Transport options to arrive: Plane, train, or boat
Helsinki airport is quite big and a good option for cheap flights, however, you can get here by other means. From Tallinn, Helsinki is only about a 2.5 hour boat trip (and if you are lucky, you can score 10€ tickets!). You can also get here from cities such as Stockholm (Sweden), Travemunde (Germany), and St. Petersburg (Russia) by boat, although the trips will be longer and probably more expensive. Train options are going to be much longer as you have to go across land bridges, but you can get to Helsinki from St. Petersburg and other places in Russia.
Bonus tip: You can get great flights out of Helsinki to Asian airports such as Seoul, so if you want to take advantage of a long layover, Helsinki is an incredibly easy city to do that in!
Recommended time of year to visit and length of visit: I would recommend coming in summer as winters, although beautiful, can be quite dark and cold. Ideally, I think you probably want five days to truly enjoy Helsinki and all it has to offer, however, you can probably do the basics in two days if you can only get away for a weekend.
Fun Fact: I don’t know how ‘fun’ this is for Finnish people, but Finland was part of the Swedish kingdom for around 500 years, until the early 1800s (when it was incorporated into the Russian Empire until the early 1900s). That is why you will see most signs in two languages―the first is Finnish and the second is Swedish.
Note: Only in 2017 did Finland celebrate 100 years as an independent country.
Top Three Must-sees:
1.) Helsinki Cathedral and the downtown area: The ‘old’ part of the city (that is not really that old as Helsinki is still quite new), is a really interesting place to wander around as the style of the buildings all seem quite unique to one another and you will find lots of small restaurants and local coffee shops.
Note: Finland is supposedly the number one coffee drinker and ice cream eater country in the world, so make sure to pop into a couple of places and try their offer!
2.) Sibelius Monument and surrounding area: This monument is for famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. And while the monument is interesting, I would also recommend checking out the seaside area close by. If you are lucky, you might stumble across a free seat at the Cafe Regatta and you can take advantage of their delicious cinnamon rolls with a cup of something warm if it is slightly chilly. In addition, if the weather is really nice, the beach is only about a 15 minute walk away from the Sibelius Monument along the seaside!
3. Töölö Bay: I find it amazing how much nature is in Helsinki and Töölö Bay is one of my favorite places to have a wander in nature while still being in the city center! Close to the Oodi library (also worth popping into if you have time) on one end the the city Opera―Ooppera in Finnish―on the other, this 45 minute walk is a good way to enjoy the sunshine year round.
Pro-tip: There are two lanes, the left one is for bikes and the right one for people. Expect people to walk on the right hand side of their own lane.
One thing to eat: This was really hard for me to decide as I have had some really interesting (in the good sense) meals in Helsinki. In addition, I enjoy their pastries, etc. However, if you are only going for one thing, I would recommend the Karelian pasty as it is a typical thing you will see in almost every coffee shop. With a rye crust and a rice-pudding-esque filling that looks sort of like a baked potato, you might find this pastry to be strange, but it is a classic, so give it a go!