Whether you’re arriving in Helsinki by cruise ship, or doing a day trip from Tallin, here are some options for things to see and do in one day in Helsinki.
Things to see and do in Helsinki
- Hop on hop off bus
- Helsinki Cathedral
- Observatory Hill
- Walk along the waterfront
- Go shopping
- Supermarket for Fazer chocolate
- Ferry to Suomenlinna Island for that iconic picture looking back at Helsinki’s harbour
- Vanhu Kauppahali (Old Market Hall) for lunch, traditional Finnish food (and a toilet stop!)
- Try Finnish food
Time of my visit: Mid-September
If you only have 1 day, this is what I recommend:
For this itinerary, you should get going by 9am to fit everything in. If you don’t want to walk between places, you could take the Hop on Hop off bus instead which leaves from the square in front of Helsinki Cathedral.
Helsinki is small, you can walk the main drag in an hour. In the morning, visit the Helsinki Cathedral…
Tip: most people take photos of this cathedral from the front (i.e. from the square). There were too many people with brightly colored jackets photobombing me so I walked up the hill and took this photo from the side of the cathedral.. which is a mirror of the front anyway. Plus you can pop your head in through the door and see what it looks like inside.
Then take a 5 minute walk to the waterfront and see the harbour. Wander around Katajanokka neighborhood, walk along Pohjoisranta and take photos of the harbour then Uspenski Cathedral.
Then head back to the main harbour and Vanhu Kauppahali (Old Market Hall) for lunch. There’s free toilets (although they’re the smallest toilets I’ve ever used – literally could barely sit without my knees hitting the end of the stall).
They have some weird foods in that market hall including tinned reindeer and bear and even reindeer chips!
There are also food stalls at the harbour (right in front of where the ferries leave).
After lunch, head up to Observatory Hill for a view over the harbour. There’ll probably be some cruise ships:
There’s few options to choose from for the afternoon:
Take the ferry to Suomenlinna Island. You can buy a ticket at the machines (they were blue when I visited) in front of the boats. Take the local ferry, not a tourist ferry (much cheaper!) – the local ferry looks like the one in the photo below.
Suomenlinna Island itself in my opinion is very overrated – there isn’t much there except a lot of cobblestones. I’d have a quick look around 15 – 30 minutes max, then hop back on the ferry. The best part about taking the ferry to Suomenlinna Island is the ferry ride itself and getting a picture of this view looking back at Helsinki.
Alternatively, you could skip the ferry and so some shopping at Kampi Shopping Centre, Forum, Kämp Galleria or Kluuvi Shopping Centre.
If it’s raining, the hop on hop off bus is a great way to spend the afternoon – the route takes you along the rest of the waterfront and the outskirts of Helsinki.
Or visit a rooftop bar or restaurant for a view over Helsinki.
This was the view from the roof of the hotel I stayed at – Scandic Hotel Simonkenttä (which had direct access into the shopping centre underneath via the lift!)
For dinner, I recommend Zetor restaurant. It’s pricey (like everything in Finland…) but it had good portion sizes, yummy food and an extensive menu. The chicken (below) was so good and I tried reindeer too!
Extensive menu too!
For dessert, the chocolate aisle of the supermarket was quite impressive. So many types of Fazer chocolate. The dark blue wrapper (milk chocolate) was my favorite.
Marabou is a Swedish chocolate brand not Finnish (I actually liked it better than the Fazer chocolate!)
Skip these Helsinki attractions
I didn’t care to see inside Temppeliaukion Church. You have to pay to enter (and it’s not cheap). You can see the outside from the hop on hop off bus. There are photos of the inside on the internet – that was good enough for me.
All the shops
Most of the shops are expensive, just focus on a few of the shops. If you like stationery shopping, see this post.
A long walk along the waterfront
The waterfront area is quite long, you’ll chew up most of a day if you walk the whole thing. The hop on hop off bus goes along the entire waterfront and you can get off at Observatory Hill or Cafe Ursula and walk part of it to the next bus stop.
You’ll notice I included the ferry on the list but not the island itself. Why? There’s not really anything on it. There’s some old houses, and walls but there’s not actually much to look at. The cobblestone on that island are brutal – some of the worst cobblestones I’ve walked on in Europe. Just take the ferry so you can relax and get a nice photo looking back at Helsinki, wander around the island for 15 min or so until the next ferry (they’re frequent), then take the ferry back to Helsinki.
I was super excited to visit this cafe as I love Fazer chocolate however I was disappointed. The place was so packed we had to wait in a queue out the door for a table. All it was was expensive food that looked like it had been sitting there all day (or was already gone by 2pm when I went there). None of it looked anything special or unique. I ended up just getting gelato (very expensive) but even that wasn’t that great. My mum got a hot chocolate. It wasn’t even hot and she said it didn’t even taste good she couldn’t finish it. That’s the first time Mum’s never finished a hot chocolate. I’d never go back there and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Is 1 day in Helsinki enough?
Yes if you like a packed itinerary and are ok with just seeing the highlights. I like to do 8am to 8pm days while travelling.
- Day 1 – Arrive in afternoon & do the hop on hop off bus
- Day 2 – The itinerary in this post (except Suomenlinna Island)
- Day 3 – Half day trip to Porvoo, Suomenlinna Island in the afternoon
If you like to travel slower, 2 days would be better. You’ll be less rushed and if the weather is unfortunate you can spend some time in a cafe or shopping, rather than trudging through the rain or snow.
There are some other places to note I didn’t include in this itinerary:
- Hakaniemi Market Hall (the market hall was closed for refurb during my visit)
- City Park – it was raining too much during my visit
- If you like the waterfront you may want to walk all along the front from the Old Market Hall to Cafe Ursula and then to Eira (a neighbourhood with pretty rainbow row houses)
- The hop on hop off bus. Expensive, but a good way to see everything if it’s raining
- Espanadi Park – near the middle of town. There’s nothing particularly really special about it but it’s nice to walk through on your way back to the shops from the harbour
- Heitaniemi Cemetery and Beach
Tips for Visiting Helsinki
- Make sure you wear comfy shoes – there’s no shortage of cobblestones!
- Bring an umbrella
- Prepare for it to be colder than you think – I was wearing boots, jeans, long sleeve shirt, vest, jumper and a puffer coat… in the middle of September
- Everything is expensive
- The bus is easy to catch from Kampii shopping centre if you’d like to get out of the city
- Finland’s currency is the Euro
If you’re staying longer than 1 day, take a day trip to Porvoo. Cobblestone lanes, adorable houses, a nice river and a hill you can walk up (it’s not that steep) for a view looking back at the town. I’ll be doing a post on how to get there with my itinerary soon!
There’s another cute town (Espoo) that I would’ve gone to if I’d had the time.
You could also do a day trip to Tallin via boat (I went there for a few days after Finland and will be posting an itinerary soon).
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