When you think of Helsinki, it’s not necessarily somewhere that jumps out at you, somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Well it wasn’t for me either, until I started researching it. I knew I would be spending 24 hours in Helsinki on my way back from my search for the Northern Lights in Finland.
And boy was it a delightful surprise!
Helsinki, also known as the City of Architecture, is a sweet little city, and after 24 hours you might not want to leave. It’s easy to get around on foot, you can even walk from one side of the city to the other in less than 40 minutes.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase anything through a link, I may earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you. You can read my full disclaimer here.
How to get to Helsinki
Helsinki city centre is located approximately twenty kilometres from Vantaa Airport. Catch one of the I or P trains and you can be in the city centre within thirty minutes. You can get your ticket at one of the ticket machines on the platforms. Just make sure you get your ticket before you get on the train.
You can also find buses and taxis that take you from the airport to the city centre, but train is by far the fastest way to travel and you can avoid the Helsinki traffic.
Where to stay in Helsinki
Let’s get this out in the open first and foremost. I’m not a backpacking, hostel staying kind of traveller. Hats off to you if you are, but that’s not me. I like my comfort!
I stayed at the Scandic Hotel Simonkentta, having stayed at the Scandic Hotel Airport on my way to Lapland. Now I am picky when it comes to my hotels (I’m sure you got that from my non-backpacking, hostel staying statement above). I like to stay in nice hotels when I travel.
The rooms were stylish and comfortable and the staff friendly. Although it’s located right in the city centre, just five minutes’ walk from Central Station, it was so quiet at night, another must have for me when travelling.
The best thing about this hotel? They cater for so many dietary requirements! I am gluten free and lactose intolerant (with various other intolerances) and you have no idea how excited I was at breakfast the next morning – I may or may not have taken one of their ridiculously tasty cookies (or four) for later!
Where to eat in Helsinki
Everywhere! Finland has been one of my all-time foodie favourites. Usually I struggle to find nice places to eat with the restrictions I have. However, Finland is more than suitable for the coeliac or gluten intolerant, lactose free or dairy free diets. They even have gluten free McDonalds if that’s more your fancy!
I found Glutique Café on my Find Me Gluten Free app and, honestly, I would take another trip back to Helsinki just for this food! They had everything from pancakes and pastries, soups and sandwiches.
They even had items you can buy such as cereals, biscuits, and different types of gluten free flours.
You can also stop by the Hard Rock Café for lunch or dinner and if you’re anything like me, purchase your 24th Hard Rock Café t-shirt from the Rock Shop.
If you happen to visit in summer, you are in for a treat as you’ll find bikes and food trucks offering everything from ice-cream to barbeque food.
If you want to blend in with the locals, head for a coffee in one of the many quirky cafés which line the streets of Helsinki. Fun fact – Finnish people are the biggest coffee drinkers!
What to see and do in Helsinki
Take a tram ride
Tram is the most popular way to get around Helsinki, other than by foot. You can either hop on and off as you please and take in the city at your own leisure, or you can couple it with a walking tour such as this one.
For an even more memorable way to experience the city, take a ride in the vintage tram tour. The tour lasts approximately 20 minutes and you can buy a ticket directly from the conductor on board the tram.
Visit the Temppeliaukio Church
Otherwise known as ‘the Rock Church’, Temppeliaukio Church is one of Helsinki’s most popular architectural attractions. This cave like church was built underground and carved out of solid rock.
Famous for its exhilarating acoustics, you may be lucky enough to see one of the many concerts held there.
The best time of day to visit is before noon, when the sun shines through the dome, illuminating the entire church.
Visit a museum
This is the tough one – picking just one or even five museums to visit in Helsinki is next to impossible! Home to approximately 100 museums and galleries, there is something for everyone. You are truly spoilt for choice.
So I give you my two choices:
- The Finnish Museum of Photography: Showcasing photography from both professional and amateurs, you can see over 3.5 million photographs in the museum.
- Finnish Museum of Natural History: Check out the two giraffes having coffee on the balcony of the museum! One for little and big kids alike, the exhibits in the Museum of Natural History include The Story of the Bones, Finnish Nature, World Nature and History of Life.
Take in the architecture and monuments
- Sibelius Monument: Located in Sibelius Park, this monument is dedicated to the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius and consists of 600 hollow steel pipes, which represent organ pipes.
- Helsinki Cathedral: At the top of Senate Square sits Helsinki Cathedral, a Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church. As soon as you get to the top of the steps up to the cathedral, make sure you turn around and check out the stunning view of Helsinki.
- Alexis Kivi Memorial: This bronze statue depicts a very pensive Alexis Kivi sitting in a chair. It sits in front of the Finnish National Theatre.
- Helsinki Railway Station: Likely to be your first impression of Helsinki (if you catch the train from airport that is), Helsinki Railway Station is one of the most famous landmarks the city has to offer. Lit up at night are four statues standing guard at either side of the arched window entrance. Another feature of the granite-clad railway station is the clock tower.
Relax in a sauna
You absolutely CANNOT visit Finland without checking out one of the saunas. It’s a rule, you won’t be let in otherwise (OK, I exaggerate slightly). There are almost 3 million saunas in Finland. In fact, there are more saunas than there are cars!
My pick is Loyly Sauna. You can eat, drink out on the terrace, relax in one of the wood-heated or Finnish smoke sauna and then jump into the freezing Baltic Sea! Which is apparently very good for you. So good, I did it twice!
If there’s a group of you, you can rent the private sauna which fits 10 people
Just make sure to bring a swim suit or rent one there. They’re mandatory!
Planning a trip to Helsinki? Here are my go to sites for planning a trip:
For activities: Get Your Guide
For hotels: Booking.com
For flights: Skyscanner
For travel insurance: World Nomads