Finland has been dubbed the happiest country in the world making it an excellent place to travel. This complete Helsinki, Finland travel guide will help you plan your Finnish adventure!
My husband and I went on a two week Finnish adventure for the last week of February and first week of March in 2023. One full week was spent in the northern region of Finland called Lapland but we worked off our jet lag and spent a few days in Helsinki first!
The reaction we got from the majority of our friends when we told them about our winter destination plans was shock…
It’s true – most people plan tropical vacations in winter but being as how we live in “sunny” San Diego, I prefer to see white snow at least once a year :).
And I put sunny in parenthesis above because San Diego has had the least amount of sunny days in 2023 than the entire continental US ;0!
But even if you actually do live in a place that has cold winters, I cannot emphasize enough how incredible Finland is during the winter months ;).
In a rush?
Your Complete Helsinki Finland Travel Guide
- The Little Travel Details
- Best Places to Stay in Helsinki, Finland
- Best Places to Eat in Helsinki
- Top Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland
- What to Wear in Helsinki
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
The Little Travel Details
How to Get to Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki Airport (code HEL) is a gorgeous and outright relaxing international airport that services most major airlines.
Besides having singing bird music piped throughout the airport, they also have multiple fun play areas if traveling with children.
We flew our favorite British Airways nonstop flight from San Diego to London, had a 3 hour layover in London, and then continued on from London to Helsinki.
Getting Around Once You are There
Once in Helsinki, their Uber and taxi systems are extremely reliable as well as inexpensive compared to prices in the US. And while we did use Uber’s a few times, the majority of our mode of transportation was walking – even in 30° temps ;).
One of our three days in Helsinki was quite windy and snowy so we didn’t really spend too much time outdoor on that day.
How Many Days Do You Really Need in Helsinki?
Finland is known for having extremely short winter days – with days in January being only 6 hours.
For our Feb/March trip, sunrise was around 7:30am and sunset around 4:30pm and we didn’t stay out after dinner any of our evenings in the city due to cold and jet lag ;0.
So even though we were in Helsinki for 3 full days – we really only explored the city for what would amount to about 15 hours total and felt like that was plenty of time to get the feel for the city.
So whether you want to sleep in like we did and spread your exploring out more between multiple days or see it all quickly in 1.5 days is up to you.
I will say – being as how our main focus for this vacation was Lapland, Helsinki was the perfect place to adjust to the 10 hour time difference on our own pace ;).
Our 4th day in Finland was spent with a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia with all the details of this in a separate blog post ;).
Best Places to Stay in Helsinki, Finland
Our 5 nights in Helsinki were spent at this stunning late 19th century classical luxury hotel.
Visiting in winter will get you much cheaper rates than busy season of summer but if you are visiting in summer and have a decent budget, you cannot stay at a more centrally located beautiful hotel in this city.
Another centrally located hotel in the heart of Helsinki with rave reviews for being stylish and luxurious!
Courtesy Hotel St George Instagram
Occupying the premises of a former police station and electrical sub-station, this hotel has a fabulously cheery lobby and is located in a quiet side street. It is also a sister property to the above Hotel Kamp ;).
Courtesy of Hotel Lilla Roberts Instagram
Best Places to Eat in Helsinki
If you are anything like me (ahem picky) and make picking a restaurant while traveling super difficult for you and your travel partners – food halls are the way to go!
We discovered this fun fact about 5 years ago (WHY DID IT TAKE US THIS LONG??) and have now searched for food halls in every city we visit ;). One of my travel favorites is TimeOut Lisbon (read that travel guide here).
Obviously being a picky eater can bring its challenges however you can never go wrong with Italian food or even better – pizza! Especially when said pizzeria is voted no. 1 in Helsinki!
There are currently three locations in Helsinki and we ate at the location that is perfectly located just steps from Senate Square.
Located two miles from Senate Square and the city centre, this adorable red log cabin has been located on the shores of the Taivallahti Bay for over 125 years!
It is also on every list of places to visit in Helsinki so you might as well plan on getting a bite to eat here too!
We just had a snack of hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls (THE BEST I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE BTW!) – but those treats satisfied our appetites until our dinner later that evening. Although, I easily could have just had five plus cinnamon rolls for dinner and called it a day – yes they are THAT GOOD!
Another Helsinki staple… Karl Fazer chocolates – but this is actually a cafe with more than just chocolate :).
We grabbed a quick lunch here one afternoon before heading out to Suomenlinna Island…
Top Things to Do in Helsinki, Finland
Besides being the perfect place to warm up, this library is one of the best Instaworthy stops in Helsinki ;).
While we could not read what any of the titles of the books are due to not knowing a lick of the Finnish language, my husband and I both loved wandering the halls of this peaceful building (and taking our share of photos ;0).
Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
Helsinki Cathedral is very likely Finland’s most famous and photographed building.
