Difference between revisions of "Helsinki itineraries"
Revision as of 15:40, 28 March 2012
This page suggests itineraries for Helsinki, the capital city of Finland. All itineraries assume that the day starts at the Central Railway Station. The station is a hub for public transport, and can be easily reached from all the major hotels by public transport or by foot.
Most of the major attractions of Helsinki are located in a fairly small area, and a person of average physical fittness can easily access them by foot. The city does, however, have an extensive public transport system, which makes life much easier for those who prefer not spending the entire day on their feet.
The itineraries assume that the visit happens in the summer, which in Helsinki is between June and August. Those preferring cooler temperatures might also visit in May or in September. Some major tourist attractions, such as the Suomenlinna fortress and the Seurasaari park, may not be worth visiting if the weather is bad, which happens often in the autumn and early spring.
Two hours in Helsinki
This itinerary is suitable for travellers who only have a very short time to spend in the city, for example between a business meeting and a flight home.
Walk one block towards east along Kaivokatu street, and turn right to Keskuskatu. Turn left to the shopping street of Aleksanterinkatu. Walk along Aleksanterinkatu to the Senate Square (Senaatintori) to view the Lutheran Cathedral and the neoclassical old city centre. Continue along Aleksanterinkatu and turn south to Mariankatu. After one block you will see the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is also worth seeing from the inside, if you have the time. Then walk along the Pohjoisesplanadi street. Between the street and the sea lies the Market Square (Kauppatori), which is worth seeing during the market hours. Follow the Pohjoisesplanadi to the Esplanadi Park (Esplanadinpuisto). If you have the time, you might want to stop for a coffee or a snack in Kappeli, a restaurant and a café in the park. Walk along the park to the corner of Pohjoisesplanadi and Keskuskatu. You might want to visit the Stockmann department store (between the streets Pohjoisesplanadi, Keskuskatu, Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie) to buy souvenirs or presents. You can reach the Central Railway Station by following Keskuskatu and Kaivokatu.
Six hours in Helsinki
This itinerary is suitable for people who have a limited time in Helsinki, for example because they need to catch a flight in the evening.
Walk one block towards east along Kaivokatu street, and turn right to Keskuskatu. Follow the street to the Esplanadi park (Esplanadinpuisto). Follow the park east towards the sea. When you reach the eastern end of the park, turn north along Unioninkatu to reach the Senate Square (Senaatintori). There you can view the Lutheran Cathedral and the neoclassical old city centre. From the square, follow Aleksanterinkatu to the east turn south to Mariankatu. After one block you will see the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is worth visiting at this point.
The lunch and snack opportunities during this part of the visit are provided by the restaurants and cafés in the blocks surrounding the Esplanadi Park. Kappeli, a restaurant and a café in the park, is also worth considering.
From the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, walk to the Market Square (Kauppatori), between the Pohjoisesplanadi street and and the sea. From the market square, take a ferry to the Suomenlinna sea fortress. When your reach the fortress, spread on several islands connected by bridges, take a note of the ferry time tables for the return journey. From the ferry harbour, walk south until it is time to turn back to catch the ferry. A full exploration of the area takes at least half a day, but the ferry ride alone makes a short visit worthwhile for most tourists.
There are a few cafés and restaurants in Suomenlinna, providing opportunities for refueling.
From the Market Square, walk to the corner of Eteläesplanadi and Eteläranta. Take the tram 3T going north at that point and rest your feet for a while. Step out of the tram the Kamppi tram stop, located at the Fredrikinkatu street. Follow Fredrikinkatu, Urho Kekkosen katu, Annankatu and Yrjönkatu to the Hotel Torni, located at the point where Yrjönkatu makes two 90 degree turns close to eachother. The route appears complex, but the distance is only about four city blocks. From the lobby of the Hotel Torni, take lift to the topmost floor. From there, climb to the rooftop bar along the steep, narrow staircase. At the bar you can enjoy a very expensive drink, but you are also paying for an unparalled view of the city. From the hotel, you can reach the Central Railway Station by following the route Yrjönkatu - Simokatu - Kaivokatu. If you have time, you may want to do some shopping in the Kamppi Centre shopping mall (Kampin Keskus), located between Urho Kekkosen katu and Salomonkatu.
