24 Hours in Helsinki

24 Hours in Helsinki

Historically, Helsinki has often been overlooked by travellers planning a weekend away in Northern Europe, with Copenhagen and Stockholm stealing much of the limelight. But for the traveller seeking a city break off the beaten path, the capital of Finland has lots to entice you away from its Nordic neighbours. From a soothing sauna session alongside the locals to a tour of a historic UNESCO World Heritage site, there’s plenty to pack into a day in this harbourside city. Read on for our tips on how to make the most out of 24 hours in Helsinki.



Markets and museums

To fuel up for your Finnish adventure, we recommend kicking off your 24 hours in Helsinki with a trip to the Old Market Hall in Helsinki’s harbour. Pick up a freshly-baked pastry to go or linger for a longer breakfast at Story, a hipster hang out in a historic market setting. The market has been serving locals since 1889 and is home to merchants selling every type of food and fresh produce – great if you want to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch later. Next, it’s time to tour a few of Helsinki’s art museums and galleries. Housed in a palatial Neo-Renaissance building, Ateneum is Finland’s leading art gallery and is jam-packed with masterpieces. Meanwhile, Kunsthalle Helsinki has no permanent collection, but instead hosts creatively-curated exhibitions of contemporary art throughout the year. Lastly, the curvaceous, contemporary structure of Kiasma contains an eclectic collection of Finnish and international art. All three of these Helsinki highlights are within easy walking distance of each other, perfect for a whistlestop cultural tour of Finland’s finest art.



Setting sail

Close to the Old Market Hall, you can catch the ferry to Suomenlinna, Helsinki’s UNESCO World Heritage site and ‘the fortress of Finland’. And because the ferry only takes 15 minutes to reach Suomenlinna from the city, you can easily pop over for an hour or two during a busy 24 hours in Helsinki. Originally built by the Swedish in the mid-18th century, Suomenlinna consists of six car-free islands connected by bridges and is a haven for history buffs. Explore the fortress walls, informative museums and dramatic views – then find a spot for that picnic you packed earlier. As well as being one of Finland’s most popular tourist destinations, Suomenlinna is a much-loved picnicking place for locals, so you’ll be in good company.


Early Afternoon

Lend an hour to the library

Once back on the mainland, we recommend a trip to the library. Not just any library though. First and foremost, Central Library Oodi is a community space, with play areas, conference rooms and places to meet. And you can borrow more than just books. From sewing machines to musical instruments, the library has a treasure trove of everyday items to borrow instead of buy. While you might not need the library’s services, it’s a fabulous example of how a thoughtfully-designed public space can become a haven for the community (and the café is great too). The building itself is also an architectural marvel; a timber-clad colossus that is one of the city’s most striking structures.


Mid to Late Afternoon

Saunas and shopping

If you want to live like a local for 24 hours in Helsinki, a sauna session is non-negotiable. For an urban spa experience, head to Allas Sea Pool which sits on a floating deck in the port. Here, you can sweat in the sauna before plunging (or reluctantly dipping) into the sea pool, which is filled with briskly-cold Baltic seawater. Alternatively, Kulttuurisauna in the Merihaka district does things the traditional way, with separate saunas for men and women where you can sweat without a swimsuit. After enjoying some steam-induced endorphins, we recommend checking out Helsinki’s trendiest neighbourhood. The eastern district of Kallio is laid-back and bohemian; home to students, young professionals and some of the city’s best second-hand shops. Browse for vintage clothing and vinyl records, pause for a caffeine fix at a craft coffee joint and admire the Art Nouveau Kallio church. Traditionally a working-class area, Kallio is a concrete jungle by Finnish standards and one of Helsinki’s most densely-populated areas. But its gritty charm and casual vibe make it a hip highlight of the city.



Exploring and eating

Summer in Finland means hour upon hour of daylight, stretching long beyond when your body clock believes the sun should have set. In June and July, Helsinki enjoys around 18 hours of sunlight a day, so what better way to make the most of the light than by exploring more of the city on foot? The harbourside district of Katajanokka is one of our favourite places to stroll, where the elegant Art Nouveau buildings look particularly gorgeous in the long-lasting golden hour. Originally built as a Russian Orthodox church, the red-brick Uspenski Cathedral towers above all else with its gilded domes, an eye-catching example of Russia’s historic influence in Finland. And once you’ve worked up an appetite on your walk, one of the area’s restaurants will step in to soothe your rumbling stomach. Michelin-starred Nokka is one of the best in the city, serving seasonal fare sourced from Finnish forests and waters. You can also join their chefs for one of their prestigious cooking classes, learning new techniques and recipes from the pros before sitting down to sample your hard work. A delicious way to end a memorable day in Helsinki.

Header image by Jerome Galland