I’ve spend one day in Helsinki, Finland for a couple of times now over the years, but never really written a guide for you to help you plan your own trip! Time to change that!
So far, I’ve only visited Helsinki in Winter, but I hope to go back this year and also show you some of the activities to do when it’s not minus 10 degrees Celsius!
Helsinki is a nice and compact city and is really easy to navigate, so if you only have a day in Helsinki, no problem at all, you can see quite a lot.
Let’s get right into it:
What we'll cover in this article
- ONE DAY IN HELSINKI, FINLAND? SEE THE HIGHLIGHTS
- HELSINKI RESOURCES
ONE DAY IN HELSINKI, FINLAND? SEE THE HIGHLIGHTS
Helsinki Winter … BRING.ALL.THE.HATS!
MORNING IN HELSINKI
Where to go in Helsinki in the Morning: Go for Coffee & Cinnamon Rolls!
Did you know that the Finns are one of the biggest consumers of coffee in the world? They are! While I’m not a coffee-lover at all myself, I do like to start the day with a warm drink and a good breakfast. Helsinki has plenty of great places to do this, and the Karl Fazer Café is not to be missed, because this brand is one of the largest corporations in the Finnish food industry and makes some AMAZING chocolate that you simply cannot skip on your Helsinki trip.
Another option is the chain Espresso House, which has a welcome feeling and some good places for remote working as well. Don’t forget to order the ‘korvapuusti‘, the typical Finnish cinnamon roll. Yum! At Espresso House they also serve Matcha Latte (yass), but the guy that made mine clearly never did this before, so mine didn’t taste great unfortunately. Better luck next time, I hope!
Karl Fazer Café – Kluuvikatu 3, 00100 Helsinki
Espresso House – All over the city, I went to the one in the ‘Forum’ mall.
Try the combo with milk chocolate and coconut… OMG
You should also definitely try the ‘Karelian pasty‘, which is a pastry with a thin rye crust and a filling of rice. It’s not my favourite, but very traditional in Finland!
Places to visit in Helsinki: Explore Incredible Architecture and More!
Helsinki is not really a city where you can do lots of sightseeing. There isn’t one particular highlight that all tourists flock to, like an Eiffel tower or Big Ben, but at the same time, that’s also exactly the charm of this city. It’s compact, you can walk everywhere in the city center and it never gets crowded. With a local Helsinki guide, you can cover the city on foot and get to know the locals.
There are some Helsinki sightseeing tours that are perhaps worth to do, such as:
- Helsinki Private Walking Tour [website]
- Helsinki City Tour with Local Guide [website]
- Helsinki Musical Tour [website]
- Hop on hop off Helsinki bus Tour [website]
- Half Day Helsinki City Sightseeing [website]
- Sustainable Tour Helsinki [website]
- Helsinki Panorama Coach Tour [website]
- Helsinki Boat Tour [website]
- Half Day Tour National Park Nuuksio [website]
Helsinki Places of Interest
What I like about Helsinki’s buildings, is that you sometimes definitely feel like you’re in eastern Europe, with the old trams and heavy stone buildings, but at the same time the light Scandinavian design shines through and you can find the Austrian-influenced art nouveau / Jugenstil style everywhere around you.
The more and more I visit the city, the more I learn to appreciate it and the more beauty I find. Make sure not to miss the following buildings and locations if you only have 1 day in Helsinki:
Helsinki Must See: The Central Train Station
Jugendstil Buildings on the Main Shopping Streets
Sightseeing Helsinki: Don’t miss the Helsingin Tuomiokirkko / Helsinki Cathedral
Square in front of the Church (above)
Add a visit to the Kamppi Chapel to your Helsinki itinerary (see below)
AFTERNOON IN HELSINKI
Best things to do in Helsinki: Cheeky Lunch at Fafa’s
Fafa’s is fast food you can feel good about. They serve large portions of Falafel and other Middle East inspired dishes. Great for vegetarians and vegans! All their falafel is also gluten-free. We also ordered the Sweet potato fries with tzatziki, and they were gorgeous. They have plans of expanding to the UK -can’t wait!
