2 Days in Helsinki, Finland - The Perfect Way to Bookend A Ferry Trip to St. Petersburg

Art Deco train station in Helsinki, Finland
I consider Helsinki, Finland to be an off-the-beaten-path hidden gem in Europe. It's also the port of departure for a 3-day visa-free trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. What should you do in Helsinki if you have a day before and after the ferry trip to Russia? Read on to find out how to spend a relaxing city break in Helsinki.

Stay at Helsinki's Historic and Funky Radisson Blu

Bar at the Radisson Blue Plaza Hotel in Helsinki, Finland
There is a new train that runs from the Helsinki airport to the main train station. From here, it's an easy walk to the funky Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. The hotel has two sides. Try to get a room in the historic side and check out the dramatic chandeliers and stained glass. In my opinion, the Radisson Blu chain has the comfiest pillows out of all hotel chains in Europe.
Chandelier at the Radisson Blue Plaza Hotel in Helsinki, Finland

Dine Like a Helsinki Local at The Cock Eatery and Bar

Napkin from the Cock Eatery and Bar in Helsinki, Finland
Locals love to dine out. I have a friend based in Helsinki and she recommended The Cock Eatery and Bar. I love how restaurants in Helsinki stamp their name onto the napkins.
Helsinki Gin and Tonic
We enjoyed a Helsinki Gin and Tonic with fresh lingonberries to start the meal. The restaurant offers an eclectic mix of cuisines from Sicilian arancini balls...
Arancini balls at the Cock Eatery and Bar in Helsinki
...to an Asian stir-fry served with chopsticks. We found something for everyone here.
Asian Stir Fry at the Cock Eatery and Bar in Helsinki, Finland

Revel in Helsinki's Art Deco Architecture

Art Deco Train Station in Helsinki, Finland
My favorite feature of Helsinki has to be the Art Deco architecture which is heavy and dramatic. The main train station is a particularly good example of design in that era. Two solid looking gentlemen sternly hold lighted orbs on the outside of the facade.
Art Deco clock tower at the train station in Helsinki, Finland

Zoom in on Helsinki's Architectural Details

Cameo above the door in Helsinki, Finland
In addition to dramatic Art Deco architecture, Helsinki also boasts fine architectural details. We enjoyed looking at the little flourishes above the doors around town.

Visit Helsinki's Rock Church

Helsinki's Rock Church
Helsinki's Rock Church is unique in the world. Carved into the rock, the interior has outstanding acoustics and a mesmerizing copper ceiling.
Copper ceiling at the Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland
As we arrived, the organist was wrapping up a short performance. We sat and listened as the music swept over us.
Pipe organ and interior of the Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland
Interior of the Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland

Have a Coffee and Sweet Bun at Regatta, a Helsinki Local Gem

Regatta coffee shop in Helsinki, Finland
Local recommendations are best recommendations and having friends in different places is an awesome way to find some hidden gems. My friend Anna took us to her favorite coffee spot, Regatta.
Have a Happy Day sign outside Regatta in Helsinki, Finland
Regatta is bright red, sits right on the water and simply exudes optimism and happiness.
Regatta Cafe in Helsinki, Finland
We ordered coffee and a cardamom bun and sat outside in front of a wood fire.
Cardamom buns at Regatta cafe in Helsinki, Finland
Outdoor fireplace at Regatta Cafe in Helsinki, Finland
I loved Regetta! Not only did we find great coffee but also a tower of birdhouses.
Tower of birdhouses at Regatta Cafe in Helsinki, Finland
I also love the understated sense of humor of the Finns. This boat was labeled Tama on Vene...This is the Boat. Nice to meet you, Captain Obvious :-)
Tama on Vene - This is the boat in Helsinki, Finland

Admire Helsinki's Sibelius Monument

Helsinki's Sibelius Monument
The Finns really embrace their own. Sibelius was a famous Finnish composer who became well-known world-wide. Recognized as Finland's greatest composer, Sibelius is honored with a silver pipe-organ inspired monument near Helsinki's waterfront.

