Are you thinking about visiting Helsinki?
That’s a great idea! The Finnish capital has lots of places to see and interesting things to do. It doesn’t even matter what time of the year you visit, we guarantee that you won’t get bored.
If you only have one day and are wondering what to see in Helsinki, don’t worry. We have put together this guide for you, so you can easily follow our itinerary or modify it depending on your interests.
This post is also perfect for you if you are visiting on a day trip to Helsinki from Tallinn or if you are planning on catching the Santa Claus Express in the evening to head to Lapland. Keep reading, and you’ll find more information about those options below.
One day in Helsinki
#1 Market Square
The best place to start sightseeing in Helsinki is by the harbour. Here, you can find a market where you can buy Finnish food and handicrafts.
The market is open year-round and the perfect place to buy souvenirs and gifts for friends or family. It’s also a great place to try fresh fish, and if you’re lucky, you might see a stall selling reindeer meat.
In summer, try to buy cloudberries. These yellow berries look similar to raspberries and grow best close to the Arctic Circle. The harvesting season is from around mid-July to mid-August, and as the berries aren’t commercially grown, this is the best time of the year to get your hands on fresh fruit.
During the rest of the year, opt for cloudberry jam if you want to get a flavour of this fruit.
#2 Vanha Kauppahalli
If you’re visiting Helsinki on a rainy day, don’t worry. Just next to Market Square, you can find Vanha Kauppahalli. This historic market hall houses stalls and little shops.
You can find treats for breakfast here if you haven’t had anything to eat yet or stock up on snacks. Or you can just wander around aimlessly and look at everything this market has to offer.
#3 Uspenski Cathedral
Your next stop is Uspenski Cathedral. This church dates back to the 19th century, and, as is typical for Orthodox Churches, its decorations are beautiful.
It towers on a hill just north, close to Market Square, and from up here, you also have a fantastic view of the harbour.
#4 Senate Square
Senate Square, your next stop, is a must-see in Helsinki.
The first thing you notice is the large cathedral on one side of the square. But before you head there, take a moment to look around and admire the architecture.
Around Senate Square, you can find the Government Palace, the University and Sederholm House. The latter is the oldest stone house in Helsinki and dates back to 1757. While that’s not terribly old for a European house, it’s a cool building, and it houses the Helsinki City Museum.Helsinki was founded in 1550, 200 years before the construction of Sederholm House. It’s a relatively new city, and with wood being a common building material, it isn’t surprising that no older houses survived.
#5 Helsinki Cathedral
After exploring Senate Square, it’s time to climb the steps to the cathedral. This iconic building is one of the most famous things to see in Helsinki. Its exterior is so white that it almost blinds you on a sunny day, and the green domes are a beautiful sight.
Make sure to head inside to explore the simple yet elegant interior. If you have time and the weather is nice, you can also sit down on the steps and enjoy watching the crowds on Senate Square.
It’s time to head back towards the harbour and explore the nearby Esplanadi. This esplanade is a beautiful green space in the city. In summer, you might come across street performances or maybe even a festival if you’re lucky.
At one end of the Esplanadi, you can find Havis Amanda. This statue of a mermaid surrounded by fish, standing in a fountain, is considered an icon of Helsinki.
Aleksanterinkatu runs parallel to the Esplanadi and is Helsinki’s main shopping street. It’s always busy, and you can find lots of shops here. Plus, this is a great street if you’re getting hungry and are looking for restaurants.
You can also go hunting for souvenirs here. Once you’re done, it’s time to head back to the harbour to catch a ferry.
It’s difficult to see all of Helsinki in a day, but if you’ve followed the above itinerary, you should just have enough time left to head to Suomenlinna.
Suomenlinna Fortress, located on one of the islands off the coast of Helsinki, is a UNESCO world heritage site. The extensive fortifications date back to the 18th century, when Sweden decided to reinforce its defences.The Russians conquered Suomenlinna in 1808. A year later, in 1809, Sweden lost all Finnish territory to Russia.
Suomenlinna is huge and spreads out across multiple islands. Besides the fortifications, you can visit different museums. The main museum, the Suomenlinna Museum, is excellent for learning more about the fortress.
The easiest way to see everything is to follow the blue signs and take the “Blue Route”, which takes you past the most important sights.
Also, don’t miss the submarine Vesikko, a restored submarine where you can visit the cramped living quarters.
To get to Suomenlinna, you need to catch a ferry from Market Square. The ride only takes 15-20 minutes, and you get a fantastic view of Helsinki from the water along the way.
If you have more time…
As we already mentioned, if you only have a day in Helsinki, you’re going to struggle to see everything. Visiting Suomenlinna takes around half a day already, so you don’t have much time for everything else.
If you have more than just 24 in Helsinki, there are a few other sights that you might find interesting.
The most famous one is Temppeliaukio Church, a church built directly into solid rock. It’s also known as the Rock Church and a unique and interesting sight you cannot find elsewhere.
Another famous sight is the Sibelius Monument, which, with its 600 steel pipes, resembles organ pipes. It’s a bit out of the way, so it’s hard to integrate it into a one-day itinerary. However, it’s worth seeing if you have more time in Helsinki.
Best time to visit Helsinki
Having visited Helsinki both in summer and winter, we can tell you there is no wrong time to see the Finnish capital.
June to September, when the days are long and warm, is a perfect time if you want to spend time outside. You can sit in outdoor cafes, rest in the Esplanadi Park and enjoy the sunshine while you stroll across the market.
Unfortunately, you have to share that summer weather with lots of other tourists, especially when you visit in July or August.
A solution is to come during the shoulder months, in May/June or September/October. You still have plenty of daylight, a chance of good weather, and you avoid the summer holidays, but it won’t be quite as warm.
As an alternative, you could try visiting Helsinki in winter. We came at the end of February and used the chance to catch the Santa Claus Express from Helsinki and head to Lapland. Plus, Helsinki, covered by snow, can be very beautiful.
How to get to Helsinki
Helsinki is well-connected, so getting here is easy.
Most travellers arrive by plane. The Helsinki airport is the hub of Finnair, but many other big airlines also fly here.
If you’re coming from Tallinn and maybe even doing a day trip from Tallinn to Helsinki, you need to catch the ferry. There are multiple ferry operators (click here to learn more about them) with different schedules, and all of them take around two hours for the crossing.
In addition to Tallinn, Helsinki also has ferry connections to Sweden (some go via the Aland islands), Riga and Germany.
Getting around Helsinki
The city centre of Helsinki is compact, so it’s easy to walk between the main attractions.
If you need to cover longer distances, Helsinki has an excellent public transport network. You can check out the route maps online or use the travel planner to find out how to get from one destination to another.
Our itinerary covers what to do in Helsinki for a day, but there are lots of other things to discover if you have more time. Plus, Finland is the perfect jump-off point for a trip to Lapland or to the Baltics!
Let us know in the comments what’s your favourite part of Helsinki.
Also, while you’re here, make sure to check out other blog posts that will help you plan your trip:
- How to take the Santa Claus Express from Helsinki to Lapland
- The best things to do in Tallinn
- Make sure to download these apps before your trip
Until your next adventure!
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