What to Do in Helsinki for the Perfect 24 Hours
If you ever get an opportunity to visit Helsinki, even just for a day, you should take it by all means. How to explore Helsinki in one day is what this post is all about to help you maximize your time in the city and have an interesting, unforgettable day filled with culture, sightseeing, and entertainment.
Helsinki, known as “Daughter of the Baltic,” is the capital and largest city of Finland. The beautiful city has an eye for design and is located on the shores of the Gulf of Finland and is a vibrant city of islands, large parks, notable architecture, and unique Nordic design. It is well-known to be a multicultural city with a lot to offer for sightseeing and things to do.
How to Get to Helsinki
Before we get into the One Day in Helsinki itinerary, let’s quickly cover the ways to get to Helsinki.
The most popular ways to travel to Helsinki is via ferries from Sweden, Estonia, or Russia, or to fly to Helsinki via FinnAir or other airlines.
By Airplane: Helsinki International airport will welcome you and right away inspire you with its unique style of architecture and its minimalist design.
To get into the city center, transportation is available by Uber, taxi, or train. I highly recommend the train option as you can buy the affordable ticket you need right from the airport before making your way to the ground floor.
- A regional day ticket costs 12 euros per day and it entitles you to unlimited travel in Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo, and Kauniainen.
- A Vantaa internal day ticket costs 8 euros per day and it entitles you to unlimited travel within Vantaa.
Also, this ticket is not only valid for the train, but it is valid for all public transportation – trams, buses, and even ferries.
A private taxi is available to take you to your destination but it is expensive (50-60 euros) for a 30 minute-ride. Uber is also operating in Helsinki airport (some drivers call it Vantaa airport).
By Ferry: If you entered Helsinki via ferry, then go straight to the train station to buy the day pass to make your trip efficient and affordable.
Another Fun Way to Get Around: Bikes! If you happen to visit within the bike season (closed during winter but opens in April), look for bike rentals that you can get for just 5 euros/day (or) 10 euros/week.
Your hotel in Helsinki might even offer bicycles that you can use free of charge during your stay.
Best Helsinki Local Transportation
The city is walkable and very easy to navigate, and I’ve heard that it takes only 40 minutes to get from one end of the city to another end.
However, when the weather does not cooperate, or you just don’t feel like walking, you can take the public transportation using the same pass you bought in airport or train station.
Trams go all over the city and you can also access regional trains and ferries.
As previously mentioned, you can also look for bicycle rental options at the hotel, or find one of the yellow-bike rentals in the city; there, you can get to more places on dedicated bike lanes.
Best Time to Visit Helsinki
Summer (June, July and August) is a prime time to visit Helsinki, when the outdoor activities come to life and the late sunsets make the evenings most enjoyable. July is the hottest month in Helsinki with an average temperature of 62°F (17°C) and the coldest is February at 22°F (-6°C).
However, the wettest month is August with an average of 90mm of rain. The best month to swim in the sea is also in August when the average sea temperature is 55°F (13°C).
One Day in Helsinki Itinerary
Now for my recommended way to spend one day in Helsinki.
Breakfast at Cafe Regatta
Start your day in the most famous Café Regatta, a cozy coffee place that overlooks the Baltic sea and beaches. Not sure what to order? It’s hard to go wrong with a coffee and a traditional cinnamon bun.
- Address: Merikannontie 10, Helsinki 00260, Finland
- Phone: +358 40 0760049
- Hours: Sun – Sat 8:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Skywheel is the Ferris wheel and the highest observation center in Finland. It is over 130 feet tall and provides a beautiful 360-degree view over the city’s skyline. If you buy a VIP gondola, you can also enjoy champagne in the air. One thing we have noticed is that the windows have a blue tint so the pictures you take in the air might be a bit blue in color.
- Address: Katajanokanlaituri 2, Helsinki 00160, Finland
- Phone: +358 40 4804604
- Tickets: Adults: 13 EUR; Children (3-11 years): 9,50 EUR; Toddlers (0-2 years): Free
- Hours: Sun: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Mon – Fri: 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.; Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
Helsinki Cathedral is the most popular attraction of the city and is located in the Senate Square area. This is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki, located in the neighborhood of Kruununhaka in the centre of Helsinki, Finland.
The church was originally built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It was also known as St Nicholas’ Church until the independence of Finland in 1917. It is a major landmark of the city and dominates Senate Square with its beautiful white minimalist design.
