Should you visit Helsinki or Stockholm as a Nordic city break destination? Sweden and Finland’s capital cities of Helsinki and Stockholm are easily two of the most visited Nordic cities, located just a short distance away from each other across the Baltic Sea.
Both coastal cities are known for their high quality of life, strong sense of style and design, and unique history, but what sets the two apart?
In general, choose Helsinki if you’re after a more compact city that can also be a bit more friendly on the budget. On the other hand, Stockholm is great for museum lovers and for those visiting in the summer months.
From affordability to walkability and more, If you’re planning a trip and trying to decide which breezy Baltic capital city is best for you, continue reading this article to better differentiate between Helsinki vs Stockholm.
Finland’s capital city of Helsinki may not be as well known as Stockholm, but it’s a city fully worthy of a unique adventure. Helsinki is a capital full of extraordinary and sleek design, culture, and friendly locals.
If you’re seeking a Nordic city without a high price tag, a relaxed atmosphere and an off-the-beaten-path feel, Helsinki is an ideal destination.
The accessibility of any city is an incredibly important factor for any traveller, and luckily the Nordics are wonderful destinations if you’re keen on efficient & sustainable public transportation and ease of walkability.
Your first point of transportation will likely be from the airport, and thankfully, Helsinki Vantaa Airport is located just a short 17 km from the city center. With convenient public transportation options such as the local I and P trains and the 600 bus, you’ll be on your way to the Helsinki center in just under half an hour. You can also organise an airport transfer.
The center of Helsinki is incredibly compact, making it so accessible and walkable that the bus system doesn’t even run throughout the center.
Due to the ease of getting around the city, I’d recommend against renting a car for your time in Helsinki unless you plan on venturing outside the city. Even then, wait until your time in Helsinki is over before picking up your car to save money.
If you prefer to use public transportation while in the city center, the public transportation system comprises trams, buses, ferries and commuter trains. The public transportation system in Helsinki is incredibly straightforward, on time, and easy to use.
Weather depending, another great option for getting around the Finnish capital is by bicycle. With a progressive attitude towards sustainability, it’s quite affordable to rent a bike and there is a wide network of cycling lanes and a flat terrain throughout the city.
This may, however, not be the best option if you’re heading to Helsinki in winter or plan to visit outside of the summer months.
While both Nordic capital cities of Stockholm and Helsinki are more expensive than the average European capital, when compared with Stockholm, costs in Helsinki come out marginally cheaper.
One of the best and most fulfilling activities in Helsinki is to simply stroll around the city, taking in the diverse architecture and enjoying the everyday life of the Finnish capital. Beyond wandering around Helsinki, the city offers many unique museums and attractions.
If you plan on visiting multiple museums/attractions during your visit and taking public transportation, a great way to save money is by purchasing the Helsinki Card.
The Helsinki Card is available for either 24, 48 or 72-hour periods with differing costs depending on the length of your purchased card and gives you access to most museums/attractions in the city, free public transportation, and further discounts.
If you prefer to skip the Helsinki Card, the average museum cost for most museums in the center are around €20, which is pretty on par with museum costs in Stockholm.
When comparing costs in Helsinki vs Stockholm, accommodation and food costs are ultimately cheaper in Helsinki, which is partly due to lower costs in general as well as fewer tourists leading to more local prices.
Although the price differences aren’t anything extravagant, if you’re looking for a cheaper stay while saving money for other things such as activities on your trip, Helsinki is a great choice.
As for transportation costs, if you’re not purchasing the Helsinki Card, a single ticket on the Helsinki public transportation system costs around the same as Stockholm, but with a caveat.
While a single ticket on Helsinki’s public transportation system is valid for 80–110 minutes, no matter how many modes of transport you need in that time period (metro, bus, tram), a single ticket in Stockholm is only valid for one ride.
Things to do in Helsinki
When deciding whether to visit Helsinki or Stockholm, figuring which city best suits you depending on your interests is an important aspect to offer you the best trip possible for you.
The city of Helsinki is a haven for a wide array of interests, whether you’re keen to dive into Helsinki’s world-renowned architecture and design, take in the Helsinki Cathedral, break a sweat in a traditional Finnish sauna, or discover Helsinki and Finland’s history further.
If you’re specifically drawn to the simplicity of Nordic architecture and design, Helsinki is a treasure trove, full of renowned works as well as less-known structures. Marvel at the Temppeliaukio Church, a masterpiece church built into solid rock, and immerse yourself in the innovative creativity at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. You can take a walking tour with a guide to learn more about the architecture.
Another option is to explore the Design District, a creative corner of Helsinki, where boutiques, galleries, and studios showcase Finland’s world-renowned design heritage.
For those seeking a quintessential way to experience the Finnish way of life, there’s no better way than indulging in the authentic, Finnish sauna culture. Löyly, an architectural gem on the waterfront, offers an ideal Finnish sauna experience for visitors.