Located right in the centre of the city in Senate Square, you cannot miss it!
Helsinki’s newer central library and a bright and airy meeting place for everyone, Oodi Library is also the perfect place to take a break from sightseeing.
Also known as “Church in the Rock,” this Lutheran church is excavated directly into solid rock and is a top sight to see in Helsinki.
Be prepared for a small entrance fee of 5 Euro (in 2023) that you can pay with cash or credit card. We did notice some people just getting a quick view from the lobby and turning right around without paying the entrance fee.
While you can’t get the full view of the church that way – you can see how it was built into the rocks as well as read the history along the wall.
Claimed to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe, the interior of this church surprised both me and my husband with it’s structurally deceptive size based on what it looks like exteriorly.
Located in Sibelius Park within walking distance of Cafe Regatta – we ended up here at sunset (not intentionally – it just worked out that way) and the sun setting behind the monument was picture perfect ;).
The park and monument are named after a famous Finnish composer.
Finland is world renown for their public saunas and has plenty of them if you are looking for the most popular Finnish way to unwind.
While we did not go to any saunas ourselves, we saw a handful of them with plenty of people running between the hot and cold bodies of water ;).
Finn’s also believe dipping your body in freezing water – commonly called ice swimming – is healthy for blood circulation…
Another pastime I most certainly did not partake in ;0.
Pastel Houses on Huvilakatu Street
An Insta hotspot for pretty photos – we walked to this neighborhood on the windy, snowy day I mentioned above. Which actually made for some extra pretty photos ;).
On our last full day in Helsinki, we slept in until NOON (😎), had a brunch meal at Karl Fazer’s Cafe, then headed to the ferry to Suomenlinna Island.
We bought tickets for the 1:25pm ferry to the island and spent about 3 hours exploring before heading back to the city centre for dinner.
This island is another beautiful place in Helsinki for photography lovers but was also a fun place to just wander and talk ;).
Hire Flytographer or A Local Photographer
If you are a regular follower of Pasha is Home, you know I love hiring a photographer from the company Flytographer when I travel. You can save $25 on your first photo shoot with code PASHAISHOME – click here for more information.
Since Flytographer did not have an available photographer in Helsinki for our dates, I searched the hashtag #helsinkiphotographer on Instagram and found Maria Hedengren Photography and loved her style ;).
While her price was more than what I normally pay with Flytographer, I love every amazing photo she took of us as well as enjoying the opportunity to explore a park outside of the city that we never would have discovered on our own ;).
Day Trips from Helsinki
As I mentioned above, on our 4th day in Finland, we took a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia for a day.
You can read my tips on having a fabulous day in Tallinn here.
More information is on the above blog post however, I purchased our Megastar ferry tickets on the Tallink website and we upgraded to the business lounge which was a GREAT decision!
OTHER DAY TRIP OPTIONS
What to Wear in Helsinki
Being that our two week trip to Finland was in the middle of winter, we clearly needed extra warm clothes.
As Southern California residents, we wouldn’t normally own heavy parkas. However, with annual ski trips as well as occasional winter visits to family in New York and Wisconsin, purchasing parkas was a wise investment for us ;).
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
After our few days in Helsinki, we flew up to Lapland for another week (those travel guides will be in separate posts coming soon!).
I had seen many Instagram posts about this magical destination near the Arctic Circle and knew I had to see it for myself someday!
We broke up our long trip home by spending our last two nights in London which also coincided with my husband’s March 5th birthday so we spent our one full day in London with an old Flytographer friend as he took us around his home town’s Beatles stops ;).
Day 1 Fly San Diego to Helsinki via London on British Airways
Day 2 Arrive Helsinki 9pm local time
Day 3 Helsinki
Day 4 Helsinki
Day 5 Helsinki
Day 6 Day trip to Tallinn, Estonia
Day 7 Fly Helsinki to Rovaniemi on Finnair (1.5 hrs)
Day 8 Rovaniemi
Day 9 Rovaniemi
Day 10 Rovaniemi
Day 11 Bus to Saariselka (4 hours)
Day 12 Saariselka
Day 13 Fly Ivalo to London via Helsinki on British Airways
Day 14 London
Day 15 Fly London to San Diego on British Airways
I hope you found this complete travel guide to Helsinki, Finland helpful in planning your own adventures in this incredible city (and country!).
I am writing this post 4 months after returning home and we are still talking about what an incredible trip it was!
My biggest concern was how cold we were going to be due to all the expected time outdoors and honestly we had zero issues with that the entire two weeks ;).
While I know Finland is likely a very fun place to spend time in the summer – I do think making this a winter adventure fits more perfectly into all the country has to offer ;).
Let me know in the comments below if you have been, plan on going, or just accidentally stumbled upon this blog post and are now wanting to know so much more about the happiest country on Earth ;)!
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).