Helsinki Day Trip
We got to visit Helsinki, Finland as part of our Baltic Easter travels and although we only had a day in Helsinki, we made the most of it and were determined to hit every Helsinki must see. I know we missed a few things, but here is what we covered sightseeing Helsinki for 1 day.
Full Trip Itinerary: Travel Plans – Baltic Trip to Estonia, Finland & Russia
Helsinki From Tallinn by Ferry
We started our day in Helsinki by taking the ferry from Tallinn, Estonia. With three ferry companies offering a range of travel options and only a 2 hour trip, this is a great way to see two European capitals over a long weekend. The first ferry of the day will get you to Helsinki by 8:30am and the last one heading back to Tallinn leaves Finland at 10:30pm, so you could even do a day trip to Helsinki and stay in Tallinn for your entire trip. We had to catch a train to Saint Petersburg from Helsinki the next morning so we stayed in Helsinki for the night. Regardless, we were pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the ferry which was more like a cruise ship. It was also great to have breakfast on the ferry and be able to get off the boat and go when we arrived.
We Loved Tallinn by the way: Tallinn, Estonia is Awesome! You Should Go. Here is Why.
Explore Suomenlinna, the Sea Fortress of Finland
This World Heritage site is a Swedish-built fortress that was constructed during the mid 1700’s when Finland was the frontier of the Swedish empire. It was built on islands in Helsinki Harbor to repel Russian aggression along the border of the Swedish territories and project power into the Baltic against a growing Russian empire. The fortress and the lands of Finland eventually fell to the Russian’s in the early 1800’s, and today it is an impressive relic of that history with a well preserved fortress, stunning natural features and even 800 residents who live there full time.
How Do You Get to Suomenlinna? It’s a nice boat ride from Helsinki Harbor aboard the HSL ferry. You can find the ticket boxes at the eastern side of Market Square across from the Presidential Palace. The 15 minute ride gives you a beautiful view of the waterfront and nature approaching the islands that make up Suomenlinna.
Getting Around Suomenlinna can be a little difficult for travelers with mobility issues. The streets are uneven cobblestone and there are hills, sand, planks over mud and gravel to contend with as you explore the fortress.
Facilities Available at Suomenlinna include 5 public toilets located around the enclosure as well as numerous cafes, restaurants and a grocery store. This makes it easy to spend most of your day in Suomenlinna and even stick around for lunch before you leave the islands.
Helsinki Finnish Sauna
The sauna is a huge part of experiencing Finnish culture, and there are plenty of options for visiting one in Helsinki. Close to the docking point of the ferry to Suomenlinna you’ll find the one that we visited, the Allas Sea Pool. This hub on Helsinki’s South Harbor boast three pools and a men’s and women’s sauna. The pools are built into a floating deck on the Baltic Sea water and include a children’s pool, a heated warm water pool and a chilly sea water pool.
We arrived and bought our passes and rented towels – the total was 22 euro each. We showered in the locker room and made out way to the men’s sauna to have a good sweat before checking out the pool. The steam felt great and we relaxed for a while, but did not last as long as many of the locals inside the sauna. Although there were some takers who braved the frigid temperatures, we both decided to pass on the cold water of the sea pool. It was cold enough to be walking outside in a towel and bathing suit in 50F/10C weather so we took a dip in the heated pool. It was fun to be swimming in early Spring and the optics of swimming at the same level of the harbor added to the experience.
After leaving the pool, we showered and dried off to explore the deck built around the pools. The three-floor deck gave us great views of the harbor, the other swimmers at the Sea Pools and we were able to have a glass of wine and enjoy the sun while being dry and warm. There is a restaurant and snack bar in the same location, but we waited to eat elsewhere in Helsinki.
Check out GetYourGuide for all kinds of tours and Helsinki options
Self-Guided Walking Tour
When you visit Helsinki, there are a number of walking tours you can take part in, but for only having one day we decided to plot our own course and visit some sites we researched in advance. We opted to skip detailed tours in favor of admiring the exterior of some iconic Finnish structures. Here’s what we made it out to:
Market Square – From the South Harbor, when we left Allas Sea Pools, we walked across the harbor towards kauppatori or Market Square. This area pops with 19th century buildings and a noble, eagle-topped obelisk made of polish stone called Keisarinnankivi, meaning Empress’ Stone. It was dedicated to Helsinki by Russian Tsar Nicolas I and Tsarina Alexandra. Another work of art is the fountain Havis Amanda, a female nude statue known as the symbol of Helsinki.
Cathedrals – There are two cathedrals we made a point to see, including Tuomiokirkko, the Helsinki Cathedral. This neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral is spectacular and the plaza in front is a nice place to stop for a picture, to sit and enjoy the scenery or to just gather yourself and rest your legs. Make sure to admire the zinc statues of the 12 apostles. Next we walked to Uspenskin Katedraali, the Russian Orthodox cathedral whose golden onion domes are hard to miss from the harbor. The red-brick structure was built in 1868 and dominates the skyline.
Esplanadin Puisto – We walked back from the harbor area through the “Espa” to take in the beauty of the green open space along corridors of high-end retail shops. The four-block street was opened in 1818 and was designed to be a street of shops and open park space for picnicking and enjoying nature in an urban setting. The vision seems realized in my opinion, and we really enjoyed walking along this stretch of the city.
Sunset at the Best Helsinki Rooftop Bar
We did our research to find out where we could go to get a birds-eye view of the city and enjoy a drink for sunset. We were pointed to Hotel Torni (Yrjönkatu 26), a historic tower hotel that was originally opened in 1931, becoming the tallest building in Finland at the time. From the lobby, we took the elevator up to the top floor and then a spiral staircase to the roof. We found a large crowd and scarce seating when we first arrived, obviously others had done their research like we did. By the time the sun set we were able to secure a table and we were rewarded with incredible hues of orange, pink and red as the sun set over Finland.
Dinner Options in Helsinki
Dinner would be expensive wherever we went, but with Hotel Torni being located in the Design district of Helsinki, there were lots of options nearby. We had a palate for beer, so we just went to a local pub and ordered burgers and drinks for about 35 euro each. A second option, which we would have done if we had a second night, is to do a sunset river cruise from the harbor. We noticed many options advertised along the stretch from Market Square and all along the harbor, so that is something we will look into the next time we are in Helsinki.
I had a good time in Helsinki. I fell in love with Saint Petersburg and Tallinn while on this same trip, so it’s a little tough for Helsinki to hold up sandwiched between those two cities. Fortunately, this is what I was prepared for, people who visited Helsinki before me gave me appropriate expectations. Helsinki’s growth as a city didn’t really occur until the early 1800’s so the architecture isn’t as spectacular as older capitals of Europe. Historically, Finland has been part of Sweden and then an autonomous duchy of the Russian Empire, so part of its history belongs to other nations. Still, there’s a lot to relive, explore and discover in Helsinki and if you have a day to spend there, this itinerary won’t let you down. It didn’t let us down at all!