Find Out Why Helsinki is Considered 'Little St. Petersburg'

Russian inspired statue in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki is known as 'Little St. Petersburg'. Finland in general has a complicated relationship with Russia. For about 100 years, Finland was part of the Russian Empire. Finland negotiated independence from Russia in 1917. Despite tension with the Soviet Union, Finland walked a fine line and maintained an independent democracy in Europe. The architectural look of Helsinki and some of the sculpture definitely has a Russian feel and influence.

Enjoy an Economical Workers Lunch in Helsinki

Sign outside Putte's Bar and Pizza in Helsinki, Finland
Like other countries in the Nordics, Finland has a strong social support structure. Workers get a modest lunch allowance that they often spend in local salad bars.
Napkin stamped with the Putte's Bar and Pizza logo in Helsinki, Finland
We sampled a typical Finnish worker's lunch first hand at Putte's Bar and Pizza. We enjoyed a plate of mixed salads that we'd selected from the salad bar as well as a modest pizza.
Salad plate at Putte's Bar and Pizza

See Where Old Meets New in Helsinki

Flowers and old warehouses in Helsinki, Finland
Similar to the Dublin Docklands, Helsinki has a neighborhood that used to be full of old warehouses and is now home to sleek office buildings and a new concert hall. Some remnants of the old remain and give this part of Helsinki a unique look and feel.

Stroll the Esplanade in Helsinki

The Esplanade in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki's Esplanade is a strip of green extending from the shopping district to the waterfront. On a sunny day, it's a lovely path to walk and an easy landmark to find your way to the Market Square (Kauppatori).

Shop for Snacks and Crafts at Helsinki's Market Square

Berries for sale on the old Market Square in Helsinki, Finland
In and around the Market Square, you'll find a variety of shopping opportunities. Outside stalls sell fruit and meals as well as handmade and mass produced crafts. I picked up a nice warm wool hat made by an elderly Finnish woman for the ferry ride to Russia.
The Old Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland

When the weather is cold (as it is much of the year in Helsinki), retreat indoors to the Old Market Hall to pick up some local tasty treats.
Inside The Old Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland

Treat Yourself To Finnish Licorice at Helsinki's Old Market Hall

Finnish licorice at the Old Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland
Definitely keep an eye out for Finnish sweet and salted licorice. There are many varieties to choose from and it's unique to the region. Yes, you can get licorice in other Scandinavian countries, but the Finnish variety is a real treat if you like anise.

Take the Tram to Hakaniemi Market Hall and Sample Finnish Flavored Coffee

Hakaniemi Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland
Tram #2 rattles through a number of interesting neighborhoods in Helsinki. We boarded near the city center (not far from the main train station) and took an easy ride around. If you buy a day ticket for the tram, you can hop on and off for 24 hours and use Helsinki's convenient public transit system to explore the city. We stopped at Hakaniemi Market Hall. We especially enjoyed smelling different kinds of flavored coffee which the Finns seem to love. On a previous trip. we brought back a chocolate infused coffee. On this trip, we sampled an intense cardamom brew. In addition to coffees and other treats, Hakaniemi Market Hall also features a wide selection of crafts and a Marimekko outlet on the upper floor. Don't miss this!
Flavored coffee for sale at Hakaniemi Market Hall in Helsinki, Finland

Toast to Your Trip with a Signature Helsinki Gin and Tonic at Cargo Cafe

Helsinki Gin and Tonic
With just two days to explore Helsinki, the time really flies. We once again toasted our departure with a Gin and Tonic made with Helsinki Gin at Cargo Cafe. We're looking forward to visiting again soon!

Useful Links for a Trip to Helsinki



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Sidewalk Safari: 2 Days in Helsinki, Finland - The Perfect Way to Bookend A Ferry Trip to St. Petersburg
2 Days in Helsinki, Finland - The Perfect Way to Bookend A Ferry Trip to St. Petersburg
Spend two perfect days exploring Helsinki before and after a 3 day visa-free visit to St. Petersburg. A photo-rich post by travel blogger Jennifer, aka Dr. J, from Sidewalk Safari.
Sidewalk Safari
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