The Finnish capital may be small, but it has a lot to offer; it’s leading the way in Nordic cuisine, it has a flourishing design district, and it has found the right balance between city living and nature loving. The following 48 hour itinerary will showcase some of the best spots around Helsinki and hopefully help you plan the perfect weekend in the city!
Arrive in Helsinki and check in to your hotel. For a unique stay, I would recommend the Best Western Premier Hotel Katajanokka which was once a former jail. While the rooms have been upgraded to make visitors feel more like guests and less like prisoners, the place still has architectural elements to remind you of the building’s past. Windows are high from the ground and barred to prevent escapes, there is a long hall with inward facing cells, and the hotel’s perimeter is enclosed by a towering wall of red brick. (You can read more about my stay here.)
For your first dinner in Helsinki consider going to Bronda, where culinary duo Tomi Björck and Matti Wikberg have created a restaurant where customers can feel at home. The restaurant is committed to using seasonal ingredients and serving up entirely handmade food.
Head down to the Jail Bird cafe for breakfast. The cafe is located in the basement of Hotel Katajanokka and it is served in simple tin cups and plates – just the way it was in this former jail! For a traditional Finnish breakfast you can try things like Karelian pastries, muesli with yogurt and wild berries, or rye bread with smoked salmon.
Helsinki is a very walkable city, so why not take the morning to familiarize yourself with the surroundings on foot? Grab a map from the hotel reception and take yourself on your very own walking tour with stops at Uspenski Cathedral, Senate Square, and Helsinki Cathedral, before finally arriving at the harbour.
One of my favourite lunch spots in Helsinki is Market Square. Here you’ll find a mix of stands selling fresh produce, handmade souvenirs, and traditional meals. Reindeer meatballs are a popular item on just about every menu, but my personal favourite is the grilled salmon with peppercorn and a side of herb potatoes and vegetables. It’s both a delicious and affordable meal.
In the afternoon, consider taking a cruise to one of the nearby islands. Suomenlinna is always a popular choice since it is home to a sea fortress that was built across six islands. However, if you’re there during the summer months, you might also be able to catch the ferry to nearby Lonna Island which only recent opened to the public and even has its own restaurant on site.
For a little afternoon pick me up after all that sightseeing, head over to the Karl Fazer Cafe. When it comes to Finnish milk chocolate bars this is a widely respected name, and this cafe is conveniently located on Kluuvikatu Street to help satiate all your sweet cravings. Grab a hot chocolate with a slice of chocolate cake.
Having already explored the city on foot, you could opt to join a bike tour and venture a bit further out of the city centre. There are lots of great tours including a Sunset Sauna Cycle where you finish off the day at a public sauna – a truly Finnish experience!
For dinner, swing by Restaurant Copas y Tapas, which is a small family-owned restaurant that combines mediterranean influences with seasonal Scandinavian produce.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel and then get ready for one last action packed day in Helsinki.
Check out Helsinki’s thriving Design District, which showcases a mix of local homegrown talent and a few international names. Some of my favourite stores for Finnish design include Marimekko and Iittala.
For lunch, go inside Hakaniemi Market Hall and visit some of the food stalls. The best thing about eating lunch here is that you can walk around and order a little bit of everything, which is a fun way to get better acquainted with Finnish flavours.
After one last stroll through the city, head back to your hotel to pick up your luggage, and bid farewell to the city.
How would you spend a weekend in Helsinki?