More than 350,000 people visit the church each year, some to attend religious events, but most as tourists. The church is in regular use for services of worship and special events such as weddings.
On a side note, if there are people with you who have trouble climbing too many stairs, take the sidewalk to the left of the front of the cathedral and you will find a ramp to the side and a few steps only.
When we were there in May of 2019, we were lucky that the area of the church and the senate square was completely filled with people celebrating an annual art festival as you can see in the below picture.
We enjoyed taking photos of people dressed in many costumes, watching dancers on the stage, listening to music, and enjoying some delicious food and drinks to end the fun evening.
- Address: Unioninkatu 29, Helsinki, Finland
- Phone: +358 9 23406120
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days
Hietalahti Market Square
Hietalahti Market Square located on the eastern side of Helsinki is the most famous open-air market with fresh produce from the local farmers – fruits and vegetables, hand crafted items, and food stalls.
This is also a perfect place where you can shop for souvenirs to remember you day in Helsinki by.
We had our lunch at this market: a fresh salmon with vegetables on the side.
- Address: Lonnrotinkatu, Bulevardi, Helsinki 00180, Finland
- Phone: +358 9 31023580
The Old Market Hall
Walk a bit further from Market Square and you will find The Old Market Hall with countless wooden stalls and plenty of food, ice-cream, fresh produce, shopping center with more souvenirs, handicrafts, all kinds of meat, and many gifts made of recycled items.
One Day Tip: Salmon in The Old Market Hall is a must to try. There are at least three kinds in most places and we recommend you try all of them – roasted, lemon, cold smoked, and Rose marinated — and so fresh!
Also try the Salmon soup in a store called Story which offers the most traditional soup of Finland. Story is right in the middle of The Old Market Hall.
- Address: Etelaranta | Along the South Harbor, Helsinki 00130, Finland
Flying Cinema Tour of Helsinki
The Flying Cinema Tour of Helsinki is 30-minutes long 4D experience where you just sit in a movie theatre kind of a room with the seat belt on and you are fixed on the chair but the chair tilts, moves, and swoops along with the ride.
Flying Cinema Tour of Helsinki is highly recommended to virtually glide over the city’s landmarks all at once. This educational movie tour brings many parts of the city to life and teaches you much more about Helsinki, including its seasons, the culture, and what the city is famous for.
As the weather in the movie changes, there is water spray on your feet and cold air to give you the real feeling of flying on top of the city in winter. Th images of the Northern Lights will take your breath away.
For people with motion sickness, it’s recommended to avoid the tour.
- Address: Katajanokanlaituri 2B, Helsinki 00160, Finland
- Phone: +358 45 6981858
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the “Church in the Rock” is carved from rock and has a stunning copper dome. This church was built in 1969 and is partly underground.
This is a most unique church designed by two young architects with incredible rock formation that is best experienced with your own eyes.
- Address: Lutherinkatu 3, Helsinki 00100, Finland
- Phone: +358 9 23406320
- Hours: Sun: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Mon: – Fri 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.; Sat: 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
- Entrance Fee: 3 euro/person
The Sibelius Monument
The Sibelius Monument is located in one of the most popular parks in Helsinki. The Sibelius Monument is an abstract sculpture resembling an enormous pipe organ, and it is a monument to celebrate Finland’s most renowned composer, Jean Sibelius. A bust of Sibelius stands next to the sculpture. A miniature size of this monument is present in the UNESCO House museum in Paris.
- Address: Sibelius Park, Helsinki, Finland
The above eight attractions should be good enough for a day’s tour to Helsinki followed by an evening of relaxing by the sea, or enjoying a Finnish meal in one of Helsinki’s many restaurants.
If you have extra time at hand or want to go back to Helsinki, there are many other notable attractions to see, including:
- Sea Fortress Suomenlinna (one of the biggest sea fortresses in the World)
- The Suomenlinna Unesco World Heritage Site
- Helsinki Zoo (oldest in the world; opened in 1889)
- Nuuksio Reindeer Park where you can feed the Reindeers
- Linnanmaki Amusement Park (water rides and roller coasters that are especially fun for kids)
- Take a swim in Allas Sea Pool (in warm and cold waters right on Baltic Sea)
- Spend some time in a Sauna, a popular Finnish pastime.
