Kevin and I just returned from our fourth European adventure where we visited two new countries that we were really excited about, Finland and Sweden. In Finland we spent a day and a half exploring Helsinki before heading north to Lapland where we adventured around the Arctic Circle.
Most know Helsinki as Finland’s capital city, but there is much more to it than just simply being the capital. Helsinki is Finland’s largest city. It is made up of over 300 breathtaking islands in addition to beautiful green urban areas. Whether you are looking for great food, beautiful architecture, exciting history, or a typical Finnish sauna you’ll be sure to find it in this vibrant seaside city.
In this post, Kevin and I are sharing our top 10 recommendations for what to do in Helsinki, Finland for one full day.
How to Get to Helsinki from the Helsinki International Airport
There are several different ways to get to Helsinki from the airport. You can either rent your own car, Uber/ride-share, taxi, or take public transportation such as a bus or train. Kevin and I opted for one of the most convenient options which also happened to be the cheapest, the train. As it turns out, Finland has awesome, user friendly public transportation and thanks to the HSL application it is extremely easy to buy tickets and navigate routes.
Since we opted to take the train, Kevin and I paid 8.20 euros for both of our tickets from the airport to the city center, pretty cheap huh?
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10 Things to Do in Helsinki in 24-Hours
Check out our video of our time spent in Helsinki. We cover the top things to do in Helsinki during the winter if you have one day or less.
1. Visit Cafe Regatta
Cafe Regatta is a must when traveling to Helsinki, especially when looking for a place to relax, enjoy a few Finnish treats and shake off the hustle and bustle of the city. This quaint cafe is located seafront in Toolo and is open to customers everyday of the year from 8:00 am until 9:00 pm.
Originally built in 1887, this building has been home to several small businesses over the years including a number of summer cafes from the 1950’s to the early 2000’s. In 2002, Cafe Regatta was opened and has been a thriving, frequently visited cafe ever since. Not only is this spot visited by tourists but locals enjoy dining here as well.
During the warmer months feel free to enjoy the sunshine and some snacks in Cafe Regatta’s patio area. During the cold winter months, you can enjoy a hot beverage under a blanket by the fire or if sitting outside is not for you, Cafe Regatta also offers indoor seating.
What should you get? Kevin and I recommend trying the blueberry pie, cinnamon bun, and mint hot chocolate. They are fantastic!
Click images to enlarge!
2. Go see the Picturesque Helsinki Cathedral
Located on the north side of Senate Square is Helsinki Cathedral, a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. Helsinki Cathedral is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions and remains a famous landmark for those arriving by sea. It is open daily from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. During the summer, however, hours of operation are extended until midnight. Helsinki Cathedral is only closed to the public during services and other church events.
Construction on this cathedral was started in the 1830’s and finally concluded in 1852. Atop the church are sculptures of the 12 apostles who are believed the guard the city from the roof of Helsinki Cathedral.
3. Hang Out in Senate Square
Before or after visiting Helsinki Cathedral make sure to stop in Senate Square. Senate Square and its surrounding architecture make-up the most historic part of central Helsinki and display wonderful examples of Neoclassical architecture.
Senate Square is surrounded by four main historical buildings; Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library of Finland, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and Government Palace. In the center of Senate Square stands a statue of Alexander II.
When Kevin and I visited Helsinki nothing was going on in Senate Square. However, if you plan to visit around Christmas time we definitely recommend checking out the Christmas Market that is set up here. Helsinki’s Christmas Market is the oldest and largest market in Helsinki and is sure to bring out the Christmas spirit!
4. Enjoy a 'Hug in a Mug' at Robert's Coffee
Since 1992, Robert’s Coffee has been offering customers some of the most delicious coffee in Helsinki. Robert’s Coffee, founded by Robert Paulig, was the first small micro coffee roastery in the city and marked the beginning of Finlands coffee culture that still continues today. Additionally over the last few years, Robert’s Coffee has been voted the Most Appreciated Coffee Shop Brand in Finland.
Today, Robert’s Coffee has expanded from its original shop and can be found all over the city of Helsinki as well as in a few other countries such as Sweden, Estonia, Turkey, and Japan.