After your sauna session, take a refreshing plunge into the Baltic Sea, an invigorating tradition cherished by the locals. Alternatively, experience the Kotiharjun Sauna, one of the last traditional wood-fired public saunas in Helsinki, for a more authentic ambience.
History buffs can satisfy their thirst for knowledge at the National Museum of Finland, which traces the nation’s history from its prehistoric roots to modern times. For a captivating outdoor historical journey, visit the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, an island filled with well-preserved, centuries-old buildings representing Finland’s rural heritage.
Helsinki also has a thriving nightlife that can be great to explore, as well, if you’re looking for a fun night out while visiting the Finnish capital.
If you’re short on time and won’t be visiting outside of Helsinki during your trip, a day trip from Helsinki is a great option. From Helsinki, visit the medieval charming town of Porvoo (book a guided tour here), the historic Suomenlinna Fortress (book a ferry here), the serene Nuuksio National Park or even the Estonian capital of Tallinn (book a ferry here).
Where to Stay in Helsinki
Bob W Kluuvi – Those looking for a mid-range option while visiting the Finnish capital will love this centrally-located hotel. Located within easy reach of all there is to see in Helsinki, they have a number of great rooms and breakfast available in the mornings. Click here to see their availability
Hotel Mestari – This luxury hotel is a great choice for those travelling with a higher budget or who are after a plush stay in the Finnish capital. They have an excellent location in the center of the city along with a range of great rooms to choose from. Click here to see their availability
The Yard Hostel – Budget and solo travelers to Helsinki will love this cool hostel. They have both dorms and private rooms to choose from, good common areas, a great location for nightlife and other good amenities. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Helsinki hotels!
When deciding between Stockholm or Helsinki, Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm is easily the better known of the two, as well as the “big sister” of Scandinavia. Famous for its charming old town, “Gamla Stan”, buzzing culture and cosmopolitan atmosphere and world-class museums, Stockholm is an exciting contender between the two.
Stockholm is renowned for its exceptional accessibility, making it an attractive destination for travelers seeking an effortless trip without having to worry too much about transportation. The city offers two major airports: Arlanda Airport, located about 42 kilometers north of the city center, and Bromma Airport, a more central option just 8 kilometers away.
Both airports are well-connected to the city through efficient transportation options, including express trains, airport transfers and airport buses, making it convenient to reach the city center, no matter your budget.
Once you’re in Stockholm, the city’s public transportation system is efficient and sustainable. It encompasses trams, buses, commuter trains, subways, and ferries, forming a comprehensive network that covers not only the city center but also the nearby islands.
If you’re keen to save money and plan on visiting multiple museums/attractions as well as taking public transportation, the Stockholm Card offers unlimited access to this public transit system, making it a cost-effective choice for visitors.
If you prefer to mainly walk during your travels, Stockholm is a great option as long as you’re planning to spend most of your time in the old town and center, as the central part of the city is walkable and extremely pleasant.
Within the city, renting a car is generally unnecessary due to Stockholm’s compact layout and pedestrian-friendly areas. The well-maintained sidewalks and bike lanes encourage walking and cycling, providing a convenient and environmentally friendly way to explore the city.
Compared to Helsinki, Stockholm isn’t as affordable when it comes down to specific costs. While both cities aren’t budget-friendly destinations, a trip to Stockholm can take a large chunk out of your pocket. Albeit, with the right planning and budgeting, it is possible to save money while planning a trip to the Swedish capital city.
Accommodation costs in Stockholm are pretty average for Scandinavia and the Nordics, but when deciding between Stockholm or Helsinki, Helsinki does fare a bit cheaper. Thankfully, due to the popularity of the city, there are a wide array of accommodation options, better helping you to budget your trip.
Food costs in Stockholm are easily the steepest costs when it comes to costs in Stockholm, so much to the point that many Swedes typically eat at home and go out to drink rather than eat. Luckily, most hotels in Sweden include breakfast, leaving you only needing to worry about 1–2 meals out for the day.
The Swedish concept of “fika,” a coffee break with pastries or sandwiches, is not only a cultural experience but also a budget-friendly way to recharge and enjoy traditional Swedish foods.
When it comes to public transportation, investing in a Stockholm Card can be a wise choice, offering unlimited public transit access and discounts at various attractions.
Stockholm also has an array of free and low-cost activities. Many of its museums, including the Moderna Museet and the Swedish History Museum, offer free admission on certain days or hours.
Otherwise, the average museum cost for admission into a museum in Stockholm comes in around the same as in Helsinki, at roughly €20. Exploring the city’s parks, picturesque streets, and waterfront promenades comes at no cost and is a delightful way to experience Stockholm’s blend of modern and traditional charm.
Things to do in Stockholm
The city of Stockholm is a unique blend of both old and new, catering to those seeking a classic look into Stockholm and Sweden’s past, as well as those visiting that hope to be immersed into the eclectic and vibrant, modern Stockholm of today. From historic warships and royal residencies to a thriving modern food scene and day trips galore.
