There’s something about Helsinki that makes you feel lost in time. From the historic buildings, with architecture created throughout Swedish rule, Russian rule, and Finland’s own autonomous rule to traditions that date back generations permeating the culture here, Helsinki is a one-of-a-kind city that asks you to step back and simply enjoy where you are.
Unlike the hustle and bustle of many other cities, Helsinki is filled with people spending their mornings enjoying a cup of coffee while taking in where they are. Despite the city’s relaxed vibe, there’s always something to do, whether it be screaming at an amusement park or taking an ice-cold plunge in the sea. And, of course, you can’t leave Helsinki without spending at least some time in a sauna.
Although there’s some argument over whether or not Finland is truly the happiest country in the world, despite constantly ranking as such, a visit to Helsinki will convince you that there is indeed much to be happy about here!
It’s best to visit Helsinki in late spring to early fall. From October to February, much of the day is without sun, which can make enjoying some of the outdoor activities difficult in Helsinki. In fact, some attractions may not operate at all, like Linnanmäki, Helsinki’s amusement park, which closes down at the end of October following their Carnival of Light festival.
Especially in the summer, Helsinki is packed with events. The Helsinki Festival is held in late summer, and it’s the biggest arts festival in the Nordics. From classical and traditional music to costumed dances to circus performers, there’s a little of everything at this colorful festival.
The end of summer and the beginning of fall also introduce a handful of events, like the Helsinki International Film Festival and the Kekri Festival in Suomenlinna. Kekri celebrates the spirits of the dead returning to the world of the living, where they’re greeted by residents and guests alike indulging in food, music, and games.
When you visit Helsinki in the summer months, you’ll be delighted by the temperate, though sometimes windy and rainy, weather and so much sun. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a cafe at 10 pm and the sun still barely setting. In June, you can get up to 19 hours of sunlight. Conversely, December only gets six hours of sunlight and typically hovers around freezing temperatures.
If you’re still deciding where to stay then make sure to check out our article on the cool boutique hotels in Helsinki!
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How to Spend a Weekend in Helsinki, Finland
Getting Around Helsinki
To get to Helsinki, you’ll want to go through the Helsinki Airport, which is one of the best airports I’ve ever spent time in. Everything is so clean, and the service is so friendly. Even the bathrooms are nice (and play bird songs)!
Although there are plenty of rental car options at Helsinki Airport, you don’t really need a car to get around this walkable city. Helsinki is very pedestrian and bike-friendly. Still, to get to your hotel from the airport, you may want to take a taxi to make traveling with your luggage easier. You can also take a bus or train. Outside of going to and from the airport, you can rely on public transportation during your 3 days in Helsinki.
Helsinki has great public transit options, including buses and trams, which will be the primary ways you’ll get around the city. You can go to several stations to pick up a ticket or pass, and some hotels offer the option of picking passes up at the front desk as well. But the easiest way is to simply download the HSL app, which allows you to buy tickets and passes right on the app, which you can then scan when you get on the bus, tram, metro, commuter train, or ferry.
The other great thing about the app is that it also comes with a route planner. Simply tell the app where you’re coming from and where you want to go, and the app will tell you which transit you want to take and which ticket you’ll need.
Helsinki transit covers four zones: A, B, C, and D. You’ll need to buy a ticket or pass that covers the zones you’re traveling in. Attempting to travel outside the zones of your ticket type can result in hefty fines.
I recommend getting a pass that covers you for your entire 3-day weekend in Helsinki. You can buy a pass for between one and 13 days, so just pick up one that covers you for three days. You’ll definitely appreciate not having to worry about buying individual tickets, especially if you intend to use public transit a lot, which you likely will if your hotel is outside of the city center.
Biking is also very popular in Helsinki and one of the best ways to get around. If you don’t have a bike or want to rent one, you can instead use one of the many rental scooters you’ll find throughout the city.
Helsinki Weekend Itinerary – Day 1
For the first day of your 3 days in Helsinki, start out by heading to South Harbour, where you’ll find the Market Square. Here you’ll discover a selection of Finnish and international cuisine, as well as handmade wares and local goods.
From buckthorn berry jam to reindeer sausages to karjalanpiirakka (Finnish pies), you’ll find plenty of distinctly Finnish treats alongside tons of coffee to keep you going throughout the day. Grab yourself a piping hot cup with some Finnish pastries and spend some time perusing the stalls.
