The capital of Finland, also known as “The White City of The North”, nestles on the Gulf of Finland and overlooks more than 300 islands. Founded in 1550 under the name Helsingfors, Helsinki’s main purpose was as a trade competitor to Tallinn. It stayed a small fishing village until the 16th century when Russians took an interest in the Baltics. Finland was annexed to Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy, and in 1812 Helsinki became Finnish capital. The 20th century started a little rough with the Finnish Civil War and the Winter War with the Soviet Union, but in the 1970s Finland went through rapid urbanization and Helsinki’s population tripled. Travelers spending one day in Helsinki can enjoy the remains of history, delicious cuisine, and astonishing architecture.
GUEST POST BY ROMI R.
Best time to visit Helsinki
If the weather plays a significant part in your decision, the best time for your 24 hours in Helsinki is in the summer. From June to August, days are the longest, the attractions are open later, and the surrounding flora is in complete bloom. The fall months of September to November are visually stunning with crimson, gold and orange colors taking over the city, but the weather starts to get unpredictable.
From December to March temperatures get quite cold, but there is still plenty of activities. From the famous Finnish saunas to ice water jumping, if you dare. If you want to experience real Finland and don’t mind the cold, winter is the best time to visit, with plenty of typical Helsinki things to do.
A few facts about Helsinki
- Readers digests “dropped” 192 wallets with cash and cards around the world, with 12 in every city. Helsinki deemed to be the most honest city in the world, with its citizens returning 11 out of 12 wallets.
- Helsinki is the world’s coldest capital, with a yearly average of a whopping 0 degrees celsius.
- The water quality is so high in Helsinki that the country sells it to the rest of the world.
- There is no snow in central Helsinki because the city government heats the roads so the snow and ice melt.
Top things to do in Helsinki
There are plenty of things to do in Helsinki, but if you’re only taking a short trip and want to make the best out of your Helsinki itinerary, here’s a list of best things to do in Helsinki in a day.
Start Your Day at The Kamppi Chappel
Your first stop of the day will most likely be the Helsinki Central Station, where you’ll either arrive from the airport, or with a train. Start your day meditating at the Kamppi Chappel also known as the “Chappel of Silence.” The wooden structure stands out with its delicate simplicity. Pause for a few minutes and reflect, communicate your gratitude and step out into the world with a newfound appreciation for life and travel.
After your enlightenment, step into Mori Cafe for a delicious coffee and a healthy acai bowl! For those wanting to check-in to a hotel before beginning their 24 hours in Helsinki, check out the Hotel F6, located in the best area to stay in Helsinki – Kaartinkaupunki.
Visit the Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
Walk east from the chappel and try to pronounce your next stop’s Finnish name – Helsingin Tuomiokirkko. Before you master the pronunciation you will reach the Cathedral. If you prefer taking the tram, head to Lasipalatsi station and take the number 4 to Tove Jansson’s park. Originally built as a tribute to the Tsar Nicolas I of Russia, after the independence of Finland, the Helsinki Cathedral remained a major landmark and a site for celebrations.
Architect Carl Ludvig Enge designed both, the Cathedral and the Senate Square located in front of it. Check out the neoclassical interior, and don’t worry about the entrance fee. The entrance is free! While they were always known around the world, in 1999 the Cathedral and Senate Square gained extra international fame when they were featured in the opening sequence for Darude’s “Sandstorm” video.
Admire The Uspenski Cathedral
Since you’re on a church tour, take a short walk from the Cathedral to another famous Helsinki landmark – The Uspenski Cathedral, the main Cathedral of the Finland Orthodox Church. Designed by the Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev and built around 1868, the Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its name comes from the old word “Uspenie” meaning “Dormition” which stands for the passing of the Virgin Mary from the earthly life. There is no entry fee for the Uspenski Cathedral, and it’s definitely one of the most interesting things to see in Helsinki, so don’t miss a chance to do so.
Have Lunch And Shop at The Old Market Hall
Vanha Kauppahalli or Old Market Hall is just a short walk west from the Uspenski Cathedral. It is a must-do in Helsinki, especially if the weather is not on your side. You can warm up with a salmon soup and try the salmon sandwich on rye or some deer meat. Shop for souvenirs as you stroll through the historic building. The best thing about the experience is that it is one of the more affordable places to eat in Helsinki, so if you’re looking for top things to do in Helsinki on a budget, the Old Market Hall is a perfect cozy stop on your Helsinki itinerary.
Take A Ferry to Suomenlinna Island
You will find the ferry port in front of the Old Market, the ferries are frequent and it only takes 15 minutes to reach the Island. You can buy the ferry tickets from any Helsinki City Transportation service points or from the vending machine at Market Square. You could easily spend a whole day here, but if you’re spending one day in Helsinki, walk around the fortress just to get a taste of the history.