Easily the most popular district, and historic heart of Stockholm, is Gamla Stan. Among the charming cobblestoned streets, you’ll find The Royal Palace, where you can explore its extravagant rooms and witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony, as well as the nearby Stockholm Cathedral. You can learn more about the history of the city from a guide by booking this walking tour or this bike tour.
For a dive into Sweden’s history, head to the Vasa Museum. Here, you’ll be awed by the Vasa warship, a 17th-century vessel that sank on its maiden voyage and was incredibly salvaged and restored. The museum offers a captivating glimpse into the naval history of Sweden.
For a look into life in Sweden’s past, head to the nearby island of Djurgården to visit Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. Finally, on a modern note, explore Stockholm’s thriving design scene at the Swedish Center for Architecture and Design (ArkDes), reflecting the city’s status as a pioneer in Scandinavian design.
You also can visit the Nobel Prize Museum to learn about this iconic award. And if you want to see more examples of beautiful architecture, head to the Stockholm City Hall.
On a more contemporary note, Stockholm boasts a bustling food scene. Södermalm, with its trendy restaurants and cafes, is a haven for foodies. Sample traditional Swedish dishes like meatballs, or indulge in international cuisine.
For fresh produce and local delicacies, visit Östermalm Food Hall, where you have the opportunity to try a wide array of both traditional and modern Swedish foods – such as fresh seafood and herring. You can also take a food tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.
Stockholm does also offer a great nightlife for those looking to enjoy the city after dark, however, keep in mind that alcohol prices are quite high in Sweden so this can eat into your overall travel budget.
Stockholm is also in proximity to many enriching day trips such as, Uppsala, home to historic landmarks like Uppsala Cathedral and Uppsala University, or the idyllic town of Sigtuna, known for its medieval charm and quaint streets.
Another option is to head into the Stockholm Archipelago and explore its thousands of islands, from the picturesque Sandhamn to the peaceful Grinda. You can organise a boat trip here.
Where to Stay in Stockholm
Scandic No 53 – This hip hotel is a fantastic choice for mid-range visitors to this Scandinavian capital. Well-located to explore all Stockholm has to offer, they have a number of great rooms to choose from and plenty of amenities to enjoy. Click here to see their availability
Downtown Camper by Scandic – This 4-star hotel is the perfect choice for those looking for a luxury choice in one of the best areas in Stockholm. They have an array of chic and modern rooms to choose from and there are countless lovely amenities for guests to take advantage of. Click here to see their availability
Gamla Stan Apartments – Those who prefer to stay in their own apartment when travelling will love these flats in the center of Stockholm. There are a number of different apartments to choose from and they all come fully equipped with all you may need. Click here to see their availability
Castanea Old Town Hostel – This hostel is great for those looking for a budget choice or solo travelers after a social atmosphere. They offer both private rooms and dorms along with great common areas and an unbeatable location. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Stockholm hotels!
Helsinki vs Stockholm: Which is Better to Visit
While both Nordic cities are excellent choices for a culture-filled and vibrant trip to Northern Europe, there are a few factors that set the two apart, better helping you to decide which capital city is best suited for you.
In my opinion, the biggest factor that sets the two cities apart when comparing Stockholm vs Helsinki, is the affordability. While both cities are high in costs compared to other parts of the world and the rest of Europe, Helsinki comes out slightly cheaper in a few categories.
Because of this, if you’re looking to save money during your Nordic trip, Helsinki is going to be the best option for you.
If you like to have a wide choice of options of things to do on your travels or if you plan on visiting for a longer period of time, Stockholm is ideal, as the city sprawls quite a large area of land with an abundance of things to do.
Helsinki on the other hand is a smaller city than Stockholm, making it perfect if you’re seeking a smaller city still with a rich culture and things to do. Helsinki is also a bit more walkable than neighbouring Stockholm, so if you prefer to wander by foot during your travels, I suggest heading to Helsinki over Stockholm.
The time of the year is another important aspect to factor in when deciding between Stockholm or Helsinki to visit. While both cities are incredibly similar in climate throughout the year, and wonderful year-round, this is experienced at varying degrees.
Helsinki in the winter is an enchanting paradise, with cosy cafes and decadent hot chocolates to warm, comforting saunas. Stockholm on the other hand is a summer playground, with outdoor events regularly, harbour-side bars and cafes, and beachy days on the Stockholm archipelago.
Because of this, if you’re visiting in the winter, I suggest heading to Helsinki, and if you’re visiting in the summer, make your way to Stockholm.
Both Helsinki and Stockholm are incredible cities to visit and there is really no bad choice between the two. Though they both have different things to offer, they both make excellent destinations for a Nordic city break.
Are you planning to visit Stockholm or Helsinki? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!