Lunch and snack opportunities during this part of the itenary are provided by the food courts in the Kamppi Centre and the small ethnic restaurants along Annankatu.
Those wishing a more relaxed visit might consider skipping the last third of the itinerary.
If you really wish to squeeze in as much as possible to a short time frame, you might wish to take the tram 3T a bit further to the stop Kauppakorkeakoulut, along the Arkadiankatu street. From there, you can follow the route Arkadiankatu - Fredrikinkatu - Lutherinkatu - Temppelikatu to the Church in the Rock (Temppeliaukion kirkko), renowned for the stark architecture incorporating the very rock in which the church is built. Despite the route which appears complex, the church is actually just a block or two from the tram stop.
The Suomenlinna fortress might not be worth visiting if the weather is bad. In that case you might consider some of the following options:
A full day in Helsinki
This itinerary is suitable for travellers who spend two nights in Helsinki, giving them one full day in between. The itinerary should take about 10-15 hours.
Walk one block towards east along Kaivokatu street, and turn right to Keskuskatu. Follow the street to the Esplanadi park (Esplanadinpuisto). Follow the park east towards the sea. Along the way stop at the tourist info at the corner of Pohjoisesplanadi and Unioninkatu to ask for help in booking a dinner cruise (see later). When you reach the eastern end of the park, turn north along Unioninkatu to reach the Senate Square (Senaatintori). There you can view the Lutheran Cathedral and the neoclassical old city centre. From the square, follow Aleksanterinkatu to the east turn south to Mariankatu. After one block you will see the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is worth visiting at this point. Then walk along the Pohjoisesplanadi street. Between the street and the sea lies the Market Square (Kauppatori), which is worth seeing during the market hours.
The lunch and snack opportunities during this part of the visit are provided by the restaurants and cafés in the blocks surrounding the Esplanadi Park. Kappeli, a restaurant and a café in the park, is also worth considering.
From the Market Square, walk to the corner of Eteläesplanadi and Eteläranta. Take the tram 3T going south at that point. The tram will take you along a wide curve back to the Central Railway Station, and the further along another curve in the north, providing a good overview of the city. Step out of the tram at the Kauppakorkeakoulut tram stop, along the Arkadiankatu street. From there, you can follow the route Arkadiankatu - Fredrikinkatu - Lutherinkatu - Temppelikatu to the Church in the Rock (Temppeliaukion kirkko), renowned for the stark architecture incorporating the very rock in which the church is built. Despite the route, which appears complex, the church is actually just a block or two from the tram stop.
From the church, walk along Temppelikatu, Lutherinkatu, Fredrikinkatu, Urho Kekkosen katu, Annankatu and Yrjönkatu to the Hotel Torni, located at the point where Yrjönkatu makes two 90 degree turns close to eachother. From the lobby of the Hotel Torni, take lift to the topmost floor. From there, climb to the rooftop bar along the steep, narrow staircase. At the bar you can enjoy a very expensive drink, but you are also paying for an unparalled view of the city.
After the rooftop bar, you may want to do some shopping in the Kamppi Centre shopping mall (Kampin Keskus), located between Urho Kekkosen katu and Salomonkatu or the Stockmann department store (between the streets Pohjoisesplanadi, Keskuskatu, Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie).
Head back to the Market Square, where the dinner cruiser you booked earlier departs. It is worthwhile to take the cruise with the longest route. You will get beautifull views of the city, the Suomenlinna sea fortress and beautifull archipelago surrounding Helsinki in the south. The food on these cruises is usually adequate, but a bit plain, but the experience is not about culinary delights. If you still have energy after the cruise, hit the bars and the night clubs. See the main Helsinki article for hints. If it is summer and the weather is good, a more romantic option might be a walk in the Kaivopuisto park in the southern tip of Helsinki.
If you wish to skip the sightseeing tour with a tram, you should go to the same tram stop, but take a 3T going north at that point. The tram will take you directly to the Church in the Rock. If you wish to relax the timetable further, you might consider skipping either the Church in the Rock or the Hotel Torni.
The dinner cruise might not be worth the trouble if the weather is bad. The following options might be worth considering. The are also usefull for visitors who wish to squeeze in as much as possible in one day.
