There is no denying that Europe is a continent full of gorgeous cities. With so many popular destinations to choose from, other cities get overlooked.
One of the underrated cities is Helsinki, the capital of Finland.
For some reason, Helsinki doesn’t seem to make it onto people’s travel plans, itineraries, or even bucket lists. To be honest, I also hadn’t considered traveling to Helsinki before.
I visited Helsinki a few years ago after having a 24-hour layover on my flight back to London from Rovaniemi in Northern Finland.
My first thought was, what am I going to do in this city for 24 hours? It seemed like a long time to spend somewhere I wasn’t originally interested in.
I didn’t bother researching the place. My plan was to get there, walk around, and take it from there. If I was bored, I would just go back to my hotel room and stay there until it was time to leave.
After arriving my first thought was, wow this is actually such a beautiful city. I couldn’t wait to start exploring.
Helsinki has charming architecture, colourful streets, and a vibrant atmosphere. There is so much to do and see, you really do not want to miss out on anything.
Believe it or not, it is possible to get to know Helsinki quite well if you only have one day.
Continue reading to find out the top must-see things to do in Helsinki in one day to ensure you make the most of your time in this underrated city.
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How To Get There
Helsinki has one of the busiest airports in the world. So chances are you are able to find a direct flight. Check for flights here.
Once you arrive into Helsinki, the easiest and cheapest way to get to the city centre is by train.
The train journey is 30 minutes and runs approximately every 10 minutes during the day.
You can purchase your ticket at the train station.
Helsinki is a great city for walking, it is not crowded with tourists and the roads are flat. However, if you only have 24 hours you may not want to spend a lot of time walking.
The best way to get around the city is by bus, they are reliable and the most affordable mode of transport. You can get a 24-hour travel card for 12 euros.
The Helsinki card is worth getting if you are only staying for a day or two. It allows access to over 30 attractions including museums and tours and is a great way to save money.
The 24-hour card costs 44 euros and you get free entry into most of the top places so you do not need to waste time in queues.
You can also use the hop-on-hop-off bus which is another great way to get around and you can make sure you do not miss any of the interesting sights Helsinki has to offer.
You can book activities in advance. My favourite website to book through is viator.com. It’s user-friendly with affordable prices.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must. The fortress was built in the 18th century and was used to defend Sweden, Russia and Finland.
There are long walls and around 100 canons. It is built on eight islands and can be reached by ferry from the Market Square in Helsinki.
There is no public transport in Suomenlinna so a lot of walking is involved. You will probably need a few hours here.
There are six museums in Suomenlinna, but if you choose to visit just one then I would recommend the Suomenlinna Museum, you can learn about the history of the fortress and also about the people that lived and worked on the island.
I found this museum very interesting, it was one of my favourites. Other things you can find here are interesting tunnels, lovely parks, restaurants and cafes.
Stop for a coffee
Did you know that Finland is the top country with the most coffee drinkers? Yes, the Finnish people love their coffee so why not do as the locals would and stop to relax while drinking a coffee and eating a cinnamon roll?
3 kilometres from the centre of Helsinki you will find Café Regatta. This is one of the most popular cafes in Helsinki, with beautiful sea views and a campfire making the perfect setting to sit and relax.
I’ve visited quite a few churches, and as beautiful as they were, they all look similar to one another. But the Temppeliaukio Church is unique, with its rock decor, it is nothing like any other church. This church is definitely worth a visit.
Concerts are also played here. Check their website to see if there are any events on the day you are due to visit in case there are any that you may be interested in.
You can not go to Helsinki and not have a look around the Market Square. Located on the harbour front and close to a lot of the main attractions, it holds the most famous market in Helsinki. A lot of special events are held here as well as themed market stalls.
It can get busy with locals and tourists but I still think it is worth a visit, even just to try out some traditional Finnish treats or to buy souvenirs to bring back home with you.
National Museum of Finland
If like me, you have fallen in love with Helsinki then go visit the National Museum of Finland.
Here you will learn about the history and culture of the country from the stone age till the present. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours here as there are a lot of interesting exhibits to check out and so much to learn.
Helsinki Senate Square
This is the oldest part of Helsinki and it is where you will find some of the most important buildings, such as the Helsinki Cathedral (the most photographed building in Finland), the Government Palace and the National Library of Finland.
Take a walk around to get a feel for the historic side of Helsinki.
This is a long park located in the centre of Helsinki close to Market Square. Unlike other parks, this is where locals and tourists can go to listen to music, watch live performances or just to relax after a long day of exploring Helsinki.
It is the most famous park in Finland and a great spot to take some beautiful pictures.
Sauna and ice swimming
Did you know that Finland has over 3 million saunas? Many households have saunas as well as some cabins and most hotels.
Saunas are such a big thing in Finland that it is something you should definitely try while in Helsinki.
After spending some time in the sauna, you will jump into the ice cold sea or swimming pool (depending which one they have at the public sauna you choose to visit).
The Finnish people do this because they believe it is a great way to relax and reduce stress, amongst other health factors.
One of my favourites in Helsinki is the Loyly saunas. There are three saunas and a lounge area with a fireplace where you can relax and warm up after jumping into the icy Baltic sea.
If you prefer swimming pools instead of the sea then try out the Allas Sea Pool. They have three saunas and a swimming pool with sea water and amazing views of the Helsinki Cathedral and Uspenski Cathedral.
Take a boat sightseeing tour
One of my favourite things to do on a city break is to go on a sightseeing boat tour. And in Helsinki, it is no exception.
The Helsinki boat tour takes 1 hour 30 minutes and goes along the river passing some of the islands, the Suomenlinna Fortress and the Helsinki Zoo.
It is a good idea to do this tour at the beginning of your trip as you may see some interesting places that you might want to visit later on in the day.