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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!
Helsinki Travel Tips
In this section, I’ve broken down some of the most important travel tips for your one day in Helsinki. Let’s get started.
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.
Helsinki and Transportation
Arriving in Helsinki
You’ve a few arrival points if you’re coming to Helsinki.
As an international traveler, you might land at Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport, which is the main tourist hub for air traffic. For public transportation, you can take Trains P and I to the center of the city.
If you’re taking the ferry from Estonia, then you will arrive right in the middle of the action at Helsinki South Harbor.
Getting Around Helsinki
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.
Where to Stay in Helsinki
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.
Best Things to Do in Helsinki
Below, I’ve listed all of the best things to do in Helsinki in a day.
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. In other words, feel free to trim down on some items.
Of course, fellow travelers, feel free to leave some of your own fabulous Helsinki suggestions in the comments! The more, the merrier.
Lastly, I recommend taking a Lonely Planet Guide for Helsinki. I love Lonely Planet and think they make the best guidebooks! I always buy one.
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, plenty of guided Suomenlinna tours exist to take you around this historic Helsinki fort.
A guided tour will help maximize your time and ensure you see all of the sites.
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.
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!
Helsinki’s Incredible Cathedrals
Oh my god, Helsinki’s cathedrals are gorgeous. See at least one when spending 24 hours in Helsinki. I’ve included my three favorite cathedrals in this guide.
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.
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.
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 Itinerary
Now let’s put everything together!
After you drop your bags at your hotel, I recommend learning about Finnish history at The National Museum of Finland. It’s so important to learn as much as you can about any country you’re visiting. Like I already said, this museum is a ton of fun and worth spending an hour or two.
Afterwards, I would take a stroll to the nearby Temppeliaukio Church. You will marvel at the way this church was constructed to fit into solid rock. It’s breathtaking, actually.
If you’re obsessed with museums, then you might also want to check out the Finnish Museum of Natural History, which is also in the immediate area. You’ll see geological, zoological, and botanical specimens from all over the globe, perhaps even inspiring your next big trip!
Let’s get on the ferry! Board the ferry for a quick ride to Sea Fortress Suomenlinna. You’ll want to take your time exploring this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I personally suggest taking the Blue Route of the island to see everything the fortress has to offer visitors.
Here are some highlights of Suomenlinna:
- King’s Gate: This gate was built in 1753–54 as the entrance gateway and is one of the most iconic images of Suomenlina.
- Great Courtyard: This is the administrative center where you can see the imposing tomb of Augustin Ehrensvärd, who designed the square.
- Jetty Barracks: These pick-colored barracks make a memorable splash as you arrive onto the island.
Lastly, be respectful of the nature. The local tourism board has a great guide on sustainable travel at Sea Fortress Suomenlina.
The ferry will conveniently drop you into the South Harbor.
As you return to Helsinki, I recommend stopping for a seafood dinner in the Market Square. This market closes at 5, so make sure to correctly time your ferry ride home! If time allows, you can also shop at local shops for souvenirs, providing you with many tangible memories of your one day in Helsinki.
Then take a scenic stroll to Helsinki Cathedral and savor the views from the top of the stairs. You’ll hear street performers playing music, which will bring a smile to your face.
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?