Two days in Helsinki
For two days in Helsinki, it is best to start with the one day itinerary (see above). Take advantage of the increase time and move the Church in the Rock to the second day. This part of the article gives a suggestion for the second day.
Walk or take the now familiar tram 3T to the Church in the Rock. After visiting the church, walk to the National Museum, located between Museokatu and Mannerheimintie. The walk is short, but the small streets in the area form a small labyrinth, so it is best to navigate by carefully checking a map at each street corner instead for following any spesific instructions. The museum takes one hour for those wishing to just walk through it while getting a brief glimpse of Finnish history. Those with a passion for the subject should reserve up to five hours. Afterwards you might want to see the Töölöönlahti Park, located across the street.
There are restaurants and bars dotted around the labyrinth of streets surrounding the Church in the Rock and the National Museum. There is also a café in the museum.
For the afternoon, there are at least three good options.
Those wishing a bit of fun should visit the Linnanmäki amusement park. Take any tram going north from in front of the National Museum. After a brief tram ride to the Opera House tram stop you should change to tram 3T and take it to the Alppila tram stop, close to the main entrance of the amusement park. There are restaurants and snack bars in the amusement park.
If art is your thing, you should try either Kiasma, the museum of contemporary art, or Ateneum, which concentrates on classical art. Both museums are located near the Central Railway Station. Visiting both museums during one afternoon is feasible for people who do not want to stop and admire each piece of art. Restaurants and cafés are plentiful in the area.
For a well-balanced portion of nature, history and beautiful views, you should visit the Suomenlinna fortress. Go to the Market Square (Kauppatori) to find the ferry to islands. Any ticket valid in the Helsinki public transport is also valid for the ferry. You should take a map of Suomenlinna from the ticket booth. The islands have restaurants and cafés, and picnic is also a good option.
Helsinki has a selection of interesting restaurants to suit all tastest and budgets. For the evening, consider one of the following options.
Restaurant Salve is well over one hundred years old. It used to be a watering hole for sailors, and retains some of that atmosphere even today. Salve is famous for its simple, but delicious dish of fried baltic herrings. Salve is located at Hietalahdenranta 11, and is best reached by tram number 6 going to Hietalahti direction. You can expect to pay around 18 euros for the baltic herrings and a beer.
For a mid-price option, reserve a table at the restaurant Juuri. The restaurant specialises in traditional Finnish ingredients and fresh produce from local producers. Juuri is located at Korkeavuorenkatu 27, and can be reached by walking or by the tram number 10. You can except to pay around 50 euros per person for a three course meal and a glass of wine.
If you are not restricted by the budget, you should definitely dine at the internationally acclaimed restaurant Chez Dominique, where you will find brilliant, highly elaborate French-style cuisine with a Nordic twist. The restaurant is located at Rikhardinkatu 4, and is best reached on foot or by taxi. Expect to pay between 200 and 500 euros per person.
The two day itinerary above is a good starting point for a longer visit. You can compose an itinerary for a longer visit from the options given below.
Archipelago excursion (full day)
This itinerary will take you away from Helsinki and the capital region.
The unique Archipelago Sea on the southwestern coast of Finland has the largest number of islands of any archipelago, at least if even the smallest skerries are counted. To visit the archipelago while based in Helsinki, you should rent a car. Note that just driving there and back takes 6-10 hours, depending on the traffic and how far you wish to go. Driving it self will be enjoyable, however, because of the scenery and cable ferry connections between the islands. It is therefore best to leave really early in the morning and return late in the evening, spending 12-16 hours on the excursion. Archipelago is not really a winter destination.
One timing option is to first drive without stopping to the island group of Houtskari at the end of the road, or until you have spent a third of your time, whichever happens first. After that you should return to Helsinki along the same route, but this time making stops and detours.
For more relaxed pace, you might want to spend on night in the archipelago. It is also convenient to combine this excursion with a visit to the nearby city of Turku, in which case you should spend 1-3 nights in the area.
For the trip you will need a detailed map, or a GPS navigator, or preferably both. For the best maps, you should buy the map book called "GT Tiekartasto" from any big book store, such as the "Akateeminen kirjakauppa" at the corner of Keskuskatu and Pohjoisesplanadi. The maps in this book are accurate, precise and informative. However, the book covers the entire country, and you may end up paying for maps that you really don't need.
