How to travel on a budget in Helsinki, Finland
Notorious for being one of the the most expensive cities in the world, Helsinki was comparatively pricier to visit than a lot of other European destinations I have travelled to. Accommodation and food was probably where I spent a lot of my budget on, however I found that most activities and entrance fees to sites were pretty affordable or free so I didn’t finnish (!) all my money! Here are a few tips to help you save and some activities I did that will hopefully help you in planning your visit to Helsinki.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to cut costs – most of the popular tourist sites are located close to one another and like most of Europe, Helsinki is very pedestrian friendly so you can walk to most of the sites. If you aren’t staying within walking distance, you can purchase day tickets or a Helsinki city card to use public transport.
Buy a Helsinki city card
Depending on how long you are staying in the city for and what you want to see, the Helsinki city card can be value for money. The cards include unlimited travel on the public transport system in Helsinki (including to and from the airport and the ferry to Suomenlinna), entry to selected museums, complimentary sightseeing bus and canal tours, discounts for food/beverages, shopping and tour packages. Save even more money (3 Euros per card) by purchasing your card online – you can just pick it up at one of the pick up points either at the airport or in the city. A Helsinki city card starts at 44 Euros per adult for a 24 hour pass – check out pricing here.
Pack a picnic lunch to Suomenlinna
UNESCO listed site Suomenlinna, is a perfect place to immerse yourself in Helsinkis history and experience a taste of Finnish nature. Consisting of 6 islands, there are several museums, fortresses, beaches, restaurants/cafes and parks situated around the site that are great for exploring and spending a (fairly cheap) day out in. The museums have entry fees, however you can choose to purchase a combined ticket during summer to save money if you are planning to visit all of them.
The ferry dock is located at the harbour near the Old Market Hall and Market Square so you can pick up some baked goods, cheeses and fruits at a bargain price to bring to the islands instead of eating at the restaurants. Green spaces are abound throughout Suomenlinna so you won’t have trouble finding a place to set up your picnic lunch!
Address: Suomenlinna, 00190 Helsinki | Admission: Free with the Helsinki city card or HSL return ferry ticket is 5 Euro. Museum admission prices vary but you can purchase a combined ticket for 18 Euros if you want to visit all of them.
Watch free live performances at the Esplanade
During my visit, the Esplanade was not only filled with travellers, but also locals basking in the summer sun and having picnics on the main green. If you prefer to sit at a restaurant, alongside the Esplanade you’l find several cafes and bistros with al fresco dining areas. Opposite the famous Cafe Kapelli, there’s a stage that hosts free live music and performances that you can catch whilst soaking up the city vibes.
Enjoy a coffee at the Cafe Kapelli
Over 140 years old, this establishment located on the Esplanade serves traditional Finnish cuisine along with brasserie style food and beverages. You can choose to enjoy the outdoor courtyard space facing the main Espa stage, or dine inside the beautiful light filled glass building decorated with pretty crystal chandeliers. For its location and ambience, its decently priced and didn’t hurt the wallet too much.
Address: Cafe Kapelli, Eteläesplanadi 1, 00130 Helsinki
To market, to market
At the start of the Esplanade, you’ll find some white and orange tents dotting the waterfront selling food, fresh produce and Finnish souvenirs at the Kauppatori or Market Square. Most of the food stalls are seafood centric serving grilled salmon and the Finnish version of fish and chips – fried vendace with potatoes. If you’re feeling a little more game, sautéed reindeer with mash was also quite popular with the tourist crowd. After a hearty meal, you can browse the other stalls and pick up souvenir items like wooden handicrafts and city posters.
A permanent fixture since 1889 and adjacent to Market Square is the Old Market Hall consisting of various delicatessens, restaurants and cafes. The food market features a variety of fruits and vegetables, Finnish staples like smoked salmon/herring and open faced sandwiches as well as more exotic dishes like cured/canned bear meat and reindeer sausages. Located smack bang on the harbour where cruise ships usually dock, the Old Market Hall and Market Square is quite a tourist hotspot so prices will be on the higher side, but it’s worth soaking up the busy atmosphere.
