Whether you are visiting the city of Helsinki or Tallinn, you can reach the other with a short and pleasant ferry ride. Visiting both cities can make for a great long weekend or an extended vacation. Even if you are planning to be based in one, you can easily hop on the ferry to for a quick trip to the other.
I personally found Helsinki to be the city that I wanted to spend the majority of this trip in. I was already attending the music and arts festival Flow Festival in Helsinki, so I decided to stop in and visit Tallinn for a couple of days as well.
There are a few ferry options, but I decided to go with the budget friendly Finlandia. Riding aboard the Finlandia to go to either city is quite literally a cruise. There’s more than enough to keep one entertained while sailing the seas. The casino and sometimes live music performances can provide hours of entertainment. There are plenty of comfortable seating and dining options found on the ship.
Boarding can be a rather slow process, so if you want a certain seat arriving ahead of time is definitely recommended. Since this ride only takes a couple of hours, there is no need for intense preparation.
After arriving in Helsinki, if you’re in need of someplace to store some bulky luggage for a bit, the Helsinki Central Station has a lot of lockers that are available for rent. Simply put your money into the machine and it’s yours to use for a few hours. They’re not super expensive and this is a great way to explore the city without having to worry about your luggage.*
The public transit is unmatched in Helsinki in my experience, and allows you to freely travel the city at a quick pace. The HSL app was extremely user friendly and was a great easy way for us to get around. Just make sure to scan your pass on the way in to the tram to avoid any confusion or fees. Also, don’t try your luck at using the public transport without having proper credits on your app, because this can result in a rather large fine. Even the busses here are comfortable and clean.
The trams run throughout most of the inner city. Helsinki is full of interesting things to see and do. Our hotel was very conveniently located in an area that allowed us to see a lot of the city on our way in. Getting to see sites by riding pass them first and revisiting later was a fun way to plan out the day.
Things to see in Helsinki
Our hotel was just a short walk or tram ride away from the Uspenski Cathedral. This building shows the long engagement that Russia has had in Finland. The church is incredible with its red brick towers and the golden cupolas. This is worth the walk up to it, if not just to see the view of the water and the city from a nice vantage point.
Down by the water at the seaside amble is where you can find a lot of shopping markets and food options. There are also the well known pools located in the sea. You can use the saunas if you want to get into some real local customs. In fact, you can find saunas all over Finland. If swimming in these Finnish pools is something you have had your heart set on, then I suggest you go for it. Prices are surprisingly steep, but it is still a very popular attraction nonetheless.
Just down the way a bit from the seaside there is the Esplanadi or the “espa” as the locals call it. This is an awesome little area to see in the summer. Locals use this as a picnic area and a place to relax. This area is surrounded by the city and has all sorts of interesting Russian architectural inspired buildings surrounding the park area. You can easily spend a relaxing afternoon.
Helsinki Cathedral and its iconic green domes are a picturesque site that you will likely see a lot of crowds admiring. These crowds seemed to lighten up more towards the evening to my delight. I was excited to have a chance like this to get photos of a place that is usually crawling with both locals and tourists. The cathedral is architecturally breathtaking on the inside and is open to the public.
Another notable stop in Helsinki is the Silent Church. This very sleek building has no windows and the rules are that if you enter you remain totally silent. Sitting amongst older buildings, you’ll definitely know it when you see it.
You’ll have plenty of dining options in Helsinki. One of my favorite food experiences was in Hotel Katajanokka. Inside of this former prison turned hotel, you’ll find Linnankellari restaurant. With a mixture of both familiar and local dishes, you really can’t go wrong here. Not only is the atmosphere inviting, but the food is amazing as well.
Tallinn, Estonia’s old town has a way of making even the worst afternoons good. It can feel like the sky is falling on you and yet you can still lose yourself and your thoughts walking around these old stone streets.
The old town is where we spent a lot of our time in Tallinn. Our Airbnb was only a short taxi ride to the old town. The public transit seemed nice but we were so exhausted and the Bolts were so cheap that we ended up going in that direction.
Things to see in Tallinn
There is no shortage of things to see in this area of Tallinn. You can visit multiple gorgeous churches and fascinating museums, with something new on every corner. There are also plenty of shops and places to go if you’re not necessarily into the museums and churches.
One of the first places we were dropped off near was the town hall square. This area is full of cafes and shops and is a great place to start off a day of exploring.
There are plenty of photo opportunities in this area with all of the stunning and colorful architecture surrounding the square. The Tallinn town hall looks over the square with its huge tower. The dragon mouths on the side of the building really make it feel like you stepped back into medieval times.
If you’re looking for a dose of history and reality, the KGB prison cells are an amazing way to spend a rainy afternoon. You can get access to the cells using your Tallinn City Pass or by purchasing a ticket. Inside you will see actual cells used for holding prisoners, markings on the walls from former inmates, and even have a chance to see what the solitary confinement area was like.
Due to the fact that my time in Tallinn was very short, I really only got to explore the old town. This city has so much more to offer, so definitely plan on exploring more of the city if you have the time.
If you are traveling to either of these cities, setting sometime aside to take a boat ride and go explore the other city is an awesome add on. Even through all of the jetlag and being exhausted from a three day music festival, Tallinn kept us excited enough to press through it all.