1 Day in Helsinki might not seem like much time when, in fact, it’s quite enough to get acquainted with the city. And to help you make the very most of your time, I’ve put together this perfect 1 Day Helsinki Itinerary. We recently spent just over 24 hours in Helsinki, so we can share what we got up to, and what we consider to be the best things to do in Helsinki in 1 day. We cover all of the Helsinki hotspots, where to eat, sleep, and drink, as well as all of our top tips, to ensure you have the best possible time exploring the city.
Helsinki is an underrated city, bursting with art, culture, nature, and architectural gems. It’s not a place you hear come up in conversation very often, which makes it easy to disregard. But if you’re planning a trip to Finland, I guarantee you won’t regret allocating some time to look around.
Truth be told, we knew very little about the unassuming seaside capital before our recent visit. So we were quite surprised by just how much there is to see and do. Having planned to spend only one day in Helsinki before moving on to Lapland, it meant we had to be strategic with our time. But by following this exact itinerary, we were able to cover the very best of Heliskini in a day.
If you’re wondering what a typical Helsinki itinerary might look like, think traditional Finish spas, abstract art galleries, cool history museums, and uber-cool cafes.
Sound good? Let’s get to it then. Here’s our tried and tested 1 Day in Helsinki Itinerary.
One Day in Helsinki – The Best 1 Day Helsinki Itinerary
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Is One Day in Helsinki Enough?
Let’s face it; 24 hours isn’t a lot of time. But if you plan those hours wisely, you should be able to cover all the best things to see in Helsinki in 1 day. Thankfully, the city is relatively compact and easy to navigate. If you don’t mind walking, you can quickly get around on foot, which means that ultimately you get to see a lot more than you would by taking public transport.
While we felt we could have easily spent longer exploring Helsinki, our wallets were certainly grateful that the trip was short-lived. It is by far one of the most expensive cities we’ve ever visited. And we lived in London, so that says a lot! If we had any complaints about the city, it would only be that it isn’t at all budget-friendly. Other than that, we had a truly wonderful time. See our guide to travelling Helsinki on a budget if you’re eager to keep the costs down.
Where to Stay with One Day in Helsinki
There is no shortage of accommodation options in Helsinki, catering to various budgets and tastes. However, if you only have 24 hours in Helsinki, it makes sense to locate yourself centrally. This way, you can avoid journey time eating into your valuable exploring time. I’ve made some hotel suggestions below, or you can click the link for a list of all hostels, guesthouses, and hotels in the city.
Hostel & Budget Rooms $ – Cheap Sleep Helsinki
If you’re travelling alone and on a budget, your cheapest option will be a bed in a dorm room. If you’re travelling as a couple or pair, you might find it’s more cost-effective to rent a private room. Either way, both are available at Cheap Sleep Helsinki, which is where we stayed during our recent trip. As hostel standards go, we were impressed. It’s clean, spacious, friendly, centrally located and has kitchen facilities where you can prepare meals. The inclusive breakfast buffet could have been a bit more adventurous, but when it’s free, who am I to complain?
Mid-Range $$ – Hotel Indigo Helsinki-Boulevard
The difference in price between budget and mid-range hotels in Helsinki is quite a jump. But if you would prefer somewhere a bit more upmarket, Hotel Indigo is one of the best-rated hotels I could find. A major drawcard at this boutique hotel is that they pride themselves on being eco-friendly. Something that Helsinki, in general, is quite famous for. Rooms are modern and well equipped, while top-notch facilities include a 24-hour gym and an onsite bistro restaurant.
Luxury $$$ – Hotel Katajanokka, Helsinki
Finally, if you’re out to splurge, there aren’t many hotels more well regarded than Hotel Katajanokka. Housed in a former prison, this particular hotel is quite unusual architecturally. The properties past is evident from both the outside and the inside, yet the hotel manages to retain an air of elegance and class. Anybody looking for a unique accommodation experience will love this hotel, which includes a 24-hr gym, spa, and modernised guest rooms.
Best Things to See in Helsinki in 1 Day
I go into quite a lot of detail in this comprehensive Helsinki Itinerary, so if you’re short for time, here’s a quick overview of the best things to do in Helsinki in a day.
- Learn about Finnish history and culture at the National Museum
- Visit the incredible Temppeliaukion Rock Church
- Walk around Oodi Library – Possibly the funkiest library in the world.
