Helsinki, the vibrant capital of Finland, is known for its modern design heritage, art-nouveau buildings, hip and trendy neighborhoods and eclectic food scene. It’s a long way to come for just 3 days, but if that’s all you can spare, then this 3-day suggested itinerary will be very useful. There are of course numerous other destinations in this city so you might want to mix and match the suggestions below to create your own itinerary.
Things to know before traveling to Helsinki, Finland:
Language – Finnish is the official language of Finland and is spoken by the majority of the population. Swedish is the other official language, which is spoken by approximately 6% of the population. Most Finns speak English so you can absolutely get by without speaking the Finnish or Swedish language. Like other countries in the world, speaking at least some Finnish phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals. Out of courtesy you could always begin with “Puhutteko englantia?”, which means “Do you speak English?”
Etiquette – Finns generally have a relaxed attitude towards customs and manners. Being realist, they are not easily offended by cultural faux pas. They also do not expect visitors to know a lot about their country, but they are extremely pleased if you know some significant events in Finnish history or even their technological achievements. Finns do not normally enter into conversation with strangers but they will gladly help if you need assistance in getting to your destination.
Currency exchange – The official currency of Finland is the Euro (EUR), the same currency now used by most Western European countries with the exception of the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway. Exchanging money in Finland is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Europe. Currency can be exchanged at the banks, money exchange counters around the city and airports. Most major establishments like hotels and restaurants in major tourist and business destinations accept credit cards. The best way to get local currency is to use ATMs (with yellow signs that say ‘OTTO‘), which are widely available in Helsinki and other major cities.
Transportation – Getting around Helsinki and the rest of Finland is fairly easy. The city is quite compact so visitors can easily explore its tourist attractions using public transportation, which is one of Europe’s finest. Helsinki has efficient subway systems, bus transport networks, trains, trams and ferries. If you are short on time and want to squeeze in many attractions in 3 days, then purchase a 3-day Helsinki Area Travel card, which provides unlimited travel to all networks in Helsinki including subway, trains, trams, ferries and buses. You can also bike on your own or join one of the guided biking tours offered in the city.
Accommodation – There are many types of holiday accommodation in Helsinki, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like youth hostels and bed and breakfasts. There are also plenty of apartment rentals if you prefer the comfort and convenience of having your own place with cooking facilities. If you are going to follow our suggested itinerary, we recommend accommodation options available in Designkortteli (Design District), Kauppatori, Kampii or Töölö.
Detailed Itinerary: Best of Helsinki, Finland in 3 Days
Assuming you had to cross an ocean to get to Helsinki, your first day will be rife with jet lag. Take a flight that arrives in Helsinki Airport – Vantaa (HEL) as early as possible. The airport is about 30 to 40 minutes away from the city center. A taxi ride to the city center costs 30-40 EUR, but you can opt for cheaper and longer options like the regional buses number 615 or number 415 ( 5.50 EUR) or Finnair City Bus (6.50 EUR). Check into your hotel and freshen up before your tour. If your flight gets in early enough, head to a nearest restaurant or cafe for a quick breakfast or lunch.
Where to stay in Helsinki:
Start your adventure in Helsinki with a visit to The National Museum of Finland and make sure to have enough time for every nook and cranny. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Finland’s history from pre-historic to the present day. Sticking with the history theme, it is best to squeeze in a trip to The National Library of Finland. Aside from its vast array of heritage, the library itself has a magnificent architecture with an equally interesting history. Spend the rest of the afternoon at The Esplanadi Park, a great place to people watch and do some shopping. Then, end the day with a quiet walk at Ruoholahti Canal, one of the best places in Helsinki for sunset viewing. After dinner, head back to your chosen hotel and sleep early for your tour the next day.
On the morning of Day 2, get set to experience the glories of Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, an island-set museum where historic wooden houses and buildings were relocated from different parts of Finland to preserve the Finnish traditions. A popular picnic and party venue, the island is also where the Helsinki’s biggest Midsummer bonfires are carried out. After your open-air museum tour, embark on one of the most interesting day trips out of the city by heading to the spectacular sea fortress of Suomenlinna. This sea fortress built on six islands features some of the most impressive military architecture and outstanding fortification, enough to be declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Suomenlinna can be reached by ferry from the Market Square and travel time is approximately 15 to 20 minutes. You may also join an arranged tour, however, DIY-style will give you complete control of the trip.
After a whole day of adventure, go to a Finnish sauna for a relaxing bath experience. Ask your hotel receptionist on where to find a sauna and make sure to learn about Finnish sauna 101 if you are feeling a little unsure about what to do.
On your last, after having a filling breakfast, set out for the day to visit the city’s attractions that you might have missed. You can spend the morning at Hietaranta Beach for a swim or a volleyball game. If you are a photography enthusiast, then you can squeeze in a very quick visit to The Finnish Museum Of Photography.
In the afternoon, go on a mouth-watering culinary experience by joining a food tour. There are plenty of gourmet tours offered in Helsinki, which will make you feel like a local. Tours will introduce you to iconic Finnish dishes and will take you around the market. Heather’s Helsinki is currently the number one provider of food tours in Helsinki based on TripAdvisor reviews. If you are into complete cultural immersion, join a cooking class. This tour will introduce to traditional Finnish flavors and learn the best way to cook authentic Finnish food.
This is the end of our 3-day suggested itinerary. The sequence of activities and attractions above are just a guide and you can definitely change it to suit your interests. You may opt to extend your stay in Helsinki or explore other parts of Finland or near by Scandinavian countries. The decision is all yours!
Have you been to Helsinki or anywhere else in Finland? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Street view of Helsinki, Finland(Lepneva Irina / Shutterstock.com).