Must do in Helsinki: Go Finnish Design-Hunting
Helsinki was the World Design Capital in 2012 and if you look around, (good) design is everywhere in the city. You might know the famous architect and designer Alvar Aalto, and perhaps have heard of brands like Marimekko and Iittala, but most of the in Finland famous designers and design brands are unknown to the public. Items are passed down in families from generation to generation and design plays a big part in the Finnish society.
If you want to add some design items to your collection, then Helsinki is the place to be! Let me show you some good places to shop. Be aware: bring a full wallet and be prepared to do more window-shopping than usual to find the one item you really love and actually dare to buy. But, whether you buy something or not, looking at the amazing Scandinavian design is definitely one of those Helsinki activities you don’t want to skip.
City Sightseeing Helsinki: Visit the Forum Shopping Center
To my surprise, I found that there are A LOT of shopping centers in Helsinki and at “Forum” you can find shops of design brand Marimekko and also the cute Moomin Shop! I guess when it gets so cold in Winter here, life in the city has to go on and a warm shopping mall is the perfect solution to still be able to have fun things to do in Helsinki and not be stuck inside.
The Moomin shop is definitely one of the number 1 Helsinki tourist attractions, especially for Asian visitors!
Helsinki things to see: Stockmann Department Store
At the massive department store of Stockmann, you can find fashion and home good from brands such as Marimekko, Moomin, iittala, Artek and many, many more. I did find the Finnish fashion not really my style (very bright colours and lots of flower patterns), but it was still fun to look around.
Places to see in Helsinki for Design Lovers: Arabia Store Esplanadi
If you love to see (and shop) good design items for your home, then the Arabia Store is a must-stop. In this shop, you can find the complete product assortment of the Arabia and iittala brands. Careful: there are only beautiful things in here …and they are PRICEY.
Find out more about Alvar Aalto in our blog about our trip to Seinäjoki in Finland, his hometown!
When you buy a super expensive glass vase by Alvar Aalto – and there is snow and slush EVERYWHERE. No pressure.
I smile, but I’m only half happy right now -terrified to drop the vase!
Pfew! I made it!
Helsinki places to visit: Iittala & Arabia Factory
At this incredible center, you can get a peek into the past and present of these two legendary Finnish design brands. There is a design center with guided tours, a design lab with exhibitions and workshops, a design museum where you can learn all about the history of Finnish ceramic art and glass design… and a massive store where you can get design items with a nice discount. This is one of the best things to see in Helsinki for art and design lovers.
We got a peek behind the scenes as well and toured the iittala factory, which was incredible to do!
Factories fascinate me on so many levels.
Fell in love with these mugs and got a pair!
What to see in Helsinki in Winter? Go Outdoors in Nature!
If you’re not much of a shopper, but rather get a bit more action going on, then Helsinki in Winter is amazing to explore.
Depending on how many days in Helsinki you have, there is a wide variety on nature and outdoor activities to do in the city center and surroundings.
I did a tour with “Happy Guide Helsinki”, who offer healthy walking & Helsinki day tours with local guides, bike rides to see the real Helsinki, jogging and sightseeing tours and city tours that use Helsinki’s effective and eco-friendly public transportation. All tours are in English, additional languages possible too!
Happy Guide Helsinki Tours: Nordic Walking Around The Lake
Warm up at Forum
Ice Skating / Curling
Olympic Stadium in Helsinki Visit
EVENING IN HELSINKI
Top Helsinki Attractions: Traditional Finnish Dinner at Savotta
We were supposed to go to another restaurant based on a recommendation of a friend, but that restaurant turned out to be closed (like, forever), so I did a quick frost-bitten Google and the Savotta restaurant seemed alright. When we arrived, we knew in an instant we made such a good decision!