Suomenlinna is one of the largest sea fortresses in the world, and a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built as a protection point all the way back in the 18th century. Spend some time here, but be wary of time. The fortress is captivating with its superiority, but there’s a lot more of Helsinki to see.
Lose Yourself in The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
Once you return from Suomenlinna Island, take the number two tram from Salutorget station to Lasipalatsi and step into the interactive world of Kiasma. Architect Steven Holl built the Museum guided by light, and you can clearly see it the moment you step into the building. The name Kiasma comes from a Greek word that means “intersection of optical nerves.” The museum allows for interaction with the art, as well as the people.
Often you will see visitors interacting with each other and you might meet new artsy friends yourself. Each of the 25 galleries has a different treatment of natural light and the building is arranged with hidden curvy details. Try to find as much as you can! Tickets will cost you around 11€, but every first Friday of the month is completely free!
Check Out The Finlandia Hall
You’ll find The Finlandia Hall seven-minutes north from the Kiasma museum. Designed by Alvar Aalto the bright stylish hall hosts events, concerts, and meetings for the whole country. The building blends perfectly with the surrounding scenery and the interior is a blend of asymmetry and nature. Stop by for a coffee in the Cafe Veranda and if you have time, check out the public art gallery!
Step Down Into The Temppeliaukio Church
Walk just five minutes across from the Finlandia Hall to the Temppeliaukio Church, also known as “The Rock Church” because of its unique location, in a rock. That’s right, the Suomalainen brothers designed the Lutheran church right in the middle of a massive rock and it’s one of the most interesting places to see in Helsinki. The church bathes in the natural light combined with the excellent acoustics created by the rock surface. There are no bells at the church, but the recording of bells plays through loudspeakers. The entrance costs 3€, and you can check out the top floor for free.
Stop By The Sibelius Monument
The Sibelius Monument, dedicated to Jean Sibelius, a famous Finnish composer, won’t take much of your time but it is worth seeing. Take the bus from Kauppakorkeakoulut station, maybe write that down, and ride to Tölö Bibliotek station that is by the Sibelius Park. The wave-like monument resembling organ pipes was made by Eila Hiltunen and it’s a really cool photo opportunity. If you have time check out the Cafe Regatta down by the shore and grill your own sausage!
Have Drinks At Hotel Torni Atelje Bar Rooftop
Rooftops are always a perfect way to end a sightseeing day and this bar should be on your list of fun things to do in Helsinki. Take the 24 bus down to Erottaja station and you will find the Hotel Torni, the rooftop is the perfect sunset spot, but even if you don’t make it by sunset, it has fabulous views of Helsinki at night. Take the elevator all the way to the top floor and then take the stairs up. The bar is open all year round, but it’s best to go in the summer so you can enjoy the outdoor patio. Try the Mojito!
Have Dinner And a Try a Finnish Sauna
By now you’re going to be ready for a nice dinner, so try the Löyly restaurant that doubles as a sauna. Located at the waterfront, it’s a beautiful way to end your day in Helsinki. The place is open all year round, but make sure to reserve your table and sauna spot online. A two-hour sauna session costs 19€ and it’s totally worth it! If you have the courage, you can jump into the Baltic Sea in January, as the Finns do. Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit!
Go Out to Kallio
Once you’re relaxed from a nice dinner and a trip to the sauna, if you have the energy to go out, the local favorite is the Kallio district. You can take the tram or the subway and be there in less than 15 minutes. If you’re looking for a hotel in Kallio, a good choice is CheapSleep Helsinki an affordable hostel close to all the bars, such as the popular Bar Molotow where you can enjoy a fair priced beer or, if you want to stay out to the early morning, Kuudes Linja nightclub! If you prefer to stay in the downtown area, try Gate A21 cocktail bar, where you can enjoy the crafty cocktails till the late hours!
Where to Stay in Helsinki
Now that you’ve figured what to see in Helsinki in one day, we can help you with the hotels. If you have an early flight and want to stay close to the airport, that’s an option, but if you are trying to see the most of your Helsinki itinerary, here are a few hotels we recommend.
Merikasarminkatu 1 A, Katajanokka, 00160 Helsinki
A very interesting hotel with an even more interesting restaurant. Located on Katajanokka island, near the Uspenski Cathedral, this hotel used to be a prison. The comfortable rooms, and the new decor still play off the prison story, but with plenty of added comfort. If you’re a lover of unique stays with an amazing backstory, this is a hotel for you! Free sauna and the gym definitely do not feel like a prison, but check it out for yourself because you can say you’ve been in prison, without the uncomfortable part!
