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Helsinki City Highlights in 1 Day

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, as well as the largest and most populous city in the country. The Helsinki Metro is home to about 1.5 million people and comprises over 300 islands. However, most of the city’s top tourist attractions are clustered in the city center. That means that you can see a lot of Helsinki in just one day, and this post will show you how.

This 1-day Helsinki itinerary includes many of the city’s best sites, and arranges them in a way that will help you see and do the most. It factors in opening hours and the most efficient walking routes, so that you can focus on taking in everything that this city has to offer. If you’re ready to see Helsinki in a day, keep reading!

About this Itinerary

This itinerary fills one full day. As it stands, it works best if you have two nights in Helsinki. However, if you had an early arrival and then a night train (to Rovaniemi maybe) or vice versa, it can work for that too.

It’s also jam-packed with things to do! The goal of this one-day itinerary is to try to see as much of the city as possible in a short period of time, and I think it accomplishes that. Because of that, though, there’s some pretty tight turnarounds between activities. It’s definitely all possible, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Read more! If you have more time to spend in Helsinki, be sure to check out our Helsinki 3-Day Itinerary.

At its core, this itinerary isn’t very expensive. Many of the sites and activities on the schedule are free. In fact, the only ticketed attractions are Temppeliaukio Church (€8) and Helsinki Cathedral during the summer (€5). The more expensive tickets, like SkyWheel (€14) and Allas Sea Pool (€18-22), are marked as optional and are by no means must-do activities. Otherwise, costs will just come from any specific items you purchase, such as food or souvenirs.

For the most part, this itinerary works any day of the week. However, some sites are closed or have reduced hours on certain days. As it stands, this itinerary works best Tuesday through Friday, given the open hours of everything. However, if you’re visiting on a weekend, we’ve made some alterations to the schedule at the end of this post to help you fit in just about everything.

This itinerary also works any time of the year, even in the winter. (In fact, we personally did this in February.) Some things are more lively in the summer, such as Market Square and the Esplanade. Other areas will be more charming during the holidays, like Kluuvi and the Christmas market that takes over Senate Square.

That said, this itinerary calls for a decent amount of time outdoors, so dress accordingly. It also requires walking a total of about 3.5-4 miles over the course of the day. In some cases, public transit is available to alleviate some of those steps.

Itinerary at a Glance

Here’s a quick look at the schedule for the day. Keep reading for more details and tips to help guide your day.

  • 8 – 9 AM: Old Market Hall for Breakfast & Coffee (Closed Sundays)
  • 9 – 10 AM: Uspenski Cathedral via Market Square, with optional stops at SkyWheel and/or the Esplanade (Cathedral closed Mondays, and opens later on weekends.)
  • 10 – 11 AM: Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square via Sofiankatu, with optional stop at the National Library of Finland. (On weekends, Helsinki Cathedral opens later and the library is closed.)
  • 11 AM – 12 PM: Helsinki City Museum, with optional stop at Children’s Town
  • 12 – 2 PM: Kluuvi District & Lunch
  • 2 – 3 PM: Fredrikinkatu & Design District
  • 3 – 4 PM: Temppeliaukio Church (Closes at 4:50 PM, and doesn’t open till 3:45 on Saturday)
  • 4 – 6 PM: Sibelius Monument & Cafe Regatta
  • 6 PM & Beyond: Dinner, Allas Sea Pool (Closes 9 PM), wine bar and/or nightlife

What’s Missing?

This itinerary covers a lot, but it certainly doesn’t hit everything that Helsinki has to offer. There are a few major things that didn’t quite make the cut. Some notable misses include …

  • Suomenlinna — This island fortress is one of Finland’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The island offers beautiful views, a few small museums, and of course historic buildings and structures. It’s accessible by ferry all year.
  • Museums — Helsinki has some really great museums. Some of the highlights include a highly regarded natural history museum, several great art museums, a fun little tram museum, and a really great bank museum.
  • Parks & Gardens — In the summer months specifically, the many city parks are very lively and popular spots for picnics, recreational sports, and toddler playdates. For a flower fix in the colder months, Winter Garden is a beautiful indoor greenhouse that is open all year.
  • Seurasaari Island — This island is home to an open air museum, that features buildings that have been relocated from around Finland over various time periods. It also has lots of park space, beautiful views, a beach, and some other facilities. It’s open all year, and is accessible by bus or tram.

If you wanted to fit in any of these missing attractions, the best option would be to fit them in from 3 – 6 PM instead of Temppeliaukio Church, Cafe Regatta & Sibelius Monument.

