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Ahh, I remember spending one day in Helsinki like it was yesterday. On a chilly and humid August morning, I arrived in Helsinki after taking a two hour (zippy!) ferry ride from the Estonian capital Tallinn. And I was out of my mind tired.
Why was I so dead? You guys, you guys, I was absolutely utterly exhausted after seven day trip exploring the Baltic capitals. Quiet Helsinki was a true breath of fresh air.
Even though Helsinki had a relaxing vibe, I still had my reservations about visiting this new city.
Actually, after checking into my hotel, I was wondering if Helsinki was even worth visiting at all. I had heard unflattering things about Finland’s capital – namely that it was expensive and boring.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I listen to other travelers’ opinions way too much. What can I say, I’m a people pleaser (working on it).
And, awkwardly enough, I hadn’t done a ton of research so I wasn’t sure where to begin. Yikes.
But now I have to take a stand against popular opinion (re: Helsinki is boring).
Helsinki was the perfect day trip.
Believe it or not, I’d actually come to Helsinki again in the future, but instead I would use the city as a starting point for seeing the rest of Finland. I’m dying to see more of this northern European country.
Anyway, in this next city break guide, I will talk about all the cool things I did with one day in Helsinki. I hope my suggestions help you plan a fantastic and beautiful trip!
Firstly, let’s tackle the biggest question about this topic (as always).
Is 1 Day in Helsinki Enough Time?
Yes, absolutely. One day in Helsinki is plenty of time to get a taste of the Finnish capital. Sure, more time is always great, but you can definitely swing Helsinki in a day.
Honestly, I think Helsinki is one of those wonderful cities to just be.
What do I mean by that? Well. Helsinki isn’t a place covered in insanely huge museums, such as Paris, or widely spaced neighborhoods, such as Berlin. In comparison, Helsinki is small.
I absolutely loved just settling in with my coffee on the steps of Helsinki Cathedral, for example. I lost track of the minutes that I spent people watching and listening to a nearby street performer play evocative music.
You have time to get lost in Helsinki, making a day trip special.
24 Hours in Helsinki & How to Get Around
As I’ve said, Helsinki is very compact. Which means it’s super simple to get around the city.
For example, during my one day in Helsinki, I didn’t take a cab or bus once. My own two feet took me everywhere I needed to go.
However, if you decide to use public transportation, Helsinki has a great system of buses, trams, and ferry services to help you get to where you need to go. The tourism board does a great job specifying all your options for traveling throughout Helsinki.
Now, probably the most important transit is the ferry to Suomenlinna, which is, in my opinion, the main reason to come to Helsinki.
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Best Things to Do in Helsinki in a Day
Below, I’ve listed all of the best things to do in Helsinki in a day. Well. The best things in my humble opinion!
As I’ve said, Helsinki is a wonderful city to just exist by strolling along the water and taking in the people. You don’t need to rush … well, anywhere. So my things to do in Helsinki in a day reflect that overall sense of relaxation.
Of course, fellow travelers, feel free to leave some of your own fabulous Helsinki suggestions in the comments! The more, the merrier.
1. Spend Half a Day in Suomenlinna Island
Sea Fortress Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a fantastic place to sunbath on a gorgeous Finnish summer morning.
I’d recommend going to Suomenlinna after dropping your luggage off at your accommodation. This way you have plenty of time to spare enjoying the island after you see the fortress itself.
Suomenlinna was built way in the mid-18th century when Finland was still part of Sweden. So, as you walk to Suomenlinna, you feel as if you’re strolling back in time to protect the islands against incoming enemies.
Now time for a controversial opinion: I’d only recommend taking the ferry out to Suomenlinna on a sunny day. I honestly don’t think there’d be much to do in the middle of a rain storm.
If you don’t want to go alone, Viator offers Suomenlinna tours around this historic Helsinki fort. A guided tour will help maximize your time and ensure you see all of the sites.
2. Eat a Seafood Lunch at Helsinki’s Market Square
The Market Square near the water is open year round. Although crowded with tourists, this area provides great options for a quick lunch.
