Helsinki layover: 6, 12 and 24 hour adventures in the Finnish capital
Wondering what to do in Helsinki while on a layover in the city? We’ve got you covered. Make every minute of your brief stay in the Finnish capital count, whether you’ve got six, 12 or 24 hours to play with.
We’ve also got details of how to get from Helsinki airport to the city center, ensuring no time is wasted getting you to the sights and sounds of Finland’s biggest metropolis.
Getting from Helsinki Airport to the city
First off, getting from Helsinki Airport to the city is easy and quick. The airport, which has the airport code HEL, is in Vantaa, 20 kilometers from the center of Helsinki. There are trains, taxis and buses all available to speed you on your way. Whichever option you choose, your ride will take between 30 and 40 minutes.
The Ring Rail Line between Helsinki Airport and the city center is served by I and P trains, with both getting you into the heart of Helsinki in around 30 minutes. Tickets cannot be bought onboard, but with HSL (Helsinki’s regional transport authority) machines on the airport station platform, a dedicated ticket office and a HSL smartphone app, you can easily buy before you board. You’ll need a Zone ABC ticket, with a single adult ticket costing €4.10 at the time of writing. Alternatively, pick up an unlimited travel ticket for €11 for one day, €16.50 for two days (prices subject to change).
Taxis from Helsinki Airport to the city can be found in front of Terminal 1 and on the ground floor of Terminal 2. The airport is partnered with three agencies: Lähitaksi, Vantaan Taksi and Taksi Helsinki. Taxi prices from Helsinki Airport to the city are shown on information screens at the taxi ranks, with a car costing between €40 and €55. Alternatively, Airport Taxi Yellow Line allows you to pre–book a shared cab via its online booking service, with prices starting from €22. The drive takes around half an hour, depending on traffic. If you are in a rush, or on a shorter layover in Helsinki, the train to the city center is a safer bet.
The bus from Helsinki airport to the city center is another affordable and speedy option to get into town. The Finnair City Bus departs from Terminal 2 to the city center every 20 minutes, between 5.30am and 0.45am, running from 5am and 0.05am in the opposite direction. Tickets cost €6.80 one way if bought online, or €6.90 from the driver. Credit and debit cards are accepted on board. If you buy your ticket online , it is valid for six months from the date of purchase. The shuttle bus takes around 30 minutes, depending on traffic. Just like a taxi, you should consider the train if your time is limited.
NOTE: The Finnair City Bus service ended as of November 2020. Make sure to check you have the latest information regarding airport transportation.
Storing your luggage
If you’ve checked your bags through to your final destination, then you can go straight into the city. However, if you have larger carry on items that you’d rather not keep with you, a pro traveller tip is to use Helsinki Airport’s handy lockers. These can be found on the ground floor of Terminal 1. Small lockers (height 45 cm, depth 76 cm, width 38cm) cost €5 for 24 hours. Large lockers (height 66 cm, depth 76 cm, width 48 cm) cost €6 for 24 hours.
Helsinki in six hours
So you’ve got six hours before you need to be back in Vantaa to catch your connecting flight. That’s ample time to find great things to do in Helsinki and make your layover memorable.
See Helsinki’s design heritage up close
Arriving from Helsinki Airport into the city center will take around half an hour. From there, it’s just a 15 minute stroll to the Helsinki Design Museum, in the heart of the hip Helsinki Design District. Alternatively, you can take Tram Line 10 or Bus Line 24.
No answer to the question of what to do in Helsinki would be complete without mentioning the Helsinki Design Museum. It houses the best collection of Finnish and Scandinavian design in the world, as well as showcasing global design through a series of excellent, ever–changing exhibitions.
Expect to come away from a visit knowing all about the 19th century pioneers of Finnish design and the father of Finnish modernism, Alvar Aalto. Tickets cost €12 for adults, €10 for pensioners and €6 for students at the time of writing. The museum is closed on Mondays and open from 11am until 6pm Tuesday–Sunday, with late Tuesday openings until 8pm from September 1 to May 31.
Try the best Finnish food and local ingredients
After spending around 90 minutes in the Design Museum, it’s time to grab a bite. Finnish food has been central to the boom in New Nordic cuisine in recent years and the Helsinki Design District is blessed with some of the best places to eat in the capital.
For an authentic experience, it doesn’t get any better than Restaurant Eevert. Housed in Alvar Aalto’s former office, Eevert is as much a designers’ dream as it is a restaurant, and the perfect follow-up lunch or dinner venue, just two minutes walk from the Helsinki Design Museum.
Modernist furniture and decorative flourishes abound. But it’s all about the food, with seasonal ingredients from small, Finnish producers, ranging from fresh berries and mushrooms to reindeer and smoked fish.