From Helsinki, take the highway number 1 towards west and the city of Turku. The intersections on the highway are numbered, and you should turn to road number 180 at the intersection 6. It will take 1.5-2.5 hours to reach this point, depending on how fast you can get out of the capital region. The road 180 is essentially the same road that will take you to farthest point on your excursion, although the designation will change to 1800 at the end.
Take the road 180 south from the highway. After just few minutes of driving you will come to a bridge crossing a very narrow body of water. Afther crossing the bridge you are in the archipelago. At this point it is usefull to note that the first islands are not really different from the mainland. Further you go, the more exotic the scenery will come.
Follow the road through the island group of Parainen until you reach a cable ferry port. Drive to the lane on the right hand side and wait for the ferry. Note that the local residents have a right of way, and the cars on other lanes will drive on to the ferry first. When it is your turn, drive on the ferry carefully, and park the car so that there is not too much empty space around it. Put the hand brake on and turn off the engine. After the ferry has departed (but not before) you can go outside to enjoy the scenery. Be sure to return to the car in time so that you will not delay those parked behind you. The cable ferries are a free public service.
After the cable ferry you are in the island group of Nauvo. Drive through Nauvo, and take a cable ferry to Korppoo. In Korppoo, do the same. This time when you reach the cable ferry you should note that that there are two ferry routes departing from that point, to Norrskata and to Houtskari. You will wish to go to Houtskari. In Houtskari, you should take notes about the ferry timetables, because this ferry will run at longer intervals than the others. Continue along the main road, which is quite narrow this far out. Within Houtskari you will have to take two very short cable ferry rides along the way to reach the island of Nordanlands, better known as Mossala. At the end of the road you will find another ferry port, this time for ferries operating on longer routes just few times per day. Do not continue further unless you plant to spend the night at your destination. Reaching this point should take 1.5-2.5 hours from the highway, depending on your luck with the ferry timetables.
After reaching the end of the road, you should return along the same route, but this time making as many stops and detours as time allowes. Don't be afraid to explore the smaller side roads. Often you will end up in the backyard of somebody's summer cottage, but you may also find breathtaking scenery, wild rasberies, a farm selling fresh produce straight from a barn, a tiny picturesque fishing community or many other things. Especially on smaller islands it is almost impossible to get lost, since there are only a few roads, and all of them will eventually lead either to the sea or to the main road.
I addition to inpromptu exploration you may wish to see the some of the following sites:
There are restaurants, cafés and kioks dotted all over the islands. You should note, however, that the area is sparsely populated, and often it is not useful to try to look for other options once an acceptable restaurant has been found. There is a restaurant in Mossala at the furthest point in this itinerary.
This itinerary can be conveniently combined with the Turku excursion (see below), by spending two days.
Helsinki Zoo (half day)
Helsinki Zoo (Korkeasaaren eläintarha in Finnish)is located on the island of Korkeasaari, off the eastern side of the city centre. In the summer the island is best reached by a water bus departing from the Market Square (Kauppatori). In both summer and winter the island can be reached from the Central Railway Station with the bus number 11, departing from the square on the eastern side of the station. The travel time is about 20-30 minutes, and the right stop is the last stop.
The island has restaurants and cafés. You should note that there are no restaurants and other facilities near the zoo entrance. If you need a lunch break after exiting the zoo, it is best to head back to the city centre.
Heureka Science Centre (half day)
The Heureka Science Centre educates the visitors about the laws of nature with numerous hands-on exhibits. The centre can be enjoyed by both adults and children. To reach Heureka, take a commuter train from the Central Railway Station to Tikkurila. You will be crossing a tarif zone, meaning that your normal tourist ticket will not be valid on this trip. One way ticket to Tikkurila costs four euros. From the station, follow the signs to Heureka.
There is a lunch restaurant in Heureka. The area north of the Tikkurila station also has many restaurants, but don't expect to find gourmet cuisine here.
Nuuksio National Park (full day)
For a serious wilderness experience, go hiking in the Nuuksio National Park. See the relevant article for more details.
Seurasaari open air museum (half day)
The small island of Seurasaari packs an open air museum, recreation areas, nature conservation areas and stunning views. You might also turn to little side track to the islet in the middle of the bridge. The narrow path, which include duckboards, will take you the islet of Pukkisaari, where you can find a recreation of an iron age dwelling.
