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A Perfect One Day in Helsinki Itinerary!

Even if you can’t fit in a whole vacation in Finland, you can easily spend one day in Helsinki by taking the ferry from a number of ports. We did it with a Tallinn to Helsinki day trip by fitting in as many of the things to do in Helsinki as we could.

Taking a look at the map while we were planning our few days in Tallinn, Estonia, I couldn’t help but notice how easy it would be to take a day trip to Helsinki, so I make up this one day itinerary.

There’s just something about traveling in Finland. It’s not any further north than Norway or Sweden, yet somehow, for me, the country conjures up images of the northern frontier with ice fields, and desolate icy wilderness, and in Rovaniemi, northern lights.

I don’t know why I have this image, and I imagine that there are parts of the country outside of the capital that fit that description; however, the Helsinki I visited is a modern, thriving city far removed from my notions of empty arctic landscapes.

While it’s not on the Scandinavian peninsula, this Northern European country still shares the history and much of the culture of it’s neighbors, in it’s own unique way, of course.

We all struggle with having enough time to do it all, don’t we? I’ve always wanted to go to Finland, especially after Jim’s sailing adventure out of Turku, and spend a few weeks enjoying the pristine nature and maybe even see the Northern Lights, but I just haven’t had time to fit it into my schedule.  Darn work!

So what did we decide to do? From Tallinn, we spent one day in Helsinki just for the day. It’s just a taste, and an incentive to go back and explore some other amazing Eastern European capitals.

In this post, you’ll learn about:

View of the central market district on our day trip to Helsinki.

How Do You Create a One Day in Helsinki Itinerary?

On our trip to Tallinn, Estonia we realized Helsinki was a mere two-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland. We had the perfect opportunity to at least get a preview of Finland, so we tacked on an extra day to the itinerary and started getting serious with planning what to do in Helsinki for one day.

Sailboats and tall ships moored in the harbor in Helsinki, Finland.

Of course, one day isn’t nearly enough to experience even a part of all that a country has to offer, but because Helsinki is relatively small and well serviced by public transportation, we were confident that we could make a day trip a worthwhile experience.

I’d like to say we carefully researched opening times and schedules to maximize our time in the city, but that wasn’t really necessary.

We knew a large part of the day would be taken up with a visit to the nineteenth century, UNESCO listed, sea fortress Suomenlinna that protects the seaward entrances to the city. We would just make that our focus and work around that time.

Charming red houses near the water in Finland.

Tallinn to Helsinki Day Trip

There are a few ferry options for a Tallinn to Helsinki day trip, but we chose Tallink for its cheap prices, reliability, and convenient schedule.

Walk-on passengers can purchase a roundtrip ticket online for only 33  each, just be sure to choose the day pass option. The first ship departs Tallinn arriving in Helsinki at 09:30 and departs that night at 22:30, allowing ample time for  a full day of exploring.  

To maximize our time in the Finnish capital, we ate breakfast onboard the massive ferry and were pleasantly surprised by the quality and price of the breakfast buffet (10.50€ if purchased at time of booking or 11.50€ if purchased onboard) this is a great time saver as we didn’t arrive hungrily and were ready to get going.

The striking Stora Enso building reflecting off the water in Helsinki harbor.

We left the ferry terminal, immediately found the HSL ticket machine, purchased two, one day passes (8,00€), and quickly hopped aboard the nearby tram heading to the city center.

Timing was close, but google maps was sure we could make the next Suomenlinna ferry leaving from the Market Square ferry terminal.

It took a short sprint from the tram, across the square and onto the ferry, but we made it just before the gangway gate dropped. If we didn’t have the one day passes we would have had to purchase another ticket and wait for the next boat.

Additional Reading: Cycling Finland

Some eclectic shops at the local stores in Helsinki, Finland.

One Day in Helsinki Itinerary – The Sea Fortress of Suomenlinna

The ride out through the harbor and into the bay affords a beautiful view of Helsinki behind you and some quaint fishing huts on tiny islands out in the water. Needless to say, it was a gorgeous ride and, despite the threatening clouds and cold wind, we stayed out on deck for the entire fifteen minute crossing.

We arrived at the fortress, stopped in at the nearby visitors center for a map, and took off on our two-hour walking tour of the island and the massive stone defense work.

Entrance to Suomenlinna from the ferry dock.

Suomenlinna was built at the order of the King of Sweden to protect his frontier trading town from the Russians, whom they had been in constant struggle with at the eastern edges of the Swedish kingdom.

Czar Alexander’s military forces laid siege to the fortress and destroyed parts of the town in their conquest of Finland.

This may have been a good thing for Helsinki, in the long run, as he annexed the territory as the Grand Duchy of Finland and moved the capital here. The city was rebuilt and, as a capital, became bigger and more important on the world stage.

Memorial of heroes fallen in battle in Suomenlinna.

Today, visitors can explore the island, visiting a variety of maritime museums, art galleries, and, of course, historic buildings and defensive works. We enjoyed wandering along the blue trail that takes visitors on a cross-island route past all of the main sites.

Unfortunately, the old church tower that sits on the highest point of the island is closed during the off season, I would have loved climbing it for a birds-eye view of the sea fortress.

There are also a couple of bistros, cafes, and even a small supermarket so you could plan on eating lunch here on the island. We opted to head back into town for lunch at a restaurant that had been recommended by a fellow passenger on the ferry.

