Helsinki, the stoic and rather bashful capital of Finland often gets overlooked in favor of other Nordic capitals. In recent years, however, this beautiful city has had a growing stream of visitors. Helsinki has a lot to offer with its avant-garde design, eclectic architecture, outdoor cafes, pristine parks, and youthful buzz. It is a very compact city meaning that if you have one day in Helsinki you can still see all the essential sights. Here are our recommendations on how to make most of your 24 hours in Helsinki and the best things to do.
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Table of Contents
How to Get Around Helsinki
In order to make most of your one day in Helsinki, you should make use of Helsinki’s efficient public transportation system. A single journey ticket for buses costs 3.20 EUR when purchased from the driver whereas a ticket purchased from the ticket machine or from the HSL app is a little cheaper. A single journey tram ticket costs 2.50 EUR when bought from a ticket machine. A day ticket costs 9 EUR and can be used for multiple journeys. You can plan your journey here.
Downtown Helsinki is ideally best explored on foot, but you can decide how to best get around depending on how it suits you.
Should you be visiting Helsinki between April-October, getting around on bicycle is also a good alternative. Biking in Helsinki can be fun and renting a bike is rather easy and cheap. You can find more information about bike rental here.
I would advise against using taxis as they are expensive, and you’ll unnecessarily run up a high bill. However, if you want to take travel with a taxi you can check out Taksi Helsinki.
Your One Day in Helsinki Itinerary
This itinerary covers most of the important sights in Helsinki. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Helsinki. We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. This itinerary includes:
- Traditional Finnish Breakfast
- Sibelius Monument
- Rock Church
- Kamppi Chapel of Silence
- Helsinki Central Station
- Senate Square
- Helsinki Cathedral
- National Library of Finland
- Esplanadi Park & Havis Amanda
- Market Square
- Lunch at the Old Market Hall
- Uspenski Cathedral
- Suomenlinna Fortress
- Katajanokka District
Traditional Finnish Breakfast
Start your one day in Helsinki sightseeing tour with a delicious breakfast at one of my favorite cafes in Helsinki. Cafe Regatta is a cute little cafe based in a traditional red wooden hut. It is by the sea in a park which gives it a very bucolic and cozy setting. The coffee is great, and you can sample traditional Finnish favorites like cinnamon buns, Karelian pie, egg butter (munavoi) and blueberry pie.
Make your way through City Park to the famous Sibelius Monument in City Park. It is an abstract work of art dedicated to Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius. It consists of 600 odd conjoined steel hollow steel pipes that are suspended in a wave like pattern in air creating a sense of flow. When the Sibelius Monument was unveiled in 1967 by artist Eila Hiltunen, it was reviled by much of the public who didn’t appreciate the artwork and also because Sibelius never composed music for organs. This is why you’ll find a bust of the composer next to the monument which was added to mollify the critics.
Helsinki’s Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko) is one of Helsinki’s must-see sights. The remarkable thing is that the church has been carved right from the granite bedrock in the center of Helsinki. The church was designed by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen for an architectural competition in 1961 and was consecrated in 1969. Similar to the Sibelius Monument, it also faced a lot of criticism, but the sceptics were soon proven wrong and it beloved by Finns.
I love how it resembles a flying saucer or a bunker from the outside with its copper dome roof. The interior looks like some sort of superhero lair and I really like how the belt of skylight windows in the dome creates a beautiful interplay of sunlight and shadow. It really distinguishes itself from traditional churches with its simplicity and unique architecture. The Rock Church is now a popular concert venue due to its superb acoustics.
Entrance to the church is 3 EUR. It is open on all days but opening hours vary, so check the website before you visit.