The Old Market Hall also has complimentary wifi for that perfect #foodie insta shot. Another similar market is the Hakaniemi Market Hall which contains 2 levels of foodie goodness.
Address: Old Market Hall, Eteläranta, 00130 Helsinki | Admission: Free
For a more ‘local’ experience, visit the Teurastamo – otherwise known as The Abattoir or Slaughterhouse. Don’t be put off by the macabre name, the markets are very lively and the namesake pays tribute to the sites history. Converted from the city’s old abattoir, Teurastamo is now a space that houses a collection of pop up food restaurants, food trucks, locally grown and organic produce and picnic/lounge areas to enjoy its culinary offerings.
Address: The Abattoir, Työpajankatu 2, 00580 Helsinki | Admission: Free
Admire the Uspenski Cathedral
A symbol and monument that lends hints at Finlands history and occupation, the Uspenski Cathedral is visually striking in the skyline with its distinctly Russian design and facade. Inside the red brick exterior, theres an extravagant hanging chandelier and several religious icons and art at the altar.
Address: Kanavakatu 1, 00160 Helsinki | Admission: Free
Hang out at the steps of Helsinki Cathedral
Made up of the Cathedral, the National Library of Finland, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and a statue of Alexander I at the centre, Senate Square is one of the city’s landmarks. Dominating Senate Square, the famously photographed Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral has steep steps leading up to the entrance (during summer, the steps also served as a popular hangout for tourists). In contrast to Uspenski, the decorations inside the Helsinki Cathedral are very minimal. Check out the church bell tower for souvenirs and gifts and in summer, the crypt which is converted into a cafeteria.
Address: Unioninkatu 29, Helsinki, Finland | Admission: Free
Find some solace at the library
Across Helsinki Cathedral you’ll find the National Library of Finland. From the outside, it blends in with the rest of the buildings in Senate Square, but step inside, the intricately detailed columns, arched roof, heavy wooden bookcases and wrought iron staircases are an impressive combination. You can bring a laptop inside but you’ll have to leave your bags in the cloakroom. It’s a great space for getting some quiet, browsing through old books, blogging or working (complimentary wifi, yes please!) or simply for admiring the architecture inside.
Address: Unioninkatu 36, 00170 Helsinki | Admission: Free (Cloak room is also free)
Pick up quirky souvenirs from the Design District
Consisting of art galleries, clothing and jewellery stores, homeware boutiques, workshops, restaurants and museums, the Design District is a great introduction into Finnish design, style and sensibilities. You probably won’t have time to visit the collective in one day, but if you plan ahead, you can check out the list of venues online so you can prioritise which places to add to your list.
Internationally famed design house Marimekko has several stores around Helsinki, but if you want to bag a bargain and pick up a piece of bold colourful homewares or printed clothing from the designer, it might be worth checking out their outlet.
Bag a vintage treasure at Uff
Shopping is obviously not going to be wallet friendly, but if you’re into fashion and in a city that is famed for design and aesthetics, you simply can’t deny yourself the opportunity! Thankfully, Helsinki has a lot of thrift stores and vintage shops that sell affordable pieces for someone on a budget. Take a piece of Finnish style home by buying some preloved fashion from the thrift chain store Uff. You’ll save some money, get to have bragging rights to a unique piece that also doubles as a wearable souvenir and best of all, proceeds go to aid in Africa and India. If you can’t get to any of the Uff stores located around the city, you’ll find independent thrift and vintage stores that are also worth exploring.
My number one tip if you’re new at buying second hand clothing would be to try clothing on first and disregard size labels. Sizing from the 50’s is completely different to
vanity sizing these days.
Fill up at Stockmann
The large department store in the heart of the city stocks mid to high end products that aren’t so budget friendly, however it has an amazing food hall at the basement that’s both affordable and great quality. Pick up some freshly made rye bread or karelian pasty from the bakery, or head to the deli/fresh produce section to grab some smoked salmon and berries.
If you are flexible with your budget and plan to do some shopping, Stockmann conveniently has a section upstairs where you can claim the tax/duty back on the spot or process your details so you can claim it upon departure at the airport.
Have you travelled to Helsinki before? Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips on how to save money, or places you recommend visiting that are budget friendly!