One perfect day full of adventures in Helsinki. “Daughter of the Baltic”, the Finnish capital is located on the tip of a peninsula. Blending digitization and an environmentally-conscious approach, the city is being recognized on a global stage for its sustainable smart city initiatives and is known for its living standards being among the highest in the world.
Being a functional city, is a path for Helsinki to create advanced everyday life. In pursuing this vision, it seeks to create the best conditions possible for urban life for its residents and for visitors. This, together with the nature that surrounds it, as well as many points of interest, make Helsinki a unique travelling destination.
Helsinki is a vital part of Finland’s economy and a diverse center of its cultural life, with restaurants, shopping malls, and historic buildings. The maritime city is a unique fusion of a modern city and an idyllic town. The tranquility of the archipelago and the silence of the forest are only a few steps away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Therefore, whatever mood might be in, Helsinki will most likely have something to offer. I especially loved that many of the things to do in Helsinki in one day are fairly concentrated together hence below I have provided the perfect Helsinki 1 day itinerary.
Best Time To Visit Helsinki
Definitively the best time to visit Finland is during the summer months of June, July and August, when the climate is warmest, the days are longest and the blossoming landscape at its prettiest, and when tourist facilities and transport services operate at full steam. The very reason we chose to visit during this time of year. Also because this was going to be a trip combined with a visit to St Petersburg, while my husband can handle Russian winters, I cannot. So, summer was the time we decided to visit…
That being said, visiting in winter may also have some perks. Helsinki in winter has an atmosphere that is a little bit different than the one in the summertime. It’s colder and darker during winter but it seems Finns don’t care about it. Everywhere that you walk, there are people running around. Helsinki doesn’t stop just because it’s a little bit chilly. Below are some of the saunas and pool recommended our Airbnb host had left us.
The Finnish are obsessed with it, and they have a good reason to be. Sauna is good for your body and mind, and sauna therapy (including infrared) was an ancient method of detoxifying and healing the body, mind, and spirit.
Combine it with a dip into cold water – you will feel more alive and fresh than ever!
There are a few public saunas in Helsinki you can visit both in summer and winter seasons.
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Löyly Helsinki – an urban oasis
Public sauna and restaurant complex in Hernesaari district on the southern tip of Helsinki. The complex includes a traditional Finnish smoke sauna, two other wood-heated saunas, a year-round terrace and a restaurant. It is possible to take a swim in the sea, also in winter.
Allas Sea Pool
Allas Sea Pool is a gardenlike oasis in the heart of Helsinki with a large pool area and magnificent saunas.
Kotiharjun Sauna is the last genuine wood-heated traditional public sauna in Helsinki and has welcomed sauna-goers since 1928. Hardy washing ladies are still on hand to scrub the living daylights out of you should you wish, and massage, cupping and manicures and pedicures are also available by booking in advance. Washing available Sat at 16-19.
Sauna Hermanni is located in the similarly named Hermanni-area in Helsinki.The sauna was established in the 1950′s. When you step into the old building – where the sauna resides – you almost feel like going to someone’s home. The guy at the reception made the place feel even more home-like with his hospitality. Everything was reminiscent of the 50′s, for me at least.
Things To See In Helsinki In A Day
The central area of Helsinki is concentrated around the bustling waterfront promenade of Kauppatori (Market Square). This is where many locals and visitors meet for lunch, buy fresh fish and vegetables and other products from various market stalls. The architectural heart of Helsinki, Senaatintori (Senate Square), is just a five-minute walk from this area. The best view of the city is offered by (naturally) it’s the tallest building, the Hotel Torni, from which it is possible to observe many of the most famous places in Helsinki. These include the Finland Hall by Alvar Aalto and Miasma, the contemporary art gallery built by Steven Holl.
You can also hop on Tram 2, get a classic overview of Helsinki on this loop from the Kauppatori, passing landmarks including Helsinki’s train station, Tennispalatsi, Karhupuisto, Hakaniemen Kauppahalli, the Design District, Kaivopuisto and Vanha Kauppahalli.
Free walking tour of Helsinki
Weather permitting, you can choose a free walking tour of the city which will help you to become more familiar with it before you go and get lost on the streets. The guided tour offers a great introduction to the history and culture through discovering Helsinki’s most important monuments and districts.
It is a great way to start your trip in the Finnish capital and it is free, although you may offer the guide the amount you consider appropriate, depending on your level of satisfaction.
For a self-guided tour, below is a detailed itinerary for a day in Helsinki:
Morning To Early Afternoon
The Port of Helsinki and the Old Market Hall
There are many places to start your self-guided tour of Helsinki, but perhaps due to its location and the way it represents the culture of this country, we recommend starting at the city’s port. From here you get a good perspective of the center and perfect views to take cool photos. Our stay was a short walk into town which made exploring easy. In winter, if you’re lucky, you will see the frozen water covered by snow.