Mannerheimintie is Helsinki’s longest and most prominent street at 5.5 km in length. It cuts through several of the city’s neighborhoods and is home to several notable institutions and landmarks such as the Finnish Parliament Building, Finlandia Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, and the National Museum of Finland. There are also a spate of commercial enterprises, bars, and restaurants on Mannerheimintie.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
Standing right outside the busy Kamppi Center in downtown Helsinki is a remarkable oval-shaped wooden structure with a lustrous copper exterior that is a distinctive addition to the city’s landscape. This is actually the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, a Lutheran church built in minimalist design that typifies Nordic architecture. This place is open to visitors from all backgrounds and faiths as a place to reflect in the midst of the vibrant city center. Pop in the chapel and experience the sense of tranquility in the main hall.
The best thing is the entrance is free and the opening hours are Mon – Fri: 08:00 – 20:00, Sat-Sun: 10:00 – 18:00.
Helsinki Central Station
Quickly pop over to the Helsinki Central Station which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. It is a prime example of the National Romantic style of Finnish Art Nouveau architecture and was designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. The Helsinki Central Station serves as a hub for Finnish transport and is the most visited building in the nation. The building’s main features are its clock tower and the four stone men statues holding globular lamps. The statues are so iconic that the Finnish railway company uses them as mascots and they have even featured in rap-song advertisements.
Aleksanterinkatu is Helsinki’s chief commercial hub that also happens to be the oldest street in the city. It is also home to several notable civic institutions, landmarks as well as a slew of eateries and bars. Aleksanterinkatu is always busy with locals and tourists as the come here to do their shopping and for the vibrant vibe. You can pick up a couple of local souvenirs like a puukko knife or a Marimekko bag if you fancy!
The Senate Square is one of the top places for Helsinki sightseeing. This sprawling square is the nerve center of politics, religion and science in Helsinki. It was magnificently carved up by the famous German architect Carl Ludvig Engel in the 19th century and many of the surrounding establishments reflect his favored Neoclassical design. A large statue of Emperor Alexander II is situated in the middle of the square, symbolizing Russian reign over Finland at the time.
The chalk-white Helsinki Cathedral is probably the city’s most recognizable landmark. It is another hallmark of Neoclassical architecture with its impressive Corinthian pillars. The amazing facade features zinc statues of the Twelve Apostles who serve as sentries. The interior of the church is very austere however and pales in comparison to its brilliant exterior. The church reaches a height of 80 meters casting a big shadow over the Senate Square. The steep steps leading up to the cathedral provide a great spot for pictures.
National Library of Finland
The National Library of Finland is one of Helsinki’s overlooked attractions but it’s a must-see in my opinion. The reason for that being that its interior is home to the best collections of frescoes and murals in Helsinki. The interior also has traces of Art Nouveau and you can admire the vaulted ceilings and marble columns. The National Library is also home to the largest collection of books in Finland and serves to preserve Finnish culture and heritage. Entrance is free so it’s fantastic if you’re on a budget. You can check opening hours here.
Esplanadi Park & Havis Amanda
Visit the fabulous Esplanadi Park to take a breather and stroll through its verdant lawns and admire its historic statues. Esplanadi is the most well-known park in Helsinki located in the downtown area that is surrounded by two boulevards. The park is a popular meeting point among Helsinki locals and a great space for tourists to unwind and watch the world go by when visiting attractions that lie in the vicinity.
At the eastern end of Esplanadi Park lies Havis Amanda, Helsinki’s most famous statue and an icon of the city. It is basically a statue of a naked mermaid rising from the water, with four fish spouting water at her feet. The statue is the focal point of the annual May Day celebrations in Helsinki.
Market SquareHelsinki’s main Market Square (Kauppatori) lies just beside the Havis Amanda in a public square right next to the harbor. You can purchase fresh food, such as traditional meat pastries, treats and other Finnish delicacies in this bustling marketplace. It’s also a great place to sample some of Finland’s delicious berries and wild mushrooms, and to see colorful flowers. You can also shop for handicrafts and other items here.
