Got One Day in Helsinki? Here is Your Perfect Itinerary!
Exploring Finland? Awesome – great choice! The country is a nature lover’s paradise, a northern lights “hot spot”, and the capital, Helsinki, is full of life! if you’ve got 2 days in Helsinki – then you’re going to need to find more to do! This guide is just for a one-day tripper!
There are lots of common questions about the Finnish capital like “is Helsinki walkable?” The answer is yes! Eric actually visited back in 2017 but only for a very quick day trip from Tallinn to Helsinki by ferry. Some of you might want to explore Tallinn, Estonia and travel beyond to Latvia and Lithuania. We cover these awesome countries in our general Baltic travel itinerary and we’ll cover each of these cities in their own posts very soon!
For this post, we asked our friend Nick to give us the details about what a local would do on one day in Helsinki. Nick is a Scandinavian-based visual producer who was kind enough to share his experiences after living in Helsinki for a year! His knowledge, mixed with Eric’s experiences, brings you this useful post – regardless of the season you visit. Remember, one day in Helsinki in the winter is going to look very different than what do to in Helsinki in the summer.
If you’re interested, there are actually a few one day Helsinki tours you can do. In fact, Finnair has a stopover program that includes a tour if you book a flight with them – but that’s for another day. If you’re ready to discover Helsinki – here’s the perfect day.
Tours in Helsinki
If you’re looking to add a bit of a a guided experience to your day in Helsinki, consider a tour with a local or hitting the waterways. These kinds of experiences allow you to discover the city with a local guide – and see things or places that might be hard to do/find on your own!
One Day in Helsinki
To bring you the best Helsinki knowledge we could, we’ll let our local guide walk you through from here. That said, if you are planning to stay in Helsinki for more than just one day, you’ll need a place to sleep. You can check here for accommodation in Helsinki. Without further ado, here is Nick and his recommendations for one day in Helsinki!
Start Your Day in Market Square
So… there is no better place to kick off your day than the Market Square. You’re sure to find strong coffee there. The Finns are one of, if not the, biggest coffee consumers per capita. As part of this rich coffee culture, they like their coffee strong. If you are looking for something hearty to get you started on your day of exploring, local delicacies like reindeer and potato (which is VERY good) and classics like Baltic herring are a good place to start!
From the Market Square, you can take the ferry directly to Suomenlina. Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress that has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The island is perfect for a mini-adventure through history, but the island has even more to offer. You can explore the restored Submarine Vesikko – a Second World War submarine that is now a museum – and there are lots of restaurants and cafes on the island.
Overall, the island is a great place to take photos and to get away from the city centre. If you want to learn more about opening hours and the ferry schedule, you can visit the official website for Suomenlinna.
Go For a Finnish Sauna
Afterwards, you may be tempted to try the beautifully designed Loyly Sauna near the Market Square. You could – but don’t because it is not an authentic sauna experience. For something more authentic try any one of these amazing places: Kothijarun Sauna, Sauna Hermanni, or Sompasauna.
If getting naked and being whacked on the back with frozen birch leaves isn’t your thing, there’s always the stunning Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. You can check out their website here.
Enjoy a Finnish Lunch
There are so many great food places to enjoy a nice lunch in Helsinki. Whatever your style of cuisine, you’ll find it here. Of course, lunch can be had in any of these places. Nick suggests you go to either Fafa’s or Sandro.
Fafa’s is a Middle Eastern inspired fast food place that prides itself on high quality and fresh ingredients. Their portions are large and reasonably priced – making Fafa’s a great place for a quick Helsinki lunch stop. You can check out their website here.
Sandro is another place for a good, clean lunch. Specializing in fresh veggie salads and meat/fish portions for a fixed price (including coffee and tea), Sandro will leave you full and ready to explore more of the city. You can also do brunch there – but be sure to book a table! To learn more, visit the Sandro website.
Indulge in a Sweet Afternoon Treat
Next, I really really really recommend you make a pilgrimage to Cafe Regatta for a coffee and cinnamon bun. If you’re there in the fall or winter you can get a sausage to roast over the open fire. You can check out their website to see their location and to look at the delicious photos they have!
If Regatta is too far for you to get to, you can also check out the famous Fazer Cafe downtown. Known for its pristine cakes and beverages, Fazer is a classic stop that is sure to wow you when you enter. Just wait until you try the desserts!
Afternoon Activity – In Summer and Winter
Depending on the season (and your energy level after eating all those goodies), you’ll have a few things that you can do in the afternoon. Here they are below:
Go to Hietaranta Beach
If you’re there in the summer, make your way down to Hietaranta Beach. This popular summer location was created accidentally back in the late 1920s. The sand that was dumped there for other reasons started to be used by the locals as an area for relaxing – and the trend was born! It’s a popular spot for beach volleyball and other beach activities.
Explore Downtown or the Cathedrals
Go shopping along Aleksanterinkatu for all the big stores and a few smaller shops that are sure to catch your eye. In the winter, the lights strung across make for a beautiful photo when the trams scoot by and the snow is falling.
To visit the classic centre of the city, head for Helsinki cathedral. It is located in Senate Square and you can go inside for free if there is no service going on. The real gem of the experience is climbing the steps to the base of the of the Cathedral and taking in the city and the harbour from the Cathedral. Fun pop culture fact: Helsinki Cathedral is the iconic structure used in the music video for the popular club song “Sandstorm” by Darude. He’s a Finnish DJ if you didn’t know! You can visit the website for more information.
Address: Unioninkatu 29
There is also Uspenski Cathedral which isn’t too far away. It’s a Russian/Finnish Orthodox church that is beautifully decorated inside and out. If you want to check it out, it’s worth the walk over. Here is the website for opening times and ceremony hours.
Address: Kanavakatu 1
Have an Authentic Dinner
After a low key afternoon of walking and exploring or laying on the beach, you’ll need a nice dinner. For that, there are a few must tries for you to check out. One of which is Olo. Olo is known for its Scandinavian flare. Rated as one of the best restaurants in Finland and around the world, Olo rarely disappoints. It is a little pricier, but the quality and the experience there is close to perfection. Check out their website to read their menu and to book a table.
Address: Pohjoisesplanadi 5
The other place you might want to check out is Troikka. While it’s a little bit less expensive that Olo, their menu options are made to impress. The style is more Russian food than Finnish so if that’s what you are looking for then Troikka might be for you! If you want to check it out, here is the website for Troikka.
Grab Evening Drinks
After dinner, you’ve got a few options for an evening drink. Whether you want to go somewhere relaxing or dance the night away is up to you! For a casual drink and an amazing view, go to the top of the Torni Hotel. Nick says that this is the best little-known view of the city.
If hitting the dance floor is more your style, then head to the top of Kampii Mall for something more clubby. If you want something more “underground” but still in the Helsinki club scene, then hit up Kaiku. You can find the Kaiku website here.