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2 Days in Helsinki: 17 Unique Things To Do, See, and Eat

Read about how to spend 2 days in Helsinki and explore the capital of Finland before and after a 72 hour visa-free visit to St. Petersburg. Learn about off-the-beaten path attractions and places to eat in Helsinki featuring advice from a local resident.
I love European city breaks and I've spent 2 days in Helsinki, Finland on four different occasions and at different times of year. 

Whether you are visiting for business or a Nordic vacation, what should you include on a 2-day itinerary in Helsinki city centre? 

After four separate short trips, I firmly believe that Helsinki is an off-the-beaten-path gem in Europe. From the stunning architecture, quirky vibe, unique foods and Russian influences, I find Finland's capital to be both fascinating and one-of-a-kind.

Read on for ideas of what to see in Helsinki as part of a 2-day itinerary. My recommendations include tips from a local friend who showed us around and from my colleagues who work in Helsinki.

2 Days in Helsinki - Art Deco central railway station in Helsinki, Finland

Getting to Helsinki

Helsinki is a global destination that is well served by the national carrier, Finnair. You can get to Helsinki from other Nordic destinations, European cities, and from major cities in both North America and Asia on Finnair. I had the opportunity to fly Finnair in economy and regional business class cabins. 

Did you know that Finnair serves free blueberry juice to everyone? In business class, I made myself the blueberry version of a Kir Royale, sampled Finnish gin, and ate well.

Collage of pictures of food and drink on the Finnair Europe regional business class service

In addition, you'll find non-stop flights on low cost carriers including popular Ryanair destinations across Europe. 

There is a train that runs from the Helsinki airport to the central railway station. The train departs every 10 minutes or so and takes about 30-35 minutes to get into the capital depending on whether you catch the I or P line. 

Pictures of the train from Helsinki Airport to Helsinki Central Station

At the time of writing, the train costs just 4.10 EUR each way. Purchase an ABC zone ticket via kiosks in the airport or via the VR Matkalla app available on both iPhone and Android.

Where to Stay in Helsinki

Bar at the Radisson Blue Plaza Hotel in Helsinki, Finland

Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel

From the Helsinki Central Station, 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 and this hotel makes a great home base for your 2-day Helsinki itinerary.

Klaus K

If you are looking for a more unique and economical option, check out the Klaus K hotel. This Helsinki hotel is located about 10 minutes from the central railway station on foot. 

I found the hotel to be comfortable, quiet, and had some fantastic period details (don't miss the carvings in the door frame your way in). 

Carvings on the door frame of the Klaus K Hotel

The Klaus K is at one end of Helsinki's popular Esplanadi making it a convenient location for walks around the city's historic core.

I paid less than 90 EUR a night during the week in winter to stay at the Klaus K. 

Things to do in Helsinki in 2 Days

Now that we've looked at where to stay, let's dive into all the cool things to do, see, and eat in Helsinki on a 2 day trip.

1. Go Door Spotting

My regular readers know that I am obsessed with door photography. Helsinki has both fabulous and unique doors. 

I particularly loved the Art Nouveau doors in Helsinki and even declared one of them my door of the month in March 2024.

A colleague recommended "door hunting" in Ullanlinna, Punavuori, and Kruununhaka neighborhoods. His advice was spot on. I found myself oohing and aahing at the doors on every block. 

Shopfront in Helsinki

2. Revel in Helsinki's Art Deco Architecture

Another 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.
What to see in Helsinki - Art Deco clock tower at the train station

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Do you love Art Deco architecture as much as I do? Here are my recommendations for some great places around the world where you can get your Art Deco fix. 

3. Zoom in on Helsinki's Architectural Details

Cameo above the door in Helsinki, Finland
Can you tell that I love architecture? In addition to dramatic Art Deco style, Helsinki also boasts fine architectural details. I enjoyed looking at the little flourishes around town.