Some of the beautiful buildings in Helsinki.

A One Day in Helsinki Itinerary – A Perfect Lunch

The boat ride into town provides another awesome view of Helsinki from the sea and takes passengers right into the heart of old Helsinki. The cathedral and neoclassical presidential palace on Senate Square overlook the approach and the Old Market Hall sits right on the harbor front, it is very picturesque, so be sure to have your camera ready!

The exterior of Ravintola Nokka, one of the best lunch spots in Helsinki.

Our stomaches were rumbling by now so we disembarked from the ferry and crossed past the Orthodox cathedral on our way to the north harbor and our lunch destination, Ravintola Nokka.

A delicious snack in the capital of Finland.

This beautiful upscale restaurant built in a renovated harbor-front warehouse serves excellent, upscale modern Finnish dishes prepared from locally produced ingredients.

This is a red brick, and polished wood space with a glass-walled kitchen allowing the diners to watch the chef and his helpers as they prepare the meals. They offer a very affordable lunch special, fish tacos on the day of our visit, which was quite popular with the local crowd filling the front room of the restaurant.

Inside Ravintola Nokka for lunch in Helsinki.

We were splurging today, so we sat in the main dining room and had the daily lunch three-course menu. From the very first small gift from the chef to the last delectable spoonful of desert, we were in food heaven as we saw Helsinki in a day!

One Day in Helsinki Itinerary – Afternoon

The entrance to the market hall in Helsinki.

Afterwards we wandered back to the Market Square where we were captivated by the Finnish handicrafts on sale here.

There were reindeer hides, jewelry, wool sweaters, hats, and scarves, and an interesting and eclectic group of artists showing of their creations.

People eating at a local restaurant.

Through the square and into the Old Market Hall, this covered market occupies an elaborately decorated building constructed in the late nineteenth century to allow the citizens of Helsinki a place to shop protected from the elements.

You can find all kinds of traditional Finnish food here, and you should try it all!

Pastries that we saw in a local cafe during our one day in Helsinki itinerary.

If you were looking for an alternative to a full on Scandinavian culinary adventure like the Nokka, this is the place to head for lunch.

Of course, there is some great shopping here as well. But the small cafes and delicatessens offer some incredible looking food at a very affordable price. We picked up a few snacks for the return ferry ride later in the evening.

Lingon berries in Helsinki.

We finished off our day trip to Helsinki with a tram ride out into some of the older neighborhoods, a visit to the “cave” church, Temppeliaukio, a stroll through the Senate Square and people watching at a small cafe near the beautiful train station.

Exhausted but happy we boarded the tram for the final ride back to the terminal where our ship was waiting for us. All in all, a perfect Tallinn to Helsinki day trip!

Getting To and From the Ferry Terminal

From the Länsiterminaali take tram 6T to Rautatieasema. Then switch to tram 2 and ride to Kauppatori (Market Square). Reverse the ride when it’s time to return to the ferry terminal.

Other Boat Trips You Might Enjoy around the World:
France: The Scandola Nature Reserve
Sweden: Tall Ship Sailing
Croatia: Rowing on Lake Bled
Turkey: Lake Van
Botswana: Chobe National Park
Uganda: The Kazinga Channel
USA: San Juan Island, Washington


Have you been to Helsinki, Finland? What are your “must-see” sights for a one-day in Helsinki itinerary?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Pin A Once Day in Helsinki itinerary for later!

Suomelinna, the UNESCO fortress, is only a short ferry ride from Helsinki and only one of the many things to do in a day trip. Click here to find out all the things to add to your itinerary. #Helsinki #Finland #ferry #daytrip #worldheritage #citybreak #Europe #beauty #solo #fun #museum #cafe
Helsinki is so much about the comfort of a great cafe and some good food! Click here to find out what to do your day trip to this wonderful destination. #Europe #solo #beauty #boat #worldheritage #market #shopping #restaurant #Helsinki #Finland #ferry #daytrip

Paula - Gone with the Wine

Monday 12th of June 2017

I'm glad my home country treated you well and you enjoyed your stay! I love the pictures, you have captured the Finnish atmosphere very well! I just got home sick!

Corinne Vail

Monday 12th of June 2017

Paula, We loved Helsinki, and now we want to go back and really explore the rest of the country!


Friday 18th of November 2016

Thank you for this! We have tickets to Helsisnki for 9 days next Summer. We plan on going a few places in the region, but I'm just starting planning it. Thanks for giving me a starting place.

Corinne Vail

Friday 18th of November 2016

CT, I'm glad you are finding our info useful. You are going to love Finland! Have a great trip.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Nilabh, I never knew much either; can't wait to go back.


Monday 14th of November 2016

Helsinki is charming and what a perfect way to get there. I have always fantasised about Finland and loved reading this post. Great pictures that bring alive the magic of Finland.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Vyjay, We did love it, but even though it was a great day, it was no where's near enough time. We've got to go back.


Sunday 13th of November 2016

I wouldn't mind walking in Helsinki all day long. The food you had in a restaurant looks so weird, it makes me want to try it :-) How was it? I have no idea what it is.

Corinne Vail

Tuesday 15th of November 2016

Maya, That was an interesting, yet amazingly delicious dish. It was herring served with cold green noodles. So refreshing.