Short Stay, Big Adventure: My Perfect Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, may seem small, but it’s full of energy! Despite its size, there’s plenty of museums to discover. What’s really neat is how Helsinki blends its vibrant city atmosphere with its stunning coastline and islands, which my family and I explored over two days. Whether you’re a culture buff or a nature lover, Helsinki has it all! Come along with me and check out my two-day Helsinki Itinerary.

Where we stayed and two-day Helsinki itinerary

Stayed at Hotel Marski by Scandic

Staying at Marski by Scandic, right by Esplanadi park and across from Stockmann shopping center, was convenient. It’s a short walk to the train station. And, the breakfast buffet had a Finnish touch mixed with international flavours. True to Finnish style, the hotel had separate saunas for men and women in the basement. We weren’t quite used to the Finnish sauna customs; there was no place to keep our clothes, so we had to leave them on the bench and lock our room key in a small box. Consequently, carrying the key throughout the sauna session was a bit awkward. Despite this, the hotel room was comfy and offered good value for money.

Our family’s Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary

Day 1:

  • Esplanade Park
  • Senatsplatz (Senaatintori)
  • SkyWheel Helsinki
  • Food Market
  • Zentralbibliothek Oodi
  • Sauna in Hotel

Day 2:

  • Boat Trip
  • Suomenlinna island

Activities on the first day

Esplanadi Park

Our walking tour began at Esplanadi Park, known as “Espa” among locals. It’s the most famous park in Finland and the green heart of Helsinki. At the Market Square end of the park lies Kappeli, one of the most historic restaurants in Helsinki, built in 1867. In the middle of the park stands the statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877), Finland’s national poet and author of the Finnish national anthem. On both sides of the park, there are elegant buildings like the Grönqvist Building.

Senate Square (Senaatintori)

We then turned into the Senate Square (Senaatintori), where the Orthodox Church is located. Stairs led us high up to the entrance of the church. There was a service taking place inside, so we did not enter further.


Continuing towards the harbour, we saw the giant SkyWheel in Helsinki. One of its cabins is designed as a sauna, a testament to Finland’s sauna culture.

Orthodox Church at Senate Square (Senaatintori); Helsinki Itinerary
Skywheel in Helsinki with a sauna cabin; Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary

Harbour food market

At lunchtime, we arrived at the harbour food market. The market is small but elegantly and neatly arranged, quite different from those in Barcelona and Valencia. Inside wooden stalls, vendors were selling local food from Karjalanpiirakka (rice pies) to Muikku (fried vendace).

Firstly, we chose a small food stall at the end of the market hall for lunch. In a space of merely 10 square meters, there were around 15 guests. Consequently, we had to wait a while to get a small table for the three of us. Eventually, I ordered a seafood tapas dish, including Graavilohi (cured salmon) and pickled herring marinated in whisky sauce. It was delicious!

Central Library Oodi (Zentralbibliothek Oodi)

After lunch, we passed the old train station with its typical Art Nouveau façade. Not far from the station is a masterpiece of architecture, the Central Library Oodi. Having visited several beautiful and modern libraries in Shanghai, I was curious about this one as well. It consists of a mass of wood and a glass pavilion, with a white and metal-coated waterproof roof. Additionally, there were many stylishly designed seating areas. Overall, the library was very spacious and offered a high level of comfort for readers.

Finish food in the food market in Helsinki
Central station in Helsinki

Sauna in the hotel

Sauna is the best activity to relieve tiredness. Unfortunately, men and women couldn’t take a sauna together in this hotel. Nevertheless, I found myself with two other women, one from Finland and one from Denmark. We had some interesting small talk. The Finnish woman was celebrating her birthday, and the Danish woman was in town for the Helsinki Marathon on the weekend.

Activities on the second day

Canal cruise tour

We booked the Sightseeing Canal Cruise with Audio Commentary to experience a canal cruise during our visit to Helsinki. As we passed some islands, the colourful holiday houses caught our attention. Many of them had saunas right next to the house. It’s common here to jump into the water instead of taking a shower after the sauna.

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Central Library Oodi; Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary
Orthodox Church at Senate Square (Senaatintori); Helsinki Itinerary
Street view in Helsinki; Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary

Suomenlinna World Heritage

Suomenlinna, a UNESCO site, was a maritime fortress and a base for the Archipelago Fleet starting in 1748 during the Swedish era. It was built on a cluster of rocky islands. From the canal cruise terminal, we boarded a ferry to one of its islands.

Next to the ferry terminal, there was a restaurant called Suomenlinnan Panimo from a local brewery. It was perfect for us to have lunch.

After lunch, we followed the crowd and walked south. First, we passed the dry dock at the heart of the fortress, which was state-of-the-art in 18th-century technology. Then, we crossed a small bridge linking two main islands. There is an online map to guide visitors on their walk, but instead of following the route after the bridge, we walked along the coast.

That was the best choice of the day! The coastal walk was pretty easy and offered us a vast view of the open sea. On the other side, numerous military constructions spread over this part of the island. Over the years, green plants have covered the roofs of underground bunkers, some of which are now private homes or business sites.

Since we stopped frequently to take pictures, the entire walk took us around two hours. There are more things to discover, and it could take a full day to explore the whole area.

Colourful sana houses in Helsinki
Suomenlinna World Heritage waling route; Two-Day Helsinki Itinerary

Travel tips for Helsinki Itinerary

The toilet in the food market is very, very small. There were only two stalls in the women’s toilet. When you sit down, your face almost touches the wall in front of you. Use the public toilets next to the outside food stalls instead; there are plenty of them.

The Finnish fish soup is delicious. I tried it once for dinner, and it was freshly cooked and very tasty.

Upscale restaurants tend to offer menus with four or five courses. The cooking skills, ingredients used, and the final taste of the food were all good. However, the portions were smaller than we expected. So, if you want to feel full, go to buffet restaurants. Besides, we were surprised that most restaurants offered table water free of charge. Drinks, especially alcoholic ones, are very expensive.

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