From beer on a tram to an invigorating dip in the Baltic Sea, here’s how to make the most of a day in Helsinki, Finland.
A popular stop for cruise ships and ferries, Helsinki is on the northern edge of the gulf of Finland, a narrow channel that’s encrusted with Baltic jewels like St. Petersburg to the east and Estonia’s Tallinn to the south. In fact, you could also do a day trip to from Helsinki to Tallinn by ferry as it only takes around 2 hours.
Your first experience of the city will likely be through its transport system and whether you take the bus or the tram, it’s impressive how efficiently Scandinavians get around. You can purchase a HSL pass for public transport (similar to London’s Oyster card system – thanks to Sanna for the tip!), or The Helsinki Card that gives you a bus tour of the city and free entry to over 25 attractions. In advance of your Helsinki day trip download a local map to your smart phone device and make a route plan to visit top Helsinki attractions like:
- The Rock Church
- Helsinki Cathedral
- Stockmann Department Store
- The Design Quarter and Museum
- The Suomenlinna Fortress
Beer on a tram – The SpåraKOFF
No matter where you go, one of the best ways to live like a local is to visit a bar or cafe. One of the quirkiest things to do in Helsinki is the beer tram, a ‘pub on wheels‘ called the SpåraKOFF that takes you on a tour of downtown Helsinki. Sanna from VeganCruiser who lived near the city (before settling in Scotland) shares “if you don’t like beer, they also serve the lovely Finnish ‘Lonkero’, a Gin Long drink that was created for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.”
The Suomenlinna fortress
Situated on an island, the Suomenlinna fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of history to explore. This was also highly recommended by Sanna as it’s only a “short water bus journey from the marketplace harbour”.
If your Helsinki day trip is impacted by the Baltic weather, Stockmann is ‘Northern Europe’s largest department store‘, comparable to Selfridges in London – over 10 floors you’ll find a supermarket, a food hall and an array of fashion labels and beauty brands.
Allas Sea Pool and sauna
If you walk down towards the seafront you may see dozens of locals enjoying a swim, whatever the weather or season. The Allas Sea Pool complex contains two heated fresh water pools (one for adults and one for children), and a filtered sea water pool for an invigorating plunge into the cool Baltic Sea.
Helsinki’s Design District and Museum
Another favourite spot of Sanna is the Design District and Museum, “for lovers of Nordic design [go to] the Helsinki Design Quarter and the Design Museum”. Exhibitions in the Design Museum can change periodically so look up what’s on before you visit, ‘Utopia Now‘ showcases the golden age of Finnish design and in summer 2020 ‘Travel as a tool’ explores how travel has influenced and shaped design over the past few decades.
Related: 2-day St. Petersburg shore excursion
The Rock Church “Temppeliaukio Church”
The Rock Church draws people in because of its unique architecture – excavated into the rock, the domed roof sits on top like a tortoise shell and strips of glass along its edge floods the space with natural light.
Helsinki Cathedral Square
Even though the inside isn’t as ornate as other cathedrals in Europe, Helsinki Cathedral’s raised platform, white columns and wide staircase gives it the grandeur of an Ancient Greek temple above the city streets. The steps are a popular meeting point, and the openness of the square is a nice breathing space in between the sightseeing. If you visit during December the Senate Square is transformed for the annual Christmas Market.
As a cruise ship passenger with a few hours to use I was able to take a ride on the tram to the Senate Square, wander around Stockmann and the nearby street markets before walking through Kaivopuisto park and marina back to the ship – it was a lovely day.