Robert’s serves everything from their fresh roasted “House Blend” to espresso blends, lattes, and cappuccinos. Not a coffee drinker? That’s okay, Robert’s also serves a selection of premium teas, streamers, light shakes, and Italian sodas. Finally Robert’s Coffee also sells fresh and delicious sweet and savory snacks and meals. We definitely recommend trying one of their soft and crispy cinnamon buns!
5. Take the Ferry to Suomenlinna
Suomenlinna is a group of six islands containing a beautiful historic sea fortress that was founded in 1748. These islands are located right of the coast near Helsinki and were a base for the Archipelago Fleet during the Swedish era. Still standing on Suomenlinna today are historic artillery and defense walls as well as several historic buildings and sites like the King’s Gate drawbridge. Today, Suomenlinna is still one of Finland’s most popular sights with over one million visitors yearly.
Due to the amount of visitors, residents of Suomenlinna have started a number of charming cafes and restaurants on the islands. Everything from fine dining to delis and breweries can be found on Suomenlinna and with plenty of options everyone is bound to find something they enjoy.
The ferry to Suomenlinna costs 2.80 euros per person and takes about 30 minutes.
6. Grab a Quick Bite at Deli Deli or Market Square
Deli Deli is located on the coast next to Market Square and in front of GOODWIN The Steak House and is not your typical deli. This ‘deli’ is a historic local market serving delicious Finnish foods and of course Robert’s Coffee! Here Kevin grabbed a bowl of seafood soup with Finnish rye bread and I ordered a “hug in a mug” from Robert’s Coffee as well as a Runeberg torte.
A Runeberg torte is a Finnish pastry flavored with almonds and rum and topped with raspberry jam encircled by a ring of icing on top. This pastry was named after Johan Ludvig Runeberg, a Finnish poet, who commonly enjoyed this pastry with punsch (a Finnish liquor) for breakfast. Runeberg tortes are available from the beginning of January until February 5th, Runeberg’s birthday. Lucky for us we got our on February 4th!
If you are visiting Helsinki during the warmer seasons we would definitely recommend checking out Market Square. Market Square is a market that sells traditional Finnish foods as well as hand made crafts and souvenirs. This market is open during the winter, however, it is much smaller.
7. Check Out Uspenski Cathedral
Uspenski Cathedral is located on the same coast as Deli Deli and Market Square and across the street from the President’s Palace. This cathedral was completed in 1868 is the main Orthodox Church in the city of Finland and largest in Western Europe.
Kevin and I definitely recommend checking out this cathedral, it was our personal favorite!
8. Visit a Finnish Sauna! (Must)
As most of you probably know, Finnish people have a long tradition regarding saunas and bath houses. Unfortunately, determining when this tradition was started is difficult to trace but some say that it may go back to 8000 BC! Since saunas are a way of life in Finland, it is no surprise there are over 3.3 million within the country of only 5.4 million people! That means there is a sauna for every one and a half people, I mean how crazy is that!
That being said, this is definitely something we recommend doing! Even if you only have a few hours in Helsinki we recommend putting this on your list of priorities, you won’t be disappointed.
There are three popular public saunas in the city of Helsinki; Loyly, Allas Sea Pool, and Kulttuurisauna.
Loyly, located at the south end of Helsinki less than 1.2-miles from the city center, is situated on the Baltic Sea and is truly an urban oasis. This sauna is open seven days a week and features a beautiful restaurant in addition to the sauna. Loyly means the steam that is created when water is thrown on hot stones in the sauna…which is the perfect name for this establishment if you ask us!
Kevin and I chose to visit this sauna when we explored Helsinki. We chose Loyly because it has co-ed saunas, meaning that we could enjoy the sauna together rather than having to split up into male and female saunas and experience it on our own. While enjoying the sauna we were able to meet both locals and other travelers! We also learned more about the Finnish sauna tradition. For instance, women actually used to give birth in saunas because native Finnish people believed it to be the cleanest room in the home since it was so hot!
In Loyly, there are three different saunas. One sauna is continuously heated, the second is a once heated sauna which means it was heated in the morning and remains hot all day and evening, and the third is a traditional smoke sauna. The smoke sauna is the hottest for those who want to experience it. That sauna gets to about 210 degrees fahrenheit.
Loyly is 18 euros per person and Kevin and I recommend getting a reservation in advance.
Fun Facts about Loyly
- Everyone MUST wear a bathing suit while taking part in the sauna. If you forget your bathing suit that is okay you may rent a suit there.