I think the most tempting substitution is Suomenlinna. Three hours is a possible to see this fortress, but it’s a tight timeline. The ferry there is only 15 minutes, but it only runs every 20 to 40 minutes. For planning purposes, you should budget 1 hour of transit each way. The main walk through the island is about 3K round trip, plus you’ll want to spend time looking at the different sights and museums along the way.

Getting Around Helsinki

One last thing, before we get into the details of the itinerary. Let’s explain how we’ll be getting around the city. The good news? It’s easy!

For this itinerary, the main mode of transportation is walking (or rolling if you have a mobility device or stroller.) The city is very walkable and accessible, with well maintained sidewalks, walk signals at all major intersections, and pedestrian pathways. On top of that, most of the city’s top attractions are located in a pretty tight geographical area, so you won’t have to walk too far.

That said, if you’re not keen on walking quite as many miles, you can also take public transportation. Helsinki has a thorough network of transit options, including trains, trams, buses and ferries. All of these modes of transit operate on the same ticketing system. You can buy tickets in the HSL app or from ticket kiosks at select stations.

If you have just one day in Helsinki and are planning to take at least four trips on public transit, it’s cost-effective to purchase a day pass. This will give you unlimited transportation on all modes of transit within the designated zones for 24 hours. For this itinerary, you will need a transit ticket for Zones A and B.

Read more! If you’re considering taking public transportation in Helsinki, we have a detailed guide that explains everything you need to know about it.

Without further ado, let’s explore Helsinki in one day!

Old Market Hall for Breakfast & Coffee

  • Itinerary Timeline: 8 – 9 AM
  • Location: Old Market Hall
  • Hours: 8 AM – 6 PM (Closed Sundays)

The Old Market Hall is centrally located just off the Port of Helsinki. Inside the iconic striped walls of the market hall, vendors have been selling produce and seafood since the late 1800s. Today, the market has a variety of stalls serving up everything from reindeer sausages to jars of lingonberry jam to freshly baked cinnamon rolls.

It does get busy later in the afternoon, but it’s usually pretty relaxed in the morning. The market has a nice variety, but it’s not very large. You can easily take a full lap of the market to see all of your options before making your choice (or choices!) for where to eat.

There are a few good options for breakfast. If you’re not from Finland, Robert’s Coffee is a nice choice for a quick bite. It is a chain, but it’s a Finnish one, so it’s still a good pick for tourists. It’s a quick-service option, but they do have a seating area.

Tip! If you’re a fan of cinnamon, try the cinnamon latte and the cinnamon bun. Both were great.

For a table-service breakfast, Story is a great option. They are famous for their salmon soup later in the day, but for breakfast their menu features things like avocado toast, pancakes with jam and various takes on eggs Benedict.

Uspenski Cathedral via Market Square

  • Itinerary Timeline: 9 – 10 AM
  • Location: Uspenski Cathedral and Market Square
  • How to get there: Walk 2 minutes. If you’re leaving the Old Market Hall, follow the water north, past the tall ship, and you’ll run into the outdoor vendors at Market Square.
  • Hours: Uspenski Cathedral is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 AM to 4 PM, Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM, and Sunday from 12 PM to 3 PM. Market Square is open daily, and is usually busiest from 8 AM to 3 PM.

Not far from the Old Market Hall is another market, that has been central to Helsinki since before it was even part of Finland. The market was originally set up as a place for fisherman to sell their daily catch. You can still buy fresh fish there today (primarily during herring season in the fall), but the offerings have also expanded quite a bit.

The outdoor market is open everyday all year, but the exact hours, size and scope of the market varies quite a bit by season. The most vendors are out from the spring to the fall, selling everything from fresh produce to seafood to souvenirs. In the winter months, there are significantly fewer vendors. However, some of the food stalls have heated tents with seats and tables for patrons.

Uspenski Cathedral sits perched upon a nearby hill and is clearly visible from Central Market. It’s a short walk to the church, and some of the best views of the church are on the walk there. During visiting hours, you can enter the church from the main entrance and view the interior from a visitor area on the side. It’s free to enter and is quite beautiful.

Depending on when you visit, Market Square might take an hour or more, or it might just take 10 minutes. If you have extra time before the cathedral opens (9:30 AM Tuesday through Friday), consider filling it with one of these two options.

Optional: Take a spin on the SkyWheel

Another icon of the Helsinki skyline is the SkyWheel. It’s not the tallest of city Ferris Wheels, but at 131 feet, it does give you one of the best views in town.

