It’s not a secret that Finland is quite expensive. In fact, for those who hasn’t experienced it yet here’s a spoiler: a kilo of fresh berries gathered in the local forest would cost you around 25 euro on a market and a bottle of beer in a bar – mind blowing 9 euros. Ironically, a 3-hour high-speed train ticket to St Petersbourg, Russia, can cost under 30 euro. If you are confused, you’re not alone – Finnish pricing policy remains a mystery to me too.
Hence, if you are on a tight budget, you will have to improvise (this includes cooking your own meals as well). However, there are things to do in Finland and, in particular, Helsinki that won’t break your budget. In fact, they won’t cost you anything and in return you can make a day out of each of them.
Fortress of Suomenlinna
The sea fortress of Suomenlinna is located on 6 islands that are considered part of Helsinki and the whole object is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It used to serve as city’s defense against attacks from the sea since 1748.
If the weather allows, do take your time and explore the main island – how it used to be set up and what is left nowadays. It’s only 2km long and around 500m wide, so it shouldn’t take much time to cross it to reach actual fortress compounds. It’s also a nice place for a picnic, so bring something with you. Be aware that the fortress is accessible only by water – the ferry runs every 20 minutes from the Market Square. There is no ticket required to enter the island, though you do need a valid public transport ticket to get from the mainland to the island and back. You can find more information prior to arrival here.
Fun fact – the fortress is currently inhabited by approximately 50 people, some of whom provide lodging via airbnb and some even have a car which is quite fun to see riding around the not-so-large island.
Helsinki doesn’t have much of a skyline and most of the buildings are not higher than 5 stories. However, with its proximity to the sea, narrow streets and hills there is something to see from above.
By above I mean a 12-story hotel in the middle of the city – the highest building in Helsinki. Even though the hotel is for guests only, there is a bar with a terrace at the top and it’s completely free to visit it and take some photos. Just go into the hotel and take the elevator to the top (the signs are self-explanatory) and you’re there.
Google says there is a toilet with a city view – which to me is quite an awesome idea – but, unfortunately, I did not manage to find it there. Let me know if you succeed, or have succeeded – I will try to look for it one more time then.
Go to the beach
There are several beach areas in Helsinki, but my most favorite is located at the west coast of the city. It’s surrounded by pine trees and makes you feel quite remote and far away from the city center. I always get a special feeling when I’m there. Since the beginning of May it may get a little crowded with all kinds of physical activities being performed.
Tip: The beach is located next to the cemetery and if you walk along the cemetery wall to the south you will reach a small bay that is a great place to view beautiful sunsets.
Local crafts window shopping
There is a very nice market taking place every weekend at the Market Square. The prices are quite exaggerated as well (a simple bottle opener in a form of reindeer horn costs around 10 euro), but still it’s a nice place to walk around and breathe in the local atmosphere.
Gifted by fresh sea air, Helsinki is a perfect place for physical activities. No matter whether you are walking, running, riding a bike, or doing anything else – as long as you are outside the air does its magic. Not only it is healthy, it also helps to clear your mind off things. I guarantee after a couple of sport sessions outside you will feel rejuvenated both physically and mentally.
My personal favorite is to take a walk along the most southern part of Helsinki all the way to the city center. You will pass a dock with yachts, several parks, beautiful houses located right next to the sea coast. In the end, you will also have a great view at the Helsinki cathedral.
Another one of my favorites is to go for a run in the forest, located just north of the city center. The forest is quite large and even a short run really helps to forget you’re somewhere near civilization.
I know, this is free anywhere, but there are several protestant churches in Helsinki that are much different from catholic setting and deserve a visit. I’m talking about a small chapel located right next to the Forum store and a rock church that is located just 10 minute walk north from there. Once you’re in the chapel and the door is closed, all possible noises are gone (this is amazing, taking into account that it is located right in the middle of the busy square). I mean all noises are gone – I haven’t experienced that quietness before. The rock church, on the other hand is much bigger, has an organ and is in general much more alive.
In the end, if you’re out of energy (and if you done at least some of the activities I imagine you are) stop by Regata cafe and pick up traditional Finnish coffee. It’s a bit weaker than the regular coffee everyone is used to, allowing you to drink several cups and enjoy it longer. What’s so good about this cafe is that you can get a free refill there along with 5 cents every time you do that. Therefore, if you drink enough of it, this can also be considered one of the free things to do in Helsinki.
I hope you’ll find these tips valuable and try out at least some of them.