Updated 17 February 2022
When most people think of Helsinki, they think of a cold, isolated city in the middle of nowhere. And that may be true!
But even though Helsinki is located in a harsh climate and is not visited as much as some other European cities, there are plenty of things to do in this vibrant metropolis.
Helsinki is a beautiful city with so much to offer in every season of the year. From summer to winter, there are plenty of reasons why you should visit this Scandinavian gem.
So how exactly should you spend 24 hours in Helsinki? It can be tough to know how to spend your time, which is why I’ve put together this travel guide to help you make the most of your visit.
From sightseeing to sampling Finnish cuisine, here are my top tips for spending one day in Helsinki!
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Don’t have a full 24 hours in Helsinki? If you’ve got three hours or more at the airport before your next flight, why not try out a layover tour?
How To Spend 24 Hours In Helsinki
- How to get to Helsinki
- Where to stay in Helsinki
- Where to eat in Helsinki
- How to get around Helsinki
- What to see and do in Helsinki
How to get to Helsinki
Situated on the southern coast on Finland, this city is easy to get to from most cities in Europe, making it a draw for both business and holiday-goers.
If you are coming from further away, flights to Helsinki are often available via layovers in other European cities. A good option is Icelandair which, if you’re flying across the Atlantic, has a stopover service that allows passengers to break up their journey overnight in Iceland at no extra cost!
From the airport:
Helsinki city centre is located approximately twenty kilometres from Vantaa Airport. You can catch one of the I or P trains and be in the city centre within thirty minutes. Grab your ticket at one of the ticket machines on the platforms. Just make sure you get your ticket before you get on the train.
You can also find buses and taxis that take you from the airport to the city centre, but train is by far the fastest way to travel and you can avoid the famous Helsinki traffic.
You can get from most cities in Finland, including Lapland, to Helsinki via train. The trains are clean, fast and efficient. There is also a train which runs from St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia to Helsinki.
If you’re coming from Sweden, Tallinn, or St Petersburg, the best way to arrive in Helsinki is by boat. There are many different cruise and ferry companies that offer routes to Helsinki, so there’s sure to be one that fits your schedule and budget. You can find details of routes on the Port of Helsinki website.
Once at Helsinki Port, you can get a tram to the city centre.
Where to stay in Helsinki
If you’re looking for accommodation in Helsinki, there are plenty of options to choose from. From hostels and Airbnbs to hotels and apartments, you’ll be able to find something that suits your needs and budget.
For a bit of luxury:
Lapland Hotels Bulevardi is a beautiful, boutique hotel located in the heart of Helsinki. It’s within walking distance of many of the city’s top attractions and has some of the friendliest and attentive staff. The exquisitely stylish rooms are clean and modern. Upgrade your room to the Mystique DeLuxe to enjoy your own private sauna!
I stayed at the Scandic Hotel Simonkentta, having already stayed at the Scandic Hotel Airport on my way to Lapland. The rooms were stylish and comfortable and the staff friendly. Although it’s located right in the city centre, just five minutes’ walk from Central Station, it was so quiet at night, a must for me when I travel.
The best thing about this hotel? They cater for so many dietary requirements! I am gluten free and lactose intolerant (with various other intolerances) and you have no idea how excited I was at breakfast the next morning – I may have even taken one of their ridiculously tasty cookies (or four) for later!
To save the pennies:
The CheapSleep Hostel is a budget friendly, clean and modern hostel located just a 3km and an 8 minute bus ride into the city. You have the use of the kitchen and there’s a shop next door where you can buy food to cook.
Have you ever wanted to sleep in an old prison? Of course you have! Hotel Katajanokka is a beautifully converted hotel, located in the old Helsinki prison. Don’t worry, before it was converted they have it blessed by five priests to remove any negative energy that came along with the building.
Where to eat in Helsinki
Everywhere! Finland has been one of my all-time foodie favourites. Usually I struggle to find nice places to eat with the restrictions I have. However, Finland is more than suitable for the coeliac or gluten intolerant, lactose free or dairy free diets. They even have gluten free McDonalds if that’s more your fancy!
I found Glutique Café on my Find Me Gluten Free app and, honestly, I would take another trip back to Helsinki just for this food! They had everything from pancakes and pastries, soups and sandwiches. They even had items you can buy to take home such as cereals, biscuits, and different types of gluten free flours.
Stop by the Old Market Hall for lunch. See more about this in the itinerary below.
You can also pop into the Hard Rock Café for dinner and if you’re anything like me, purchase your 24th Hard Rock Café t-shirt from the Rock Shop.
If you happen to visit in summer, you are in for a treat as you’ll find bikes and food trucks offering everything from ice-cream to barbeque food.
If you want to blend in with the locals, head for a coffee in one of the many quirky cafés which line the streets of Helsinki. Fun fact – Finnish people are the biggest coffee drinkers!
How to get around Helsinki
Helsinki is a very walkable city and you can easily explore the sights on foot. You can definitely walk the length and breadth of Helsinki in one day.
