Make the most of one day in Helsinki with our itinerary for 24 hours in Finland’s cool capital. We have one itinerary that covers the classic tourist attractions. And another itinerary based on tips from Helsinki locals. Moomins and saunas await. Each within a single day.
As local Antti puts it, “Helsinki doesn’t just show you its secrets. You have to work a bit to get to know it, but that’s very rewarding.”
Yes! Well, not entirely, obviously. But you can have a great day and see plenty of the city. Finland’s icy capital rewards visitors with a compact centre and hot design. Snack on cloudberries and lingonberry cocktails in chrome bars, nourish your mind with modern museums, then strip off to join the locals in a traditional sauna. All possible in Helsinki in one day.
This 24 hour itinerary includes classic Helsinki attractions as well as a few unusual spots. I’ve divided suggestions into three blocks: morning, afternoon and evening.
That way, you can easily slice and dice it depending on what time you arrive in the city. The recommended activities and places to eat flow within the itinerary. At the end, I’ve suggested some other places which don’t fit quite as neatly into this one day in Helsinki plan. If you have more time (or really want to miss one thing for another) then swap around as you prefer.
Also, as an exciting bonus, we have a one day in Helsinki itinerary for you curated wholly by locals via the ever excellent Spotted by Locals team.
However you want to see the city, we have you covered!
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Button up against the cold and stride out to see Helsinki’s classic landmarks. Luckily, they’re clustered close together and walkable with the right footwear.
Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Helsinki has the glacial Helsinki Cathedral. It’s served as the city’s landmark since its completion in 1852 and the Senate Square gives the building space to breathe (and visitors space to selfie.)
Warm up with cosy cafes in the narrow streets of Torikorttelit, Helsinki’s historical centre. Take your fill of design shops here (you may not be able to explore the Design District fully with only one day in Helsinki as it’s a little further away.)
Walk on to…
In contrast to the white and aquamarine of Helsinki Cathedral, Uspenski roars in blood red and deep green. It’s one of the largest Orthodox Churches in Western Europe and home to many icons and paintings.
Optional: if you decide the afternoon plan is not for you, then walk from Uspenski Cathedral to Market Square to hop on a sightseeing cruise. This may work better as a summer option, however…
Known as "Espa" locally, this main city walkway runs between Erottaja square and Market Square and makes a good place for a stroll.
Pohjoisesplanadi and Eteläesplanadi streets make up the north and south borders.
The self-proclaimed biggest department store in the whole Nordic region, Stockmann’s covers several floors and glitters in the winter lights of Helsinki. Worth a quick look but then move on.
With only one day in Helsinki, it pays to combine lunch with another activity.
Here are three suggestions:
Swap tradition for modernity by taking in a series of world-class museums with astonishing structural design.
This deserves a shout out for its Art Nouveau exterior and useful point as a meeting place. It’s just a short walk past the station to a complex of four interesting buildings connected by a rather dreary flat square.
Described as a “living meeting place,” Helsinki’s Central Library is an inspiring, uplifting, brilliant piece of community architecture. Check out the events page or just walk below its curving roof and clear glass angles. Look for the double staircase inside that creates an optical illusion of a spiral.
Great for a concert and worth a quick look as it’s so close to the Oodi library. A café and crossing staircase show Helsinki’s flair for design again.
Enjoy the building of this Contemporary Art Museum as much as the exhibits inside, with its curving walls, walkways and windows.
This beautiful Art Nouveau building presents Finnish history from prehistoric times to the 19th century. The most interesting part is the exhibition on Sibelius, the great Finnish composer, and the jewellery collection.
That’s all you’ll have time for with only one day in Helsinki, but I’ve gathered a list of other cool museums further down in the article.
Sauna (pronounced S-OW-nuh) is BIG in Helsinki. Indeed, in the whole of Finland.
It’s not some tepid, add-on afterthought as it is in the gyms and swimming pools of the UK and beyond.
It’s the social activity, bordering on the reason for being.
Friends sauna together, strangers sauna together. Work colleagues sauna together.
I’ve visited Finland for work on two occasions now and each time, the first proper meeting took place in the sauna.
You have to try it! (Obviously, within the caveats of not having low blood pressure, pregnancy, etc etc, and all the usual medical caveats involved when searching online.
Traditionally, people sauna in the nude in Finland. But Helsinki has taken pity on her foreign visitors and allows swimsuits at most public saunas to ease you into it.
I’d highly recommend Löyly in Helsinki for a number of reasons:
Unlike the UK, sauna rooms are dark, smell nice and people chat. In fact, it’s closer to a pub atmosphere than anything else. Except hotter. Much hotter. There’s no timer or clock and people tend to stay in the sauna for 20-30 minutes at a time before…
So did I do it?
Yes, I did/ Did I enjoy it? It actually didn’t feel all that cold, but I did get electric shocks pinging their way up and down my skin.