Personally, I loved exploring the various stalls and gorging on seafood. Fresh fish are brought in every day for you to enjoy. And eating near the water is always soothing.
Furthermore, the main market hall, also known as Kauppahalli, is absolutely stunning and has been in operation since 1889. Impressive, huh?
If you don’t want seafood, then go to Kauppahalli to sample other delicious bits from bakeries and delis. All tastebuds can find a delicious meal here.
Not hungry? No problem! You still might want to check out the Market Square to buy souvenirs from your one day in Helsinki.
3. Learn History at the National Museum of Finland
I’m very passionate about museums, because I love learning about travel destinations. The history, people, culture. I want to devour as much information as I possibly can.
Therefore, my next recommendation for 24 hours in Helsinki is going to the National Museum of Finland.
You’ll have plenty to see in the museum’s 138,000 objects in the historical collections. As a big museum lover, I could’ve gotten lost for a few hours if I really had wanted to!
The National Museum of Finland is open every day in the summer (closed on Mondays in winter). If you’re in Helsinki on Friday, take advantage of the free admission between 4 – 6 pm. A great way to save a bit of cash in this otherwise expensive city!
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4. Be in Awe at Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church)
Honestly, I think another fantastic reason to spend a day in Helsinki is to take pictures of all the spectacular churches. I’m not kidding. Helsinki has some of the most unique churches in all of Europe!
The first church is called Temppeliaukio Church. It’s also known as Rock Church. And it’s easy to see how this place of worship got its name!
This Lutheran church is built directly into solid rock. The unique architecture has made Rock Church one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions.
So sit in the pews and take some time to reflect after a busy day exploring Helsinki. You won’t regret it.
You can find Temppeliaukio Church in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki. This area is also home to the National Museum of Finland and Houses of Parliament.
5. Hang Out on the Stairs of Helsinki Cathedral
As you know, I loved simply hanging out on the steps outside of Helsinki Cathedral.
I think anyone researching a trip to Helsinki would already be familiar with the great white church that dominates the entire northern side of Senate Square. Helsinki Cathedral is one of the iconic structures in this city.
The main church was completed in 1852, which is actually pretty recent by European standards. It is free to go inside the Cathedral.
Furthermore, Helsinki Cathedral is open every day throughout June, July, and August. However, the cathedral is closed during services. Check the schedule ahead of time to avoid disappointment. This is especially relevant if you’re visiting Helsinki on Sunday.
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6. See Eastern Orthodox Splendors at Uspenski Cathedral
Finally, you don’t want to miss seeing Uspenski Cathedral, which I think is one of the most beautiful things to do in Helsinki in a day.
Upsenski is an obvious example of Russia’s impact on Finnish history and architecture. Go inside and see ornate golden decorations inside. And don’t miss the ceiling. Take plenty of photographs, but remember this is an active place of worship so show respect as a tourist.
Oh, and don’t forget that Uspenski Cathedral is also nicely situated on top of a hill, providing lovely views of Helsinki, so take advantage of this area on a sunny day. I could’ve seriously chilled out here for hours upon hours, haha.
One Day in Helsinki & Accommodation
In Helsinki, you have plenty of great options for accommodation.
Although I normally stay in hostels, at the time of my trip, I was unable to find any fun and social hostels that suited my travel needs. So I chose to stay in a cool hotel: Hotel Katajanokka.
Hotel Katajanokka is one of the best value hotels in all of Helsinki. So the price is manageable even if you’re on a budget.
But what’s super cool about it is that the building used to be an old jail. I love hotels packed with history such as this one.
And because I’m super morbid, I wondered about which prisoners inhabited my room in the past. Don’t worry, though! I didn’t see any ghosts before falling asleep in my bed, haha.
Ultimately, though, the most important thing about your hotel is that you want to have easy access to the harbor or train station. With just one day in Helsinki, you don’t have too much time to waste in transit. Be smart about your location.
I hope you enjoyed reading all about one day in Helsinki! Have you ever visited the Finnish capital? What are your favorite things to see and do?