Enjoying Two Days in Helsinki Finland

In June, I had an incredible – and fairly short notice – opportunity to explore the Nordic countries of Northern Europe. I obviously jumped at the chance to visit these locations and boarded a plane from Sydney to start the journey. It all kicked off with two days in Helsinki, the capital of Finland in the southern part of the country. Here’s what went down…

My hotel for the first night was along the waterfront with a beautiful canal leading out to the sea. I got to Helsinki by the mid afternoon so I threw my stuff in the hotel room and immediately hit the town to start exploring.
I walked south from the hotel toward the city center, passing some beautiful buildings along the way. This was the Bank of Finland. I’d store my money there!
Ultimately, my first destination was the well-known Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko) overlooking Senate Square. I had fantastic weather for this moment! Chilly but sunny and glorious. Yum.
Sitting on the steps of Senate Square is the most quintessential thing you do in Helsinki, I reckon. Bring a coffee and just relax.
From Senate Square, I continued south to the marina area called Market Square. The Havis Amanda statue is a key site here – she’s a mermaid with four sea lions around her and is meant to represent the rebirth of Helsinki in the early 1900s.
I headed due west out to stroll along the Esplanadi, a narrow park that opened in 1812 and a lovely place to sit on a bench and people watch to your heart’s content.
Although a major tourist spot, it was irresistible to me to give the Allas Sea Pool a plunge. Even though the air was crisp outside, the pools are heated and there are very large (and OMFG hot) saunas inside to warm up. I can’t emphasize enough how legit the sauna was – I could only handle a couple minutes at a time to prevent passing out. Finns are hardcore!
I packed fairly intelligently for my Nordic tour by way of a single large backpack. A much better option than dragging a roly-bag all over Northern Europe. 😉 After my first day of exploring, it was time to grab the bag, check-out and relocate to my second hotel.
The next hotel was located right in the marina and reached via a tree lined path.
Marina views outside the hotel in the port of Helsinki.
Market Square is known for it’s row of orange tented vendors, selling local foods, fruit and drinks. A nice spot to stroll around for a quick lunch bite!
A bit of foreshadow: my transport to Stockholm for the following day was already in the port!
I bought a Helsinki Card when I arrived, which gave me access to a really beautiful boat tour through the seas around the city. For about 2 hours we meandered past holiday homes, forested little islands and just generally lovely surroundings.
Probably one of the cooler structures I saw during the boat tour. An amazing building and I believe primarily a restaurant these days.
The highlight of the boat tour was a tight squeeze through a canal and under a super cute bridge between Tammisalo and Yliskyla islands.
Contrasted to the peaceful Senate Square I had seen the day before, I happened to be in Helsinki on 4 June – Flag Day for the Finnish Defence Forces. This part of the city was absolutely packed now!
After the boat ride, I did literally the most touristy thing imaginable – a bus tour. Now, I used to be super opposed to these but after Daniel opened my eyes to them in Barcelona, I totally appreciate their relevance. A super easy way to see city highlights and narrow down what you want to see up close! Although I didn’t join the fray, this was the Hietsu Flea Market. It’s a hot spot to visit during a Helsinki summer if you’re in to shopping (which I, sadly, am not).

I hopped off the bus at the Sibelius Monument, a beautiful abstract art piece dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

From Sibelius, I walked south through Topeliuksen Puisto, a quaint and quiet little park.
At the southern end of Topeliuksen puisto, I was pretty astounded by Töölön Kirkko (Töölö Church), a Nordic classicism structure built in 1930. I found it oddly haunting.
The destination ultimately was the remarkable Temppeliaukion Kirkko, situated in the center of a residential area.
The Temppeliaukion Church is literally built in to the rock and somewhat underground. I didn’t have a ticket to enter the church on this day, so I had to just enjoy the exterior!
The rock wall of the church – a pretty decent place to enjoy a good book.
The Helsinki Central Railway Station was a shockingly gorgeous art nouveau structure. This photo doesn’t quite do it justice.
I spent about an hour at Ateneum, the Finnish museum of art. It’s just the right size for a dose of beauty to fill the soul without feeling overwhelmed (like the Louvre).
If you thought IKEA designed these chairs first, I just want to let you know: you’re wrong. 😉
To wrap up this day in Helsinki, I climbed to the rooftop Ateljee Bar on the 14th floor of the Hotel Torni. It’s known for panoramic views of Helsinki and absolutely delivered!
I asked the bartender to recommend something local and ended up with a crazy delicious Sinebrychoff Porter from a Finnish brewery.
When traveling solo, sometimes the most awkward part is sitting at a bar alone having a drink. I say: screw that! You do you.
A final view from Ateljee Bar. Here’s the insane part about this photo: it was about 11pm at night. Given I was so far north in Europe during the summer, I got to experience the ‘midnight sun’ where it basically never got fully dark in the evenings. The sun would disappear for a couple hours between 2-4am. So cool! But blackout shades are mandatory for sleep.
On my way back to the hotel, I walked by Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox structure built in the mid-1850s but modeled after a 16th century Russian cathedral.

For my last day in Helsinki, I considered just sleeping in and not fussing about seeing any more sights. But then the FOMO part of my brain fully took over, as it usually does, and I bounced out of bed for a few final hours of meandering! My destination for the morning was very focused: Suomenlinna, a sea fortress series of islands just a short ferry ride from Helsinki proper. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site originally known as Sveaborg when the Swedish built it in 1748 to protect against Russian expansion efforts. It’s a fantastic spot to explore, full of cobblestone streets taking you past tunnels, fortress walls and even a small city centre. There are about 900 people who live here year-round and it stopped being utilised as an actual fortress in the early 1970s. If I had to summarise my Helsinki visit and recommend a single, must-do it would most likely be Suomenlinna. I absolutely loved it. This was partially influenced by the fact that I was literally the first tourist to get there in the morning and had the entire place to myself. It made it a bit more eerie and remote feeling, which I prefer.

After Suomenlinna, it was time to make my way back to the hotel, grab the bag and check-in for the next leg of the journey: a cruise ship from Helsinki to Stockholm. When this transport was booked, I don’t know what I was envisioning. A quaint sort of ferry-like boat, perhaps? Instead, it was full-fledged cruise ship with restaurants, bar, night club…the whole shebang. I was LOLing as I walked around the ship checking out all the spots but honestly…I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything else in the world. It was a hilariously perfect way to transition from Finland to Sweden.

After a few hours on the ocean, I got to enjoy some stunning view of the sea and sky as I officially waved goodbye to Finland behind me and looked toward Sweden.

So there you have it, lovely readers. 48 full hours in Helsinki completed, and I think I did a damn good job of exploring the heck out of the city. I wish I had extra time to get further outside of the capital and see more of Finland to formulate a broader view of the country, but that will have to be saved for a future holiday. Stay tuned for the next phase of the epic Nordic adventure coming soon: 24 hours in Stockholm, Sweden! XOXO -JW


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