4. Fuel Your Exploration with Helsinki Specialty Coffee

Fuel your 2 day Helsinki itinerary with some Finnish specialty coffee. Robert's coffee is a Finnish chain with atmospheric locations in both the Old Market Hall and on Esplanadi. 

Robert's Coffee Jugend on Esplandi is worth a visit not only for the coffee but also for the stunning Art Nouveau interior of the cafe.

Inside Robert's Coffee Jugend in Helsinki

If you are looking for a more bespoke experience, check out Kaffa Roasters in Punavuori. You'll find top notch locally roasted beans to both sip onsite in the laid back cafe or to take home with you as a souvenir of a Helsinki city break.

Cappuccino at Kaffa Roasters in Helsinki

5. Visit Helsinki's Rock Church as Part of Your 2-Day Itinerary

What to see in Helsinki - the Church in the Rock
Helsinki's Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church) is unique in the world. Carved into the rock, the interior has outstanding acoustics and a mesmerizing copper ceiling.
What to see in Helsinki - Copper ceiling at the Rock Church
As we arrived, the organist was wrapping up a short performance. We sat and listened as the music swept over us.
What to see in Helsinki - Pipe organ and interior of the Rock Church
I was impressed to learn that the Lutheran Church of the Rock was built in 1969; a modern Finnish architectural marvel.

6. Look for Helsinki Hidden Gems Like Regatta

Local recommendations for 2 days in Helsinki - Visit Regatta coffee shop
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.
Local Recommendations for Helsinki - Regatta Cafe
We ordered coffee and a cardamom bun and sat outside in front of a wood fire.
What to eat in Helsinki - Cardamom buns at Regatta cafe
What to see in Helsinki - Outdoor fireplace at Regatta Cafe
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

7. Admire The Sibelius Monument

2 Days in Helsinki - 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.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other lesser known places to visit in the Nordics? After spending one day in Stockholm, check out Norrkoping, a Swedish town featuring fascinating museums, Instagrammable waterfalls, and thousands of cacti. You could also consider spending some time in Norway and discovering things to do in Bergen, Alesund, Trondheim, and Oslo.

8. 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.

Helsinki Cathedral viewed from the steps below

I learned from a colleague who is originally from Siberia that Russians love to eat Georgian cuisine. This is another Russian influence that has made its way to Helsinki. We ate extremely good and authentic Georgian cuisine at Restaurant Rioni. 

I also learned that I've been "doing it wrong" when it comes to Georgian dumplings. The iconic khinkali are meant to be grabbed by the sturdy stem of dough and turned upside down. 

Georgian khinkali dumplings in Helsinki

Diners are meant to take a small bite, suck out the soup, and then eat the dumpling while leaving the thick stem of dough behind. Our Georgian waitress told us that this approach really enhances the flavor of the khinkali.

9. Enjoy an Economical Finnish Workers Lunch

Where to eat in Helsinki - Putte's Bar and Pizza
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 little pizza.
Salad plate at Putte's Bar and Pizza in Helsinki Finland

10. Dine Like a Local at The Cock Eatery and Bar

Where to eat in Helsinki - Napkin from the Cock Eatery and Bar
Locals love to dine out. My friend who was based in Helsinki at the time recommended The Cock Eatery and Bar. I love how restaurants in Helsinki stamp their name onto the napkins.
What to drink in Finland - Helsinki Gin and TonicWhat to eat in Helsinki - Arancini balls at the Cock Eatery and Bar
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 to an Asian stir-fry served with chopsticks. We found something for everyone here.
What to eat in Helsinki - Asian Stir Fry at the Cock Eatery and Bar

11. Try Reindeer and Other Lapland Dishes

While I have done a Southern Finland road trip, heading north to Lapland is still an unticked box on my bucket list. To get a small taste of Northern Finland, head to Lappi Ravintola. 

This restaurant definitely has a touristy vibe, but I found that it was serene and quiet in the winter when I visited. I used the opportunity to try the sauteed reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.