- Check out some unusual art at the Kiasma Contemporary Museum
- Have a traditional Finnish Sauna
- Enjoy a cinnamon bun at the ‘insta-famous‘ Regatta Cafe
- Wander around Sibelius Park
1 Day Helsinki Itinerary
OK, let’s dive into our suggested itinerary for one day in Helsinki. I’ve tried to make it as strategic as possible, so to minimise your travel time, and ensure you experience as much of the city as you can. With just 24 hours, I suggest sticking around the city centre which concentrates most of Helsinki’s major landmarks. However, if you did want to mix it up a bit, I’ve proposed some alternatives further down the article.
Helsinki Free Walking Tour
If you don’t want to explore Helsinki alone, why not join one of the free walking tours. Not only will you cover all the city highlights, but you’ll learn about the history of Helsinki from a licensed local guide. The tours are completely free to join, but be sure to tip your guide generously if you enjoy it!
Book Your Tour: Helsinki Free Walking Tour
Alright, assuming you’ve stayed the night in Helsinki, you’ll want to be up bright and early to ensure you make the very most of your day. If you have breakfast included with your hotel, that’s awesome, but you’ll want to save some room. As our first stop of the day is the Instagram famous Cafe Regatta.
You’re probably wondering why I’m suggesting to start the day here, but I have a good reason. The whole idea of our blog is to give you fantastic advice and recommendations, while at the same time, ensuring you don’t make the same mistakes as we did.
This was one of those mistakes. We visited Cafe Regatta at lunchtime, and the queue was all the way down the street. With such limited time in the city, we couldn’t afford to queue for hours to get in. And of course, a shot ‘for the gram‘ was out of the question.
We were disappointed as we’d heard incredible things about the coffee and cinnamon buns at Cafe Regatta. So for now, we will have to live precariously through you. The cafe opens at 8 am, and if you get there early, you can enjoy the magical vibe of this Lapland inspired cafe without the pressure of crowds.
Entrance: Free (must buy something to take a photo)/Allow: 30 mins – 1 hr
Sibelius Park & Monument
Next up you can make your way to Sibelius Park where you can take a walk around and burn off some of those cinnamon buns. While the park itself is nothing more than a series of scenic walking trails and green open spaces, the primary attraction is the unusual Sibelius Monument.
Known for his captivating music & symphonies, Jean Sibelius was and still is the most respected Finnish composer of all time. Designed to capture the essence of his music, the Sibelius Monument is an abstract structure of 600 steel tubes. Similar to a pipe organ, the tubes create musical notes using the wind. It’s really quite impressive and a worthy stop on your Helsinki itinerary.
Entrance: Free/Allow: 30 mins-1 hr
Temppeliaukion Rock Church
In many ways, Helsinki is a futuristic city. Especially their architecture, which is generally quite modern and abstract. The same goes even for their churches, and the Temppeliaukion Rock Church is a prime example. Engineered directly into solid rock, the church is a highlight of our one day in Helsinki.
You could say that the Rock Church gives a paradox impression. From the outside, it is mysterious and unassuming – just an entrance into a towering pile of rocks. But on the inside, the awe-inspiring dome ceiling, the majestic brass organ, and bright purple seating area create a truly unique display. I’ve never seen a church like it, and I doubt I ever will again.
Entrance: €3/Allow: 30 mins
National Museum of Finland
We don’t consider ourselves museums buffs; however, if there’s a national museum, we will generally take the time to go. They are especially useful if you know very little about the country, as they provide a fascinating insight into its history and culture.
For us to really enjoy a museum, they have to be quite interactive otherwise we lose interest. Thankfully, the National Museum in Helsinki has created a fully immersive and fun experience for all the family. We particularly enjoyed the digital photo booth, which saw our photo end up on the wall next to a wealth of Finnish Kings and Queens.
The only downside about the museum is that it is quite expensive, especially if you’re travelling as a family. A great tip to keep in mind is that the museum is free to enter on Fridays from 4 pm – 6 pm. Other museums offer free admission on selected days as well, so keep this list saved for when you travel.
Entrance: €12/Allow: 1-2 hrs
A short walk from the National Museum is the remarkable Oodi Library. A new addition to Helsinki’s diverse collection of architecture, the multi-storey library has quickly become one of the cities most significant landmarks.
