On my recent trip to Helsinki, I only had a short amount of time to explore the city. I was visiting a friend (hey Veera!), and we spent a significant amount of time at the Matka Travel Fair during the weekend (which was the main reason I visited on that exact weekend). This resulted in having to explore Helsinki in a day in order to have time for all the things on my list. Luckily we were
Of course, if you have more than just the one day in Helsinki, that’s great! I strongly recommend spending some more time there than that, just to give you the opportunity to explore the city without a checklist (and really get to relax and soak up the local culture and points of interest). However, that’s not always possible, and we’ve gotta take advantage of the time we have, am I right? Personally, I managed to experience Helsinki in one day, and feel as if I have properly seen the city in spite of my limited amount of time (all though I do admit that I left wishing I had more time there).
One day in Helsinki – Exploring Helsinki in a day
There are plenty of things to see and do in Helsinki, but if you are short on time, this list should be your go-to guide. With just one day in Helsinki, you’ll want to make sure you hit the best sights of the city and get a few things checked off your list. But don’t forget to relax a little and simply enjoy the beauty of the Finnish capital, because there’s nothing that beats that feeling of simply walking around in a new city not knowing what’s around the next corner.
Perhaps you’re on a day trip to the city from another destination in Finland, or you (like me) are in town for a conference, and only have a few hours to spend in the city centre before you have to go back to the airport. With this guide, you can pick out your favourite Helsinki things to do and hopefully have time to do as many as possible. It’s completely possible to see them all in a day, but it would also make perfect sense to only focus on a few of your favourites. Regardless of how much time you have to spend, don’t miss these things to do in Helsinki, Finland!
On a layover but don’t have time to make it into the city? Here are my favourite ways to kill time during a stopover!
#1 Drop by the famous Cafe Regatta
This traditional little red hut was originally built as a fishnet shed for the family living in a nearby villa (actually, this was the well-off Paulig family) back in the late 1800s. Since the 1950s the shed was used as a cafe in the summer, but from 2002 it has been an established year-round location for anyone looking for a quick bite along the water.
The Cafe is incredibly charming, and everywhere you’ll see trinkets and artefacts hailing from Finnish culture and history. We visited just as the sun was setting, and in spite of the queue (as you can see in the photo below), it was such beautiful timing!
If you are visiting Helsinki in the winter, you’ll be excited to know that they have fires roaring outside where you can get warm, and you can even buy sausages from Cafe Regatta that you can roast on the fire yourself! It doesn’t get more Scandinavian than that. On a sunny day, you’ll find rather long queues, but most will say that it’s worth it to get a bite from this Helsinki staple. If you’re a food lover (and a sucker for the classics), Cafe Regatta should be on your Helsinki bucket list.
How to get there: The address of Cafe Regatta is Merikannontie 8, and it’s a 30 minute walk from the train station. We were short on time (and you might be too, if you only have one day), and so we took a taxi, which cost about €15 and took about 10 minutes.
#2 Visit the Temppeliaukio Rock Church
My friends told me about this place before my weekend in Helsinki, and it has to be one of the most interesting churches ever. Temppeliaukio means ‘Temple Place’, and this is a Lutheran church. It is also called ‘the Rock Church’ and ‘the Church of the Rock’. What makes it so interesting is that the church is carved into a large rock formation! It has excellent acoustics due to its dome-like shape, and beautiful natural light pouring in through the dome.
From the outside, all you see is the copper dome and a bunch of rocks lined up to form a wall (the top part of the church wall, to be exact). But once you enter, you’ll see the magic of this place. It’s carved right into the rocks below and makes for an impressive sight. Definitely worth a visit on your one day in Helsinki! Get more information about the Rock Church, including opening hours and event schedules, here! The church is located just a 10-minute walk from the Helsinki train station.
#3 Have lunch at Pizzeria Via Tribunali
When you have done a bit of exploring (and assuming you have the time to eat), I strongly recommend Pizzeria Via Tribunali. Not only is the pizza (and the wine) great, but the restaurant is also located quite close to the next tip on the list. Find them in Sofiankatu 4, just a stone’s throw from Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral. The atmosphere is nice and relaxed, the pizzas are amazing (I recommend the Quattro Formaggio with a white base – you can never go wrong with gorgonzola cheese), and it isn’t too pricey. This is a great little Italian restaurant in Helsinki.
#4 Drop by Senate Square
I said that the restaurant was close to the next item on the list, didn’t I? This is one of the top attractions in the city, so if you are trying to see Helsinki in one day, make sure to add it to your list!
