Oh the joys of travelling – exploring narrow alleyways for hours on end, stopping for a cup of coffee or two at the local coffee shop, browsing through the local markets, partying all night, rising early to catch that beautiful sunrise you’ve been dying to see. These are all incredible experiences, but let’s be honest – not everybody has the time to explore a place for weeks. Sometimes we just need to make the most of the time we have.
In the second part of our new series we want to present a city which has grown immensely on us over the years, Helsinki! Helsinki may leave you utterly unimpressed if you arrive here from one of her Scandinavian sisters, such as Stockholm or Copenhagen, but in the simplicity lies her charm. Helsinki is real, pretty or not. And if you dig deep you will find that the city has plenty to explore for one day!
Helsinki in One Day – Why & How?
There are a couple of reasons for why you might have just one day in Helsinki. Most likely you are taking a day-cruise from Stockholm. Or perhaps you are heading to Rovaniemi or one of the many Finnish national parks and are just planning to spend a few hours in the capital.
Helsinki is a relatively small capital city by European standards, so it may feel more compact to you than you’d expect. But that just makes it even more perfect to explore in a day and also a perfect city to explore on foot. Mihir and I hope you’ll embrace the Finnish stoicism as much as we have and enjoy yourself in your 12 hours in Helsinki!
And should you wish to expand your stay a little, why not take a look at our Top 10 Things to See & Do in Helsinki? 🙂
Hit the ground running
If there is one thing which really bugs me about Finland, it’s how cafes just don’t seem to open before 9am and how incredibly difficult it is to get my morning fix of coffee. Because of that I’d recommend that you start your day in Kamppi Keskus if you’re dying for caffeine. There are a couple of coffee shops open in the morning, but it’s a rather busy place, so maybe take your coffee to go!
All about Finland – History and Nature
From Kamppi we recommend that you make your way to Helsinki Market Square. From there you will take a beautiful ferry ride to your main destination of the day – Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna is the biggest sea fortress in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage. It is an important symbol of Finnish history, as it was constructed by the Swedish administration before it was taken over by the Russian rulers. Only after independence was the military base converted into what it is today – a place of recreation for both locals and tourists alike.
We suggest that you join one of the many tours which are offered throughout the day and later take the time to explore further by yourself. Make sure to sit by the shore and dip your toes into the cold waters of the Baltic Sea as you watch the ships go by.
There are also a couple of cute cafes on the island for you to sit down and take a break in 🙂
If you decided against a picnic on the island, you’re probably hungry by now. In our opinion the district of Punavuori is just the best place for that. Littered with cafes, bars and of course restaurants, you will be sure to find what you like. And if you can’t make up your mind, why not go for a Sushi-Burrito? Yep, that’s a thing here.
After your lunch you should stick around for a little while and take in all the beautiful architecture. Helsinki as a whole can look a little sad in terms of old-world charm, but Punavuori is one of those districts which will steal your heart. And while you’re admiring the architecture, why not pop into any of the small shops the area is known for? Maybe pick up yourself a piece of Finnish design? If you don’t quite know what to bring back from Finland, we have some suggestions here.
After enjoying a long (and hopefully sunny) morning on Suomenlinna and lunching in Punavuori’s hip restaurants, you still have enough time left to see all the major attractions. Make your way back towards Kamppi via the famous Temppeliaukio Church. It’s a very simplistic church blast out of rock and my favourite thing to show visitors in Helsinki.
Just beyond Kamppi you will pass a stellar example of Nordic Classicism, the Finnish Parliament Building. Just next to it you will find the National Museum of Finland, in case you want to take a look. Lovers of modern architecture, however, should continue on to Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall, a functionalist master piece. You get the best view of it from the adjacent park, Töölönlahden puisto.
Head back and take a detour via the Helsinki Central Station and admire the watchmen which grace the entrance portal. It’s one of Finland’s most recognizable landmarks and also an example of the late Art Nouveau style in architecture. It was voted one of the most beautiful train stations by the BBC in 2013.
From here you make your way down the city’s main shopping street, Aleksanterinkatu, which will lead you to THE symbol of of the city: Helsinki Cathedral. The imposing structure was built between 1830 and 1852 as a symbol of wealth and power by the Russian rulers. Make sure to get a snap of yourself on the steps or just sit down and watch the world go by for a little while.
Finally enter Helsinki Market Square which you have passed through in the morning. If you haven’t picked up any souvenirs yet, this is the place to collect some last-minute fridge magnets. From the square you’ll also have a splendid view of the famous Uspenski Cathedral, a Russian-orthodox church with the typical onion domes. It’s also the location of Helsinki’s very own love lock bridge.
Make your way back via Boulevardi, Helsinki’s grandest boulevard, and maybe pick up a brand new Louis Vuitton bag? Or just indulge in a little bit of window shopping 😉
Before you get ready to leave the city, I believe you deserve one last treat. Locate the Sokos Torni Hotel and make your way to their rooftop terrace. Order a cocktail and sit back as you watch the sun go down behind the black and green rooftops of Helsinki.
Now, what do you think? Is there anything we have missed or anything that you would do differently? Which is your favourite spot in Helsinki? Share your thoughts and pictures with us. Let’s stay in touch!