To walk around inside the new age library is free of charge, and it’s worth it to experience the co-existence of literature and digital intelligence. The library acts as a working space on the one hand, with all the mod con technology and quiet areas. On the other, there’s a sprawling library of books that occupies the entire top floor.
Again, Oodi is unlike any other library I’ve ever visited, and you won’t regret stopping by during your 1 day tour of Helsinki.
Entrance: Free /Allow: 30 mins – 1hr
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
Located directly next door to Oodi Library, The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art sits under the same umbrella as the Finnish National Gallery. As the name suggests, the museum displays a realm of contemporary, and one might even say unusual artwork.
If it hadn’t been for it being the last Friday of the month when admission to the museum was free, I’m not sure we would have paid to go. We enjoy art in general, but I often don’t understand a lot of contemporary art, and this was certainly the case at Kiasma. I believe the exhibitions rotate frequently, and one of ours involved a film of an animated man removing his body parts. Yes, very bizarre indeed.
I have, however, seen photos of some quite vibrant and captivating exhibitions at Kiasma. So I would suggest checking out the website to check what’s on during your time in Helsinki.
Entrance: €15/Allow: 1hr
On your way to lunch, you’re going to walk past the playful landscape of Amos Rex. Amos Rex is an art gallery displaying art from an emerging generation of artists. However, we didn’t go inside. We only admired the domed subterranean galleries that pop up from the ground in Helsinki Plaza.
Amos Rex is another example of Helsinki’s contemporary and forward-thinking architecture. You’ll often find groups of families and friends here running up the slopes and sliding back down again. The area also makes for some unusual photo opportunities.
Entrance: Free to visit the outside galleries/Allow: 15 mins
If you’re a 90’s kid, it’s very likely the Moomins played a big part in your childhood. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Moomin’s are a fictional troll family created by a Finnish creator named Tove Jansson. Although the family are designed to look like Finnish trolls, I can’t help but think they look white hippos.
Nevertheless, the Moomin’s are a national icon to Finland, like Harry Potter is to England and Hello Kitty to Japan. You’ll find Moomin themed souvenirs and memorabilia all over Helsinki, as well as, you guessed it, a Moomin themed cafe.
While neither of us was into the Moomins growing up, we were excited to visit the Moomin cafe. So imagine our disappointment when it was closed! We didn’t have much luck on the cafe front, did we? Alas, I hope you guys will get to experience the fun-filled cafe, where you can dine with your favourite Moomins and indulge in various sweet treats.
Senate Square & Helsinki Cathedral
Located in the oldest area of Helsinki, you can find some beautiful architecture around Senate Square. Most notable is the Helsinki Cathedral, often referred to as the ‘white jewel’ of the city. Designed in a traditional neo-classical style, the 17th-century cathedral stands in stark contrast from the contemporary architecture you’ve encountered elsewhere in the city.
While we didn’t experience it ourselves, the cathedral is open for viewing at certain times of the day. Otherwise, walk around the square and admire the other buildings which include the University of Helsinki, the National Library of Finland, and the Government Palace. Afterwards, if you need a coffee, we can recommend Paulig Kulma, a cute little cafe just a 5-minute walk from the square.
Entrance: Free to walk around the square/Allow: 15-30 mins
Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. Even though we’ve never actually been to Russia, we immediately recognised its resemblance to Russian architecture. Boasting a facade of red brick with golden cupola domes, it’s one of the most beautiful architectural gems we saw during our 24 hours in Helsinki.
Entrance: Free/Allow: 15-30 mins
Allas Sea Pool Sauna
After an action-packed day in Helsinki, what better way to wind down than to enjoy a traditional Finnish sauna. I’ll be honest; we didn’t end up doing this ourselves. The only reason being that we wanted to save the experience for Lapland. But if this hadn’t of been the case, we would have visited Allas Sea Pool sauna 100%.
If you aren’t already aware, saunas play a significant role in Finnish culture. Most family homes have them, and they are considered a necessity for a happy and healthy life. Generally, saunas are separate for men and women, and it’s not unusual for locals to get completely naked. Of course, you can to, or you can wear a towel if you feel uncomfortable. Read more on sauna etiquette in Finland here.
