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The wide range of historical sites, museums, galleries, shops and activities in Helsinki could happily fill a few days, or even a few weeks. However, if you’re only visiting for a short period, this guide will tell you how to see and experience all of the best parts of the city within 24 hours.
There are plenty of cafes in Helsinki to stop into for breakfast, or you could pick up some pastries from a bakery or supermarket. Story in the South Harbour market hall (kauppahalli) is a highly recommended spot for breakfast and coffee, serving delicious pancakes, porridge, cake and granola.
Just a few steps away from the market hall you can catch the ferry to Suomenlinna. The ticket lines can get long, so it’s best to arrive in plenty of time. Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most historically important places in all of Finland. You can easily spend the morning looking around the ruins, old buildings and museums on the islands that make up this historic fortress. For lunch, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the islands, such as the quaint Café Vanille, situated in a charming old building overlooking the Suomenlinna Church.
After taking the ferry back to the mainland and walking back to the city centre, you can spend the rest of the day looking around some of the other sites in Helsinki, such as the magnificent rock church, the National Museum and the design district, or just spend some time strolling around taking in the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture.
It is common in Scandinavia to have the main meal of the day in the middle of the afternoon, around 2 or 3pm, and to have supper late in the evening. If you decide to try this, check out one of the many sushi buffets in the town centre, the best being Ravintola Konnichiwa, which serve authentic and high-quality Japanese cuisine made with local Baltic Sea fish.
Another common custom is having kakkukahvi, coffee and cake, as an afternoon pick-me-up. Try the Fazer Café, operated by Finland’s most famous chocolate manufacturer, which serves some of the best coffee and sweet treats in the city. All of the drinks in the café are served with a Fazer chocolate on the side, which tastes great dipped in a hot drink.
In the late afternoon, you can pay a visit to one of the city’s shops and museums, many of which stay open until around 7pm, or you can relax and listen to live musicians in the Sibelius Park. A lot of the museums and galleries have free entry after 4pm on a Friday.
Most of the city’s main attractions can be seen in the few square miles surrounding the railway and bus stations and the area is fairly quiet after rush hour. In the summer you can enjoy daylight almost all night long, but the sites are beautiful in the winter snow too.
Of particular note in this area is the railway station building itself, the National Theatre and statue of author Aleksis Kivi, the Lutheran cathedral, the senate square, the South Harbour, and the Presidential Palace. A walk around Helsinki will always turn up many unexpected and interesting things to see.
For an evening meal, there are loads of restaurants in central Helsinki, offering practically every kind of cuisine. If its authentic Finnish cuisine you’re after, try Zetor, Juuri or Savotta. The area also has a lot of bars, the cheapest being along Helsingkatu or in the Kallio district, which is only a short tram ride away from the town centre. While out at the bar, try some Finnish vodka, or a popular beer such as Karhu or Lapin Kulta, for your nightcap.