While Finland is not technically a part of Scandinavia, it feels quite similar to cities like Oslo or Reykjavik. However, budget travel in Helsinki is much easier to do than in true Scandinavian countries. There are plenty of cheap things to do in Helsinki, from walking tours to day trips. In fact, this city is often referred to as “Europe’s best kept secret”, and after a few days, you’ll start to feel like a local.
Navigating public transportation is simple. Helsinki attractions are found all over the city. But most importantly, you’ll never have to wonder what to do in Helsinki because this city is lively, with something always going on. Trust me. After a few days here, you’ll start planning to spend all of your summers in this awesome city.
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The best time to visit Helsinki
In the winter, Helsinki gets really cold. From November to March, there is snow covering the ground and temperatures don’t ever get much warmer than freezing. Helsinki in summer is a very special place. From May to October though, people are much more active because the weather hovers around 20 degrees Celsius. The summer months are by far the best time to visit Helsinki because you will be able to take advantage of all the places that the country has to offer.
What to expect in Helsinki
Although the official language of Finland is Finnish, you won’t experience much of a language barrier in Finland. English is spoken by almost everyone in the country, making it easy to ask for directions, order food, or buy anything that you need. In fact, the only language barrier that you may want to prepare for is with other travellers.
The Euro is used all over Finland. Helsinki city is very modern, so you won’t have any trouble finding an ATM to use. Be sure to talk with your bank about the best option for withdrawing money abroad. Budget travel can be much easier if you can find a way to limit international transaction fees. If you are planning to exchange money, be sure to avoid doing so at the airport or at your hotel. You will find much more favorable rates at banks or exchange houses.
Tipping is never expected in Finland. If you find your service to be exceptional, a tip will be appreciated.
Finnish food is very interesting, and Helsinki is the best place to sample all of the country’s different dishes. The most common dishes always include natural, fresh ingredients that are sourced from the country itself. It’s very common to see sausages sold on street corners during the summers, and Fins will typically eat them with mustard and a beer in hand. Muikku, a sort of friend minnow, are another common street food. In fact, fish is really common in Finnish cuisine due to the country’s location near the Baltic Sea and the amount of lakes found within the country itself. Baltic Herring is served most often, and you will find it sold all over Helsinki.
Pea Soup is a common starter to a meal and is qutie delicious as well. The last thing that I would highly recommend trying in Finland, especially if you want to save money, are the pastries. Korvapuusti are a sort of cinnamon roll that are an excellent way to finish a meal or snack on during an afternoon hike. Pulla is another very typical pastry, and they are made with a variety of different toppings or fillings. For dessert, Helsinki has some great pies. Lingonberry pie is best in the summer, when the berries have probably recently been picked. No matter what your budget may be, you will be able to find food in Helsinki to please your appetite.
How to get around Helsinki on a Budget
Public Transportation is one of the most impressive things about visiting Helsinki. This is great news for budget travelers because you’ll be able to save money for more essential Finnish experiences, like eating at a great restaurant. In fact, there is a bus system, a metro, a local railway, and even a ferry service to different islands off the coast. The metro is one of the easiest to navigate and forms a cross in the city, stretching from north to south and east to west. The bus system is a bit more complex to navigate, but can get you to many more places in the city.
If you are planning to leave the city or do some day trips outside of it, this will definitely be the most convenient form of transportation for you. In the city center, there is a tramway that can save you time while sightseeing in Helsinki. Remember, a Helsinki Card can be the most affordable way to navigate the public transportation systems because you will have a free pass for the entire day. If you’re confused or need help getting from one place to another, don’t hesitate to ask a local. They’re super friendly and will help you find the best route!
Budget things to do in Helsinki
Get a Helsinki Card
Budget travel in Helsinki should always include the Helsinki Card. This card gives travelers access to 28 different tourist attractions in the city. However the biggest benefit of this card is that it allows you to take unlimited journeys on the public transportation in Helsinki. You also get a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour included with your card purchase. The price of the card fluctuates depending on how many days you plan to use it for.
I would recommend buying a multiple day pass, especially if you are going to use public transportation throughout your stay in the city. Helsinki sightseeing is made easy with the card because a guidebook is included with the purchase. You won’t have to worry about purchasing a tour because your book will include an abundance of information about each attraction. This made my visit to city center so much better!
Visit a Finnish Sauna
Public saunas are one of the most typical Finnish experiences. In Finland, the sauna is a way to cleanse your mind and body, but also socialize with friends. You can make this a part of your routine, like Fins do, or just visit once for the experience. Be sure to drink plenty of water and come prepared to sweat! Chances are your hostel or hotel may have a sauna, but you should also try and visit one of Helsinki’s premier saunas, like Loyly or Hermanni.
Visit an Amusement Park
Linnanmaki is the main amusement park in Helsinki, and it’s a great way to spend the day no matter if you are travelling solo, with friends, or with your family. There are over 40 different rides for adrenaline seekers of all levels. The park hosts special events all the time too. So be sure to check the website before your visit an plan accordingly!
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Despite being the capital city of Finland, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do in the city. If you like to rock climb, you won’t be bored here. There are plenty of place to boulder or sport climb inside the city limits or just a short distance outside. If you like trekking and camping, then you will want to plan on visiting Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi National Parks. In the summer, you can camp in the city or take a short ride to Nuuksio. This is one of the best ways to save money if you plan on staying for an extended period of time.
