Helsinki is a common layover city for travellers between Western Europe and Asia. If you are on a long layover, you don’t have to sit around the airport and go mad from boredom. Even if you only have a few hours to spend in Helsinki, you can still find time to immerse yourself in a culture far different than both your departure and destination points.
It is quick and easy to get from Helsinki Vantaa airport to the city centre. The train journey takes 30 minutes, leaves from the train station between the two terminals, and there are several machines at the airport where you can purchase tickets. There are also several buses which leave from outside the terminals, but these take much longer during rush hour. Taxis are also an option for beating the queues, but can cost as much as €50 for a one-way trip. Each of these goes directly to the city centre, where the public transport system makes it easy to reach other parts of Helsinki.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
This may not seem like enough time to take in Helsinki, but the city’s small size does still make it possible to see many of the main sites within only a few hours. By focusing on the city centre, you can look around the sites near the Senate Square, including the magnificent Lutheran Cathedral, the government palace, the National Library, and the University of Helsinki. At the south harbour, which is only a five-minute walk away, there is the old market hall, the presidential palace, and the Orthodox cathedral.
Alternatively, you can also take this time for an open top bus tour, which leaves every 20 minutes during peak months and costs €35 for an hour and a half tour. With a €9-day travel pass, you can ride the circular tram lines, getting on trams three or four from outside the train station, to see all of the city’s main sites.
This gives you a little more wiggle room for seeing some more of the city’s sites. As well as the places mentioned above, you can also travel a little further afield to the outlying Suomenlinna island fortress, which is connected by a ferry from the south harbour. Or you can take the tram to Seurasaari Open Air Museum for a little history on a relaxing island.
You should also have time to visit a few more shops, perhaps go on a spree in one of the large shopping centres or department stores which surround the central bus and train stations. From there you can pick up some unique Finnish food and souvenirs, perhaps from the Moomin shop in the Forum building opposite the train station. Just a little further south is the fashionable Design District, which is home to Finland’s best designer stores.
For a light meal, there are plenty of cafes around Helsinki and you can pick up a quick bite to eat from the Market Hall on the south harbour or the nearby fish market. Vendace with potatoes is a popular Finnish delicacy which can be found at many market stalls throughout the year.
With more time to spare, you can take the opportunity for a proper meal in one of Helsinki’s restaurants. The area around the city centre contains restaurants serving almost every type of world cuisine. For something uniquely Finnish, you can’t go wrong with Zetor, which serves classic Finnish seafood in a highly nostalgic atmosphere. If you can stretch the purse strings a little more, it is worth trying Savotta just off the Senate Square. The dishes are expensive, but they are some of the best quality and most unique Finnish meals you can find, including rare meats such as bear and moose.
If you have a longer layover, you will have time to both see the city and spend some time relaxing, either in one of the cafes or just with your legs dangling off the harbour walls as you watch the fishing boats come in. It also gives you time to visit some of the city’s museums and galleries to learn about Finland’s history and culture. The Ateneum Gallery is directly opposite the train station and is probably the largest and most well-regarded gallery in Helsinki, allowing you plenty of time to wander through the galleries and experience the best of Finnish art.
How to get there:
Visit HSL website for full timetables and ticket prices for both trains and buses.
Train I or train P, Helsinki-Tikkurila-Airport-Myyrmäki-Helsinki. I train leaves from tracks 1-3. P train leaves from tracks 16-18.
Bus lines 615 or Finnair City Bus to Helsinki railway station. Line 617 to Hakaniemi market square. Purchase your tickets directly from the driver.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.