- Loyly supplies guests with bathing towels as well as a small towel to sit on while in the sauna.
- People drink in the saunas! Since this is a public sauna you may not bring in your own drinks and must buy beverages provided by Loyly.
- It is polite to shower before and after your sauna experience.
- You can jump into the Baltic Sea regardless of the season!
Loyly Hours of Operation
Monday through Thursday: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
Friday: 11:00 am – Midnight
Saturday: 10:00 am – Midnight
Sunday: 1:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Monday through Wednesday: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Thursday: 1:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Friday: 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Saturday: 8:00 am – 10:00 am & 1:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sunday: 1:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Allas Sea Pool
Allas Sea Pool, located across from Market Square and next to SkyWheel Helsinki, is a garden oasis in the center of Helsinki. Though you cannot jump into the Baltic Sea here, they do offer both a warm water pool and a sea water pool. The sea water pool is filled water pumped from cleaner currents within the Baltic Sea, so in reality you are jumping into the Baltic Sea water!
Here there are three saunas as well. There is a sauna for males, one for females, and one private sauna which is a mixed gender sauna when there are no reservations booked. That being said this is a great place to go if you are on vacation with friends of the same sex, that way everyone can still experience it together or we recommend booking the private sauna.
Allas Sea Pool also offers a cafe for those who want to relax and enjoy the views overlooking the water and city.
Fun Facts about Allas Sea Pool
- If you are visiting in the winter, Allas Sea Pool recommends bringing your own hat for outdoor swimming.
- Swimming towels and robes are not supplied by Allas Sea Pool.
- Bring your own flip flops.
Allas Sea Pool Hours of Operation
Monday through Thursday: 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sauna & Pool:
Monday through Friday: 6:30 am – 9:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday: 10:00 am – 8:00 pm
Kulttuuri Sauna was established in 2013 and is open every week from Wednesday until Sunday. This sauna offers only separate saunas for men and women. There are no mixed gender saunas at this establishment. Additionally there are no reservations and no private parties. Patrons are welcome to enjoy the sauna alone or with one or two others. Groups larger than three people are not accepted.
As for the saunas themselves bathing suits and towels are not allowed in the saunas and customers may not drink on the premises or take any photos.
Kulttuuri Sauna is 15 euros per person.
9. Take a Ride on SkyWheel Helsinki
Located right next to Allas Sea Pool is the SkyWheel Helsinki. The SkyWheel Helsinki is a 131-foot ferris wheel offering panoramic 360-degree views of the city skyline and surrounding islands. What makes the SkyWheel Helsinki such a cool experience? This ferris wheel offers one SkySauna for guests to reserve as well as one VIP cabin.
The SkySauna allows customers the chance to enjoy beautiful city views while experiencing a Finnish sauna in the sky. In addition to the sauna, below the SkyWheel there is a large hot tube that guests of the SkySauna can use as well.
As we stated before, the SkyWheel also offers one VIP cabin. In this cabin there are four leather seats, wonderful views of the city, relaxing music, and your own personal bottle of Clicquot champagne which you can enjoy while riding the wheel. This experience lasts approximately 30 minutes and costs 195 euros for a group up to four people. If you do not finish the champagne prior to the experience ending that is okay. SkyWheel Helsinki allows customers to relax at the champagne bar/terrace while you finish off the bottle.
Hours of Operation
Monday through Thursday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
10. Walk along Huvilakatu Street
Located in the southernmost district of Helsinki you will find the beautiful Huvilakatu Street. Huvilakatu Street is similar to San Franciscos “painted ladies” due to its colorful pastel homes featuring large beautiful bay windows. This street starts at the corner of Tehtaankatu and ends at Merikatu which runs parallel to the Baltic Sea.
Kevin and I visited this area while walking to Loyly and it did not disappoint. The homes in this district are one of a kind and definitely worth the small detour.
Our Packing Essentials
So there you have it, our top 10 things to do in Helsinki in 24-hours! We know there is so much more to this beautiful Finnish city than these 10 things but these are some of the things we did that we truly enjoyed the most. We got lost wandering the unique streets, felt like locals at Cafe Regatta, and thoroughly enjoyed our time at Loyly getting to know both local Finnish people as well as other travelers which is why we are recommending these activities to you. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
As always if you have any questions, comments, or recommendations you would like to share please leave us a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
Have an exciting trip and safe travels!