Travel guide: 24 hours in Helsinki, Finland

by Adrian Lucas

Helsinki, Finland’s eclectic capital, has a uniquely Scandinavian vibe thanks to its clean architecture, plenty of open space, and friendly residents. Did you know that up until the early 20th century, the capital of Finland and the whole country fell under the rule of the Russian empire?

The great neoclassical structures in Helsinki that were inspired by St. Petersburg’s architecture serve as a reminder of Finland’s time under Russian rule, even though the country has been independent for more than a century. The city’s proximity to the water and the ocean views give the area a soothing ambience.

In the ocean, speedboats, cruise ships, and little dinghies coexist, as seagulls swoop down from above the busy market on the seawall in search of a quick meal. Besides the city itself, Helsinki is surrounded by more than 300 islands, many of which are easily accessible by boat and perfect for a day trip away from the rush and activity.

The Market and Senate Squares are within easy walking distance of a large number of museums and galleries that will appeal to design and architectural enthusiasts. Every year in September, the city puts on a design week full of events, including lectures and exhibits.

Must visit

Outdoor Public Space at Amos Rex Museum in HelsinkiImage source: Alejo Miranda/

Both adults and kids should check out the brand new Amos Rex Museum. Through a series of concrete domes that look like geometric molehills, visitors can see into the subterranean exhibition area. teamLab, a global collaboration of digital artists, has unveiled a new exhibition of immersive, user-controlled 3D works. Among the highlights is a living environment where colorful plants and animals can be interacted with and move about the area in a lifelike manner.

The Iittala and Arabia Design Centre is a collection of art galleries and design stores situated somewhat outside of the city center that caters to those with an interest in traditional handicraft. The old Arabia porcelain factory may seem intimidating from the outside, yet the inside is flooded with natural light and has a wonderfully airy, open vibe. Visit this museum to see permanent and temporary exhibits relating to Arabian porcelain, as well as the extremely pink (and simply insane) “Girl Gang” by visual artist Katja Tukiainen.


Must grab a coffee

Interior of Airport Cafe in HelsinkiImage source: Sorbis/

When you’ve had your fill of museums, Helsinki’s wonderful coffee culture and outstanding coffee shops are waiting for you. Cafe Regatta, located in a charming red cottage on the waterfront, serves their favorite brews, while Strindberg Café, located in the heart of the city, has its own coffee blends and provides a more refined atmosphere.

Must shop

Open Air Cafe on Market Square near Gulf of Finland, Helsinki, FinlandImage source: Telia/

Helsinki’s Design District encompasses the neighborhoods of Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi, and Ullanlinna, and it is here that you can discover charming vintage stores, exquisite glassware, and cozy clothes. It’s common to find stores that also function as galleries or cafes. For instance, during Design Week, R/H Market, which focuses on fashionable, eco-friendly clothes made exclusively for women, presents a print and pattern show. Lokal is a multi-award-winning concept shop that offers both contemporary art and stunning Finnish tableware.

Lapuan Kankurit, located in Tori Quarter, is a family-run shop that offers exquisite textiles, soaps, and other lifestyle trinkets, making it an ideal destination for anyone on the hunt for a special present or souvenir.

Must eat

Sauna Restaurant Löyly, Helsinki, FinlandImage source: Alexanderstock23/

Löyly, a waterfront architectural masterpiece that also serves as a sauna, is perhaps the best-known restaurant in Finland. A feature of Avanto Architects’ design was the use of heat-treated wood in the building’s construction, which contributes to the building’s passive cooling effect.

The patio on the roof can be reached via a flight of stairs located outside. Creamy salmon soup, reindeer tartar, and beef tenderloin with bacon-wrapped green beans are just a few of the Finnish staples on the seasonal menu at Löyly. Having lunch at Löyly is a great idea since afterward you can relax in one of their wonderful saunas (bathing suits needed) and then cool down with a plunge in the sea.

Dine at Roster, which is located next to the Helsinki Skywheel. The restaurant, which occupies two stories, offers a hip yet laid-back atmosphere and serves delicious glazed short rib with green beans and red wine sauce. The Nordic countries have a lot to learn from Finland’s love of bread. Popular choices include hearty ryebread and flavorful sourdough with a satisfying crunch (best served with a generous dollop of butter).

If you’re trying to save money on lunch, consider picking up some baked goods instead of going out. Eromanga in Kasarmitori Square (near the design area) bakes delicious ryebreads and cinnamon buns, while Levain in Punavuori sells freshly baked bread all day long.


Must sauna

Tall Ferris wheel called Helsinki SkyWheel rising above the harbour with a gondola cabin known as SkySauna, the world's first sauna on a Ferris wheel.

Helsinki SkyWheel and SkySaunaImage source: Lena Maximova/

There are several alternative saunas in Helsinki to choose from if you are unable to get a reservation at Löyly. The Allas Sea Pool, in the Market Square, is accessible year-round and has three saunas, two warm-water pools, and one salt-water pool. Kaurilan sauna is a traditional wood-heated sauna housed in a sauna structure dating back to the 19th century, providing visitors with a more true sauna experience.

The Helsinki Skywheel, a competitor to the London Eye, has converted one of its ordinary cabins into a Skysauna, which can be booked by the hour and offers perhaps the most spectacular setting for a sauna experience.


Must stay

Aerial View of Jatkasaari Neighborhood, HelsinkiImage source: Karavanov_Lev/

In a historic structure close to the harbor, the newly built Hotel St. George epitomizes luxury. Visitors are met with a striking Ai Weiwei white dragon sculpture in the lobby. There is a fitness center, swimming pool, and sauna/plunge pool open around the clock.

Every morning, guests can choose from the hotel’s hot or cold breakfast buffet, and the hotel’s chef can prepare fresh omelets, quiches, and Shakshouka upon request (poached eggs with tomato and chilli). The lowest available price for a room is €187 per night.

Getting there

Finnair Airbus A350 Taking Off at Helsinki AirportImage source: Markus Mainka/

From nearly a hundred European locations, nineteen Asian cities, and seven North American cities, Finnair brings passengers to Helsinki. It’s possible to fly nonstop to and from London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. The bigger A350 planes that fly directly between London Heathrow and Helsinki are your best bet for a comfortable business class ride (which then connect on to Asia). The flight time is just around 2 hours and 15 minutes, but you’ll feel like you’re in long-haul business class.

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