‘Savotta’ is the Finnish word for a logging site, and this restaurant pays homage to the hundreds of thousands of loggers, log floaters and logging site matrons of Finnish heritage. The interior of the restaurant is rustic and features genuine old artifacts from Finnish homes and logging sites. The tableware includes old and new china of Finnish design brand Arabia.
And the food… oh man, it’s the best traditional Finnish food in the city. You can have a go at trying reindeer, salmon, elk and even bear meat (if you dig up almost 60 Euros for your meal). I went for the salt-cured elk and an assortment of the best Finnish appetizers from land and water as a starter (we shared this with three people) and smoked rump of reindeer with potato puree as a main, but they also have set menus that give you the best of their kitchen. At the end, we were so full, we didn’t even have dessert!
The restaurant is not cheap at around 15 Euro for a starter, 25-30 Euro for a main and 12 Euro for dessert… but I would HIGHLY recommend you pay a visit!
Address: Aleksanterinkatu 22, 00170 Helsinki
Selection of Finnish delicacies!
Helsinki Things to do: Go for a Drink & Dance
After dinner, go check out the nightlife of Helsinki if you want, but remember that alcohol is really quite expensive here, so pace yourself! I don’t really have a recommendation of a fun place to go as all the events I went to were private, but I’m sure the locals will be more than happy to tell you where to go!
Finland also has their own ciders!
Helsinki Highlights: Go to the Sauna
But if you really want to end your day in Helsinki as a local, then you HAVE TO go to the sauna. Sauna bathing is an essential part of Finnish culture and national identity. Did you know that there are only 5,4 million Finns but 3,3 million saunas?! Yeah, this is something they take very serious. Most apartments in the country even have their own sauna, which means there are only a few public saunas in the city.
One of the popular public saunas is Löyly Helsinki. The funky building is a design by architects Ville Hara and Anu Puustinen of Avanto Architects and features two public saunas (a traditional smoke sauna and a wood-burning sauna), as well as private saunas. There is an outdoor area where you can enjoy a refreshing swim… all year round. Yes, even when the lake is frozen over, the Finns just dig a hole and get on with it.In this public sauna, you have to wear a bathing suit. There are separate changing rooms and shower facilities for men and women and lockers for your personal items and clothing. For two hours, you pay 19 Euro, which includes a towel, seat liner and shampoo & shower gel. Every extra hour costs 10 Euro. The private sauna is 300-400 Euro for two hours, but you can fit up to 12 people in there.
Address: Hernesaarenranta 4, 00150 Helsinki
Apologies for the crappy photo. It was cold.
This is at another sauna, which was private, but just to show you that I’m not making this ‘swimming in a hole in the ice’ thing up. Would you dare doing it?
DO YOU HAVE MORE TIME IN HELSINKI?
Things to do in Helsinki in Winter: Finnish Nature Center Haltia, Espoo
At Haltia, you can find and learn more about all of Finland’s nature. The building was designed by architect Rainer Mahlamäki and it’s the first public building in Finland built entirely of CLT wood elements.
Dive into the scenery of Finland’s national parks and get a chance to crawl inside a bear’s nest or a duck’s egg -if you fancy. On the restaurant terrace, you can enjoy a tasty meal while gazing at the stunning views of Lake Pitkäjärvi. If you’re wondering what to do in Helsinki in Winter, simply get your ski’s out and walk over the froze lake, like we did! You can rent them, and also your snow boots, at Haltia as well.
Haltia opens a gateway to the Nuuksio National Park, which is perfect for hikers. Two loop trails right next to Haltia give you the option of including a short hike into your nature center visit.
Trains in Finland are SO comfortable!
You wouldn’t guess it, but yes, this is a LAKE we’re walking on! Ahh!
Like a boss
Well deserved food!
Helsinki Top Attractions: Suomenlinna Island Visit
One of the places I still haven’t visited in Helsinki that is very high on my list, is the Unesco World Heritage listed sea fortress, Suomenlinna. It was founded in 1748 and it is only accessible by water. A ferry service runs from the Market Square to the island throughout the year, in about 25-30 minutes.
