Stopover in Helsinki - Explore the City in 3 Days

Published May 11, 2024
Suomenlinna island and Finnish flag

Helsinki Airport connects travellers across the Northern Hemisphere with long-haul flights to Asia and the US, complemented by a domestic and European network. The comprehensive route network makes Helsinki a convenient transfer hub.

Long flights can be tiring, but a stopover in Helsinki can turn your long flights into an extended adventure. Airlines, like Finnair, offer stopovers, ranging from a few hours to even a day or two, giving you plenty of time to explore the city. You can also create your stopover by booking separate flights, giving you flexibility to choose airlines and potentially save money.

We recommend reserving at least 3 days for your stopover in Helsinki. Summer is the best season to visit the Finnish capital. Remember that you need a valid passport and for non-EU residents, also a Schengen visa to enter Finland and the EU. Ensure you have all the required documents for your stopover.

In this article, we list practical Helsinki stopover information and give you ideas on what to do in Helsinki during a stopover.

Stopover or Layover – What’s the Difference?

Layover means a short connection between flights. It’s normal to have a few hours between connecting from one flight to another. A stopover is a more planned stop that often lasts a few days. Finally, it’s only a definition and as long as you have enough time between the flights, we recommend you exit the airport and enjoy the city.

From Helsinki Airport to the City Centre

When you are having only a short stopover in Helsinki Helsinki, we recommend skipping the hassle and heading straight to Helsinki’s heart with a commuter train. Located beneath the airport terminals, the train station offers two direct lines (I and P) to the city centre, taking about 30 minutes. No need to choose – both trains will get you there. For detailed information, we recommend checking out our Helsinki Airport Transfer and Helsinki Public Transport guides. The ticket costs about 5 euros.

Helsinki Airport train
A commuter train is often the fastest way to reach the Helsinki Centre from the airport.

Remember to buy your ticket before boarding a vehicle. The easiest way to buy a ticket is to use the HSL app. You can buy a local SIM card from R-kiosk at Helsinki Airport or use international roaming.

Having a taxi from the airport to the centre is not much faster. If you still prefer having a taxi, read the Helsinki Airport Taxi Guide. The article gives an overview of how the taxi system at the airport works.

Having a stopover in Helsinki in December? Enjoy the Helsinki Christmas Markets and the Christmas Market in Porvoo.

Overnight Stopover – Where to Sleep?

We recommend staying three days and two nights in Helsinki. You naturally need a place to sleep. We recommend two differently equal options. You may stay close to the airport in an airport hotel. Accessing the centre is still fast. Or if you prefer to stay in the centre, book a central hotel close to the main railway station.

Glo Hotel Airport is inside the terminal but the hotel is quite small. Hilton Helsinki Airport and Scandic Helsinki Airport are only a few steps away and they may be more comfortable. Clarion Hotel Aviapolis can be reached from the terminal by commuter train in 5 minutes. There are also a few more distant airport hotels. For example, Holiday Inn Helsinki Airport is slightly cheaper but not so well-located compared to the other options above. Luckily, the hotel offers a free bus ride from the terminal to the hotel and back.

If you choose a central location, we recommend you compare hotel prices and find the best option for yourself. The downtown of Helsinki is not big and with the public transport day ticket, you can move around affordably. Any 4-star hotel close to the railway station is a good choice.

What to See in Helsinki and Near in 3 Days?

Sightseeing options in Helsinki vary depending on the season. To help you make the most of your short stopover, we’ve compiled a few recommendations. We advise you to check our detailed information about the attractions in Helsinki.

Lake Bodom
If you prefer nature over museums, we advise you to take a bus to Lake Bodom in Espoo. Oittaa Beach is a nice destination in the summer.

Suomenlinna Island

In the summer, don’t forget to visit the Suomenlinna Islands. Firstly, you need to reach the South Harbour of Helsinki and there you will find ferry connections to Suomenlinna about 3 times per hour. Be sure to take a public ferry (operated by HSL) because only they will accept your zone ticket. While waiting for the ferry, get familiar with Market Square a few steps away from the port and enjoy a cup of Finnish coffee. Or buy some Finnish souvenirs. The ferry ride to Suomenlinna takes 20 minutes and you need at least 2-3 hours there to be able to explore the whole island without rush. The islands are windy so wear enough clothes.

Suomenlinna is a fortress, that has been under the control of Sweden and Russia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. On a sunny day, it is absolutely a beautiful place to relax and it has an interesting history. From this island, you can also spot the big ships of the Viking Line, Eckerö Line and Silja Line passing by.

HSL Ferry Harbour at Helsinki
The ferry of Helsinki Region Transport to Suomenlinna departs from the South Harbour next to Market Square.

In the winter, we do not recommend Suomenlinna. The islands are cold and dark.