Fabianinkatu 6, Kaartinkaupunki, 00130 Helsinki
Hotel F6 is in the best area of Helsinki and you will receive comfy bathrobes and slippers as soon as you check-in. Close to the attractions, restaurants, bars and the central station, Hotel F6 is an ideal choice for travelers looking not to waste any time in Helsinki. Design lovers will love this hotel due to its unusual approach! All the shopping is in your backyard, so if you want to treat yourself, you don’t have to go far.
Cheap Sleep Helsinki
Sturenkatu 27, 00510 Helsinki
In the midst of all the nightlife, Cheap Sleep Helsinki offers the most affordable, but comfortable accommodation in Helsinki. Close to bars, nightclubs and live music combined with a shared lounge makes this hostel a favorite of the travelers looking to meet new people and party in Helsinki. Great staff, good atmosphere, and great security features. If you’re looking for a decent price, Cheap Sleep is the way to go.
Best Day Trips From Helsinki
45 minutes east of Helsinki rests The idyllic town of Porvoo. The second oldest city in Finland and a UNESCO world heritage site is also accessible by a steamboat. The river flows through the city where you can see the cute red houses painted in honor of the arrival of the Swedish king Gustav III. Cobbled streets, quaint shops, and small adorable cafes make Porvoo one of the best day trips from Helsinki. They even call it an Instagram paradise!
The medieval European historic city along the Aura river is about a two-hour drive from Helsinki. You can enjoy the tango, music, art, dance and medieval festivals in the summer and visit the Turku Castle. In the winter, you can experience the Christmas market by the main cathedral. Like Helsinki, Turku has a contemporary art museum (maybe you can compare the two) as well as a museum of art. Spend the day exploring Turku and it’s Old Town and try out one of the restaurants along the shore of the Aura river.
Overnight Cruise to Stockholm
Just like you can book a cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki, you can do so the other way around. Party all night long, wake up in a Stockholm, explore it and come back the next day. The cruise has karaoke, bars with live music and a Finnish sauna! You can check out the one day Stockholm itinerary here.
A shuttle ferry takes you to the capital of Estonia in just two hours. Explore Tallinn and check out the Alexander Nevsky Catedral, the Tallinn city wall and the Danish King’s garden, among many other sites and attractions. Get lost in the Old Town’s secret passages, over 300 are now open to the public. Sip on Estonian coffee in Maiasmokk cafe that opened its doors in 1864!
Extra tips for visiting Helsinki
- Buy a daily ticket for 8€ – you can buy one at the airport. It’s valid for your trip to the city center as well as trams, buses, metro, and the public ferry.
- Rent a bike for 5€ a day– you can find yellow bikes all over the city, although some hotels will supply you with bikes as well!
- Visit Helsinki at the end of August – you will get to be a part of the Helsinki Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in Finland.
- The Helsinki Card – The Helsinki card covers all your public transport costs and you can enter a lot of sites for free. You can buy a 1,2 or 3-day card and it is an investment you will see a return on!
Logistical Tips and Tricks
Organize your trip in five easy steps!
BOOK A FLIGHT!
Obviously, if you’re going on a trip somewhere far a way, you’ll need to book a flight. There is absolutely no need to worry about this, though, because with Skyscanner, you will be able to find a cheap flight anywhere in the world. And their website is extremely easy to use, so you will have your seat on a plane in no time at all!
BOOK A ROOM!
To easily find the best possible room in the city you’re visiting, just head to Booking.com. They have quite literally thousands of options, a reliable rating system and will always get you a great deal. On top of that, you can learn a lot from the comments people leave there, too. No matter if you’re looking for an apartment or an elite hotel, you’ll find what you need here.
GET A CAR!
If you want the ultimate sense of freedom while on your trip, a car is a must. Fortunately, there is a simple way to get one – just visit Booking’s Rentalcars and they’ll have your vehicle ready in a jiffy. Now you’ll be able to explore the new city thoroughly and, who knows, maybe even make a trip outside it.
INSURE YOURSELF FOR PEACE OF MIND!
Accidents, mishaps and other troubles happen to everyone. The key is to be prepared. That’s why getting a travel insurance is such a great idea: it can help you deal with any health issues, theft and even cancelled flights. World Nomads know full well about the problems that can arise on a trip because they are passionate travelers themselves. That’s why they can offer you the very best deals.
FIND SOMEONE TO HELP YOU GET AROUND!
Want to have some company as soon as you land? Through Welcomepickups.com, you can find a local to meet you at the airport and help you find your way around the new city. They can also set things up for you, give you some useful tips and be helpful in general. The whole project is a great idea and very well executed, so do go and see how these people can make your trip a more pleasant one.