We spent one day in Helsinki, Finland as part of our Baltic Easter travels. Although we only had a day in Helsinki, we were determined to hit every Helsinki must-see attraction. While I know it’s impossible to see everything, here is what we covered sightseeing Helsinki for 1 day.
Click here to see our full Trip Itinerary: Travel Plans – Baltic Trip to Estonia, Finland & Russia
Helsinki From Tallinn by Ferry
Our day in Helsinki began by taking the ferry from Tallinn, Estonia. There are three ferry companies offering a range of travel options and it’s only a 2 hour trip. This make’s it simple 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 back to Tallinn leaves Finland at 10:30pm.
You can easily do a day trip to Helsinki and stay in Tallinn for your entire trip. We had a train to Saint Petersburg from Helsinki the next morning so we stayed in Helsinki overnight. Regardless, we were pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the ferry which was more like a cruise ship. It was great having breakfast on the ferry because we could hit the ground running when we arrived.
We Loved Tallinn by the way! Click here for our guide to Tallinn: Tallinn, Estonia is Awesome! You Should Go. Here is Why.
Once in Helsinki, you’ll find that it’s very flat and quite walkable. The city is easy to navigate and in many areas it’s a grid. That’s hard to find in European capitals, but Helsinki is a younger city. Public transit is very good in Helsinki. Trams, buses and trains all make it simple to get from one end of the city to the next.
If you’re looking for a transit pass also gets you into the main city destinations, consider a Helsinki pass. A city pass is 50€ and includes unlimited public transportation and entry into the main sites and museums of Helsinki. Things are bit pricey in the city, so this can really help you see the city without breaking the bank.
Save time, money and energy and order a Helsinki card online by clicking HERE.
Explore Suomenlinna, the Sea Fortress of Finland
This World Heritage site is a Swedish-built fortress, constructed during the mid 1700’s. When it was built, Finland was the frontier of the Swedish empire. Suomenlinna was built on islands in Helsinki Harbor to repel Russian aggression along the border of the Swedish territories. This strategic Baltic Sea location was selected to project power against a growing Russian empire. Eventually, the fortress and the territory of Finland fell to the Russian’s in the early 1800’s. Today it’s an impressive relic of that history with a well-preserved fortress, stunning natural features and even 800 full-time residents.
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. On the 15 minute ride, you get a beautiful view of the waterfront and nature approaching the fortified islands.
Getting Around Suomenlinna
It can be a little difficult for travelers with mobility issues to navigate the great sea fortress of Helsinki. The streets are uneven cobblestone and there are hills, sand and gravel to contend with as you explore the fortress.
Facilities Available at Suomenlinna
Once inside the fort, you’ll find a lot offered, including 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. We visited the Allas Sea Pool, a sauna close to the docking point of the ferry to Suomenlinna. 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.
Getting to Allas Sea Pool
We arrived to buy day passes and rent towels for a total of 22 euro each. Then we showered in the locker room and made our way to the men’s sauna for a good sweat. The steam felt great and we relaxed for a while but did not last as long as many of the locals inside the sauna.
Next, we wandered down to the pool. Although some guests braved the frigid temperatures, we both passed on the frigid waters of the sea pool. It was cold enough walking around in a towel and bathing suit in 50F/10C weather, so we took a dip in the heated pool. It was fun to swim outside in early Spring and the optics of swimming at the same level as the harbor added to the experience. If you’re in Helsinki, definitely check out Allas!
Beyond Saunas & Sea Pools
After leaving the pool, we showered and dried off to explore the deck built around the pools. On the three-floor deck we had great views of the harbor and the other swimmers at the Sea Pools. We also enjoyed a glass of wine while we dried off in the warm sun. There’s 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
One Day in Helsinki Self-Guided Walking Tour
When you visit Helsinki, there are a number of walking tours you can sign up for. Because we only had one day, we decided to plot our own course and visit some sites we researched in advance. Here’s where we walked:
From the South Harbor, when we exited Allas Sea Pools and walked across the harbor towards kauppatori (Market Square). This area pops with 19th century buildings and a noble, eagle-topped obelisk made of polish stone called Keisarinnankivi (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.
We made a point to see two cathedrals, including Tuomiokirkko, the Helsinki Cathedral. This neoclassical Lutheran Cathedral is spectacular and the plaza in front is perfect for pictures, to sit and enjoy the scenery or to rest your legs. While there, make sure you admire the zinc statues of the 12 apostles.
Next, we walked to Uspenskin Katedraali, the Russian Orthodox cathedral whose golden domes are hard to miss from the harbor. The red-brick structure was built in 1868 and dominates the skyline.
We walked back from the harbor area through the “Espa” to take in the beauty of the green open space. Here we strolled 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. Locals love the espa 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 and found a birds-eye view of the city to enjoy a drink for sunset. We went to Hotel Torni (Yrjönkatu 26), a historic tower hotel originally opened in 1931. Upon its opening, Hotel Torni was the tallest building in Finland.
From the lobby, we took the elevator to the top floor and then a spiral staircase to the roof. Upon arrival, we found a large crowd and scarce seating. Obviously others had done the same research, but we did secure a table by sunset. Our patience was rewarded with incredible hues of orange, pink and red as the sun descended over Finland.
Dinner Options for one day in Helsinki
As expected, dinner in Helsinki was pricey, but the location of Hotel Torni gave us plenty of nearby options. With a palate for beer, we hit a local pub for burgers and drinks (35 euro each). Another option is to take a sunset river cruise from the harbor. Along the south harbor we noticed many cruises advertised, so this is something we will save for a future visit.
Overall, I had a good time in Helsinki, but I fell in love with Saint Petersburg and Tallinn. Because of that, it was a bit tough for Helsinki to hold up next to those two cities. Still, I was prepared for this because friends who visited Helsinki before me gave me appropriate expectations. Because Helsinki’s growth didn’t occur until the early 1800’s, the architecture isn’t as spectacular as older capitals of Europe.
Throughout history, Finland has been part of Sweden and then an autonomous duchy of the Russian Empire. While part of Helsinki’s history belongs to other nations, there’s a lot to relive, explore and discover in Helsinki. So, if you have a day to spend there, this itinerary won’t let you down.
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