While there are several Finnish saunas in Helsinki, Allas Sea Pool is arguably the most popular. Here you’ll find a variety of saunas and swimming pools, including a heated outside pool that overlooks the ocean. If you’re feeling brave enough, you might even try the local tradition of a hot sauna followed by a cold dip in the seawater pool. Not for the faint-hearted but a memorable experience all the same.
Entrance: €14/Allow: 1-2 hrs
Dinner & Drinks on Kanavaranta
Just a few minutes walk from Allas Sea Pool is Kanavaranta – A coastal strip that boasts a variety of bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect spot to round off the day by enjoying a drink or some food overlooking the water. And if you’re travelling with your other half, why not seal your love with a padlock at the nearby Love Lock Bridge.
Additions to this Helsinki Itinerary
If you have longer than one day in Helsinki, that’s great. You have time to check out some of the less touristy stuff to do in the city, and perhaps even take a day trip to other areas of the country. Here are a few suggestions for inspiration.
Unbeknown to some, Helsinki is an archipelago of around 330 islands, which means a peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle is never far away. Seurasaari Island is the easiest of the islands to get to as it isn’t entirely isolated, and you can get there by bus or on foot.
We had some time spare on the day of our departure from Helsinki, and so we used it to visit Seurasaari Island. Boasting a combination of walking trails, dense forest, and an open-air museum, it was an awesome addition to our Helsinki itinerary.
Suomenlinna Island, on the other hand, requires a return ferry journey, and it’s an activity that will cost you most of the day. Having said that, many people consider it to be one of the best things to do in Helsinki, and as I haven’t done it myself, I can’t argue.
The island does appear to be very scenic and beautiful, so if you have the time, I expect it would be worth the trip. Once you’re there, you can explore the island on foot, which is home to a stunning 18th-century fortress and beautiful nature areas.
Day Trip to Tallinn
If you fancy an easy day trip out of Helsinki, Estonia’s beautiful capital Tallinn is just a 2-hour journey away via ferry. If you book with Get Your Guide you can catch an early boat there and the late boat back, allowing up to 10 hours to explore the charming medieval city.
- Visit Estonia’s capital on an easy day trip and enjoy the comfortable 2-hour ferry ride
- Explore the UNESCO-listed Old Town, and shop, eat, and stroll as you please
- Book ahead to secure a place on comfortable crossing times
- Upgrade your comfort to Business Class, which includes food and drinks
Book Your Tour: From Helsinki: Return Day Trip Ferry Ticket to Tallinn
Sightseeing Boat Cruise
“Head to the water and experience a canal cruise on your visit to Helsinki. Admire the most beautiful shorelines of the city and see many of its top attractions from the comfort of your boat.
You’ll pass by the historic Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress, the Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari Island, the impressive fleet of icebreakers, and stunning Degerö Canal.
On this 90-minute ride, you’ll also hear about Helsinki’s fascinating history from the commentary that’s provided during the cruise. Enjoy a refreshing drink, a beer, a glass of sparkling wine, or a cup of coffee and a pastry in the boat’s cafeteria.”
Book Your Tour: 90-minute Helsinki Boat Sightseeing on Beautiful Canal Route
Tips & Advice for this Helsinki Itinerary
Here I’ll list some of the travel tips that we accumulated during our stay in Helsinki. Hopefully, they will help you have a hassle-free break in the city.
Currency & Exchanging Money in Helsinki
The unit of currency in Finland is the Euro. We recommend travelling with some cash in your pocket; however, if you don’t want to carry large sums, there are several ways to exchange currency in Helsinki. Though naturally, some are more cost-effective than others.
The easiest option is to withdraw cash directly from an ATM. Some ATMs may ask if you want to proceed “with or without conversion”. Whatever you do, never proceed with conversion because it leads to disastrous exchange rates. Trust us; we learnt the hard way. Instead, choose to be charged in the local currency, and you’ll receive a far more favourable rate on your conversion.
Another money-saving tip is to carry a currency card such as Easy Fx rather than withdrawing money using your debit or credit cards. This way, you can make purchases, withdraw cash and make transfers, all with no international fees. Again, so long as you proceed ‘without conversion.’
As I mentioned earlier, Helsinki is an expensive city. However, if you are sensible with your cash, you could get away with spending £50/$60 a day. We were able to manage this, but we ate cheap, stayed in a hostel, walked everywhere, and were selective about the attractions we spent our money on.