The great thing about Market Square, aside from its wide selection of goods, is that it’s right by the ferry terminals, including the ferry that will take you to your second activity of the day, visiting Suomenlinna. You can hop on the HSL ferry, which is a part of the city’s public transportation. If you’ve purchased a day or multiple-day pass on the HSL, you already have your ticket to ride.
Suomenlinna is a fortress built on a series of islands dating back to 1748, back when Finland was a part of the Swedish empire. This maritime fortress, which is only accessible by ferry, is now a major attraction for Finland’s visitors.
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love exploring the island’s six museums. You can even take a guided tour in Finnish, English, Swedish, or Russian if you want to dive deeper into its history.
But if you’re not a big history fan, you’ll still find that Suomenlinna is worth a visit. Go on your own walking tour of the designated blue route to see beautiful vistas, massive monuments, and stunning architecture. And if you need to take some time to relax in the summer months, you can always spend a few hours at the beach.
You’re bound to get your steps in at Suomenlinna, which means you’re also bound to work up an appetite. Luckily, you don’t have to leave the islands to grab lunch. There are tons of restaurants and cafes in Suomenlinna, but one of the best is Café Silo.
This charming cafe is located in the old Russian merchants’ quarters. Today, it’s where you’ll be able to get a light lunch while taking in scenic views, as well as indulge in plenty of sweet treats. You can also get some of Suomenlinna’s very own coffee and chocolates, both of which you’re going to want to take home with you.
When you’re ready to head back to the mainland, just hop back on the ferry. From there, it’s time to do a little exploring. South Harbour is by many of Helsinki’s best attractions, all within walking distance.
Stroll over to the Presidential Palace, which is just across the street from Market Square. This stunning building holds the Office of the President of the Republic and is used by the President for official functions. While it’s not open to the public, it’s worth strolling by on your way to your next stop.
By now, you’ve likely already spotted the next attraction on your Helsinki itinerary. It’s hard to miss the red-bricked Uspenski Cathedral as it towers over the city. This cathedral is the main one for the Orthodox Church of Finland. Constructed during Russia’s rule over Finland, it was completed in 1868 and remains one of Helsinki’s biggest attractions.
On the outside, you’ll spot 13 towers with gilded domes and a 5-story bell tower. The inside is even more colorful, filled with mosaics and iconostases.
The Uspenski Cathedral is open every day of the week for visitors except Mondays. However, it does close a bit early on weekends. If the first day of your 3 days in Helsinki is a Saturday, keep in mind that you’ll need to arrive here before its closing at 3 pm.
Next up, you’ll head to another of Helsinki’s famous landmarks, the Helsinki Cathedral. Though it was also constructed during Russian rule, this cathedral is actually Finnish Evangelical Lutheran and was built in a very different style from the Uspenski Cathedral.
Walk up the steps to take in the stunning view outside the cathedral, then head inside to explore its beauty. Visit the art exhibitions, marvel at the massive organ above you, and admire the many gilded statues and altars around the cathedral.
To finish up the first day of your 3-day weekend in Helsinki, grab dinner at Ravintola Savotta. If you want to immerse yourself in true Finnish cuisine, this restaurant is a great place to do it.
It even offers you an amazing view of the Helsinki Cathedral. Start off with some traditional fish soup and then indulge in some reindeer roast or braised bear. Finish it all off with some sweet Finnish trifle and a glass of Lakkalikööri, aka cloudberry liqueur.
Helsinki Weekend Itinerary – Day 2
To start the second day of your weekend in Helsinki, head to a true Finnish institution. Located in the city center, Café Ekberg is the oldest bakery, patisserie, and cafe in Finland. Though it’s been more recently renovated, it still holds the same historic charm as it always did.
It’s a lovely place to get a cup of coffee and a pastry to start your day. And opt to forgo asking for a to-go order. You’ll want to spend some time enjoying the scenery.
Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
After breakfast, you’re going to want to catch Bus 24, which is the easiest way to get to the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum. Seurasaari Island has long been a place for Finnish people to experience nature and spend a leisurely day of exploration. Over time, the island became more developed, with restaurants and other buildings popping up, making it an even more popular summer destination.
Although you can still explore its beaches and nature trails, the main draw to Seurasaari today is its open-air museum. Buildings from all over Finland have been moved to Seurasaari. There are currently 87 buildings in the museum, all representing Finnish life from between the 17th and 20th centuries.