Visit Churches

There are many Lutheran churches in Helsinki but two of them are the most popular spots. The white Helsinki Cathedral at Senaatintori is familiar from Helsinki photos. Most likely, you want to have a selfie with the symbolic church.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral is probably the most well-known building in Helsinki.

Another interesting option is to visit Temppelinaukio Church (Rock Church) in Töölö. The church has been built inside the rocks. There is a small entrance fee because the church is really popular during summer.

Helsinki Cathedral is a few minutes walk away from the South Harbour. Temppelinaukio Church can be reached by tram in 10 minutes. Since the Helsinki downtown is small, you can also walk between the attractions.

Museums and the Oodi Library

Helsinki has countless museums but during your stopover, you won’t have time to see all of them. We picked up your two ideas we like ourselves.

Kiasma is a contemporaneous art museum located close to the central station. The ticket cost less than 20 euros. The museum is only a few steps away from the central railway station.

If you are interested in technology, why not visit the Museum of Technology in Old Helsinki? As an extra benefit, the nature around the museum is fascinating. The ticket costs about 15 euros.

Oodi Central Library is a must-see! Forget just bookshelves – Oodi offers a wonderland of discoveries beyond the written word. From 3D printing to jamming with instruments, there’s something for everyone. And the best part? It’s completely free to explore! Oodi was chosen as the best new public library in the world in 2019.

Amusement Park, Water Parks and Spas

Not all people are fans of historical sights and museums. If you prefer just to relax, for example, a spa is a more suitable option.

There is an amusement park called Linnanmäki just in the centre of Helsinki. It is open only in the summertime. A wristband costs about 55 euros and you are allowed to have as many rides as possible. Access to the area is free. So if you just want to enjoy the magical atmosphere and buy ice cream or snacks, have a quick visit there without breaking the bank!

Linnanmäki Amusement Park
Not many capitals have an amusement park in the city centre.

In the neighbouring city of Helsinki, there is a water park called Serena. The park is located in Espoo City but it can be reached by bus. It is open also in the winter but the outdoor areas are closed then. We recommend visiting it during the summer. A bus ride to Serena takes a long but your zone ticket ABC is enough. Check Google Maps for the best route.

There is also an indoor water park and a spa just close to the Helsinki Airport called Flamingo Spa. It has a water park area open for all-aged people and an over-18 spa area for adults. The adult area is the best for relaxing because it is peaceful and you may enjoy snacks and drinks there.

Spas in Helsinki


Swimming in the sea is comfortable only in the summer months but the water will still be quite cold only about 19 degrees. If you still wish to visit a beach and swim in the Baltic Sea, we recommend you to try Hietaniemi Beach close to the centre. It is crowded with young people on sunny summer days.

In the Helsinki area, there are countless beaches next to the sea and lakes but for a stopover, the Hietaniemi beach is the most convenient.

Finnish Sauna

Do not forget to try an authentic Finnish Sauna. You may want to visit an old wooden sauna, Kotiharjun Sauna, located in a residential building in Kallio still in the centre. Kotiharjun Sauna costs about 20 euros. You are allowed to take your drinks with you. The sauna is popular among travellers but there are always local people too.

Kotiharjun Sauna
Kotiharju wooden-heated sauna is in the Kallio district in a private house.

Another option is to try a more modern sauna, Löyly in Hernesaari. Two-hour usage costs 25 euros. There is a bar/cafe and a restaurant. Löyly is a few kilometres away from the centre. However, it can still be reached fast by public transport.

Helsinki has also many affordable public and private open-air pools. We would say visiting them is more authentic than heading to more pricey tourist-crowded attractions. Local people love to swim in public swimming halls and in the summer, in outdoor pools.

Stage at Allas and Skywheel
Allas near the sea is an open-air spa. It has also a stage where there is live entertainment in summer.


Finnish people go shopping often in big malls. There is a practical reason for that. The weather in the winter is not always good, so the streets can be rainy and windy. Finland’s cold climate makes indoor shopping centres attractive, especially during the long winter months. Malls offer a warm and comfortable setting for shopping, dining, and socializing.

The closest mall to Helsinki Airport is called Jumbo. If you have just a quick visit to Helsinki, we recommend you head to this mall. It can be reached by bus from the airport.

In Helsinki Centre, there are multiple malls. One of them is called Kamppi which is also the main bus station. The newest one is called Tripla which is connected to the big Pasila Railway Station. Other big options are Redi and Itis.

If you prefer traditional shopping, you may walk on Esplanadi and Aleksanterinkatu in Helsinki downtown. There you will find many small design stores. They sell famous Finnish brands but are prepared to pay a little more. You must have heard also about Moomins. Moomin Store can be found in Forum shopping mall.

Tripla is our mall recommendation.