If you insist on paying for every attraction, eating at fancy restaurants, drinking alcohol, staying at a nice hotel etc. you can expect to triple or even quadruple that budget.
If like us, you are travelling on a tight budget, you might want to check out our budget guide to Helsinki. We’ve included a ton of useful tips in there that will allow you to maximise your time in the city, but minimise the cash you spend.
Getting Around in Helsinki
If you just want to get around the spots on our suggested 1-day itinerary, you can easily do so on foot. But if walking isn’t an option, or you want to travel further afield, your best bet will be to take public transport. The public transport in Helsinki is reliable, albeit a little expensive, and consists of trams, buses, trains, and the metro.
We only used public transport twice, and that was to get to & from the airport. But, if you plan to use public transport regularly, it’s worthwhile purchasing a Helsinki Card. The card not only includes unlimited access to the cities transport network, but you’ll also get free entry at many of the cities museums and top attractions, as well as discounted dining, shopping, and tours.
For more in-depth info, see this article about getting around in Helsinki. It gives extensive information regarding the different modes of transport, including getting to & from Suomenlinna Island.
The Best Time to Visit Helsinki
Though you’ll find plenty of things to do and a great atmosphere all year round, the best time to visit Helsinki is during the summer months of June, July and August. During this time you can expect ideal conditions for sightseeing, and the days are long, which is perfect if you’re only visiting for a day or 2.
Of course, the downside is that the summer can often be the busiest and most expensive time to travel. So if you want to avoid that, try to go at the very beginning or end of the season. That way, you get all the positives, such as good weather and affordable accommodation, but without the bad stuff like crowds and inflated prices.
We visited Helsinki in Winter, and I expect several of you will be doing the same if you’re heading to Lapland afterwards. Thankfully we had all the right gear to keep us warm, and we thoroughly enjoyed the magical winter vibes. We only wished that the days were longer so that we could fit more into our schedule.
Staying Safe in Helsinki
In short, Helsinki, and Finland in general, is exceptionally safe. So much so, Finland often finds it’s way into the top 20 of the safest countries in the world. That’s not to say crimes never happen. But they are rare and can often be avoided by exercising caution.
Like many places, theft and pickpocketing pose the biggest risk to tourists. We suggest keeping your belongings close to you at all times and use a small padlock or compartmental bag to keep your valuables safe.
Although we never once felt unsafe in Helsinki, when travelling at night, it’s sensible to avoid being alone in parks or dimly lit areas.
For LGBT Travellers in Finland, there is little risk of hate crime; however, you may find rural areas to be more conservative than the bigger cities.
Drinking water in Helsinki is not only safe to drink but delicious as well!
With that, don’t even think about going to Finland without travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. In, the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll want the best cover money can buy.
For this reason, we always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling. Say, for example, you go scuba diving or hiking a mountain, World Nomads will amend your plan accordingly. It’s a super handy feature that we’ve used numerous times including the time we trekked to Annapurna Base Camp.
If you need further convincing, read our article on why you need travel insurance. Or get an on-the-spot quote from World Nomads using the form below.
Staying Connected in Helsinki
If, like us, you rely on the internet when you travel (let’s face it, who doesn’t anymore), we have the perfect solution. After coming home to too many hefty phone bills and buying countless international sim cards, we were desperate for an affordable solution.
That’s when we discovered TravelWifi. TravelWifi’s portable pocket wifi allows us to quickly and securely connect when we need it the most. Click the link for more information on coverage, packages, and the latest offers.
Otherwise, you can generally find free wifi in most cafes, restaurants and train stations in Helsinki.
More on Finland
Travelling to Finland soon? Perhaps these other articles from our Finland series will be of some interest to you.
- Helsinki on a Budget – The Best Free Things to do in Helsinki
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Lapland in Winter
- A Guide to Husky Safaris in Lapland
- A Guide to Reindeer Safaris in Lapland
- The Ultimate Winter Lapland Packing List
Did you Enjoy our One Day in Helsinki Itinerary?
Let us know. That concludes One Day in Helsinki – The Best 1 Day Helsinki Itinerary. We hope you enjoy your time in this fascinating city. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here, where we share further travel advice & inspiration.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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Last Updated on October 19, 2021 by Our Taste For Life