
By foot: Helsinki is not a huge city; so it’s easy to explore via walking.
By tram, bus, or metro: All public transportation in Helsinki have standardized rates:
- Tram ticket for 1 hour: €2.50
- Single ticket: €2.70 via mobile and ticket machine, €3.20 from the driver (use card button “1”)
- Regional ticket: €5.50 valid for 80 mins within and between Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen (use card button “2”)
- Full region ticket: €8 valid for above plus Kerava, Sipoo and Kirkkonummi (use card button “3”)
- Day ticket: €8
By taxi: Taxis are the most expensive option starting at €5.90 on weekdays and €9 after 8PM and Sundays, and an additional €1.52 is charged for every kilometer.
» Traditional Food + Drink
Authentic Finnish breakfast: Open sandwiches, porridge, karelian pasties, korvapuusti (see photo below – MUST TRY!)
Lunch and dinner: Hernekeitto (pea soup), ‘game’ food (moose, deer, duck), Salmon soup (highly recommend!)
Snacks and dessert: Pulla (sweet cardamom-flavored bread), Runeberg’s torte (pastry flavored with almonds and rum), rönttönen (pastry with berry filling), salmiakki (salty black liquorice), and leipäjuusto (fresh cow’s milk cheese, best eaten with jam).
Drinks: Definitely make it a point to drink Finnish coffee! Finland actually has one of the highest coffee consumption per capita check out one of the many cafes to experience this amazing coffee culture. (I highly recommend Kaffa Roastery – voted the best coffee in Helsinki!)
If you’re into beer, pale lagers are very popular – the most popular brands are Koff, Lapin Kulta, and Karhu.
And of course, the Finns are also known for their vodka!
» Best Things to do in Helsinki
Kauppatori (Market Square)
Next to the beautiful harbor is the main market square in central Helsinki. It’s an open-air market filled with kiosks of Finnish souvenirs, foods, flowers and more.
Not far from the Market square high up on the hill is Upsenski Cathedral. I just love the brick color with the turquoise domes – so picturesque! You can also go inside which is massive and ornately decorated.
Old Market Hall
Right next to the Market Square is an indoor food hall. This was a nice place to go to escape the winter weather and catch a budget friendly meal. Old Market Hall is a great option if you’re trying to eat on a budget! Here you will find lots of delicious local food offerings such as soups, sandwiches, and coffees. I LOVED the salmon soup from Soppakiettiö!
Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings of the city. It is a beautiful sight to see, one of the best in the Nordics! The day we were there it must have been prom because there were hundreds of kids running up and down the stairs in extravagant dresses taking photos!
Kampii Chapel is just an unusual shaped wooden building right in the middle of one of the city’s busiest squares, but I needed to see it for its uniqueness. You could easily walk by this and not even know it’s a church!
Suomenlinna is one of the biggest fortresses in the world and a huge part of history for Finland. The fort is a UNESO World Heritage site which was used in defense against Sweden and Russia during wars.
Located on a rocky island across the main harbor, it’s only a 20-minute ferry ride across the frozen Baltic Sea. I LOVED our time walking around this beautiful place – so much history! Since it was winter most of the museums and cafes were closed, but we still spent about an hour walking to the opposite end and back.
It was so fascinating to walk around and check out the old architecture, stone walls, and even cannons! It’s definitely like something out a movie. And people actually live here today!
It’s no secret that the Finns love their saunas, it’s a huge part of their culture. The tradition of the sauna dates back to the fifth century when Scandinavian tribes settled down. Today the tradition hold strong. Most people will incorporate a sauna into their weekend routine, some even go every day! There are around 3,000,000 saunas in Finland, and it’s very common for each household to have one!
We chose Löyly for our first authentic sauna experience, which is a brand new beautiful facility on right on the sea.
The best way to enjoy the sauna is to alternate back and forth between the hot steamy sauna and the cold sea swim. I have to admit, I was REALLY nervous to do a freezing cold sea swim in the middle of the winter! I spent a while standing there staring at the water trying to decide if I wanted to do it.
BUT I DIT IT! And yes, the water was breathtakingly cold. I was thankful for my new found Finnish friend who talked me through the whole process, otherwise I might have chickened out!
To say it was exhilarating is an understatement. Not only is it refreshing, but I was really proud of myself for doing something that I don’t usually do! The contrast of the hot to cold and back again is so healthy and relaxing for the body!
Check out the video of my sea swim – in FEBRUARY. in the Baltic sea
**I was a guest at Löyly, but as always all opinions are my own. I only recommend places that I have experienced myself and love!
Question: Have you been to Helsinki? What was your favorite thing you did?
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