Stockmann is the largest department store in Finland. You will find it at Aleksanterinkatu.

National Parks

Visiting a national park is an inexpensive way to spend a day. There is a national park, Nuuksio, less than a 1-hour bus ride from Helsinki Centre. Be sure to have proper clothes and a mobile phone with full battery before heading to any national park. You will need one full day to enjoy the park even though it is near Helsinki.

Where to Eat Finnish Food?

Helsinki centre is full of restaurants but they are often serving more international food than traditional Finnish meals. We advise you to walk around the market square to find authentic Finnish restaurants.

The food in Finland is pricey. We understand that maybe you are not willing to try expensive authentic Finnish food but you just prefer more affordable simple food. While the schedule is busy, fast food makes also sense.

You can try the Finnish hamburger chain Hesburger. In shopping malls, there are food courts where you can get a meal for 15 euros. Helsinki centre is also full of Turkish, Chinese and Nepalese restaurants that offer tasty food from 13 to 15 euros.

Ask for tap water, not bottled one. Tap water in Finland is well known for its good quality and they are served in most restaurants for free. There can be some small exceptions where the restaurant charges 50 cents per person.

Drinks in Helsinki

Having a glass of wine or a local beer makes an evening perfect. We recommend three different bars to have drinks: Loiste, Torni and Clarion Hotel Helsinki. All of these have great views over Helsinki. A beer costs about 10 euros.

Officially, it is forbidden to have your drinks in public areas in Helsinki. If the weather is nice, having your beer in a park does not cause any problems for you. On a sunny day, buying beer from a supermarket and heading to Suomenlinna is an excellent choice.

Tipping is not necessary for Finland. Service fees are always included in the bill.

Two Days Helsinki Sightseeing Plan for a Stopover in Helsinki

We made you a simple 2-day stopover itinerary.

After arriving at Helsinki Airport, buy a zone ticket ABC for 2-3 days with the HSL app and head to the city centre.

Stay in Sokos Hotel Vaakuna next to the railway station. The hotel is of good quality but still not too expensive.

Next morning, kick off your Helsinki adventure with a historic island getaway! Hop on a tram to the South Harbour and catch a scenic ferry to Suomenlinna. Explore the island’s rich past with a 3-hour hike, then refuel at Suomenlinna Panimo, a local brewery serving up its craft beers. They serve also food.

After you are back from Suomenlinna, walk to Helsinki Cathedral to take a few photos. In the winter season, don’t forget to visit Helsinki Christmas markets. Continue with a tram to the Rock Church.

Helsinki Christmas Market stall
You can buy authentic local products in the Helsinki Christmas Market.

End your day by visiting Kotiharjun Sauna. Buy a few drinks enjoy an authentic old-style wooden sauna and chat with Finnish people. In Finland, a sauna is a place to have small talk. After the sauna visit, you may have a drink over the Helsinki roofs in the restaurant Loiste.

During the second full day, visit a few of Helsinki’s multiple museums. If you are not a fan of museums, head to Linnanmäki Amusement Park in the summer or to a spa in the winter. Later you may go shopping in one of the big malls in Helsinki.

Did you know? Helsinki is less than 2 hours away from Tallinn by ferry.

Questions and Answers

How can I reach Helsinki Centre from Helsinki Airport?
The best way is to take Train P or Train I from the airport’s railway station.
Should I stay in a Helsinki Airport hotel or the centre?
It does not matter. The train between the airport and the centre takes only 30 minutes.
Do people in Helsinki speak English?
Most people speak English.
What is the money in Finland?
Finland’s currency is the euro.
What is the best place in Helsinki to have a drink?
You may want to try the roof terrace at Hotel Torni. It is often crowded but they have a nice view over Helsinki. The hotel has also an interesting history.
Which public transport ticket is the best for Helsinki?
For a stopover, you should buy day tickets. The airport is in Zone C and the centre is in Zone A so you need a ticket for the zones ABC.
Where can I go shopping in Helsinki?
There are many big malls in Helsinki. For example, head to Tripla.

Bonus Day

There is no old town in Helsinki but the Old Porvoo can be reached fast. If you stay more than 2 days in Helsinki, why not make a day trip to Porvoo? A bus ride from Helsinki bus station to Porvoo bus station takes only 1 hour. In the wintertime, there is a Christmas Market in Porvoo too.

Bottom Line

Next time you fly via Helsinki Airport, consider having a stopover for a few days. It will make your journey smoother and we bet you will find something interesting to do in Helsinki. Summers are the best time for a stopover but visiting Helsinki during Christmas is another good option. Winter makes Helsinki dark but the snow with lights keeps Helsinki still alive. Not to forget the authentic Finnish sauna experience! Three days is not enough to see everything, but you can always return to Helsinki if you like the city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *