Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland, a Nordic country situated in the region called Fennoscandia. Besides being a tourist destination, Helsinki is also the gateway to Lapland, where you can either see the northern lights or visit the famous Santa Claus House.
Helsinki is located on the south coast of the country and covers a continental portion and several surrounding islands.
I wanted to visit the city for a long time ago. Keeping the strategy of not concentrating my whole journey on a single tourist destination, I decided to visit Helsinki in the fall of 2019, along with other European cities.
In this post, I offer the essential tips for those who want to visit Helsinki. Check it out!
- Check out our english articles, clique here.
How to get to Helsinki?
There are several ways you can arrive at the capital of Finland: by ferry, by train or by plane.
1. By Ferry
There are regular ferries between Helsinki and Tallinn and between Helsinki and Stockholm. The first route is operated by three companies: Viking Line, Eckerö Line, and Tallink Silja. The journey takes two hours.
It is important to mention that, although they travel the same route, these companies operate at different terminals in Helsinki. Viking Line operates at Katajanokka Terminal, near Market Square, and the others operate at West Terminal 2 on the other side of the city, near the so-called Old Town.
- Don’t make the same mistake I made. I ended up staying next to the Katajanokka Terminal, thinking that it would make my life easier but ended up buying Eckerö Line tickets.
The Eckerö Line is excellent. The check-in procedure was quick. Immediately after, I passed my luggage through the X-ray and went upstairs to the departure lounge. The West Terminal is large and new. It has a cafeteria and offers free wifi for the passengers.
The MS Finlandia ship is also very comfortable. I just didn’t see any seats to lie down. So I decided to get a table near the restaurant. The ship also offers free Wifi. The price of the trip was 10 Euros and I bought the ticket 1 month earlier.
The route between Stockholm and Helsinki is operated by Tallink/Silja Line and by Viking Line. The trip takes around 16h30min. The ferries usually depart from Stockholm in the late afternoon and arrive in Helsinki around 10 am. For this route, the Tallink tickets cost around 90 Euros per cabin for 2 people.
2. By plane
Helsinki International Airport (HEL) is 21 km away from the city center. But there are trains connecting the Airport to the Central Railway Station. The journey takes around 35 minutes. Tickets cost about 5 Euros (I don’t remember the exact price). If you want get a taxi, get ready to pay around 50 Euros.
There are a large number of direct flights between Helsinki and the main European cities, as well as, between Helsinki and North America or Asia.
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights between South America and Finland. Either way, with just one connection at a European hub, you can arrive in Helsinki.
3. By Train
You can also get to Helsinki by train from St. Petersburg, Russia using the Allegro Train, a high-speed train that can reach up to 220 km/h. The service connects the centers of both cities in just 3h30min. One of the pros is that immigration and customs formalities are carried out aboard the train itself, which avoids wasting your time. Price Tickets start at 39 Euros one-way.
Where to stay in Helsinki?
My tip is staying in zones A and B of the public transport system. The main city attractions are located in this region.
But, it is important to note that Helsinki accommodation is very expensive. In fact, it is difficult to find a hotel where you can stay for less than 100 Euros per day. Even hostels are expensive, with prices above 80 Euros per day.
Here are some suggestions for hotels and aparthotels.
|Accomodation||Booking.com ratings||Price (Euros)|
|Crowne Plaza Helsinki Hesperia||8,4||86|
|Clarion Hotel Helsinki||8,8||121|
|Holiday Inn Helsinki West Ruolahti||8,5||100|
|Hotel Rivoli Jardin||8,7||116|
|Holiday Inn Helsinki City Centre||8,7||122|
|Hellsten Helsinki Senate||8,4||99|
*Prices are for reference only. The survey was performed on 10/10/2019 on Booking.com. Daily rates for November 1st. 2019. To find out more about hotels, click above on the name of each accommodation.
Scandic Grand Marina Review
I stayed at the Scandic Grand Marina, located in Katajanokka peninsula. The building, which is old (1920), and its lighting seem to have been inspired by a ship: each room, a cabin.
The location is good. In a 10-minute walk, you get to the Helsinki Cathedral. There is a K-market supermarket nearby, a souvenir shop and a Chinese restaurant as well. It is very close to some attractions, such as the Ferris wheel, Flying Finland, Market Square, and the Orthodox Cathedral. Lastly, Katajanokka is a peninsula from where the Viking Line ferries to Tallinn depart.
In the hotel, check-in was very quick and the hotel attendants were very helpful.
Breakfast was good, with a good range of options: cheese, eggs, fruits, yogurts, juices, cereals, etc.
The room is reasonable. It features a TV, minibar, desk and safe box. However, there are two beds next to the wall, which makes the passage difficult. The beds are not comfortable and the furniture is a bit old.
One thing I found interesting in the bathroom: the bars where we hang towels are heated, which makes them dry quickly.
But what left most to be desired was the cleanliness of the hotel. As soon as I arrived, I noticed the trash in my room had not been collected and I found poorly washed glasses. It also lacked sweeping in the room. On the last day, they didn’t even tidy up the room. The shampoo was not replaced, even after we notified the reception.
The hotel is not cheap. The price is 113 euros per day, in the same terms as the hotels mentioned above. Hotel reviews on Booking.com are 8.2 / 10 and 4/5 on Tripadvisor. On this site, some reviews point out the room cleanliness problems.
In my opinion, for a 4 star rated hotel, this is unacceptable.
How to get around Helsinki?
Helsinki is a pedestrian-friendly city. For the most part, the city is flat and with good sidewalks. Drivers respect crosswalks and pedestrians also respect traffic signs.
If you want to get to know a city, I always recommend walking. In Helsinki, most attractions can be visited on foot, but sometimes with a long walk.
However, you can also take the tram, the bus, the subway or train lines to further afield. Ticket prices are valid by zone and for a period of 80 minutes. Tickets for zones A and B, which cover the central area, cost 2.80 Euros. Use the Google Maps app to find the best route for you.
- Hint: Buy the ticket at the machines using credit or debit card. If you buy it from the bus driver, you will pay 4 Euros.
To visit the Suomenlinna Islands, you can take the ferry. The ticket costs 5 Euros and it is valid for 12 hours, allowing you to go and come back from the island. Ferries to Suomenlinna depart from a pier in Market Square.
Where to eat in Helsinki?
Helsinki is an expensive city. In most restaurants, you will pay at least 20 Euros a dish.
I found three reasonably priced establishments in the city:
- Via Tribunale Pizzeria, near Helsinki Cathedral.
- Café Bar No. 9: a simple downtown restaurant with a variety of salads, pastas, soups and hamburgers and other dishes. In this restaurant, be sure to try Pasta Carbonara. Delicious!
- Levant: a Syrian restaurant in the central area. There you will find the main dishes of Arabic cuisine.
If you really want to save money on food, you can go to the K-market supermarkets, where you can set up your plate at a buffet.
One thing I noticed is that in all establishments, water, whether flavored or not, is offered to customers free of charge.
Things to do in Helsinki
Suomenlinna is a fortress located on a cluster of islands 4 km from central Helsinki. Built in the 18th century, when Finland was still part of Sweden, the Fortress is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1991).
The island complex is large. In addition to the fortress buildings themselves and their cannons, it contains museums, restaurants, art galleries, hostel, supermarkets, shops and a church; The Vesikko submarine, which was used in World War II, has been restored and can be visited there. In the islands there are also some beaches used by the Finns during the summer.
About 800 people live in Suomenlinna.
It is very pleasant to walk around the islands, watch the trees and their leaves scattered on the ground in the fall season and visit the museums. The routes are all flagged. I recommend you to take the Royal Way from the Main Pier to the King’s Gate Pier.
It is also worth visiting the Military Museum, where you can see the white camouflage of the Finnish military and even of horses in the World Wars. Instead of wearing the black-green of the forest, they wore white clothes to disguise themselves in the snow. In addition, they used skis to get around in the Finnish winter.
On the main island of Suomenlinna, there is still a prison with a capacity of up to 100 people, but it is not on the tourist maps. The establishment is a type of open prison where there are no gates, locks or uniforms. Inmates, however, are monitored using GPS technology. It is a model prison that prepares inmates for real life. Each of the inmates has an individual sentence compliance plan, with activities such as work, study, and drug rehabilitation. One such activities is the restoration of the fortress and its buildings, as well as the cleaning of public spaces. The inhabitants of the island approve it!
To get to Suomenlinna, just take a ferry from Market Square in Helsinki. The price of the ferry is 5 euros and they are valid for the whole day (round trip). Tickets are purchased on machines at the station. The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes.
2. Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
Helsinki Cathedral is a Lutheran Evangelical Cathedral and the city’s main postcard. Located in central Helsinki, on a slightly higher area, its dome can be seen from various points of the city and serves as a reference point.
The neoclassical-style Cathedral was built between 1830 and 1852 in honor of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and designed by architect Carl Ludvig Engel.
At that time, Finland was part of the Russian Empire. In 1917, with the Russian Revolution, Finland declared its independence.
The cathedral’s external grandeur contrasts with the simplicity of its interior. The altar and the furniture are very simple. But, it worth the visit and it’s free.
To get inside the cathedral, you will have to climb a staircase of 50 steps.
In front of the Cathedral, you find Senate Square, which is used as a meeting point for city tours. It is a large square where, as its name implies, you find the Finnish Senate’s building. It was also built in the 19th century.
In the center of the square there is a monument in honor of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia between 1855 and 1881. The Emperor was known as “the Liberator” due to the reforms he promoted in the Russian Empire. He was assassinated in 1881 and his death caused a serious setback in the reforms.
3. Temppeliaukio Church
Temppeliaukio Church is a Lutheran church built on a massive rock. Its interior has been extracted to form the walls.
Opened in 1969, the church is currently one of Helsinki’s main attractions. More than 500,000 people visit it annually.
Right at the entrance, you can observe door surrounded by a mound of stones like those we see on the edges of the beaches.
Inside, one can see the solid rock defining the contours of the circular church. Although relatively simple, the church is beautiful. It is worth gazing at the ceiling, the organ and the altar.
Be sure to go upstairs to the mezzanine for a wider view of the church.
The ticket costs 3 Euros.
4. Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral
In my opinion, Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral is Helsinki’s most beautiful cathedral, both inside and out. Nevertheless, it does not compare to the Orthodox cathedrals I visited in Kiev or Russia.
It was built between 1862 and 1868 and is located in the Katajanokka peninsula, near the port region and the Market Square.
Located on a higher part, it is also imposing and can be seen from various points around. Inside, one can see a beautiful altar, with beautiful frescoes and inscriptions on the walls, and a huge chandelier in the center.
The interior is small and has no capacity for as many people as the other churches I mentioned before.
Admission is free and it pays the visit. From above, be sure to observe the Helsinki harbor region.
5. Sibelius Park and the Sibelius Monument
Sibelius Park is a park located in western Helsinki (Töölö district), which stands out for its Monument to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
This is a 600-tube sculpture by artist Elia Hiltunen, which seeks to capture the essence of Sibelius’s music. The work won an organized competition after the composer’s death.
The park itself is quite simple: a green area in the city. In addition to the monument, it is worth walking along the waterfront around the park, observing the boats, the vegetation and maybe having a cup of coffee.
To get there, I recommend taking the tram.
I hope these tips are helpful. Have a nice trip to Helsinki!