The cabins are all enclosed and temperature controlled — in fact, they are extra toasty in the winter months. Each cabin fits up to 6 people. They also have some unique cabins, like a sauna cabin and a glass-bottomed VIP cabin, which require advanced booking.

The SkyWheel is fun and the views are great, but I would still consider this more of a nice-to-do and not a must-do. It’s pretty expensive for what it is (€14 per adult for 3-4 spins around the wheel). Plus, the windows are pretty heavily tinted blue, so the photos of the view are not that great.

Optional: Walk the Esplanade

If you’re not keen to spend money on the SkyWheel, instead fill your time at the Esplanade just west of Market Square. It’s a lovely park, sandwiched between charming shopping streets, that spans about three blocks.

This park is particularly lovely in the warmer months, but it’s also dazzling (and plowed) in the winter months, as well. There’s a statue in the center, but otherwise there’s nothing specific to see. It’s just a lovely stroll.

Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square

  • Itinerary Timeline: 10 – 11 AM
  • Location: Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square
  • How to get there: Walk about 1K from Uspenski Cathedral. Follow the main road past Market Square. Walk a bit further than Google Maps tells you to, and then turn right onto Sofiankatu for the best views of Helsinki Cathedral on your approach.
  • Hours: Helsinki Cathedral has different hours by season, so confirm the exact hours here. For the sake of this itinerary, the church is open during our suggested 10 – 11 AM block Monday through Saturday, and typically opens at 11 Sundays.

From one church-and-a-square to another. The next bit of this itinerary starts at Senate Square.

Senate Square is a large, open square surrounded by historical buildings and the looming Helsinki Cathedral. It is a nice square with a memorial in the center, but there is not any seating or street performers or anything. There’s not much of a reason to linger or people watch in Senate Square in most cases.

Note: During the holiday season, Senate Square is home to Helsinki’s largest Christmas market. The square is of course much more bustling and time consuming during that time.

After a short walk through Senate Square, head up the stairs to Helsinki Cathedral. The views from the top of the stairs are incredible, so it’s worth the hike up even if you don’t plan to go inside the cathedral.

The main entrance is to the left, if you’re facing the cathedral. The inside of the church is known for its cross shape and the intricate pipe organ, which is just above the main entrance. (Be sure to turn around!)

During the winter season, the church is free to enter and the suggested donation is optional. (You can pay at self-service kiosks near the back of the church.) If it’s free, it’s definitely worth going inside. During the summer season, the fee is required to enter the church, except for during free evening hours.

It’s a nice church, but it is not as ornate as Uspenski. I would probably say it’s fine to skip this one during the summer months when there is an entrance fee.

Optional: The National Library of Finland

A visit to Senate Square and Helsinki Cathedral might not take a full hour. In fact, I would say most people will be done with both in about 30 minutes. In that case, I’d recommend popping into the National Museum of Finland, located on the west side of Senate Square.

This library is free to enter and has a beautiful interior. Non-residents will not be able to actually check out books from the library, but you can still enjoy the beautiful architecture.

The library is closed on weekends, and you will need to check any large bags at the entrance.

Bahnfrend, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Helsinki City Museum

  • Itinerary Timeline: 11 AM – 12 PM
  • Location: Helsinki City Museum
  • How to get there: Walk half a block from the southeast corner of Senate Square.
  • Hours: Monday – Friday 11 AM – 7 PM, Saturday & Sunday 11 AM – 5 PM

The Helsinki City Museum is small, but it’s really well done. The museum explores the city’s history, through a variety of time periods and perspectives. It is engaging and informative, but pretty easily digestible. Best of all, the museum is completely free.

The main exhibit is on the second floor. It’s called Helsinki Bites, and it is an interactive experience that journeys through Helsinki’s past across several different timelines and “memories.” There is a large scale model of the city, a panoramic photo exhibit of the skyline over the time, and a full 1950s bedroom, just to name a few of the highlights.

There are a few other smaller exhibits as well, across a few different floors. On top of the exhibits, the museum also has a few different lounge spaces. The one on the fourth floor is small, but very cute with chair swings. There is a much larger lounge space adjacent to the cafe, which has more seating and more of a gallery vibe. These areas are great spaces to rest, especially if you’re visiting in the winter are need to warm up a bit.

It’s pretty easy to cover the museum in about 30 minutes to one hour. If you have kids though, you will definitely want to budget a bit more time and visit the children’s museum portion called Children’s Town.

