Surprisingly, Scandinavian capital Helsinki (Finland) is often overlooked. It seems like quite some people visit or pass through the city but then forgets about it. We have no clue why; on our city trip to Helsinki we had a great time! The Finnish capital city has many things to offer but within a day you can already catch the highlights. So it’s perfect to go to Helsinki for a day trip from Tallinn, during a long layover or on a cruise of the Baltic Sea. Enjoy the sauna, one of many museums, some delicious Finnish food and coffee: all during your one day in Helsinki! Of course, you can spend as many days as you want to explore the city, but we will share the best places to visit in Helsinki with you.
Fun Fact: for the second year in a row, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Helsinki sightseeing in a day
Visit sea fortress Suomenlinna
When we were telling people about our Helsinki-travel-plans everyone said: go to Suomenlinna island. Every local told us the same thing. But what’s so special about Suomenlinna? It’s the ultimate dream island of the Helsinki locals. When we think about a dream island something tropical comes to mind, but for the Finnish, it’s a different story. Suomenlinna is located only 15 minutes away from Helsinki. It’s surrounded by water and nature and the island isn’t reachable by bridge, only by ferry. So it’s located close to the big city but when you are on the island it doesn’t feel like that at all! 800 ‘lucky’ people live on the island.
Suomenlinna is a sea fortress and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. It can get busy on the island with tourists, especially during the summer months, so make sure to go early in the morning to beat the crowds. Wander around the island and learn about the history in the Suomenlinna Museum. The island is open the whole year round for visitors and you can hop on the ferry from the Market Square in Helsinki.
Get a coffee (or two!) at Cafe Regatta
Before visiting Helsinki we didn’t know anything about this at all, but Finnish drink the most coffee in the world! That means Finland is heaven for Maartje as she’s a huge coffee lover. For the Finnish 8 or 9 cups of (filtered) coffee a day is normal. Coffee is a social happening in Finland and therefore coffee is often enjoyed with a cookie or cake. In Helsinki, you can find many (hipster) coffee shops but for a whole different experience, you should go to Cafe Regatta. Cafe Regatta is a cute little traditional cafe next to the sea. The cafe makes for great pictures and inside you can get drinks and some snacks. Good to know: if you get a refill (Santsikuppi in Finnish), you get 5 cents back. How great? During the winter months, you can step on the frozen sea next to the cafe. On the ice, you will find some sledges for some guaranteed fun!
Very close to the cafe you find the Sibelius moment, which is worth a short visit as well.
Enjoy one of many museums
Helsinki has many museums and there’s one for everybody. If you want to learn more about the history of Finland, go to the National Museum of Finland. If you are looking for modern art take a look inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. For a combination of traditional and modern art, Amos Rex is the place to be. This underground museum already looks very artsy from the outside.
Something you can’t miss when visiting Finland is the Moomins. The Moomins are created in the ’40s by Tove Jansson and the cute creatures are very popular in Finland. The TV series you might know seems a children’s series, but the original books are actually written for adults. Tove talks about much bigger issues. You can find a permanent exhibition of Tove Jansson at the Helsinki Art Museum (HAM). If you want to buy something from the Moomins, there are many shops in Helsinki that sell Moomin souvenirs. You will find Moomins everywhere in Helsinki.
Explore the city centre
The must-sees of the city centre of Helsinki are located close to each other and easy to see by foot. Things you can’t miss are the Senate Square (housing the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral), the Uspenski Cathedral, the market square and the old market hall. We aren’t that much into Ferris wheels, but if you are, there’s a Ferris wheel located next to Allas Sea Pool. And there’s something special about SkyWheel Helsinki. It has a VIP gondola and a sauna gondola. Imagine sitting in a Ferris wheel and sauna at the same time! Bucket list material?
Fun Fact: in Finland, you can enjoy more forest per square kilometre than any other European country!
End the day at the sauna
You can’t leave Finland without going to the sauna. Going to the sauna is part of Finnish culture and therefore you should definitely visit one! The word sauna is actually Finnish from origin and there are more saunas than cars in Finland, how crazy? Finland has a population of 5.5 million people and has 2 million saunas. Something we noticed when we went to the sauna in Helsinki: people talk in the sauna! We, Dutchies, are used to quiet and peaceful saunas but as it’s part of daily life in Finland it’s also a social happening. In Helsinki, Allas Sea Pool and Löyly are two of the most famous saunas. We recommend visiting at least one of them.
Good to know before going to the sauna in Finland: Finnish people normally enjoy the sauna naked but in public mix-gender saunas, everyone will wear swimwear.
Allas Sea Pool
Allas Sea Pool has three saunas: one for women, one for men and one mixed/for private rent. It also has three different outside pools: one warm water (27°/80.5 F) pool, a children’s pool (only in summertime) and a seawater pool. A seawater pool? Yes, it’s a pool with water from the sea. That means it’s the same temperature as the sea. Imagine how cold that is during the winter months! Finnish people like to cool off in the snow or cold sea water after their sauna visit. So definitely jump in the water as well, at least once.