The Old Market is located on the same port. There are stalls selling everything from typical Finnish food such as reindeer meat, salmon and fresh, smoked and dried fish, to handicrafts, furs and souvenirs. Visiting a market is a great way to discover the real Finland as it reveals what the locals eat, how much things cost, the way city smells and tastes.
Allas Sea Pool
While you’re wandering around the port, make sure to visit Allas Sea Pool, a kind of gym-spa with outdoor pools, whatever the weather. It is impressive to see how the Finns get into the icy waters even though the thermometer drops below zero degrees.
From the port, jump on a tour or ferry to Suomenlinna Island, a must in Helsinki and all of Finland. The old bastions of a Finnish fortress is a visit you cannot miss. It is a great historical complex and that is why you will have to reserve at least three hours for this one. In addition to several interesting museums, there is a dry dock, a church that also serves as a lighthouse, among other curiosities of the time when it belonged to Sweden before being invaded. Summer serves up an additional treat for the nose too, when the scent of blooming lilac perfumes the air.
What to see in Suomenlinna
Right in the middle of the island, equidistant from both landing points. No one could complain about that except when they need shelter from the rain! It’s also the place to learn about the history of the fortress in film, scale models and words and photographs on panels.
Open every summer: the submarine Vesikko, the military museum, the toy museum, the customs museum and the Ehrensvärd museum. The former two are great places to learn about Finland’s military past, especially the Winter and Continuation wars in the first half of the twentieth century.
King’s Gate (Kuninkaanportti) is the original main entrance of the fortress and it is also regarded as the symbol of Suomenlinna. Along with King’s Gate, Suomenlinna’s cannons are its most well-known symbol. Cannons from the Russian period can still be found on the sandbanks of Kustaanmiekka. The youngest adventurers particularly enjoy the tunnels, most of which are open to visitors. However, they have no lighting, so remember to pack a torch.
An Eastern Orthodox cathedral has a magnificent interior worth seeing. The red brick church stands high on a rocky outcrop beside the harbour in the eastern district of Katajanokka.
The Senate Square
Surrounded by mostly neoclassical buildings, it is the epicenter of the city. Its name comes from the Government Palace building, which is the executive office building of the Council of State that you will see on the east side of the square. The main building of the University of Helsinki, the City Museum and, of course, the Helsinki Cathedral can also be observed from the same square.
In the center of the square you will notice a statue of Emperor Alexander II. Erected in 1894, it was built to commemorate his re-establishment of the Diet of Finland in 1863 as well as his initiation of several reforms that increased Finland’s autonomy from Russia.
A white neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral, probably Finland’s most photographed building. Built in the 19th century as a tribute to the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, until the independence of Finland it was called the Church of St. Nicholas.
Chapel of Silence
Only about a 15-minute walk from the Senate Square you will reach Narinkka Square. This place located in the Kamppi district, which is famous for a unique little church. The Chapel of Silence was built a few years ago as a secular space, open to all the world’s religions. It is a very special place for what it represents as well as for the way it was constructed. Designed by the Finnish design studio K2S, it is a cylindrical wooden construction that does not go unnoticed in this bustling neighborhood of the capital. Town Hall is located in the same square, which you may visit if you have spare time.
Lunch in the city centre
Perfect for a quick lunch, offering a selection of gourmet coffees, tasty sandwiches, mouth-watering cakes, refreshing smoothies and fresh salads.
Latva is the newest member in the Juuri Restaurant family which offers top quality traditional food and service. Restaurant Latva is located in the middle of Helsinki city center. Latva offers great and round flavors with the twist of the chef Benjamin’s own style. Latva is the combination of great flavors, warm hospitality and carefully picked season’s ingredients.
Things To Do In The Evening
No visit to Helsinki is complete without a full day devoted to exploring the mazelike streets of the Design District. It is a centre of creativity in the heart of the city. This district encompasses several neighborhoods, including Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kruunuhaka, Kamppi and Ullanlinna. Not all are in the centre, so you will have to choose which ones are on the way to take advantage of your day of visits.
It will be a fantastic plan to discover the most modern side not only of the city, not only of Finland, but of the world. If you don’t happen to have too much time to walk around and want to get the most out of the time you have, we recommend the Design Museum. With Helsinki Card, you will have free admission, and if not, the ticket costs 12 euros for adults. It opens every day from 11:00 am except Monday. It closes at 6:00 p.m. except on Tuesdays, when it closes at 8:00 p.m.
Places To Grab Dinner In Helsinki At Night
Restaurant Ilves, established in 1932, is a 60-seat easygoing à la carte restaurant in the center of Helsinki. Since the 1970 opening of legendary live music venue Tavastia Club, its next door neighbour, Ilves, has become a favourite hang-out for musicians and music lovers alike.
The ever lively Juttutupa is one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki. Simplicity, human touch, live music and unpretentious food are the touchstones of Juttis. People flock to Juttis to enjoy good company and good food – often late into the evening. A lot of dishes to choose from, from various soups and salads to traditional main courses, pizzas and hamburgers.
