Helsinki tends to play second fiddle to larger Nordic capitals like Stockholm and Copenhagen, but don’t let its low profile fool you. Whether you explore architecture and history, sample Finnish food and culture, or marvel at the city’s magnificent natural setting, Helsinki’s charm belies its modest reputation.
Even better, Helsinki’s city center is small enough to explore thoroughly, even if you don’t have a lot of time to spend there. In fact, you can experience the best of Helsinki in just 24 hours, which makes it a perfect layover en route to the rest of Finland.
Coffee at Robert’s Coffee
There’s no better place to start your day in Helsinki than in the city center, so whether you stay the night or arrive early in the morning at Helsinki Railway Station, walk down to the city center at stop in at one of Helsinki’s many Robert’s Coffee branches. Finland’s answer to Starbucks, Robert’s lets you start your day with a simultaneous sense of familiarity and adventure.
A Mid-Day Stroll Through Senate Square
As the sun rises in the sky, head toward Helsinki’s central Senate Square, which is home to the city’s symbol: Helsinki Cathedral. A massive white structure with patina roof on its domed towers, it’s the perfect place to take a pre-lunch selfie, or to scope out a panorama of the city – the massive stairs of the Helsinki Cathedral take you up pretty high! Senate Square itself is nothing to squeeze at either, filled with 19th century architecture, an old-world ambiance Helsinki’s iconic street cars enhance.
Sunset at the Port of Helsinki
Depending on how early you start your day, you might find yourself with some extra time in the early afternoon. Head down to the Port of Helsinki and stop at the seemingly random hamburger stand right on the harbor for lunch, or buy a ticket to the Finnair Ferris Wheel for an even better view of the city than the steps of Helsinki Cathedral. Or, if you’re really feeling adventurous, hop aboard one of the regular boats to Suomenlinna Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s the perfect place to pass any afternoon in Helsinki.
Ideally, you’ll make your way back to the port to watch the sunset, but you could just as well enjoy the spectacle from Suomenlinna, or even from the boat that takes you back to port.
Drinks Along Esplanadeparken
Few places in Helsinki are more charming that Esplanadeparken, a long, narrow green space whose entrance you access by walking due west from the Port of Helsinki. The stars twinkling overhead are magical enough, but stopping for a drink one of the many Helsinki watering holes along the periphery of the park seals the deal on an unforgettable 24 hours in the Finnish capital.
Even if you simply use this guide as a starting point for your own Helsinki itinerary, one thing is for sure: “Helsinki” will be the first word that comes to mind the next time someone asks you to name an incredible European city.
Photo – blogs.helsinki.fi.