Our trip to Norway ended with a 23-hour layover in Helsinki. We were not sad about this. If you are going to have a long layover at least let it be long enough to have some time to explore where you are laid over. We got into Helsinki in the evening, since the layover was overnight we got an Airbnb in town. We were not due back at the airport until midday the following day.
Public transit is probably the easiest system I have ever used. It didn’t matter that most of it are in Swedish or Finnish it was all very easy to maneuver. My favorite thing about the transit is that you can get a day pass and it works for any of the transportation types, bus, light rail, subway, and ferry so you can just choose which one has the best times or availability to where you are going. Google maps gave great directions that included various modes. The town is pretty walkable also.
We spent the evening and the next day exploring Helsinki. Here are some of our favorite spots:
Dinner Konstan Möljä
After landing and getting to our Airbnb we were very hungry. Fortunately, there was a Finnish buffet called Konstan Möljä, just across the street from where we were staying. Even if you are not staying that close, I recommend it. The food was good, the people were very nice and it was a great way to try a variety of Finnish food all in one place. I can safely say I hadn’t had Finnish food before then.
This is a coffeehouse chain, the largest in the Nordic Countries. It is much like a Starbucks. The food and drinks were good, it was good fuel for the rest of the day and it was open, which we couldn’t say for much since we got up early to ensure we saw most of Helsinki.
Senate Square and the area around it is the oldest part of central Helsinki. It is an odd mix of politics, religion, science, and commercial buildings. Several famous buildings surround the square, The Helsinki Cathedral, The Government Palace, the main building for the University of Helsinki, and Sederholm House. Sederholm House is the oldest building in central Helsinki, built in 1757. The Square also features a statue of Emperor Alexander II, built in 1894. It commemorates his reestablishment of the Diet of Finland.
Today Senate Square is one of the most popular tourist sites and features art events and installations and concerts.
If you approach the square from the Northside it might feel like you are approaching the edge of a cliff, the stairs are steep and don’t come into view until you are at the top step.
Pay it a visit and take a selfie with the giant Helsinki sign too.
The Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe built-in 1868. You can’t miss the church, in fact, we didn’t have it on the list originally to see, we saw the tops from Senate Square and had to take a look. It is unique and stands out on the Helsinki skyline. The architecture is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian impact on the history of Finland.
Suomenlinna resides on a group of islands just off of Helsinki, its a short ride by ferry, about 15-20 minutes. The ferry cost is included with the transit ticket if you purchased a day pass. It was built in the Swedish era, in 1748, as a maritime fortress and was a base for the Archipelago Fleet, it was named Viapori. In 1917 when it was obtained by the Finnish government and renamed Suomenlinna which means “castle of Finland”
It is awesome to watch the lively coastline of Helsinki get smaller and smaller as you leave on the ferry towards Suomenlinna. Once on the island, it is easy and preferred to see on foot. The main route is marked with blue signs and can be seen on the map marked in blue also. The Island features 6 museums, 11 restaurants, and cafes, and the walls and cannons of the fortress. There are guided tours available throughout the day in Finnish, Swedish, English, and Russian.
If you have time you can spend an entire day here. Since we only had less than a day we wandered for a couple of hours before riding the ferry back. It leaves frequently during regular hours.
Helsinki has six squares that host markets, the busiest of which are Helsinki Market Square and Hakaniemi Market Square. Helsinki Market Square is often referred to as just Market Square. It is located at the South Harbour at one end of the Esplanade Park, the Market Square is Helsinki’s most international and famous market. The booths sell traditional market foods and treats, handmade crafts and souvenirs. There are also heated café tents where you can have a hot coffee and some yummy food even on cold days and when it rains. It is really easy to get to, it’s located just outside of the ferry stop to and from Suomenlinna Island. It is not very big but it’s worth the stop, especially if you are in the area. I got an adorable little painting, some fresh fruits and David had a reindeer hot dog.
Yes, the fruit. The Finns seem to really like blueberries, and I am totally ok with that. We were offered blueberry juice on our Fin-air flight, I had never had blueberry juice. It was so tasty. As we explored Helsinki for the day we found that blueberries were a very common thing. Blueberry Juice, Blueberry Pie, Blueberry drinks. It goes without saying that if you are in Finland have something blueberry… or all of the things Blueberry.
The Best Layover
So there you have it. Our 22-hour adventure in Helsinki. Layovers can really be a pain, most people avoid them. I can attest that I have had my fair share of less exciting and stressful layovers but this was not one of them. I can wholeheartedly recommend getting the longest layover that you can, then get out of the airport and have a bonus adventure before or after your main adventure. If that layover happens to be in Helsinki for a day you know what to do!
What is your best layover story? Share it below!