How to Spend a Day in Helsinki

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Today one of our knowledgeable Finnish guides, Ralf, is joining our blog to talk about spending a day in his hometown of Helsinki. This Scandinavian city is as modern and stylish as it is beautiful, sitting in a natural harbour made up of countless bays, inlets and islands and boasting many design-forward museums, restaurants and galleries.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a fairly small town with a bit more than half a million inhabitants. The center of Helsinki is quite small and very handy for visitors. In half an hour it is possible to walk from one side of the city center to the other side. Below I’ve planned out a full day in Helsinki, including walking, shopping, lunch, sight-seeing and dinner/drinks. Enjoy your time in my city!

Start your day with a stroll along the North and South Esplanade going down from Mannerheim Street to Market Square at the Southern Harbour. Walking down these two streets with the Esplanade Park in the middle gives me pleasure no matter the time of year. There are design shops, good restaurants and cosy coffee shops on the two streets. And even in wintertime there are people on the streets.

Hakaniemi Covered Market is a pleasure to walk through even without buying anything. Fish, meat, cheese, sweets and plenty of other typical Finnish things are for sale here. Upstairs there is a non-food area with a Marimekko factory outlet shop selling t-shirts in the summer. If you come in the wintertime there are people selling long-johns you wouldn’t believe exist anymore. Here they exist!

Stop for lunch at one of our atmospheric coffee shops. Here are my two favourites:

Café Ursula has a beautiful view to the sea. The café also has a nice atmosphere in wintertime with candles burning and many choices of snacks and sweet rolls. Lunch is also served. In the summer time you can enjoy life on the café terrace sipping whatever you fancy and looking at ships coming in to the harbour.

Café Gran Delicato in the center of Helsinki serves café lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and other special coffees. A selection of fresh bread with cheese, chorizo, ham, tomatoes, you name it. Delicious.

After lunch, head to Senate Square, the monumental center of Helsinki. It was built in the first part of the 19th century. Then Finland was a part of the Russian Empire and Helsinki became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Finland as our country was then called. Most of the buildings embody the neoclassical style and are designed by a German architect, Carl Ludwig Engel. In Europe this is one of the biggest squares with neoclassical buildings. The square is unique and can be admired any time of the day.

Ready for dinner? Or perhaps a late night drink? Hotel Torni Ateljee Bar is located at the top floor of a skyscraper (well, it’s what we consider a skyscraper in Helsinki!) and the view is superb. From here you will see the center of Helsinki at your feet. If you choose, you can go up only for the view but once you are there why not enjoy a drink? The beer is cold in the Summer and the Glög (hot red wine spiced up with spices and some strong vodka) is hot in the Winter. To go to the bar you have to master some steep stairs; going down is easier especially after a beer.

Thank you for the suggestions, Ralf. And it’s great to know Helsinki is a lovely place to visit in the cosy winter days, or the long summer ones. If anyone is traveling to Helsinki this year, consider starting a conversation with Ralf (he speaks English, French, Spanish, German, Swedish – and of course, Finnish!)
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