We really liked visiting Allas Sea Pool. We love the combination of the sauna and swimming. Plus the whole complex looks very cool and unique. Bring your swimwear with you if you want to dip in the pools.
Löyly has two sauna’s, one normal sauna and one smoke sauna. Both of them are mixed-gender saunas but it’s also possible to rent your own private sauna at Löyly. The architecture of Löyly is beautiful and its location is perfect: next to the sea! Therefore you can jump directly into the water after a sauna visit. During winter months they make a hole in the ice so you are still able to go in the water. Especially during summer months, the terrace of Löyly is a wonderful place to have a drink! People also drink in the sauna, by the way, so don’t be surprised when people come in with beers.
Fun fact: Löyly means the steam coming from the sauna stones after throwing water on them!
Try out the delicious Finnish cuisine
While you can find all the f0od you want in Helsinki, we love trying out the local food, the Finnish cuisine. Finns love their food and we can taste why. During our Helsinki visit, we eat a lot of fish and it’s so incredibly fresh. A dish you can’t miss is a creamy salmon soup with potatoes and vegetables. The soup is extra delicious when it’s cold outside. We seriously ate salmon every day in Helsinki: in our soup, on our bread, in our salad and as a main dish for dinner. And yes, besides fish there’s a lot more to enjoy, reindeer for example (sorry vegetarians). We recommend the restaurant Savotta next to Senate Square for delicious and traditional Finnish food.
EXTRA: check out the best photo spots of Helsinki
We know, that not everybody is as interested in finding the best Instagram spots as we are, that’s why we made this an extra tip. If you don’t fancy going to the museum or sauna, make sure to check out these spots! And if you have a drone, perfect, since you can fly your drone almost everywhere in Helsinki without problems. There’s one area, above and around the government buildings (Senate square!), where you can’t fly your drone but besides that area, you are free to fly! Cool drone spots are the Allas Sea Pool and SkyWheel Helsinki, Löyly, St. John’s Church and on Suomenlinna island.
The street named Huvilakatu is a street in Helsinki we like a lot since the houses are very colourful. Named it “the rainbow street”, which makes for lovely photos!
Helsinki has many libraries and they are all so beautiful! The National Library and the University Library are our favourite ones. The new library, the Central Library Oodi, is a lot different but also worth a visit. Something cool we noticed in many buildings, inside the libraries as well, is that you can find spiral staircases everywhere!
The Best Restaurants and Cafes in Helsinki
- Go to the Restaurant Savotta for delicious traditional Finnish food
- Ekberg 1852 is Scandinavia’s oldest cafe and bakery. It’s the perfect place for breakfast, lunch and/or some sweet snackery
- For amazing coffee visit Paulig Kulma and Kaffa Roastery
- Of course, don’t forget to go to Cafe Regatta
- Looking for drinks with a view? Ateljee Bar is the place to be! You get the best views of Helsinki while enjoying a drink
- For a delicious salmon soup for lunch head to Fishmarket inside the Stockmann store, you will love it!
Good to know: always try to make a reservation when you go out for food in Helsinki, even for lunch!
How to get around in Helsinki?
The public transport in Helsinki is well organised and very convenient. You can travel around the city by tram, bus and metro. The metro system of Helsinki is the most Northern metro system in the world and only consists of two lines. If you come from the airport it’s very easy to reach the city centre by train, it’s only a 30-minute ride away. We highly recommend getting a Helsinki card, which you can use for all public transport (including the ferry to Suomenlinna and train to the airport), for the hop on hop off bus and to get free entrance to many museums.
What is the best time to visit Helsinki?
To be honest, Helsinki is a great city to visit all year round. We loved seeing Helsinki covered in snow and seeing how the sea turned into ice. And as it isn’t the high season in March, we barely saw any other tourists. During the warmer months, it gets a lot busier in the city and nature turns beautifully green! Every season has its pros and cons we would say. The 30th of April and the first of May are special days in Finland. During these days they celebrate the beginning of spring and International Labour Day. That means many people are out in the streets, many picnics in the park and lots of parties! Another important celebrating to put in your agenda: Pride Helsinki. Pride in Helsinki takes place during the last week of June.
Where to stay in Helsinki?
Decide to stay longer in Helsinki? We definitely recommend staying at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments. The location of the hotel apartments is perfect, just a five-minute walk from the train station. The apartments have everything you need, from a kitchen to a washing machine, to a private sauna! And it’s lovely decorated in Finnish design, which we love. They have cute studios but also two-bedroom penthouses, apartments that fit everybody!
Enjoy your Helsinki visit! Do you have any questions, let us know. And share your experiences with us after your visit!