A three course set menu at Restaurant Eevert costs €54 at the time of writing, with a special, six course ‘chef’s surprise’ menu costing €68. Expect surprise ingredients from Finland’s forests, lakes and fields. Be sure to give yourself two hours to properly enjoy the experience.
A walking tour of Helsinki’s hippest boutiques
There’s no better way to walk off your meal than by stepping out of Eevert and taking the time to explore Helsinki’s Design District. The Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kruunuhaka, Kamppi and Ullanlinna neighborhoods are all packed with architecture, boutiques and cafes that capture the essence of Helsinki.
Helsinki’s Design District is also the perfect venue for retail therapy. There’s a wide variety of boutiques and department stores. For a detailed guide, we recommend My Helsinki’s self–guided walking tour which will take you through some of the best shopping spots within the Helsinki Design District’s Tori Quarters.
The route itself is just 1.5km, taking in stores between Senate Square and Market Square. Allow at least an hour, even though the walk itself may take just 15-20 minutes.
The Tori Quarters are also home to the Helsinki City Museum. Well worth a stop, if you have extra time. Lastly, whether you take a walking tour, or plan your own route, make sure to visit the iconic Marimekko, and pick up souvenirs or treats for yourself from Finland’s most famous design brand.
From the Marimekko store on Pohjoisesplanadi it’s just a five minute walk back to the train station, where you can take the I or P service back to Helsinki Airport. There are also taxi services to get you back to Helsinki airport in time for your connecting flight. The Finnair City Bus Stop can be found in Eliel Square, on the western side of Helsinki Central Station.
Helsinki in 12 hours
On a 12 hour layover? Follow our six hour guide for the first half of your stop over, then check out these things to do in Helsinki for the remainder of your half day stay.
Delve into Finland’s art scene
Helsinki Art Museum (HAM for short) is responsible for more than 9,000 publicly owned works of art, half of which you’ll find dotted around the city in parks, libraries and other public spaces. This free online map will help you see every artwork out in public, and lead you on a cultural exploration to make your layover more rewarding.
HAM’s permanent space in a former tennis venue is well worth checking out too. It’s just a one–stop, five minute ride on the M1 or M2 from the main train station or a 10 minute walk. Its rotating exhibitions focus on modern and contemporary art. If you only see one exhibition at HAM, make it the one showcasing Tove Jansson’s work, running through to the end of 2022.
Tove Jansson is world famous as the creator of The Moomins and rightly feted for her beautiful children’s books, but HAM also has dedicated space for her frescoes, paintings and photographs, as well as excerpts of home movie footage shot by Jansson on the island of Klovharu.
Admission to Helsinki Art Museum costs €12 at the time of writing. It is closed on Mondays and open between 11am and 7pm the rest of the week.
After an hour at HAM, make the short walk east to Ateneum Art Museum, the Finnish National Gallery. It houses the most important collection of art in Finland, with work by local and international artists side–by–side throughout.
Here you’ll see work by Van Gogh, Le Corbusier and Munch. Ateneum is open from 10am until 6pm on Tuesdays and Fridays, 10am to 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10am to 5pm at the weekend. It is closed on Mondays. Tickets cost €17 at the time of writing.
Relax, Finnish–style at a waterside sauna
After all that culture, it’s time to kick back, Finnish–style. Sauna is a way of life in Finland, perfect for easing out the kinks after a long day’s sightseeing and getting you nicely chilled out ahead of your connecting flight.
Allas Sea Pool is spectacular and easily reached from the Ateneum Art Museum by foot or public transport. Situated right on the water and powered entirely by renewable energy, it has three pools: one heated lap pool, a children’s pool and a seawater pool. The latter’s water comes from further out to sea, where the currents are cleaner, and is further sanitized by ultraviolet light. Allas Sea Pools are open year-round, so you can enjoy a dip no matter the weather, or when you have your layover in Helsinki.
And now, for a brief induction into the art of sauna: The best way to enjoy the trio of saunas on offer here is after a cool dip. Each sauna is heated electrically to 80ºC, with views out over the Baltic Sea. Time it right and you can even try a sauna yoga class. If you’re feeling bold, there are weekly winter swimming classes. Tickets cost €14 for adults (aged 13 and above) and €7 for kids (aged three to 12) at the time of writing and are available online or in the Allas Shop. They’re valid for a year from the date of purchase and allow up to 10 hours at the pool or sauna.
A pre–flight meal with a view
Handily, Allas Sea Pool also has an excellent, and affordable, cafe and terrace that’s open year round, as well as the Allas Wine and Dine restaurant, which is open during the summer. The latter offers a seasonal menu based on Nordic ingredients with an impressive wine list to match.
