03 Sep 2019

7 days in Helsinki: the curious conference-goer’s itinerary



Nestled in its unassuming Nordic corner, Helsinki lies at one of Europe’s cultural and historical crossroads. Spend a week traversing its trams and strolling its streets, and you’ll find yourself crisscrossing works of Russian czarist architecture and inhaling whiffs of rye and onion that might just as well have wafted out of a kitchen in neighbouring Sweden. Quietly cosmopolitan and yet quintessentially Finnish, the 2019 EAIE Conference host city has more layers than you can peel back in a mere week – but you’d be crazy not to try.

As we gather in Helsinki for the 31st Annual EAIE Conference, attendees will not only spend a week networking and discussing the most pressing issues in international higher education, but will also have the chance to dive deep into our host city. The Finnish capital is welcoming and walkable, ideal for mixing sessions and workshops with outdoor meetings and strolls in town. We know this year’s conference programme has enough to keep you busy the whole week, but you can avoid the trap of all-work-no-play by stepping into the city and putting on your tourist hat.

Like many things in life, it’s best to take your trip to Helsinki one day at a time. Here are some suggestions for how to get the most out of the city during EAIE 2019.

Monday: getting the lay of the land

Arriving at the start of the conference week? If so, you’ll have a whole day to explore the city and get your bearings before jumping into conference mode. Check our Helsinki travel page before landing to plot the route to your hotel ahead of time. Once you’ve checked in and dropped your bags, Helsinki is your oyster.

Conference registration opens at 15:00 on Monday. Be sure to go ahead to the conference venue and pick up your free transport card once you’ve arrived: as part of your conference package, your transport card is your all-access pass to everything from trams to ferries in the greater Helsinki area. Use the Reittiopas Journey Planner to plot your route ahead of time, or just hop on tram lines 2, 3 or 7 and gaze out the window as the streetcar carries you in a sightseeing circle around the city.

Want to brush up on some basic Finnish for the week ahead? Head over to Rikhardinkatu Library at 16:00 on Monday and join Finnish for foreigners (no need to pre-register) and learn a few phrases to endear yourself to the locals.

Tuesday: campus cultures and multicultural neighbourhoods

The Finnish approach to education has so much to teach the wider international education community, and where better to learn than at Finnish universities? If you’re quick, you can still sign up for one of our Campus Experiences on Tuesday, which will take you on a tour of a local campus where you can pick the brains of students, faculty and staff and learn more about higher education in Finland.

If you’d rather spend your time in Helsinki outside the university walls, hop on the metro headed east and check out the diverse and lively Itäkeskus neighbourhood, where you’ll find a hodgepodge of immigrant-run restaurants and teahouses lining the streets between several of the biggest shopping malls in the Nordics. Stoa cultural centre is a great place to sip a cup of coffee and take in the vibes or visit an exhibition, like this ongoing one on comic books in minority languages.

Wednesday: mesmerising melodies

Wednesday the conference hits full stride, and by the end of the day your head will be swimming with inspiring new ideas. Take the evening to turn your brain off and your ears on with some live music: go see the Great Helsinki Swing Big Band live, or, if you’re more the hands-on type, attend a free workshop at Caisa cultural centre and make your own music.

Feeling more adventurous? Take part of the day to check off an obligatory item for any visitor to Helsinki: Suomenlinna fortress. Fifteen minutes on the ferry and you’ll feel as though you’re hundreds of kilometres away from the urban bustle.

Thursday: an artsy afternoon and an all-out evening

Come Thursday morning, you might be due for a little jolt to get your blood pumping: start the day with Early-bird yoga in the city centre or join the EAIE Morning Run through Kaivopuisto park, and ride the resulting energy boost through the rest of your day.

Between sessions, you can pop into the city and visit some of the art and design exhibitions that are running during the conference week. Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma is featuring an exhibition titled Coexistence, which looks at the relationships between humans and nature in contemporary art. Design enthusiasts can head over to the Design Museum, located in the heart of the Helsinki Design District, for the ongoing exhibition Utopia Now – The Story of Finnish Design.

Finally, don’t pass on the EAIE Eurovision Tanssi, where conference attendees will sing and dance the night away in a spa-turned-nightclub once frequented by Russian czars.

Friday: love, anarchy and theatre

As a long week of networking and knowledge exchange draws to a close, you may be tempted to retreat to your hotel room – but there’s simply too much left to see and do!

The Love and Anarchy Film Festival starts on Thursday and runs through the weekend. Or, if an absurd evening of existentialist music and dance sounds more like your cup of tea, you can watch acclaimed Finnish choreographer-dancer Tero Saarinen and accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen take the stage in Breath at the Alexander Theatre.


Staying a couple extra days to play tourist? You won’t be disappointed.

Sporty types who didn’t sweat enough during Thursday’s run can join Saturday for the Helsinki City Trail, a running event that will take participants along iconic sites like Eläintarha Sports Park and Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium. After your run, you can fuel up at Vegemessut, the largest vegan food festival in the Nordics.

Finally, take it easy on Sunday: peruse the stalls of the Helsinki Farmers’ Market, held on the last Sunday of each month. The theme will be berries and fruit, perfect for a bite-size snack while you ruminate on the new insights that have emerged from your week of learning, networking and exploring.

What is internationalisation about if not trying new things and diving deep into unfamiliar cultures when the opportunity presents itself? While one week is only enough to scratch the surface of the city, we hope you’ll embark on a small international experience of your own during EAIE 2019 and see some of what Helsinki has to offer.

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