24 Hours in Helsinki
Written by Tim Bird
Finland celebrates 100 years of independence in 2017, but its dynamic capital is a joy at any time. Brisk in winter, flooded with light in summer, Helsinki spills across Baltic islands and promontories, and a hint of the sea is always in the air.
Head out early for fresh doughnuts and coffee in a café tent at cobbled quayside Market Square, and watch the Baltic cruise ships arriving.
From Market Square, take the 20-minute ferry hop to Suomenlinna island fortress. Stroll along the fortifications, admire the sea views, and browse the informative visitor centre.
Back on the mainland, wander along Esplanadi, a strip of parkland lined with designer stores. Elegant Oiva Toikka glass birds from Iittala or cheerful textiles from Marimekko make splendid gifts.
The Ateneum art museum opposite the train station showcases classical Finnish art. Admire the works of Aleksi Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931), famed for his takes on the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala.
Sample the bistro at Salutorget on the corner of the Sofiankatu museum street near the Market Square for a lunch of toast skagen (prawn sandwich) in a neo-Renaissance marble-pillared setting.
Walk off lunch with a stroll to the majestic Senate Square, built as the administrative centre of Finland under 19th-century Tsarist rule. Learn about the capital’s history at the City Museum.
Take a 15-minute ride to the wooded island of Seurasaari, site of the Open Air Museum – traditional rustic buildings from all over Finland – and home to hungry and bold red squirrels!
Back in town, enjoy dinner at easy-going Demo in Uudenmaankatu, holder of a Michelin star since 2007 and proud of its surprising combination of French, European, and local Finnish culinary inspirations.
Head across town to Happy Jazz Club Storyville, and enjoy live music, from Dixieland to blues, in the basement venue, where the entertainment continues into the early hours.
Tramlines beat other traffic at peak times and criss-cross the central area at regular intervals, often offering city views.
Many main attractions, shopping zones, scenic parks, and shorelines are easily reached on foot from central hotels.
Train and bus
A good network of local trains, buses, and a metro line serve the sprawling suburbs to the west, north, and east.
Helsinki cab drivers may not be the world’s chattiest, but a taxi trip is always safe and reliable, and normally pretty quick.
Distance: 4,396 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes
Frequency: Daily service