Ravintola Kolme Kruunua
Interior from the 1950s and traditional Finnish cuisine such as meatballs, “Pyttipannu” (‘hash’) and fried Baltic herrings. Open from 4pm Monday to Friday and 2pm Saturday and Sunday.
Getting Around And Helsinki Card
If you are planning to visit all the most important monuments and popular tourist attractions, you may want to purchase the Helsinki Card which allows free access to a lot of the museums and attractions as well as journeys on public transport around Helsinki including buses, trams, metro, commuter trains and Suomenlinna ferry.
The Helsinki Card also includes Suomenlinna Island, Canal Route Cruise, National Museum of Finland, Rock Church and Hop on Hop off Bus tour.
Overall, visiting all of the above mentioned sights would cost around €110 for individual tickets, meaning that with a 1 day Helsinki Card you would save around €59 if you visit all open museums with a guided tour, including boat ride to island. Whether you will want to buy it or not will depend on how much time you want to spend in each place and the type of the traveler you are.
If you need more information to decide whether the card is the right option for you, you can find out more at Civitatis.
With a population of around 600,000 people, Helsinki is not a large capital city and the best way to get around it is to walk, especially if you’re sticking to the central sights, however, if you want to move from one place to another faster, there are various other ways you can do it. We mostly walked a lot while exploring as the weather was great during our visit.
Clean, fast, and frequent, trams are a charming way of accessing Helsinki’s main tourist areas. Without exaggerating, trams are the most important bit of public transport you’ll need in central Helsinki. Note that the stops are announced in both Finnish and Swedish, so don’t let the two names for each stop confuse you.
You can buy tickets from the driver, but single tickets cost €4 on the bus as opposed to €2.80 if you buy in advance. You can, however, buy day or longer passes from the driver for no extra charge.
The metro is fast and is a good way to avoid bad weather. Also, venturing into the metro will introduce you to the Asematunneli, a vast underground network of shopping centres, stores and passages that can keep you warm and dry for blocks.
Public transport – prices
Ticket prices are based on zones. Four new zones (A, B, C, D) were introduced in April 2019, replacing the previous system. An AB ticket will allow you to travel within Helsinki and Espoo; note however that an ABC ticket is required for travel from central Helsinki to Vantaa. A single AB ticket (adult) costs EUR 2.80 when purchased through the app or from a ticket machine, and EUR 4.00 when purchased from the bus driver.
HSL runs the trams, city trains, buses, metro and ferry to Suomenlinna Island. You can buy tickets from a ticket machine on the street, in a station, or at any R-Kioski, the Finnish convenience store.
In theory, you can hail taxis on the street, but it’s not common. Taxi stands are easy to find, though, or you can call a taxi, or try the TaksiHelsinki App. Uber and Lyft exist in Helsinki, but they’re often the same price, if not more, than a traditional taxi. Taxi drivers almost always speak passable English. (When we visited there was still a debate of whether to give Uber a licence to continue operating. Not too sure if they are still operating.)
Taxi prices are regulated by the Finnish government, and the starting fare is €5.30 at daytime, and €8.30 at nights and weekends. The standard kilometer rate is €1.39, and with more than two passengers, this rate increases to €1.67.
Like in many other cities during summer, many locals and tourists opt for the yellow city bikes to get around. Helsinki has over 235 bike stations to the south of Ring Road I and Espoo has over 100 stations in south-eastern Espoo and Leppävaara area. The easiest way to access the bikes is to register on the website but bikes can also be accessed without registration; if you use a payment card you can rent one from bike stations at Kaivopuisto, Unioninkatu or Hakaniemi Metro Station. You can use the bike for up to 30 minutes at a time without any extra charge. For tips on cycling in Helsinki click here.
Where To Stay
We had originally booked a hotel but as we were staying longer and adding St Petersburg and Tallin to our Helsinki itinerary, we opted for an Airbnb as we could leave some of our belongings while we visited St Petersburg for a couple of days. Below are some of my recommendations for where to stay in Helsinki.
On budget Stays
With excellent connections to the city-centre, airport, railway station and ferry terminals, combined with walking distance to Helsinki’s bar district Kallio, this newly renovated hostel offers a complete package of price and location.
1 Bed in a dorm from €21.63
Private room from €56.00
This island hostel is located in the Suomenlinna Fortress area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A perfect place if you want some quiet time to relax. A grocery store is directly across from Suomenlinna Hostel, while a sandy beach is 600 m away. Restaurants, cafés and historical sites are easily accessed. Sunbathing and nature walks are typical area activities.
1 Bed in a dorm from €28
Private room from €66
This 11-storey hotel is located next to the main street Mannerheimintie in central Helsinki. It offers free access to a sauna, as well as private on-site parking. Free 1 GB WiFi is included.
Price range: €59 – €160, depending on the type of room
Set in a 1900s Art Nouveau castle located in the Design District and 700 m from Helsinki city centre, this hotel features free in-room WiFi. Aleksanterin Teatteri Tram Stop is 250 m away.
Price range: €98 – €200
So, have you been to Finland before or planning your first visit?
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