Did I do it again? Erm. No.
Traditional smoked sauna and wood heated sauna right by the Baltic sea. Fantastic view by day.
Allas Sea Pool
New spa complex with large pool area and saunas.
Lonna Island Sauna
Log built cabin open in summer.
Traditional wood-heated sauna that dates back to 1928.
If you have the energy, then make the most of your one night in Helsinki on the 13th floor at the Sky Bar of the Clarion Hotel [hosted.] The bar sometimes has live music but always has a fantastic view.
Entrance is open to non-guests and the view in the lift includes all the classics of Helsinki like the two main cathedrals. It’s right by tram 9 so incredibly easy to get to from Helsinki town centre.
Top Tip: try a Finnish gin and tonic. It comes with lingonberries and a sprig of rosemary and is both bitter and refreshing at the same time.
This off the beaten track itinerary for Helsinki comes from the team at Spotted by Locals. They start their 24 hour itinerary in Helsinki early. Buckle up and see the overlooked sights!
No matter whether you’ve come by plane, train or ferry, you'll need walking boots and a metro ticket to get around for the day. Helsinki’s metro and orange trains have kept the ‘70s decor but function easily and efficiently.
It goes without saying that you should get a day ticket!
Did you know?
Helsinki has the world's northernmost metro line.
You can appropriately start your exploration at the famous Central Railway station, a local favourite meet-up point.
Alternatively, you can get off at the adjacent station, Kamppi, to admire the brilliant artwork Roots of the City.
Finns are the top consumers of coffee in the world, with 8-9 cups per day considered normal.
You can have your own first cup of the day at Ekberg, Helsinki’s oldest café (founded in 1852.)
It's one of the few cafés where you get table service. Locals of all ages feel comfortable here; local Janiina comes here with her sister every year on their birthday. You must be hungry by now, so you can do as she does and celebrate with the breakfast buffet -- or some pie.
Now: time for a walk.
Remember the moomins? All sorts of honours dedicated to author Tove Jansson (who passed away in 2001) can be found in Helsinki today. You'll find a park named after her in the elegant suburb of Katajanooka, her former home.
Her father, Victor Jansson, was a famous sculptor himself, and used his family as models. You can make a game of finding statues of young Tove everywhere in Helsinki, but the best known one is in Kaisaniemi park, behind the National Theater. Would Mr. Jansson have ever imagined that his young daughter would go on to far surpass him in international acclaim?
Time for some views! Hotel Torni means “hotel tower” in Finnish. They weren’t joking: at 70 metres high, it used to be the country’s tallest building for a long time. You can have an early drink or take another step towards taking the Finns head-on in their coffee-drinking records at the rooftop ateljée bar.
You can even feel free to pop by and just use the restroom as a vantage point; from the ladies’ you can spot the Parliament house, Finlandia house, Music house, National Museum and Kiasma Museum. Local Aino-Marja often comes up here just to use the bathroom and enjoy the view. Shh. Not that we told you that.
Next stop: the famous neighbourhood Kallio. Use your metro day pass and get off at Sörnäinen station. There are few better ways to start your exploration in this vibrant, bohemian district than by treating your body & soul to a sauna visit. There are two excellent options in the area that have survived the general gentrification that’s taken place around them: Sauna Arla & Kotiharjun Sauna.
Which one you choose will depend on whether you visualise your authentic sauna experience in a more tranquil, private setting, or as a chance to socialise with strangers, respectively.
No matter which one you choose, our Spotter Joonas recommends you bring your own drinks (drinks are allowed but not sold in the premises.)
But bringing your swimsuit or towel is not advisable, at least if you want to make friends with the locals.
Keep in mind that Finns do not consider being naked in the sauna as something sexual, and generally feel more comfortable inside saunas than anywhere else.
By now, it’s time to fuel up.
Nearby Ipi Kulmakuppila is one of our Spotter Janiina’s favourites: it’s a cool café with a white/wooden interior and big windows that manages to stay cosy rather than feel too trendy. Here they serve brunch and lunch and have a mostly vegetarian menu. Why not also grab a local craft beer to enjoy together with your lunch? A welcome social plus: the café gives employment to disabled people.
Alternatively, you may go for the Arabic-Mediterranean delicacies at Frantoio, the wine bar & bakery Way, modern Thai/Southeast Asian restaurant Poompui B’staurant, the vegetarian buffet at Silvoplee or the experience of eating seafood on the floating restaurant Meripaviljonki.
Now, here’s a beautiful tip for the afternoon: Helsinki’s Winter Garden, or Talvipuutarha. It’s a “secret” yard inside a big, 120-year-old greenhouse. Its three rooms are filled with cacti, palm trees, magnolias and all kinds of plants. It also has benches where you can enjoy another coffee-on-the-go or you can get inspired by our local Janiina and have a picnic -- in case you opted to skip lunch. You can come here with something from traditional bakery Leipomo K. E. Avikainen.