You’ll likely need several hours to explore the island, so rather than rushing off to go get lunch, stop by the museum’s cafe, Antin Kaffeliiteri, where you’ll find coffee alongside sweet and savory treats. It’s located inside the shed of the Antin talo building.
From there, you’ll take the 500 or 502 to get back into the city. You’ve spent the morning studying the history of Finland, so now it’s time to do something a little different, though it’s historic nonetheless!
Linnanmäki is Helsinki’s amusement park, dating back to 1950. Only open during the summer, with a special light festival extending into October, Linnanmäki is filled with roller coasters, from the launching Taiga to the whirling Kirnu.
This park, which is free to enter and requires the purchase of either an all-day wristband or individual ride tickets, has something for everyone. There are rides for all ages, from drop towers of all different sizes to a haunted house to a VR coaster.
But one of the biggest attractions is the historic Vuoristorata, a wooden coaster that dates back to 1951. It’s one of the few roller coasters that employs the use of manual brakes and onboard brake operators, who stand at the back of the coaster throughout the ride. And they do a pretty great job creating a smooth ride!
Linnanmäki may be known for its amazing rides and truly adorable theming, but you’ll also find that it has some of the best amusement park food around. So if you want to stay in the park until closing, you won’t have to leave to grab a bite to eat for dinner. There are more than 20 places to eat in the park, with options ranging from Italian or Indian cuisine to cloudberry jam-covered waffles and bubble tea topped with gourmet doughnuts.
Then, end the night with one last ride on Vuoristorata before you head back to the hotel to rest up for the final day of your 3 days in Helsinki.
Helsinki Weekend Itinerary – Day 3
For the last day of your 3-day trip to Helsinki, you’ll start out with breakfast at one of the best cafes in Helsinki, Cafe Regatta. Set inside a 115-year-old red cottage, this cafe looks like a piece of the countryside that’s a bit out of place in Helsinki.
Open year-round, you get two very different experiences during the summer and winter. In the summer, you’ll revel in the nearly all-day sunlight as you sit outside by the water. In the winter, you’ll warm yourself by the fire as fresh snow surrounds you.
But no matter when you visit, you’re going to want to get one of their hot chocolates, covered in whipped cream, of course. And their top pastries include their amazing cinnamon rolls, blueberry pie, and karjalanpiirakka.
Also in the summer, you can rent a paddleboard, canoe, kayak, or rowboat from the on-site SUP Regatta. Helsinki is a beautiful place to boat around, and it allows you to see another side of the city that many others don’t get to see. Enjoy spending a morning on a leisurely kayak or canoe ride, as long as the wind isn’t too strong to cause too many waves.
Whether you’ve chosen to skip kayaking or are just wrapping up your session, your next stop isn’t too far away. Consisting of over 600 steel pipes unevenly grouped together to represent a sound wave, the Sibelius Monument was erected in 1967 in honor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. A large bust of Sibelius himself was later added next to the landmark.
The monument itself is more than a beautiful work of art. Under the right conditions, the statue even echoes the music of the world around it. You can sometimes hear a bird’s song or a whistle from a strong wind.
Next up, you’re going to stroll on over to the Temppeliaukio Church, known better as the Rock Church. Active still today as a Lutheran church, the Rock Church was the brainchild of architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, who won a contest to be able to see their design come to fruition. The church would be built directly into rock, with a copper-lined dome holding the ceiling up.
As a great architectural marvel, the church is more than worth a spot on your Helsinki itinerary. Keep in mind that if you’re visiting on a Sunday, Sunday Service will occur at 10 am. You’re welcome to sit through the service, though it will be in Finnish. However, English leaflets are provided.
However, if you arrive in time for the service, you may not take any photos and must sit for the service. Ideally, if you want to skip the service, arrive after noon when the church reopens for visitors. It does close again at 1:15 pm, reopening for half an hour at 2:15 pm before opening once more at 3:45 pm, when it stays open until closing at 6 pm.
If you’re choosing to have started this 3-day Helsinki itinerary on a Saturday, making your last day a Monday, your schedule is a little easier, as the church simply remains open to the public from 10 am to 7 pm.
Restaurant Big Bowl Noodle
When you’re ready to stop and grab a bite to eat, head over to the nearby Restaurant Big Bowl Noodle. This easy-to-miss restaurant is hiding one of the best meals in Helsinki, especially if you’re a fan of Asian cuisine. As the name promises, you get one seriously big bowl of noodles, which are all hand-pulled. It’s pure comfort food, and you’re guaranteed not to leave hungry.