Optional: Children’s Town

Children’s Town is the children’s section of the Helsinki City Museum. It’s adjacent to the main museum, and you can enter the children’s area from the main museum lobby or from the second floor of the main museum. Children’s Town is also completely free. It is truly a must-do if you have young kids.

Spanning across two floors, Children’s Town is a fully interactive space that allows children to explore the history of Helsinki through play. There is an old time classroom where children can write on chalkboards, a puppet show stage, play kitchen and tall ship, vintage toy room, and so much more.

If you are visiting with children, plan for a little extra time to visit Children’s Town while you’re at the City Museum. I would suggest 90 minutes to 2 hours total for both sections.

Kluuvi District & Lunch

  • Itinerary Timeline: 12 – 2 PM
  • Location: Kluuvi District
  • How to get there: From the City Museum, walk about three blocks west on Aleksanterinkatu, past Senate Square, and you’ll be in the heart of Kluuvi.

Kluuvi is a popular shopping and dining district that surrounds Helsinki Central Station in the heart of downtown. Aleksanterinkatu is one of the main streets that cuts through this neighborhood, and one of the prettiest. It’s lined with shops and cafes, with the tram line running through the center. To round out your walk, take Aleksanterinkatu down to Keskuskatu, which is a pedestrian street that leads right to Central Station.

If you’re interested in shopping, there are a few different malls, shopping centers and department stores in this area. There’s also several boutiques and gift shops. However, there’s a good chance you’re hungry by now.

There are tons of restaurants and cafes in this area, spanning cuisines, budgets and service styles. For a relaxed and easy meal, head to Roasberg. It’s a pretty quick option, and they have a great selection of salads and sandwiches, plus an incredible pastry case for dessert.

As far as timing goes, it will vary a bit based on where you eat and how many shops you visit. The next piece of this itinerary is also flexible, as it’s another neighborhood and shopping street. However you cut it, you should be able to eat lunch and explore Kluuvi and the Design District (which is next) in about 3 hours, from 12 – 3 PM.

Fredrikinkatu & Design District

  • Itinerary Timeline: 2 – 3 PM
  • Location: Design District
  • How to get there: From Kluuvi, walk toward the Esplanade and then head west. Walk past Old Church Park and on to Fredrikinkatu. Depending on where you’re coming from, the full route should be about 1K or less.

Fredrikinkatu is another main shopping street in Helsinki. It’s a great street to walk down as you head into the Design District. This whole area is very trendy, with lots of vintage shops, local boutiques, and art galleries. The street is very pretty, and again, the tram runs right down the center of it.

As a general route, walk down Fredrikinkatu from about Lönnrotinkatu (here) to Iso Roobertinkatu (here), then turn left (east) on Iso Roobertinkatu. The later is a pedestrian street that cuts through the center of the Design District. Maybe walk a half a block past that to visit Papershop and Relove Frida before you turn.

There are tons of great shops along this route. In addition to the two just mentioned, I’d also call out Zicco (toy store) and Roobertin Herkku (candy shop a few blocks further south) as great stops if you have kids. Andante is also a great pick if you need an afternoon coffee or snack.

Be sure to scope out shops on both sides of the street, because this itinerary doesn’t call for coming back up the other side. Instead, you’ll take the tram on to the next destination from the southern end of Fredrikinkatu.

Temppeliaukio Church

  • Itinerary Timeline: 3 – 4 PM
  • Location: Temppeliaukio Church
  • How to get there: Take the tram for about 10 minutes. You can either take the 10 from near the east side of Iso Roobertinkatu (here) or the 1 from the west side (here). Get off either tram at Hanken and walk about 1 block.
  • Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM most days, but the weekend schedule is messy. Review official hours here.

I wouldn’t add a third church to a one-day itinerary if it wasn’t necessary. Temppeliaukio Church is definitely worth adding because it’s not like most churches. This unique, circular church is built underground into the rock, with a stunning copper roof and airy skylight.

Visitors will need to purchase a ticket, which is €8 for adults (as of publication.) You can buy tickets online in advance, but don’t necessarily have to. Tickets don’t sell out and you can buy them at the entrance with cash or credit card.

Old Pionear, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The church itself only takes about 15 minutes to see. The allotted hour in this itinerary includes transit there and on to the next stop.

Tip: There’s a really great coffee shop near the church called Cafetoria. The next stop on this itinerary is another cafe, but the coffee at this place is a little bit better. If you’re a coffee snob, grab a coffee here and then maybe get a hot cocoa at our next stop — or just enjoy the view!