Senate Square is technically just ‘on the way’ to Helsinki Cathedral, but it is well worth a mention on its own. The square is located right in front of the church, and it is surrounded by some of the oldest buildings in the city, such as the University of Helsinki main building, the Government Palace and Sederholm House (dating back to 1757, making it the oldest building in Helsinki). In the middle of it, you’ll find a statue of Emperor Alexander II, which was erected in 1894 back when Finland was a Principality of the Russian Empire.
Fun fact: after Finland was declared independent from Russia in 1917, there were several demands to remove the statue with suggestions of what to do with the space in Senate Square instead. But, all suggestions and intentions to make any changes fell through, and the statue is still there today.
Here’s another Scandinavian city guide for you; how to visit Oslo on a budget!
#5 See the Helsinki Cathedral
The Helsinki Cathedral is an incredibly beautiful building, perched right on the top of a little hill on the North side of Senate Square, and it is a must-see for your one day in Helsinki! The white building is particularly beautiful when it reflects the (winter) sun, and its impressive architecture will most likely take your breath away. On the roof of the church, you’ll find statues of all 12 apostles, who are said to guard the city. It is still used for regular worship services but is also open for tourists. If you have the time to visit the church, I highly recommend it, but the outside is stunning enough for those who don’t have much time in Helsinki.
Another popular (and stunning) church I’ve visited recently is the Church of the Saviour on Blood in St. Petersburg. Read my guide here!
#6 Experience SkyWheel Helsinki
If you only have a few hours in the city and want to make sure you get an amazing view of it all, a trip on the SkyWheel is a must. This 40-meter high Ferris wheel will give you incredible views of the city and bay, and ensure that you’ve checked off one of the top Helsinki attractions from your list. The whole ride around the wheel only takes 10-15 minutes, so this is a great activity if you’re short on time. With the Helsinki Card you can get a discounted price on your ticket, so make sure to get one before your trip.
Side note: The Helsinki Card also gives you discounts on other activities mentioned in this post, such as on the entrance fee to Helsinki Cathedral, FREE entrance to the Temppeliaukio Rock Church, and FREE unlimited travel on public transport. Get yours before you go here!
#7 Go on a Helsinki Stopover Tour
Another super efficient way to see Helsinki in just a day is to join a ‘Helsinki Stopover Tour’. These are tours that are tailored made for someone with limited time to explore the city (usually 3 hours
These tours are absolutely brilliant, as they will make sure you get to explore the city and all it’s major attractions, while also ensuring that you make it back to the airport in time for your flight. Of course, if the reason you have to explore Helsinki in a day isn’t flight/stopover related, there are also private tours available that don’t involve airport transportation, such as this private 3-hour walking tour.
Visit Helsinki in one day (from the airport)
Now that you’ve read some of my recommendations of what to do if you’re only in Helsinki for a day, you have a nice starting point for your trip! You may have time
If you are flying into Helsinki, and want to get from the airport to the city centre efficiently, there are several ways to do so. Personally, I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, which ended up costing €55 because of traffic (I’ve been told it’s usually around €45). It took about 45 minutes, but if you are not arriving during rush hour (like I did), it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
Alternatively, there are both trains and buses going between the city centre and the airport, and the Helsinki Airport website has a live view of their departure times and destinations here. Anyone exploring Helsinki in a day will find that it’s quite easy to use the public transportation there and that getting to the airport and back is quite simple.
If you want to make sure you make the most of your day in Helsinki, you can also book a private transfer to and from Helsinki Airport in advance. This is something I do from time to time if I’m exploring a city for the first time and only have a few hours to spare.
Visiting Helsinki in the Winter?
I visited in January, and so this can also be considered to be a mini guide to things to do in Helsinki in winter. On the day we explored the city, it was absolutely freezing, so my #1 tip for anyone visiting Helsinki in the winter is to dress very well. Layers, layers, layers, guys. Trust me on this. Also, gloves with ‘phone-friendly’ fingertips are a must! You don’t know cold until you continuously have to take your gloves off in order to take a photo or answer a message. With these gloves you won’t have to! Here are some of my favourites:
Don’t miss this winter travel packing list!
Where to stay in Helsinki
As I was visiting Veera and spending most of the weekend at the Matka Travel Fair, the plan was to just stay in her apartment for the weekend. But then Clarion Hotel Helsinki, which happened to be the location of the event/party we were going to on Friday night, invited us to
The beds were super comfortable, we had a coffee machine in the room (those are the only things I ever need in a hotel), and breakfast in the morning was incredible. So if you are heading to Helsinki for more than a day and need to stay overnight, I can definitely recommend the Clarion!
Want more of this Scandinavian? Here’s a great guide to all the places to visit in Finland during your trip!