Do you only have 1 day in Helsinki? It may sound daunting, but as someone who as done it before, it is absolutely do-able. That being said, you may fall in love with the city (as I did) and wish you planned to stay longer (also, as I did) but before you get too far ahead of yourself, let me tell you how to get the best of Helsinki in 1 day.
Getting to Helsinki
Chances are if you’re only visiting Helsinki for 1 day you will arrive by ship; either a ferry or a cruise. If you’re looking for a ferry line I highly recommend Tallink Silja, they offer routes from multiple destinations around Scandinavia and the Baltics. To learn more about my experience with them check out this post.
In order to get the best of Helsinki, plan on arriving early enough to enjoy a full day. Like most other destinations in Europe, most shops don’t open til 9-10am and will close between 6 and 9 so try to plan your journeys to work with these times.
How To Get Around Helsinki in 1 Day
While Scandinavia has a reputation of burning a hole through your wallet, Helsinki (from my experience) was more affordable than other Nordic cities including Copenhagen and Stockholm. If you arrive by ferry, you will need to take a tram into the city, but once you have arrived to the city centre everything is very walkable. Which is perfect, because walking is the best way to enjoy the beautiful art nouveau style buildings plus, many of the main sites and attractions are all within walking distance of each other.
If the weather isn’t great, or you’re not keen on walking too much, you can also take the hop-on-hop-off bus which will take you to the main highlights and allow you see the best of Helsinki in one day.
What to See and Do in Helsinki in 1 Day
The Senate Square is the perfect place to start your 1 day tour of Helsinki as this is the oldest part of the city. Not only is it a beautiful square on its own, but some of the top city attractions sit upon its corners; making for some easy sight-seeing and some great photo opportunities.
The four main sites, all constructed by Carl Ludvig Engel between 1822 and 1852, on this square are
1) Helsinki Cathedral, which is considered by some to be the heart of the city
2) The Government Palace
3) The main building of the University of Helsinki
4) The National Library of Finland
Teppeliaukion (The Rock Church)
One of the most unique sights of Helsinki is the Teppeliaukion, more commonly known, (especially amongst those of us who can’t pronounce the official name,) as the Rock Church. No this does refer to rock and roll music but rather the fact that the church itself is built from rock. One of the must sees of the city, the Rock Church is incredibly unique and said to be stunning on the inside. Sadly, I cannot confirm this as I arrived less than ten minutes after they closed for the day at 5pm.
This outdoor market is a fun place to wander and take photos. You’ll find all kinds of things for sale here including fresh food items, flowers, clothing, jewellery, and souvenirs. If the weather is nice, it’s a good spot to grab lunch from one of the vendors that sells prepared foods.
Another great market to visit is Hakaneimi Market. It’s a covered market (perfect for if it’s raining) but also has lots to offer ranging from food items to souvenirs. There are more than 70 vendors at this local market, so you’re bound to find something!
If you are looking for ideas of what to find, some of my unique recommended ideas are: handmade woolen mitts, Christmas ornaments, fashion clothing and jewelry, traditional hunting knives made by Marttiini, or traditional Finnish drinking cups. Even if you are just looking for a stereotypical souvenir, chances are you can find a unique one of Finnish design, for example; I found a cool hand-painted shot glass to take home to my brother.
The Helsinki Cathedral may be considered to be the heart of the city, but the Uspenski Cathedral is also worth a look. It’s a Russian Orthodox Cathedral and is quite beautiful to see, making it one of Helsinki’s top attractions.
Wander Through the Design District
Helsinki was the World Design Capital in 2012, and for good reason. The shopping is amazing! I was glad I came with an empty backpack because by the time I left I had not only bought a couple of souvenirs for myself, but also completed a large chunk of my Christmas shopping (9 months early!) The two major design hubs are the Tori Quarter and Design District, but be sure keep an eye out for the Design signs in store windows everywhere. You’ll find everything from clothing to home decor, jewellery, artwork, and more.
Consider Visiting one (or more) of Helsinki’s Museums
Helsinki is also home to numerous museums on a variety of subjects ranging from the national museum, to art and design museums, and even one dedicated to trams. With only one day in Helsinki, I chose not to visit any. However, if you are a museum enthusiest or if you are planning a multi-day trip then consider getting a Helsinki Card as many entry fees are included in the price.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress is an easy 20 minute ferry ride from the city centre. Originally a military fortress, Suomenlinna is made of six islands and is a popular spot to visit amongst both tourists and locals. Perfect for a walk and a picnic, Suomenlinna offers lots of historical sites to explore, including a submarine.
Most of the museums are closed during the off-season but I still spent two enjoyable hours exploring the stone walls and old ship yard. For those planning a visit, a visitor’s centre along with a couple of hotels and restaurants/cafes are also located on the main parts of the islands.
Final Tips on How to Spend One Day in Helsinki
There’s a lot to see in Helsinki but I recommend taking it slow. Plan a couple of ‘must’ sees but make sure to take a walk around and see the beauty of the city, you never know what you will find! Also, take some time to talk to the people who I found to be very kind and helpful during my short visit.
Only having 1 day in Helsinki may not seem like a lot of time, but I loved my time exploring the city and would love to go back.
Huge thank you to Visit Helsinki for helping me plan my perfect day trip! Visit their website to plan your visit at: www.visithelsinki.fi
A Note on Travel Insurance in Finland
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.