We stop in Helsinki on our Baltic cruise in September. We have about 7 hours to spend touring. I found a local guide to tour with, visiting both the tourist spots, Senate Square, Esplanades, Kiasma, Parliament building, Music Hall, Old Market and Rock Church, as well as taking the ferry over and touring the Suomenlinna Fortress. The latter will cost us an extra 30 euro for the water bus plus additional fee for the guide. Is the Fortress a must see that is worth the extra money? Or should we stick to the other sights (adding in Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, which the guide suggested we skip since we will have seen other orthodox cathedrals in St. Petersburg and it takes awhile to get there)? Would love some feedback on those who have spend the day in Helsinki. Thanks.
I don't think there's any need to hire a guide to see the highlights of Helsinki in a day. There is a hop-on-hop-off bus that takes you to all those sights that would likely cost you a lot less than the guide. And you can take a ferry to Suomenlinna on your own, or do a combo ticket with the bus tour. I'm not usually into this kind of bus tour, but I thought it was enjoyable and informative and a convenient way of getting to some of the more out-of-the-way sights.
I haven't been to St. Petersburg, so I can't say whether Uspenski Cathedral is really redundant, but I found it interesting. And it's not so far away; you can walk there from the harbor/market square.
You can also visit the sights via public transportation, but with only one day, it'll probably be more efficient to do a tour.
We were in Helsinki on a RS tour in May a couple of years ago. We were there before St. Petersburg and our local guide took us to the cathedral and just sent us inside with no explanation of what we would see. Since you will have already been to St. Petersburg you would understand the icons/structure better. Having said that, there is no way that cathedral compares to what you will see in St. Petersburg.
The most interesting part of our time in Helsinki was visiting the Rock Church and the Lutheran Cathedral. (we are Lutheran) We were lucky enough to be there on the occasion of an annual sit-sit. This is when hundreds of university students gather, wear uniform hats, sit at long tables eating and sing traditional songs. It was absolutely fascinating. The city itself was just okay, but we did love our trip out to the Suomenllnna Fortress. The weather was clear and crisp as we hiked along the pathways. We sat down often just people watching. Standing on the edge looking out over the sea was very memorable. Since you will already be on a boat that may not be as meaningful for you. There is also an outdoor folk park we went to that we found very interesting. You might check that out. http://www.kansallismuseo.fi/en/seurasaari-openairmuseum
One thing to remember is that a cruise boat/ship may well be docked FAR away from the city itself so you probably have to factor transportation time into your plan. That was especially true in St Petersburgh. On our hydrofoil ride out to the Summer Palace we saw some cruise ships docked, and our guide told us they were probably an hour from the main sites in the city.
I visited Helsinki by ferry from Tallinn for a long day trip and found that I very much enjoyed my time at Suomenlinna. I took a bus from the ferry dock to Kauppatori esplanade as I wanted to see the market, then from there took the boat out to the fortress and spent about 2 hours exploring the island, lots to see and very beautiful--this was mid-September so at the end of tourist season and quite peaceful. I don't recall the cost of the ferry ticket to the island, maybe 15 euro. I'd like to return to Helsinki for a proper stay and would re-visit Suomenlinna, so I do recommend going there.
Helsinki is a compact walkable city well served by transit and ferries. A guide could be valuable if they can add to the historic and cultural background of the sites, but we toured on our own. Finns are highly English literate.
Some good self-guided resources found at the train station TI and the tourist website:
Self-guided walking tour maps and explanations (See Helsinki on Foot - 5 walking routes around town) :
I would say Suomenlinna is an absolute must see for a two day stay in Helsinki. For a 7-hour visit, you might have to skip it. My husband and I spent about half a day at Suomenlinna during our 3-night stay in Helsinki.
My husband and I were just there on our cruise stop.
We just used the tram # 2 and just walked around. We started early, between 7:30 and 8 am.
We took the tram close to the Sibelius Monument and then walked up, less than 10 minutes, to the site.
Then we walked back with a stop at the Rock Church (closed for us). This church has opening hours in the afternoon. We walked to the other places you mentioned, except visiting the Kiasma. We also to the Chapel of Silence.
We decided to go to the Fortress on the ferry. It was 5 euros round trip each. It was really nice. No need for a guide. Signs were posted with explanations. Wished we had a picnic with us.
We made it back to the ship with about 90 minutes to spare.
Have a great time.