Things to do in Helsinki in Winter
Your experience in Helsinki will be radically different depending on what time of the year you make your visit. Winters are notoriously brutal in Finland, which makes going to a public sauna so much more rewarding. You can even take a dip into the cold sea and then hop back in the sauna for a real Finish experience. Of course all of the traditional sites are open during the winter to see, but one special attraction, the Fortress of Suomenlinna, is much cooler to see during the winter because you can walk across the sea to get to it. It may sound cliché, but going ice skating outdoors is another traditional thing to do during the winter in Helsinki. Finally, the Winter Circus runs from November until the end of January in Helsinki.
Places to visit in Helsinki on a Budget
Old Market Hall
Old Market Hall has been open since 1889, making it the oldest food market in Helsinki. This is by far the best place to come and try some of the most authentic Finnish dishes. There are also shops that sell traditional Finnish crafts inside the market. The building itself is quite old, but the market has been renovated to keep things modern and efficient. Market Hall is a must see for anyone visiting Helsinki.
Located right next to Old Market Hall is Market Square, one of Helsinki’s main tourist attractions. This market is much larger due to the fact that it’s located outdoors. In fact, the square has been the center of trade in Finland for centuries. No matter what you are looking for, you’ll be able to find it at Market Square. There are fruits, vegetables, seafood, coffee, and Finnish arts and crafts. If you want to save money in Helsinki, you will definitely want to try and cook meals yourself, and Market Square is the best place to stock up on food. There are also a bunch of bakeries, cafés, and bars surrounding the Market Square if you’re willing to pay a bit of money.
Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall
Fins love the water, which can probably be attributed to the amount of bodies of water in the country. But they also love to swim, and Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall is one of the best places to spend an afternoon doing so. At almost 100 years old, this is the oldest swimming hall in the entire city of Helsinki. If you spend a bit more, you can access the second floor, which offers much more than simply swimming. There is food to order, a private cabin to relax in, and a communal sauna too.
Finland is not nearly as Catholic as other European countries. In fact, there is a large Lutheran presence! Temppeliaukio Church is located in the Toolo neighborhood of Helsinki and is a special place to visit because of its architecture. It’s built directly into solid rock, which gives the place great acoustics. Visit for a concert to really enjoy this place!
Helsinki Cathedral is another special Lutheran church in Helsinki. It’s a major landmark located in the city center and is truly a majestic place. It’s another special place for a concert because of the massive organ built inside.
The Sibelius Monument is a tribute to one of the most famous Fins, Jean Sibelius. He was a famous composer who passed away in 1957. Following his death, a competition was held to design the structure of the monument. Today, the Sibelius monument is central to Helsinki sightseeing.
This cathedral has a different background than the other two mentioned in this budget guide to Helsinki. In fact, it’s the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. It’s a great place to see the large influence that Russia had on Finland over the course of the country’s history.
Where to stay in Helsinki on a Budget
Kamppi is the neighborhood with the best location for budget travelers in Helsinki. It’s centrally located between the city center and the northern part of the city, and it’s also very near to the Central Railway Station. This is also one of the oldest areas of the city, so there is plenty of character in the buildings. I recommend The Yard Concept Hostel for budget travel in Helsinki. This hostel is super clean and has a great atmosphere. Plus it’s located near some of the best cafés in the city.
This neighborhood is considered the “hipster haven” of Helsinki. I always try and stay in bohemian areas of cities because the crowds are younger and prices cheaper. This is also a really great area if you are planning to do some partying while in town. It’s the neighborhood where people like to go out. I recommend Hostel Erottajanpuisto in Kallio because it’s right next to Esplanadi park. It’s also very near to a bus station, which makes exploring Helsinki quite easy. Kallio is a great place to stay for budget travelers in Helsinki.
Kauppatori is a much more local experience of Helsinki, which also means it’s more affordable. This is where all of the locals come to find a good deal in the city. Restaurants are cheaper and there are always fresh markets to find food in the summer. I recommend Hostel Diana Park for budget travelers who want to stay in this area. This hostel is a great place for travelers interested in design, art, and architecture because the whole area surrounding it is full of these things.
Cheap tours to do in Helsinki on a budget
This tour really allows for you to see Helsinki in depth. A tour led by a local helps you not just understand the sights that you are seeing, but also get some tips on where locals spend their time. If you want to dive into the culture of Helsinki, then this is the tour for you.
Tallin is a UNESCO world heritage site located in Estonia, a short ferry ride away from Helsinki. During this tour you will get to learn about the medieval history of the place and sample some traditional Estonian cuisine. It’s a great way to see a new, unique place and diversify your trip.
This tour exposes you to the depth of Finnish cuisine, something that you may not have thought of before. You will get to sample a bunch of different local delicacies and learn about the different culinary traditions of the country too. I loved this tour and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Helsinki!
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
Recommend budget tours in Helsinki
- Helsinki and Suomenlinna Sightseeing Tour
- Medieval Tallinn: Day Trip from Helsinki Including Lunch
- Rovaniemi Guided Tour and Santa Claus Village
- Lapland Reindeer and Husky Safari from Rovaniemi
- Helsinki Card
- Helsinki Red Bus 24h Hop-On Hop-Off Ticket
- Helsinki Small Group Walking Tour
- Sibelius Finland Live Music Experience
- Snowmobile Safari in Helsinki Archipelago with Lunch
- Real Finnish Sauna Experience in Nature including Transport
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