When asking around for recommendations in Helsinki, the overwhelming consensus on the city seems to be that it’s “small.”
Now, I took that to mean small in the same way as Boston or even Denver. However, I came to learn, over 26 charming hours in Helsinki, that it really is the case: you can walk from one end of the city to another in about half an hour despite that same distance covering about ten blocks.
It was admittedly startling to look at a map and prepare for a twenty minute walk only to be at my destination in less than half that time. And looks are deceiving: Helsinki appears just like many other European cities, full of modern and classic architecture, well dressed residents and cleaner than New York could ever dream to be.
Regardless of its size, Helsinki showed me a lovely time and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know to see Helsinki in 24 hours (or less):
1. If arriving by plane, do not be intimidated by taxi prices. Cabs are exceedingly expensive and considered to only be for those with deep pockets. This is largely because the geographic area of Helsinki is so small that the rates need to be high otherwise drivers wouldn’t turn a profit. Of course, they’re there if you need them, but upon arrival in the airport there are a number of rideshare services available and many larger hotels will have their own shuttle services.
2. Helsinki’s Design District is internationally renowned for its contributions to fashion and the arts. From boutique jewelry and furniture to handmade clothing and beauty products, the neighborhood has it all. However, the shops typically open around 10 or 11 am (yes, even during the week) and close at 4 or 5 pm, so make sure you go during the middle of the day.
3. Shopping: the Design District is a great place to start, but a visit to Stockmann, Helsinki’s most famous department store, is also a must. The retailer occupies an entire building and offer a fantastic selection of brands from all over the world, including many that are not found in the United States. Stockmann’s also offers cafes on nearly every floor and a rooftop bar.
4. FOOD. A handful of years ago, the food scene in Helsinki was abysmal. Now, though, it is full to the brim with artistic chefs and a number of Michelin star restaurants. Everything we ate, from pub fare to ice cream, was exceptional. Also worth mentioning is Market Square, Helsinki’s largest outdoor market that his home to fresh produce, prepared snacks and tons of handcrafted goods and tourist trinkets. Note: the only downside is that since may ingredients are imported meal prices can really eat through your budget.
5. Museums. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to visit an art museum and I was delighted that, even with my limited time in Finland, I was able to squeeze in a visit to the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum is currently showing the ARS17 exhibit which is dedicated to examining the impact of the digital revolution and social media culture on our everyday lives. On a rainy last morning overseas, Kiasma was a fantastic experience.
6. Make sure you spend at least an hour in Esplanade Park, located near the water it is an impeccable green space where you can find locals lounging in the sun when the weather is nice. Oddly enough, given the size of the city, this park is within a ten minutes walk of every destination on this list.
While I’m disappointed I didn’t have more time to explore Helsinki, I do feel that I was able to experience much of what the city has to offer-- quite a feat to accomplish in 24 hours. Despite my limited time there, I readily recommend it for a short vacation, particularly during the summer months. Disclaimer: they don’t see much darkness during the warm season, so bring an eye mask.