As the day is winding down, If you’re up for another beer, try Pub Sirdie, one of the few places in Kallio that haven’t changed a bit! It’s actually been here for more than 5 decades, and it’s said that, during Prohibition (1919-1932) it was already home to a speakeasy. You won’t find another bar that still has this rough and rugged punk rock vibe Kallio used to be known for.
The old (working!) jukebox has international and Finnish rock classics and, for a couple of years now, the bar has actually been run by its fans. After the announcement it was closing down, they came together and bought it!
Here are some suggestions for enjoying Helsinki’s nightlife.
For more local favorites in Europe, the Middle East and North America, check out Spotted by Locals.
According to many, this is THE place to visit in Helsinki. When the weather is good.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can reach the island by ferry on public transport, or you can take a tour.
Popular with joggers, this large bay in the centre has historical wooden villas on the opposite shore.
See wooden buildings relocated from across Finland and relax on the beach and in the many restaurants and cafes.
The island of Korkeasaari is home to one of the oldest zoos in the world. Helsinki zoo dates back to 1889. Reach from the centre on bus 16.
While we’re lucky in that so many of Helsinki’s top attractions live so close together, there are a few outliers that you might want to know about if you have a little more time.
Contemporary wooden architecture provides a place for meditation in Helsinki City Centre
Finland’s legendary Alvar Aalto designed this venue for conferences, concerts and events.
Built into solid rock, this church looks as though a disc of gold has landed on the wintry capital.
The Ateneum holds one of the biggest collections of classical art in Helsinki and is one third of the Finnish National Gallery.
This new art museum looks like a cross between Gaudi’s Par Güell ceramic works and a Moomin. Inside live private art collections but it’s the outside that intrigues the most.
Modern and contemporary art run by the city.
More contemporary art but also design, architecture and events and a building worth visiting.
Take tram 6 or 8 to learn more about these celebrated Finnish design and lifestyle brands.
Steamrooms and whirlpool saunas on a small island in Helsinki. Absolutely fascinating in the midst of winter, when bathing holes are carved into the ice.
Design focused and with spectacular views across the city of Helsinki and her landmarks, the Clarion is a comfortable, restful place to stay with the option of a buzzing 16th floor Sky bar if you’re looking for more energy.
Its rooftop gym, sauna and swimming pool help you to embrace the Finnish way of life . And I loved the living room area on the ground floor for coffee, map planning and sketching out ideas. (By the by, the pool is too small for swimming laps. It’s also outdoors and designed for splashing in as part of the sauna experience.)
It's is a short ride on tram 9 into the centre of town and the tram stop is right outside the hotel.
I haven’t stayed at these but from talking to people, I’d suggest:
1 - The Kämp Hotel exudes classical five star luxury in Helsinki.
2 - Hotel Lilla Roberts lives off a quiet side street in a former police station and electrical sub-station. But the eclectic design makes up for it!
3 - The GLO Hotel is an affordable hotel near the central train station.
Our one day in Helsinki itineraries are deliberately designed to minimise your travel time. Helsinki city centre is walkable but the public transport can help if time is short or legs are tired.
Use Google Maps to easily find your way around this system. Tickets can be bought via the HSL app, which sounds like a fiddly nuisance but is actually really easy. Otherwise, you can buy tickets in the local supermarkets (which is simple enough as most people speak English but it’s still more hassle than quickly downloading the app.)
Tap to validate your ticket on boarding and then you can use it for two hours before it expires.
If you plan on more than two trips in a day, then it’s worth buying a day ticket instead.
This pass gives free public transport and reduced admission to several attractions across the city. It’s cheaper if you buy online in advance but the big question is… is it worth it?
Possibly but probably not, is the answer. If you plan on pelting through the expensive attractions and plan to use public transport a lot, then yes. If not, you may be better off to pay for things separately.
If you have more than one day in Helsinki, then the equation changes. It seems much more worthwhile to buy the 48 hour or 72 hour pass.
Taxis are easy enough to track down at the airport or from a hotel. Elsewhere, Uber is much easier for non-locals.
Uber is alive and well in Helsinki and incredibly easy to use if you haven’t before.
Simply download the app, enter where you want to go and book your trip. You can trace the progress of the car as it reaches you, you’ll be given a numberplate so you know you’re getting in the right cab and, best of all, there’s no haggling over directions or the price. At the end, it bills the card you have registered with the app. Business travellers, note, you can switch to business Uber for free and get a receipt and expense the receipt. It’s also easy to switch back to your personal Uber account for anything, well, personal.
Helsinki airport is a beauty! Full of cool design features like curving natural screens and sounds of nature, it’s also a good place to stock up on Moomin merchandise and Marimekko.
It’s not in Helsinki proper, it’s in Vantaa. Leave around an hour to get in and out of town.
Taxis and ubers cost in the region of 40 euro at the time of writing.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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