The cafe, meanwhile, has delicious Finnish food that won’t break the bank, including marinated eggplant and forest mushroom salad. You won’t need to book a table at the cafe, but if you want to visit Wine and Dine, it’s advisable to secure a reservation. The views across the Baltic Sea and the historic heart of Helsinki make this the perfect place to round out your 12 hour layover.
To get back to Helsinki airport from the city, you can walk 20 minutes to Helsinki Central Station from Allas Sea Pool. Alternatively, the Tram, I and P trains will take you back to Helsinki Airport in Vantaa and your connecting flight. Alternatively, take a cab or head to the west of the station and catch the Finnair City Bus from Eliel Square.
Helsinki in 24 hours
Lucky enough to have a 24 hour layover? Then you’ve got time to find things to do in Helsinki which many tourists will miss. First of all, check out our six and 12 hour layover guides and get the first half of your stay planned. Then get ready to see the city by night, have a much–needed rest, grab breakfast or take in more sights before making your way back to Helsinki Airport.
Kick back with a night out in Kallio
Helsinki’s Kallio district has seen a resurgence in recent years, transforming it from a somewhat rundown neighbourhood into a thriving hub of quirky bars, popular restaurants and off-beat attractions. Think Berlin’s Kreuzberg, London’s Shoredich or New York’s Williamsburg.
Restaurants in the Kallio district are unlikely to take reservations, so don’t feel like you need to stick to a specific agenda or plan ahead. Hop around and put your name down. It won’t take long for a table to open up, even at busy times. Stop in at Harju 8 or The Bull and the Firm for dinner. Both places are great for small groups, with dishes suitable for sharing.
For drinks, check out Wino for their fantastic selection of natural wines, or Sivukirjasto for specialist beers. If you have a small group, or are traveling alone, check out the legendary Pub Sirdie. It’s a tiny bar with space for just about ten people. Small, cosy and with a retro jukebox and eclectic decor, it’s a hidden gem.
Get some much–needed rest with a hotel booked through Finnair
Helsinki has a huge number of hotels to suit all budgets. You can pick one to suit you through Finnair, with plenty of places to stay right in the heart of the city. Whether you want views across the water from the Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel or something familiar and comforting at Holiday Inn’s Helsinki City Center location, we’ve got it covered. What’s more, you’ll earn Finnair Plus points by booking through us.
Fill up on pastries and the best coffee in town
After such an action–packed day, you’re going to want to refuel before more sightseeing. Fortunately, Helsinki’s cafes and brunch spots are plentiful. Top of the list is Cafe Ekberg. This traditional spot dates back to 1852 and serves the best pastries and patisserie in the city. The buffet breakfast, with fruit, muesli, cheeses, meats and oven–baked omelette, is a steal at €14.50 at the time of writing.
The coffee here is also guaranteed to blow out the cobwebs from last night’s visit to a rock club, or refresh your senses after a lengthy flight. Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 10.30am from Monday to Friday, with a more leisurely brunch available from 9am to 2.30pm at the weekend.
For a less obvious breakfast venue, Töölönranta has to be at the top of your list. It’s a 15 minute ride north from Helsinki Central Station on Tram 4 and boasts a clean, design–led aesthetic and excellent buffet, it also has a gorgeous view across view across Töölönlahti (Töölö Bay). Finnish food options include smoked fish and beet salads, making it a good alternative for those who want breakfast in a more modern Finnish setting, and since it’s right next to the Finnish National Opera you might even squeeze in some culture.
Take a free walking tour
Starting at 11am from the Havis Amanda statue at the eastern end of Esplanadi Park, this free, daily walking tour takes two and a quarter hours. It’s a sizable investment of your layover time, but is also the ideal way to learn about Helsinki’s culture and history. The tour takes in the House of Estates, the Evangelical Helsinki Cathedral, Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, Senate Square and Old Harbor with knowledgeable guides that speak excellent English. They carry red umbrellas, so you can’t miss them!
Head back to airport
After a full–on 24 hours, it’s time to make your way back to the airport. The free walking tour ends back at the Havis Amanda statue, which is just a 10 minute walk to Helsinki Central Station.
Take the I or P train back to Vantaa and Helsinki Airport, hail a taxi or use the Finnair City Bus, found on the western side of the station and running every 20 minutes. The journey back takes between 30 and 40 minutes. Remember to give yourself at least two hours from arriving back at the airport before your departure time.
NOTE: The Finnair City Bus service ended as of November 2020. Make sure to check you have the latest information regarding airport transportation.