To get there, take the bus 24 from the centre of the city. The bus leaves from Erottaja and goes along Mannerheimintie before turning to Arkadiankatu. The bridge to Seurasaari is located at the last bus stop.
Seurasaari is one of the few places in Helsinki where a tourist might sometimes encounter mosquitos. They don't spread any diseases, but the bites will itch, sometimes for days. Get some repellent, or if the weather permits, wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. If you do get bitten, don't scratch the bites, as this will just make them worse.
On the way back you might want to stop at the Rajasaarentie bus stop, located along the Mechelininkatu. From there, you can walk into the park to see the Sibelius monument, celebrating the internationally acclaimed Finnish composer. If it is summer, the monument is easiest to find by following hordes of tourists.
For lunch, your best option would be a picnic. A good selection of groceries can be found from the K Market store in the Kamppi Centre (Kampin Keskus), between Urho Kekkosen katu and Salomonkatu. For the real delicacies, go for the basement of the Stockmann department store (between the streets Pohjoisesplanadi, Keskuskatu, Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie).
Some serious shopping (half day / full day)
The main shopping areas in Helsinki are located along a east-west axis. In the east, the axis starts with the parallel streets of Aleksanterinkatu and Pohjoisesplanadi. Next on the way is the Stockmann department store (between the streets Pohjoisesplanadi, Keskuskatu, Aleksanterinkatu and Mannerheimintie). The axis ends in the west with the adjacent shoping malls of Forum and Kamppi Centre. It is best to start from one end of the axis and stroll towards the other end.
For design products, you should try the Design Distric Helsinki web page ()
Specialised boutiques selling clothing, jewelry, art, delicacies and curios can be found from the southern part of the city centre, on the streets Fredrikinkatu, Tehtaankatu and Kasarmikatu, including surrounding blocks and side streets. These shops are not, however concentrated on any particular spots, so finding them requires either a bit of luck or a bit of time.
Turku excursion (full day)
This itinerary will take you away from Helsinki.
Turku is the oldest city in Finland, and also the first capital city. Much of the old buildings have been destroyed by fire, war and urban planners, but the city still has several major historical sites, as well as few modern attractions. See the relevant article for more details.
To reach Turku, you need to take a train from the Central Railway Station in Helsinki. The trains depart every hour during the day, and a return ticket costs about 50 euros. The journey time is about two hours. When you reach Turku, you should actually depart the train at the Kupittaa station, one stop before the Turku Central Station. From there, you can take either one of the busses 32 and 42 to the Turku Cathedral, the seat of the Lutheran archbishop of Finland. The cathedral will be clearly visible from the bus on the right, but if you miss it, leave the bus immediately after crossing the Aura River and backtrack.
After viewing the Turku Cathedral, most of the major sights in the city are within easy walking distance on the western side. The only exception may be the Turku Castle, which is perhaps the most important attraction in the city. However, the walk to the castle along the Aura River might be worthwhile in the summer, because the banks of the river are dotted with pleasant little parks, cafés, old buildings and bars, many of which are on boats in the river itself. The castle can also be reach by the bus number 1, departing from the Market Square. Market square is within easy walking distance from the Cathedral: Cross the river to Aninkaistenkatu, turn left immediately to Linnankatu and then right to Kauppiaskatu.
These rough estimates about the time which you should reserve for each attraction might help in planning your day:
You should reserve about 30 minutes transfer time between the sites, and longer for a stroll down the banks of the Aura River to the Turku Castle. Packing all the listed sites into one day may be possible, but not advisable. Save some time for the river or for climbing on the hills on the southern side of the river.
There are restaurants dotted around most tourist attractions, but the highest consentration is found in and around the rectangle limited by the streets Linnankatu, Aurakatu, Eerikinkatu and Eskelinkatu. Of particular interest might the Viking Restaurant Harald at Aurakatu 3. Try the reindeer, the wild board and the tar ice cream. Vegetarian options are also available.
Turku is also famous for its many bars, and especially for bars that retain some aspects of the former use of the premises. These include theme bars for a pharmacy, a school, a bank and even a public toilet! The bar boats on the river are also very popular in the summer. However, if you don't plan to spend the night in Turku, there might be limited possibilities for a pub crawl.