Sibelius Monument & Cafe Regatta

  • Itinerary Timeline: 4 – 6 PM
  • Location: Sibelius Monument & Cafe Regatta
  • How to get there: Take the 2, 4 or 10 tram from Sampogatan (near Temppeliaukio Church) to the
    Töölön halli stop. (Directions here.) Then, walk west along Humalistonkatu and along the north edge of Sibelius Park until you hit the waterfront path. Follow that path south to the monument and cafe. (Directions here.)
  • Hours: Cafe open from 9 AM – 9 PM daily

There’s no great way to get to these next two attractions without a decent amount of walking. Google Maps will probably give you a different route, but the instructions above will make the most out of the 1K walk you have to make anyway. The walk down the waterfront is really lovely, and it takes you right past the monument.

Note: During our visit, the entire perimeter of Sibelius Park was fenced off for construction. The work is expect to extend well in 2025. If the fences are still up, there is no shortcut through the park. Taking the waterfront path is by far the best option.

The Sibelius Monument was built to honor Jean Sibelius, who is considered the country’s greatest composer. It’s a really interesting monument, built out of hundreds of hollow steel pipes. It’s a popular photo spot, and is another one of the main icons of the city. If you’re walking down the waterfront, you can take a short detour into the park to see the monument.

Continuing down the waterfront, you’ll see a charming red cafe on the water. This is Cafe Regatta. It has become immensely popular in recent years, despite being kind of a pain to get to. Expect long lines, even during the evening hours. (That’s why we gave this stop 2 full hours on the itinerary. It’ll probably take about an hour to order and enjoy your drink, plus the time it takes to get there.)

The cafe itself is very tiny, with just a few tables inside. However, there is lots of outdoor seating, and there was even a little fire pit during the winter. It’s a really great place to watch the sunset and just relax and enjoy the beautiful views.

Tip: If you visit during the winter time, there’s a really cool (free) sled contraption for kids.

Dinner & Evening

That wraps up a pretty solid day of sightseeing in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. The rest of the night can be what you make of it.

From Cafe Regatta, you will probably want to hike back to the tram to get back to central Helsinki. The best option is probably to walk 1K back to the Ooppera stop, which serves a variety of tram lines (1, 1T, 2, 4, 5, 10).

For dinner, you might opt for a high-end Finnish meal at cozy Lappi Ravintola, an easy pizza at Pizzeria Via Tribunali, or maybe something in the middle, like the inviting living room atmosphere at Restaurant Krog Roba.

If you choose a quick dinner, you might have time to sneak in a visit to Allas Sea Pool, which is open until 9 PM. They have heated and sea water pools, steam saunas, and great views over the Port of Helsinki. If you dare, you can do the traditional ice swim followed by sauna sit. (I did my first ice bath & sauna at Pust Sauna in Tromsø, Norway, which was part of this same Nordic trip.)

Finish your night with a glass of wine at Bricco Kalevankatu, a cocktail at Trillby & Chadwick or a local beer at Bryggeri Brewhouse or Barksi. Helsinki also has some good clubs and nightlife, but I would not trust someone like me with tips on that.

Alternate Weekend Itinerary

The above itinerary works nearly perfectly on just about any weekday. However, if you’re visiting on a weekend, you will have to make a few adjustments to account for some closures. Here’s how we’d recommend restructuring your itinerary for a weekend visit.

  • 8 – 9 AM: Breakfast and Coffee at Cafe Engel or the Robert’s Coffee Jugend location.
  • 9 – 10 AM: Market Square, with optional spin around the SkyWheel or walk around the Esplanade.
  • 10 – 11 AM: Kluuvi District
  • 11 AM – 12 PM: Helsinki City Museum, with optional stop at Children’s Town.
  • 12 – 1 PM: Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square via Sofiankatu, with optional stop at Uspenski Cathedral.
  • 1 – 3 PM: Fredrikinkatu & Design District, stopping for lunch somewhere along the way.
  • 3 – 4 PM: Temppeliaukio Church (Note: It doesn’t open till 3:45 on Saturday, so take your time getting there)
  • 4 – 6 PM: Sibelius Monument & Cafe Regatta
  • 6 PM & Beyond: Dinner, Allas Sea Pool (Closes 9 PM), wine bar and/or nightlife

Note: This schedule does require a bit more walking than the original, so you might want to opt for more public transit in some cases.