13 Fun Things to Do in Helsinki in a Weekend
Helsinki in January: when the invitation hit my inbox, I felt shivers all over my body. Wasn’t it going to be extremely cold? And maybe a bit boring? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Helsinki is a great city for a city trip, and the weather wasn’t as cold as I expected! There’s all sorts of attractions and fun things to do in Helsinki in a weekend! I’m sharing my top picks plus some tips below!
13 Fun Things to Do in Helsinki
1. Visit Helsinki Cathedral
Most cities have one building which dominates the skyline or the view of a city – in this case, it’s the Helsinki Cathedral. You can see the big, white building from miles away, which gives it some sort of godly vibe.
It’s an evangelical Lutheran church and the bishop of Helsinki is seated here. The neoclassical building was built in the middle of the 19th century and you can visit it free of charge.
2. Hang out in Senate Square
At the bottom of the cathedral’s stairs you’ll find Senate Square, which is the center of the city. Though not a lot happens here, it’s located in between buildings with beautiful architecture. In the middle of the square you’ll find a statue of Alexander II.
3. Visit Oespenski Cathedral
Finland has tight bonds with Russia (as you can tell by the statue at the Senate Square) and this cathedral. The Russian-Orthodox Oespenski Cathedral is the biggest of its kind in Northern and Western Europe.
The church was built just a few decades after the Helsinki Cathedral and is located on top of a hill – just like the other cathedral. You can visit this church too, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.
4. Wander around the Harbour
The Harbour is an important and central part of the center of Helsinki. Some boats in the harbor even function as a restaurant! The market square of Helsinki is located in the harbor as well. During the winter it’s a bit desolated, but during summer it’s supposedly quite busy and you’ll be able to find all sorts of market stalls here.
5. Eat at Old Market Hall
When you’re visiting the harbour you’ll also find an amazing food hall: the Old Market Hall. It feels like you go back in time a hundred years when you enter this market hall. You can find all sorts of delicacies or grab a cup of coffee with your friends.
6. Shop at Aleksanterinkatu
If you want to go shopping, make sure you go to Aleksanterinkatu (great Scrabble word). Here you’ll find all the big chains, but also some smaller or local shops.
7. Visit Temppeliaukio Church
If you go on a lot of city trips, at some point you’ll feel like all churches look the same. But you’ll immediately know this isn’t true when you see the Temppeliaukio Church. This church is more like a bunker, carved from a rock. It is located a bit outside of the city center, in the middle of a residential area, which you wouldn’t expect at all.
You’ll have to pay a few euros (I believe it was €4) in order to have a look inside. They’ve made great use of the rocks and other natural materials, which creates a great contrast with the copper-colored organ and purple chairs. I felt so calm and peaceful just sitting here. I think I enjoyed the peace and quiet for at least half an hour, just thinking over different things in silence.
8. Visit the Kamppi Chapel of Silence
Speaking of thinking over things in silence: you can also visit the Kamppi Chapel of Silence. It’s some sort of copper-colored cylinder located in the heart of Helsinki, just a few minutes from the central station. What’s interesting is that there’s no church services here – everyone just walks inside for a moment of reflection or, if they want to, prayer.
9. Enjoy the Art at Ateneum
If you exit Helsinki’s train station (which is beautifully designed as well) you’ll immediately bump into the Ateneum. This art museum has the biggest collection of classical art in all of Finland, so if you like that kind of art it’s definitely a must visit! The building stands out because of its classical looks, and dates back to 1887.
10. See the Sibelius Monument
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the Sibelius Monument (it’s even further away from the center than the Temppeliaukio Church), which is really a bummer because I really like monuments with this kind of abstract style. Really tasteful. You can find the monument in the Sibelius Park – it’s an ode to composer Jean Sibelius. He lived from 1865 to 1957.
11. Relax at Löyly Sauna
Of course you can’t visit Helsinki without visiting a sauna: one of the most substantial parts of the Finnish culture. I’ve even been told there’s more saunas than people in Finland. I can see why: they even managed to change the mind of a cynical sauna-hater (me).
It’s just so relaxing, and it feels healthy! I even jumped into the ice cold water of the Baltic Sea while there was snow on the ground… OHMYGOD, that really was a bucket list experience! And I would do it again in a heartbeat!
Löyly is the hippest sauna in Helsinki, and with it’s beautiful modern design I can clearly see why. I can highly recommend this!
12. Do a Cooking Class at Helsinki Culinary Institute
Have you ever wanted to learn how to cook Finnish cuisine? You can at the Helsinki Culinary Institute. The best part is that you’re allowed to eat everything afterwards ;-). We made a tasty carpaccio of reindeer meat, and as a main course a delicious fish meal.
They also put me in charge of the crackers (I mean, not a lot can go wrong there) and I think I made so many, Helsinki had enough food for months to come.
13. Do a Tour with Happy Guide Helsinki
As a last tip I can highly recommend the food tour by Happy Guide Helsinki. With a name like that the expectations were high, but I can confirm both the group and the tour guide had a great time. I got to taste a lot of traditional meals and snacks, so make sure to go on an empty stomach!
If you’re not that much into food tours, you can also pick one of their many other tours or see some of the ones below:
Tips for Your Helsinki Weekend
Where to Stay in Helsinki
Since I stayed about a week in Helsinki, I managed to try out a few different hotels.
Most of my days I spent in Forenom Aparthotel. I actually thought it was more of a hotel room than an apartment, but the good thing is you have your own fridge, glasses and cutlery, so it’s easy to prepare your own breakfast.
The room was big, clean and comfortable. The central location was a big plus: all the places I wanted to go were only a 10 minute walk away. It’s perfect if you’re on a budget.
I did go to the Clarion hotel, which was amazing! It’s a bit further away from the center but believe me – if you’re enjoying a cocktail in the sky bar, or looking at the beautiful view with Helsinki’s skyline, you’ll thank your lucky stars for staying here.
You can even swim on the 16th floor while enjoying the view of the city. Excuse me! If I ever come back to Helsinki, I’ll definitely be staying here.
How Much Does Helsinki Cost?
The prices in Finland weren’t as bad as I expected. I had Oslo as a reference, but that turned out to be unjustified. Finland has about the same prices as Amsterdam (just a tiny bit more expensive than the Netherlands, but not a lot). Alcohol is quite expensive, but the prices for hotel rooms and food weren’t bad at all.
The Weather in Helsinki
The weather in Helsinki was quite alright for January. If you’re not so lucky, temperatures can go down to -20C, but it’s quite unusual when that happens. When I was there (for about a week) the coldest temperature was -2C. There wasn’t a lot of snow. During summer the weather’s apparently really great, according to my my Finnish friends! Just make sure to pack a few thermic shirts and leggings and you’ll be just fine.
Other Places to Go
If you’re looking at other places to go, I’d check out my guide to the Aland Islands or my tips for things to do in Tallinn. You can easily fly into the main city on the Aland Islands from Helsinki, and even though Tallinn is a part of Estonia, it’s actually very close!
Do you have tips for fun things to do in Helsinki in a weekend?
General Travel Tips
- For accommodation, I always check Airbnb or Booking.com for the best prices.
- If your insurance at home doesn’t cover travel, you may want to look into SafetyWing for an affordable option.
- I always recommend checking Get Your Guide for the best tours in Europe and Tiqets for specific attraction deals.
Disclosure: I was in Finland as part of NBE Finland, and got to try out the food experiences as part of the StopOver Day program. This program shows you all the fun things you can do when you have a few hours to spend during your stopover in Helsinki with your Finnair flight.