How to spend one day in Helsinki, Finland
One day itinerary for Helsinki
Helsinki in Finland is one of Scandinavia’s more modern cities; think wide clear walkways, plenty of shopping centres and modern architecture. The country gained its independence just over 100 years ago in 1917. Helsinki is also one of the cheaper Nordic cities to visit, which makes it a great place for a night out, and the currency is the euro which makes the trip nice and easy for European travellers.
1. Old Market Hall
I started my day in Helsinki seeking out some brunch, so I headed to the Old Market Hall. This hall is lined with market stalls selling fresh local produce; salmon, salmon and more salmon. I grabbed a table at Story for a great hot chocolate and some eggs benedict with – you guessed it – salmon. It was delicious!
2. City Museum
After brunch I hit the City Museum, a four story building with a mixture of fixed and changing exhibitions. While I was there, the exhibitions were Helsinki Bites, which told the history of Helsinki, Time Machine, a virtual reality experience that showed how Helsinki has changed over the past hundred years and Fear, an exhibition exploring the concept of fear. Overall the museum was a nice way to get a feel for the city – for free.
3. Cathedral & Senate Square
Across the road from the City Museum is Senate Square and the Cathedral. Senate Square is the central place for events in the city. My friends and I were in Helsinki for New Year’s Eve, so the square was being set up for a big concert and fireworks display. The Cathedral is beautiful and well worth a look, and its an iconic part of Helsinki’s skyline. As its slightly raised, climbing the stairs gives you a lovely view back over the city. Once you’re done, walk down the scenic Esplandi towards the city centre.
4. Rooftop Bar
Next stop is the rooftop bar at Hotel Torni, Ateljee. Free to enter, the bar has a great view over the city skyline including the Cathedral and a solid drinks menu. It’s a great place to have your first wine of the day and get a nice picture of the city. On Saturdays the bar is open from 2pm; it’s quite small so it would be worthwhile getting there early before it fills up.
5. Sauna and Ocean Swim
The final must-do in Helsinki is to check into a sauna and dive into the ocean. Sadly this frightened me way too much to attempt in December but I actually wish I’d given it a try. There are several sauna centres to choose from, but the one I had shortlisted was Allas Sea Pool. I’m sure it would be magical in Summer and memorable in Winter too!
Where to eat
For my two nights in Helsinki I stayed at an Airbnb with friends, so was able to have a good mix of eating in and eating out. A note to those doing something similar: Helsinki doesn’t sell alcohol in supermarkets, and the standalone bottle shops all close on Sundays.
Breakfast & Lunch
Old Market Hall – Story
Da Vinci Italian
Putte’s Bar and Pizza
Molly Malone’s Irish Bar
Transport in Helsinki
Helsinki is a relatively small city, particularly the city centre, so it’s very easy and pleasant to walk around, even at night.
Getting to and from the airport was also a breeze. There is a local bus that runs directly to the central train station. It takes around 45 minutes and costs roughly five euro.
How much I spent in a day in Helsinki
Airport bus transfer: £4
Wine at Ateljee: £5
Allas Sea Park entry: £13
Late lunch or early dinner at Ravintola Aino: £55
One day total: £91
Make a weekend of it
If you have a full weekend my advice would be to spend the second day relaxing at Allas Sea Pool and spend more of your first day exploring a bit wider outside of the city.
Depending on the weather, two other activities for those looking to explore are Kaivopuisto to the South of the city – landscaped gardens with views out over the sea – or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and the seas look calm, you can get a ferry out to the island of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO listed sea fortress.
How much I spent in a weekend in Helsinki
Day one: £91
Airbnb in the city centre: £37 (single share of apartment shared between five)
Day two: £8 ferry to Suomenlinna, £20 for lunch and £4 for your bus to the airport
Weekend total: £160
My trip highlights
The highlight of my trip to Helsinki was having a great night out with friends, oddly enough for New Year’s Eve eve! We all arrived on the 30th, so booked in at Ravintola Aino for a lovely dinner – I had the Reindeer which was something new and it was cooked to perfection. We shared a bottle of Chianti red wine and had a lovely dinner catching up. After dinner, we asked the waiter for a recommendation on a bar with live music and he sent us in the direction of Molly Malone’s Irish Bar, so we headed on over and had a great time dancing the night away.
It was actually good timing to have our big night on the 30th so we were able to have a pretty relaxed evening for New Year’s Eve, heading to Senate Square for the bands and countdown. It started snowing at around 11:30pm so it was a magical way to bring in the New Year! Plus, I was back in bed by 2am and clear headed to kick off 2019 on the first day of the year – an added bonus.
The second highlight was the journey to Helsinki. Even though I’ve priced this day guide using return fares from the airport, I actually took the Viking Lines ferry from Stockholm to get to Helsinki. I was expecting a simple cabin and a quiet overnight trip, so the magic show, choice of restaurants, bar and huge duty free shop were totally unexpected but welcome additions to the trip.
Helsinki is a lovely destination for a city break with a full itinerary of activities that can be an urban adventure or natural paradise and an active escape or totally relaxing – the choice is yours.