Tram is the most popular way of getting around Helsinki, other than by foot. Tram route number two gives you the best sightseeing tour of the city. Routes number three, four and six also have points of interest. Pick up a route map and you’ll be able to plan your sightseeing.
For an even more memorable way to experience the city, take a ride in the vintage tram tour. The tour lasts approximately 20 minutes and you can buy a ticket directly from the conductor on board the tram.
Pick up a yellow bike and explore Helsinki on wheels. You can drop it off at one of 240 bike stations throughout the city when you’re done!
Not as fun as the tram or cycling around the city, but a great way to get around if you’re on a budget. There are a ton of different bus routes to take you wherever you need to go in Helsinki.
You can find a taxi at specified taxi ranks or hail them on the street if the yellow light is showing. You can also call for a taxi to pick you up. Your hotel can also arrange this for you. A taxi to the airport from central Helsinki will cost you approximately €50.
What to see and do in Helsinki
Visit the Temppeliaukio Church
Otherwise known as ‘the Rock Church’, Temppeliaukio Church is one of Helsinki’s most popular architectural attractions. This cave like church was built underground and carved out of solid rock.
Famous for its exhilarating acoustics, you may be lucky enough to see one of the many concerts held there.
The best time of day to visit is before noon, when the sun shines through the dome, illuminating the entire church.
Stroll down Aleksanterinkatu
Aleksanterinkatu is Helsinki’s most famous shopping street. With its wide sidewalks, interesting architecture and lovely cafes, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon people watching. It also happens to be the oldest street in Helsinki.
Visit a museum
This is the tough one – picking just one or even five museums to visit in Helsinki is next to impossible! Home to approximately 100 museums and galleries, there is something for everyone. You are truly spoilt for choice.
So I give you my picks:
- The Finnish Museum of Photography: Showcasing photography from both professional and amateurs, you can see over 3.5 million photographs in the museum.
- Finnish Museum of Natural History: Check out the two giraffes having coffee on the balcony of the museum! One for little and big kids alike, the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History include The Story of the Bones, Finnish Nature, World Nature and History of Life.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma: This museum is part of the Finnish National Gallery and home to current modern art from Finland and abroad. The museum’s primary goal is to display cutting-edge art to enhance its status.
Have lunch at the Old Market Hall
This beautiful old market hall in Market Square has been around since the 19th century and is a Helsinki institution and a must-visit for foodies. With over 20 shops selling everything from fresh seafood to international cuisine, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Locals come to stock up on fresh baked goods, cheese and meat and it’s a great place to buy a few souvenirs, such as Fazer sweets, glassware, spices or reindeer jerky!
Walk off lunch at Esplanadi Park
Esplanadi Park is a large, leafy park in the heart of Helsinki. It’s the perfect place to relax after a big meal – and it’s free! Take a walk, read a book or just people watch.
Take in the architecture and monuments
- Sibelius Monument: Located in Sibelius Park, this monument is dedicated to the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius and consists of 600 hollow steel pipes, which represent organ pipes.
- Helsinki Cathedral: At the top of Senate Square sits Helsinki Cathedral, a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. As soon as you get to the top of the steps up to the cathedral, make sure you turn around and check out the stunning view of Helsinki.
- Alexis Kivi Memorial: This bronze statue depicts a very pensive Alexis Kivi sitting in a chair. It sits in front of the Finnish National Theatre.
- Helsinki Railway Station: Likely to be your first impression of Helsinki (if you catch the train from airport that is), Helsinki Railway Station is one of the most famous landmarks the city has to offer. Lit up at night are four statues standing guard at either side of the arched window entrance. Another feature of the granite-clad railway station is the clock tower.
- Uspenski Cathedral: This 19th century Eastern Orthodox church is the largest in Western Europe. It’s worth a visit, even to admire its beautiful cupolas and golden crosses from outside.
Take the ferry to Suomenlinna
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a sea fortress located on a group of islands off the coast of Helsinki. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon, with plenty of walking trails, cafes, museums and restaurants.
The ferry ride there is also enjoyable, as you get to see Helsinki from another perspective. This was definitely one of my favourite things to do during my 24 hours in Helsinki.
Relax in a sauna
You absolutely cannot visit Finland without checking out one of the saunas. It’s a rule, you won’t be let in otherwise (I exaggerate slightly). There are almost 3 million saunas in Finland. In fact, there are more saunas than there are cars!
My pick is Loyly Sauna. You can eat, drink out on the terrace, relax in one of the wood-heated or Finnish smoke sauna and then jump into the freezing Baltic Sea! Which is apparently very good for you. So good, I did it twice!
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So there you have it – a perfect 24 hours in Helsinki. If you only have one day to spend in this amazing city, make sure to follow my guide and you won’t be disappointed.
I would love to hear about your own experiences spending time in Helsinki. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve spent 24 hours in Helsinki and what your favourite activities were.
Vourneen is a travel junkie and chronic illness warrior. Although she was late to game in terms of travelling, she has picked up numerous tips and tricks from the almost 30 countries she has visited in the past 5 years.