From there, you’re going to hop on the 2 tram to get back to South Harbour, where you’ll leave for your last attraction for your 3 days in Helsinki. Though Korkeasaari Zoo is open year-round, only in the summer can you take a scenic ferry ride from Market Square to the zoo, located on its own island.
Keep in mind that, unlike when you traveled to Suomenlinna, this ferry operates outside the HSL and requires a separate ticket. If you’d like to save some money on the ticket costs, you can instead take Bus 16, which will take you right to the Korkeasaari ticket booth on the island.
This zoo is one of the oldest in the world and is dedicated to its conservation efforts. It’s home to more than 150 animal species, but don’t expect the hippos and giraffes you’d see in many American zoos.
Korkeasaari strives to put its animals in comfortable habitats where they can enjoy the outside throughout the year. Keeping that in mind, you’ll see more forest reindeer or wolverines here than you would in many other zoos.
There are two tropical houses on-site, which allow for more animals that would prefer the warmth. From pygmy marmosets to dwarf mongooses, you’ll see many unique creatures throughout the island from all over the world.
After you finish exploring the zoo, venture back to the mainland by either bus or ferry for the last dinner of your 3-day trip to Helsinki. For this dinner, indulge in a restaurant with Finnish cuisine at its heart!
Ravintola Kolme Kruunua, with the sun seeping in through its stained glass windows, is an upscale restaurant serving up Finnish favorites. From sautéed reindeer to some of the best meatballs in town, everything is tender and perfectly cooked. We recommend getting the snails for an appetizer and splitting the French toast and squeaky Finnish cheese for dessert!
More places to eat & drink in Helsinki
Sip coffee and take in the view at Café Engel:
Located by Senate Square, this charming cafe offers a perfect view of the Helsinki Cathedral. Although it’s a great place for breakfast, you’re also going to want to head back later in the day if you’re visiting in the summer. Come summer, the cafe’s courtyard becomes home to Kesäkino Engel, an outdoor movie theater.
Sample your way through Hietalahti Market Hall:
Built over 100 years ago, this market hall near South Harbour offers cuisine from all around the world, in addition to handmade goods and artwork.
Experience the French and Italian fusion of Baskeri & Basso Bistro:
Inspired by French bistros and Italian osterias, with a little hint of San Francisco’s food scene thrown in, Baskeri & Basso is a laidback, romantic restaurant that keeps its menu simple for the sake of incredible flavor.
What to do if you have more than 3 days in Helsinki
Take a day trip to Porvoo. Porvoo is an absolutely adorable and historic town that’s only about an hour away from Helsinki. As the second-oldest town in all of Finland, there’s plenty of history in its cobblestone streets. Over in the colorful Old Town, you’ll find handmade artisan goods, quaint and delicious cafes, and museums that will teach you all about the local culture. Don’t forget to head down to the waterfront to snap a pic in front of the famous red houses!
Travel to Tallinn. As Estonia’s capital, Tallinn is a one-of-a-kind city with architecture dating from many different eras. The main attraction is the city’s Old Town, with its medieval buildings now playing host to fine dining establishments, boutiques, museums, art galleries, and much more.
Visit the many botanical gardens. Helsinki has a number of gardens you can explore. There’s the Winter Garden, which is nearby Linnamäki. Opened in 1893, this quaint and beautiful garden is open year-round, despite its name, with new flowers blooming each season. The University of Helsinki Botanical Garden actually has two sites, one in Kaisaniemi and one in Kumpula, each with its own unique collection. Strolling through either one is a lovely way to enjoy a summer day in Helsinki.
Spend an afternoon at Löyly. Löyly is more than a glass-walled restaurant offering one of the best views of Helsinki. It’s also known for its saunas. Public saunas, which are either a traditional smoke sauna or a wood-burning sauna, are available for bookings of two hours at a time. Or you can book a private sauna, which includes a private terrace and access to the sea.
Allas Sea Pool
Take a dip in the Allas Sea Pool. The Allas Sea Pool, which offers an incredible view of the waterfront, features several pools to choose from, including a saltwater pool with water from the sea. Outside of the pools, you can also relax in the saunas.
We hope you enjoy your weekend trip to Helsinki! Should we add something else to our 3-day Helsinki itinerary? Let us know in the comments.
Planning a trip to Finland? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!