- Visit the real prison that operated until 2002; you can even sleep in the cells for a bizarre accommodation experience
- Many museums of Helsinki of contemporary art
- Have a drink at Torni Hotel, which offers lovely views (though is pricey) – make sure to visit before sunset for beautiful views of the city from the top floor
- And finally…If you have a time during the night, go to a nearest pub and have Finnish beers and enjoy talking to the locals and have an unforgettable experience of the city’s night life.
Tours and Cards for a Hassle-Free Day in Helsinki
Helsinki hop-on hop-off bus tour starts at Senate Square, but you can board at any of the 18 stops between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. You might want to take a seat on the bus’s open-air top deck if the weather cooperates.
Another neat option is to take a private tour of the city with a local at an affordable price per person, where you can customize what you want to see on the tour during a pre-tour chat with your guide.
Another option to save money and make your day more hassle-free is by getting the Helsinki Card. This lets you skip ticket lines and includes public transportation, admission to some of the city’s top sites, and other city discounts, including ones at restaurants and shops.
What to Pack for Helsinki
For a summer visit, layering is smart due to the cool evenings that Helsinki often has. Other things you should pack include:
- Waterproof shoes
- Lightweight backpack
- Scarf (good to have for visiting churches since you can tie it around your shoulders, which often must be covered in European churches)
- A blazer or a dress for women and a blazer for men for a more formal presence, good to have on hand if you dine in a more upscale restaurant.
For a winter visit, much of the above list applies, but you’ll also likely want to bring a heavier jacket, waterproof boots instead of shoes, and other winter gear (gloves, beanie, sweaters, thermals, etc.) to protect you from the windy cold weather.
Where to Stay in Helsinki
For a limited time stay in Helsinki, you’ll want to lodge as close as possible to the city center.
Below are some options I’ve curated for you, which are rated ‘Awesome’ in Booking.com and have wonderful reviews by its guests.
- Apartment @ 5 Narinkka C8, Kamppi, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
- 2ndhomes Deluxe Kamppi Center Apartment @ 3 Urho Kekkosen katu, Kamppi, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
- Marski by Scandic @ Mannerheimintie 10, Kamppi, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
- Hotel St. George Helsinki @ Yrjönkatu 13, Kamppi, 00120 Helsinki, Finland
- Apartment Hotel Aallonkoti @ Alvar Aallon katu 3 B, Kluuvi, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
15 Interesting Facts about Helsinki and Finland
Before we finish up, here are 15 more fun and interesting facts about Helsinki and Finland you may be interested in knowing before your trip.
- Finland revolutionized their education system and is routinely ranked as one of the best education systems in the World
- The World Economic Forum has ranked Finland second in its annual gender gap report
- Economist rated Finland as the third best country to be a working mom
- Helsinki has a population of around 650,000 with 53% women
- Life expectancy for men is 75 years and women is 82 years
- 79% speak in their mother tongue ‘Finnish’, the language is known to be complicated. Most of the locals in Helsinki also speak fluent English.
- Four words of Finnish a tourist may want to know are:
- Moi = Hi
- Moi Moi = Bye
- Kiitos = Thank You
- Anteeksi = Sorry
- Helsinki was declared as the World Design Capital for 2012
- Helsinki hosted 1952 Summer Olympics and also became the first city to host World Championships in Athletics and other contests
- The city is routinely ranked as the most liveable city in the world
- The archipelago of Helsinki consists of around 330 islands. To get away from the modern world, all it takes is a short ferry trip to wander into nature
- The city claims 3.5 million saunas i.e. one sauna for every 1.6 people
- Helsinkians love to eat fish (the city is on the water) and have coffee with cakes (one of the top coffee consumers in the World)
- Helsinkians are environmentally conscious and disciplined to carry recycled bags for shopping. Plastic and paper bags are not free when checking out while shopping and must to be purchased.
- Helsinkians are known to be reserved, generally speak less, maintain long pauses to ensure they do not interrupt anyone and prefer personal space
About the Author: Simi is a science graduate and a passionate lifestyle blogger who loves to share her amazing travel destinations. You can read about her travel adventures on her blog, A Lovely Place to Land, and also follow her on Facebook or Pinterest.
Note: All opening hours, prices, and info was believed to be correct at the time of writing, but is subject to change. Double check all attraction info before leaving for your trip.