Collage of dishes including sauteed reindeer at Lappi Ravintola in Helsinki

Lappi Ravintola also offers homemade cranberry juice and cocktails made with it. Save room for dessert. I tried a creamy cake made with sea buckthorn, an Arctic berry that has a surprisingly unique and bitter taste.

12. See Where Old Meets New in Töölö

What to see in Helsinki - Flowers and old warehouses
Similar to the Dublin Docklands, Helsinki's Töölö district is located about 10 minutes from the Helsinki Central Station and used to be full of old warehouses. 

Today, the area is now home to sleek office buildings and the modern Helsinki Music Centre. Some remnants of the old remain and give this part of Helsinki a unique look and feel.

13. Stroll Esplanadi Park

2 Days in Helsinki - Walk the Esplanade
Helsinki's Esplanadi Park 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). 

Take a detour and check out the stately buildings on Senate Square and admire nearby Helsinki Cathedral.

14. Shop for Snacks and Crafts in 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.
What to see in Helsinki - The Old Market Hall
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.
What to eat in Helsinki - Finnish licorice

15. Treat Yourself To Finnish Licorice at The 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 the licorice is 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.

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

What to see in Helsinki - Hakaniemi Market Hall
The public transport in Helsinki is excellent. 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 (Hakaniemen kauppahalli). 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

17. Toast to Your Trip with a Cocktail at Quirky Bar Llamas

With just two days to explore Helsinki, the time really flies. Take time to grab a cocktail at quirky Bar Llamas. 

In addition to strange items of flair on display all around, you'll find expertly made cocktails and plenty of buzz. I visited Bar Llamas on a Wednesday night. It was packed while many other nearby bars were quite quiet. 

Shakespeare bust wearing a lampshade at Bar Llamas in Helsinki

I toasted a successful business trip with a classic margarita (my favorite!). I'm looking forward to visiting Helsinki again soon!

Is Helsinki Worth Visiting?

I hope I've shown you through my experiences and photos spanning multiple visits that Helsinki is a fantastic destination for a European city break. 

The classic and modern architecture, unique food, and hidden gems make a Helsinki weekend a one of a kind getaway that I personally recommend doing.

Senate Square viewed from the steps of Helsinki Cathedral in winter

What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Helsinki?

I've visited Helsinki in June, September, October, and February so I have seen the city at different times of year. 

Head to Helsinki in June to take advantage of extremely long daylight hours and nicer weather. 
You can expect the sun to rise around 4 am and not go down until almost 11 pm. You're practically in midnight sun territory at this time of year.

Visit in the Autumn to get a glimpse of the rapidly changing seasons. I once spent two weeks in Finland for work during this season and was amazed by how fast the sunrise and sunset times changed over such a short period. Shoulder season is a great time of year to visit Helsinki. There are less tourists and prices are not at their peak.

Is Helsinki worth visiting in the winter? I visited Helsinki in February on a business trip. This is the time of year to visit if you want to get the true locals experience. Expect cold. It was near freezing on my visit but it felt much colder when the wind whipped up. 

Tall ship on a frozen harbour in Helsinki in winter

I found it fascinating to watch the commuter ferries cut through the icy waters. This is a great time of year to experience Helsinki's bar and restaurant scene. I do recommend getting outside for a bracing winter walk. Just make sure you bundle up.

What to See in Helsinki Map

Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps to help you plan your 2 days in Helsinki itinerary.

2 Days in Helsinki Map

Useful Links to plan a 2-day itinerary to Helsinki

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 2 Days in Helsinki: 17 Unique Things To Do, See, and Eat
2 Days in Helsinki: 17 Unique Things To Do, See, and Eat
Read about how to spend 2 days in Helsinki and explore the capital of Finland before and after a 72 hour visa-free visit to St. Petersburg. Learn about off-the-beaten path attractions and places to eat in Helsinki featuring advice from a local resident.
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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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