If you follow the Blue Route on the island, that runs from North to South, you will see all the main sights, such as King’s gate, the Great Courtyard, the Dry dock, Suomenlinna Church, the Jetty Barracks and much more.
There are also six museums in Suomenlinna, located in different parts of the island. Tickets are purchased separately at each museum. This makes for one of the best day trips from Helsinki.
Helsinki day trips: Take the Ferry to Tallinn, Estonia
Helsinki lies about 80 kilometers North of Tallinn in Estonia and with the Eckerö Line, you can make this crossing twice per day. There are cabins on board, so you can even leave things on board if you only visit for the day.
Who would have thought that it would be so easy to visit two countries in such a short period of time and not even feel rushed? This Helsinki to Tallinn cruise is a great break.
Read more about this cool daytrip from Helsinki to Tallinn in our blog!
Helsinki Tourism Office Websites
How to Get to Helsinki?
From London, flying with Finnair from Heathrow Airport really is your best option. The times are perfect, departing around 10:30 AM and arriving around 3 PM, then you could get a return flight around 2 PM, to get back in London around 3 PM. And when you’re lucky, you’re flying in the one of the new airplanes, which have AMAZING on-board entertainment and are just really comfortable in general.
Thanks Finnair for messing up my productivity
Make sure to get the window seat!
Where to Stay in Helsinki Travel Guide
I stayed in a few hotels in Helsinki over the years, here are my favourite:
- Scandic Paasi [website]
- Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel [website]
- GLO Hotel Kluuvi [website]
- Hotel Helka [website]
- Forenom Aparthotel [website]
Circus-themed room at the Scandic Paasi. I remember their breakfast buffet to be really good!
GLO Hotel Kluuvi. MASSIVE room and nice bathroom, very centrally located and opposite the Karl Fazer Café. HELLO!
Radisson Blu Seaside Hotel. As you can see, the room wasn’t that special, but everything was very comfortable and they have a sauna on the roof!
Hotel Helka: Funky little design hotel in the center of Helsinki, 10 minute walk from the train station. Nice breakfast as well!
The Forenom Aparthotel is great if you’re on a budget! They have different types of rooms, from hostel-setting to furnished apartments like this one.
Where to Eat in Helsinki Tourist Guide:
Here are all the hotspots I visited that I would recommend to you:
- Karl Fazer Café [tripadvisor]
- Espresso House [tripadvisor]
- Fafa’s [tripadvisor]
- Savotta Restaurant [tripadvisor]
- Café Piritta [tripadvisor]
Get the Helsinki Card
This card gives you free public transport, free entry to the main sights and museums, a free sightseeing tour and discounts on dining, shopping, and tours. You can choose between 24-hour, 48-hour or 72-hour validity.
What to Do in Helsinki Points of Interest:
Here are all the top things to do in Helsinki Finland I would recommend:
- Forum Shopping Center [website]
- Stockmann Department Store [website]
- Arabia Store Esplanadi [website]
- Iittala & Arabia Factory / Design Center [website]
- Tour with Happy Guide Helsinki [website]
- Helsinki Olympic Stadium Visit [website]
- Löyly Helsinki Sauna [website]
- Finnish Nature Centre Haltia, Espoo [website]
- Suomenlinna [website]
Things to do in Helsinki in a day: See some great suggestions for tours in Helsinki on GetYourGuide:
Check this handy map for all locations to visit during one day in Helsinki, Finland:
Here are some great guidebooks with suggestions on what to visit in Helsinki and the rest of Finland:
Disclaimer: I was hosted in Helsinki in 2014 and 2016 as part of the #NBEFinland Helsinki Blogger Conference and visited in 2018 as part of my job at Space Nation.
Make sure to hang out in the Finnair Lounge at Helsinki’s Airport! So relaxed!
Wondering what to do in Helsinki for a Day? Bookmark on Pinterest for future reference!
This post is also available in: Dutch