Lunch at the Old Market Hall
All this sightseeing must have made you hungry. The Old Market Hall which is just 2 minutes from the Market Square is a fantastic spot to grab lunch. There is a wide range of food on offer here such as tasty seafood dishes, game meat, vegetarian options, and several ethnic delicacies. The Old Market Hall is also a popular spot among Helsinki locals who come to buy fresh produce such as bakery products, cheese, gourmet meats, and spices. If you’re looking for interesting Finnish souvenirs, you can get some here in the form of reindeer jerky, elk and bear meat.
The Old Market Hall is open Mon – Sat: 08:00 – 18:00.
The splendid Uspenski Cathedral lies atop a grassy mound close to the Market Square. It is a Russian Orthodox Church that is supposedly the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. The church was built over a period of 6 years, commencing in 1862 and consists of bricks from the Bomarsund Fortress in the Åland Islands that was razed in the Crimean War. I love how the cathedral’s bulbous golden domes contrast with its red-brick facade. The interior is ornately decorated and has vivid murals making it the total antithesis of the interiors of other churches in Helsinki. Photography is prohibited inside so you better check it out yourself!
Entrance to the cathedral is free. The cathedral is closed during ceremonies and on Mondays. Opening hours are Tue – Fri: 09:30 – 16:00, Sat: 10:00 – 15:00, Sun: 12:00 – 15:00.
Being a history buff, historical forts pique my interest and the Suomenlinna Fortress is no exception to the rule. Suomenlinna is probably my favorite sight in Helsinki and visiting it is one of the best things to do in Helsinki if you’re in the city. This sea fortress was constructed in the middle of the 18th century and was the most extensive building project during Swedish rule. Due to its military design and architecture the fortress evoked comparisons with the maritime fort of Gibraltar and earned the sobriquet ‘Gibraltar of the North’.
The fortress is remarkably well preserved and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. There are plenty of museums, parks, and cafes here that make a visit to Suomenlinna an unforgettable experience. Explore the cobbled streets that surround the fortress and don’t forget to investigate the canons that guard the perimeter of the fortress.
Suomenlinna is only a 20-minute ride from the Market Square. The fortress is open throughout the year and is free to visit but the various museums there charge an admission fee.
Helsinki is actually home to the largest collection of Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil) buildings in Europe after Riga, with around 600 odd buildings. The peninsular district of Katajanokka is probably the best testament to this aspect of Helsinki and the rich designs of National Romanticism manifest themselves through the pastel colored buildings here.
I am a great lover of Art Nouveau architecture and Helsinki’s rich collection of buildings in that style is what I love most about the city. You can marvel at the intricate details and picturesque motifs on the windows and arches of these buildings. The best examples of this type of architecture is seen on the streets of Luotsikatu, Kauppiaankatu, and Vyökatu. Tourists seldom come here making Katajanokka even more appealing to visit.
You deserve a great dinner to cap off your 24 hours in Helsinki. If you’re in the mood for some traditional Finnish food I recommend Viking Restaurant Harald where you can try some Lappish food like reindeer and elk. Kolme Kruunua which is another great option. If you want to try something different, Korea House is an excellent choice.
Extending Your Stay
Ideally, I would recommend that you spend 2-3 days in Helsinki. There are many beautiful sights which we had to exclude from our one-day tour, such as the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, the trendy Kallio district, and some of Helsinki’s museums. You could even take a day trip to Tallinn or visit some cities in Finland like Tampere and Turku🙂. And while we’re on the subject of staying, check out our recommendations for the best hostels & hotels in Helsinki.
You May Also Like→ Full of energy? Explore Helsinki on this self-guided walking tour!
→ Got some more time? Check out our guide to spending a perfect weekend in Helsinki instead!
→ Thinking about taking a day trip? Check out our guide to the best day trips from Helsinki.
→ Take the ferry across the Baltic Sea and visit Tallinn, Estonia.
→ Enjoy Finnish Lakeland on a day trip to Tampere.
→ Take a day trip to Turku, Finland’s old capital.
Now, what do you think? How would you spend one day in Helsinki? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!