A 1 Day Helsinki Itinerary

Itinerary Ideas for Helsinki Finland

If you're visiting Finland, you should definitely set some time aside to visit Helsinki - even if just for one day. There's plenty to see and do during a day in Helsinki, from food to shopping and sight-seeing.

I've visited on a number of occasions, both in summer and winter, and here’s what I recommend for a:

1 Day Helsinki Itinerary

The Cathedrals

Helsinki has two cathedrals. The first is the big white one in the middle of town (top picture in this post), simply known as Helsinki Cathedral – this is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral, representing the main faith in Finland. There’s a huge square here, as well as a nice pile of steps that you can sit on and people-watch from.

uspenski cathedral helsinki close up

The other cathedral I’d recommend taking a look at is the Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral. This impressive red brick building with gold domes is just a few minutes walk from the other cathedral, and sits impressively atop a hill.

Both cathedrals are free to enter, and differ enough to make them both worth the visit.

The Church In The Rocks

Ok, it all seems a bit religious so far! Fear not, we’ll move on to other attractions shortly. But the Church of the Rock, (officially called Temppeliaukio Church) is worth visiting even if you’re a pastafarian.

Temppeliaukio Church of the rock Helsinki finland interior

Built (you’ve guessed it!) into the rocks, from the outside the church looks like a UFO has taken up residence in downtown Helsinki. Inside, there is a beautiful harmony of carved out rock and design, with the interior naturally lit by huge skylight windows which circle the copper ceiling. It’s impressive stuff!

The Olympic Stadium

You know how I always like to get to the top of somewhere in a city to help orientate myself? No? Well, I do. Don’t worry, you have plenty of time to read the other posts on this blog where I go up things.

In Helsinki, the best place to get a view of the city, even if it is a little way north of the city centre, is the Olympic Stadium, where there’s a giant tower, from which you get a gorgeous view of the city and surrounds.

It costs a few Euros to get up the tower, although that does include the elevator ride, which will save your legs. Speaking of saving, if you take the hop-on hop-off bus tour of Helsinki you get discounted access to this (and many other!) attractions, although given the size of Helsinki, it’s only worth the investment if you’re really in a rush to see as much as possible in as short a time as possible. Or if it’s raining.

The Islands

Before I visited Finland, I had no idea how much of an island nation this place is. I already shared with you that Finland is home to the worlds largest island archipelago, but I also learnt that Helsinki itself is an archipelago of 330 islands!

Sailing boat Helsinki Finland sea clouds

These can be reached easily by ferry, allowing you to explore at your leisure, or if you are pressed for time, you can take a guided tour of the waterways.

I took the latter option, taking a boat tour which lasted around two hours. This featured an audio commentary and lots of information about everything I was seeing. Plus the boat had free Wi-fi as well as a bar, although sadly that wasn’t free. Still, it was a wonderful way to get a feel for the layout of the Helsinki surrounds, and I can very much recommend it.

The harbour

boat in helsinki harbour wide angle

The harbour area of Helsinki is a buzzing place to be, with bars and coffee shops galore, not to mention a fairly permanent market (see where to eat a little further down) where you can pick up souvenirs and the like, if that’s what you’re into. Whilst I was there I saw all sorts going on, from salsa classes to people just enjoying the unseasonably warm weather by swimming in the sea.

That all seemed like a lot of work though, so I just wandered around with my camera, trying out coffee shops and taking pictures of interesting looking boats and art installations. Which I think I succeeded at.

Naked pink man Statue in Helsinki

Where to eat?

I ate at a number of venues during my time in Helsinki, and was generally impressed by the food, although prices were fairly high. As I was travelling without Vera, food photographer extraordinaire, I failed to take any pictures of said food, but I do recall two memorable highlights:

Bar 9 – this was a great value find, serving up big plates of food for around €9 - €14 a go (a bargain by Finnish standards!). The pasta options were particularly good, although I have to admit that the noodles weren’t quite as exciting as they sounded.

The street food – I know, Helsinki doesn’t exactly have a rep for being a street food capital. But when I visited, I discovered that the street food scene was alive and kicking, serving up local specialties and treats from around the world. I generally ended up with some variation on reindeer or salmon, but you’ll find most cuisines are covered.

helsinki food stand esplanade harbour

Check out the Street Helsinki Facebook Page for the latest happenings, or head down to the market square by the harbour (Kauppatori) at lunch time for street food most of the year.

For more eating options, check out this Like A Local Guide to eating in Helsinki for ideas, as well as TripAdvisor’s listings for Helsinki eateries.

Where to stay in Helsinki?

Like the rest of Scandinavia, Finland isn’t exactly a bargain hunter’s paradise, although there are some great value options in the mid-range, and it’s certainly comparable to other capital cities in Western Europe.

helsinki street sunset tram tracks red house

And that pretty much sums up my thoughts on spending a day in Helsinki. If you have any more recommendations for what to do or where to eat in Helsinki, let us know in the comments below!

My trip to Finland was part of the #OutdoorsFinland project in partnership with Visit Finland, who provided accommodation and transport for the duration of my stay. Overeating salmon and reindeer remains an ability only I have.

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