Helsinki is one of the most underrated capitals in Europe. Most people make it to Copenhagen or Stockholm and seem to skip over this beautiful city since it’s a bit off the normal Scandinavian tourist trail. Compared to its neighbors, Helsinki never seems to get the love it deserves.
Historic, small, filled with green space and set on the waterfront, Helsinki is a picturesque city filled with friendly people and few tourists. It’s especially great if you love art and music as they have a ton of museums and a vibrant music scene.
I really enjoyed my time here. Let this travel guide help you plan the perfect budget trip there!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Helsinki
1. Visit the National Museum of Finland
2. Relax at the Kaivopuisto Park
3. See the Helsinki Cathedral
4. Visit the Finnish Museum of Photography
5. Tour Suomenlinna Island
Other Things to See and Do in Helsinki
1. Visit the Post Museum
This museum is dedicated to the history of Finland’s postal service. It sounds absolutely boring but I found it surprisingly interesting and educational. It highlights the history of the mail service in Finland, from ships and sleds in the 1600s to their modern-day delivery service. There are all kinds of artifacts, photographs, and short films about how they made mail delivery work in such a sparsely populated and harsh environment.
2. Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art (Kiasma)
I’m not a fan of contemporary art. However, if you are, then be sure to visit. This museum opened in 1990 and is housed in a really unique modern building not far from the Post Museum. The collection consists of over 8,000 works (though I personally don’t recognize any of the names). Part of the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma is Finnish for “chiasma” which is a term that describes the crossing of nerves or tendons. Tickets are 15 EUR ($17 USD) for adults and free for anyone under 18. Best of all, the museum is free on the first Friday of every month!
3. Shop at the Central Market
Located near the harbor, this market is where you can do lots of souvenir shopping, eat some local food, and buy fresh vegetables (and lots of fresh berries in the summer). It’s usually swarming with tourists, but I heard enough Finnish there to know it isn’t a complete tourist trap. There’s also a covered portion of the market where you can find pastries, fish, meat, and cheese. Eat at the Soup Kitchen if you’re hungry (they have the best seafood soup).
4. Visit the Sinebrychoff Art Museum
This museum houses a lot of old paintings and portraits from the 14th-19th centuries. It’s the only museum in the city that really focuses on old European art. The bottom floor of the museum has a lot of photos and more modern works, while the top floor has the older paintings that you see as you walk through the old Sinebrychoff residence. Portrait of a Lady by Alexander Roslin and Portrait of Mademoiselle Charlotte Eckerman by Adolf Ulrik Wertmüller are noteworthy pieces in the collection. Admission is 15 EUR ($17 USD) and entry is free on the first Wednesday of the month from 5-8pm.
5. Stroll around Sinebrychoff Park
Right near the Sinebrychoff museum is a nice little residential park worth hanging out in. There are a lot of coffee shops around so you can grab a snack and relax. After a day of walking around Helsinki, you’ll probably need it.
6. Visit the Bank of Finland Museum
This museum was one of the coolest museums I’ve seen in a long time. While it does a good job illuminating the history of money in Finland, what it really does well is describe the history of finance and modern finance. You get to see Euro coins from all the European countries, you’ll discover what a gold nugget looks like, but also, you’ll learn how to spot counterfeiting. It offers up detailed background information and great exhibits. It was quite a learning experience! Admission is free.
7. Admire the Uspenski Cathedral
Sitting on a hill overlooking the city, this massive red cathedral is hard to miss. It’s an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral with large domes and gold crosses. Consecrated in 1868, it’s the largest Eastern Orthodox church in Western Europe. The interior is lavishly decorated with typical Eastern Orthodox iconography (though many of the statues and items have been stolen in recent years). It’s a place of worship, so dress respectfully if you visit.
8. Spend some time in the Helsinki City Museum
Like the National Museum of Finland, the Helsinki City Museum offers an in-depth look at the capital’s history. There are plenty of descriptions, and great exhibits and photos. Exhibitions focus on the history of Helsinki and you’ll also find photos by famous Finnish photographers like Signe Brander. There’s also an exhibition with a typical Finnish home from the 1950s as well as a home from the 1970s. Admission is free.
9. Relax in Esplanade Park
This park is a popular place to spend a lunch hour if the weather is nice. There are a number of street musicians around and a few eateries nearby. Opened in 1812, you’ll find there several statues in honor of Finnish poets and writers such as Johan Ludvig Runeberg, Zacharias Topelius, and Eino Leino.
10. Visit the Harbor Islands
There are over 330 islands that make up the Helsinki city archipelago. Suomenlinna is the easiest to reach with regular municipal ferries you can take directly from Market Square. Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari are two other islands worth visiting, as they used to be military bases closed off to the public. They’ve since been reclaimed by nature and turned into parks dotted with abandoned fortifications and buildings. There are a ton of tours to choose from, most lasting 1-2 hours and costing around 20 EUR ($23 USD).
11. Have Fun at Linnanmäki
Just north of the city, this amusement park is a fun place to visit if you’re traveling with kids (or if you just want to act like a kid yourself!). A day pass is 42 EUR ($48 USD), which gives you access to all the rides, including Vuoristorata, their famous wooden roller coaster. Entry to the park itself is free, so if you want to just visit and explore you can do that, too.
12. Experience a Finnish Sauna
Saunas originate from Finland (sauna is a Finnish word meaning “Finnish bath”). There are 3.3 million saunas in Finland, so you won’t have a hard time finding one. Many hostels, hotels, and even apartments have their own sauna. However, Löyly Helsinki is the most popular public sauna in the Finnish capital. A two-hour session costs 19 EUR ($22 USD). Keep in mind the sauna etiquette: bring your swimwear, men and women are separated, towels are acceptable (but people are usually naked), and don’t be loud.
13. See the Temppeliaukion Church
Temppelliaukion Church, also called Church of the Rock, was built directly into solid rock and partially underground. The Suomalainen brothers won an architectural competition for their design and started construction in the 1960s. The walls are all exposed stone and the roof is a huge dome that lets in natural light. Over half a million people visit the church each year, and the venue is also used regularly for concerts and large events.
14. Wander the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum
Located north of Helsinki on Seurasaari Island, the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum allows you to get up close to numerous traditional Finnish buildings from the early 18th-20th centuries. They aren’t replicas either; the buildings were collected from all over the country and brought here. Opened in 1909, guided tours are available daily during the summer. Admission is 10 EUR ($11.50 USD).
15. Visit the Design Museum
The Design Museum allows you to learn about the history of Finnish design and Finnish architecture over the last 150 years. It opened in 1873 and holds over 75,000 objects, 40,000 drawings, and 100,000 photographs. The museum also publishes books and exhibitions catalogs about modern design. It’s 12 EUR ($14 USD) to get in but it’s free on the last Tuesday of every month from 5-8pm.
16. Ride the Skywheel Helsinki
Located a few minutes away from Uspenski Cathedral, Skywheel Helsinki is a Ferris wheel offering panoramic views of the city. It’s is the best way to see the city from “above” since there aren’t really any skyscrapers here. Admission is 13 EUR ($15 USD). It’s also possible to have a sauna experience while riding the Skywheel too! Prices start from 240 EUR ($275 USD) per hour for up to 4 people, including two drinks per person.
17. Visit Amos Rex
This art museum opened in August 2018 and it’s already one of the most popular in Helsinki. It’s named after Amos Anderson, a Finnish patron of the arts. You’ll find temporary exhibitions from local and international artists. Check the website to see what events/exhibitions are coming up. Admission is 15 EUR ($17 USD).
18. Admire Classical Art
Ateneum is one of three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery (with the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum). It has the biggest collection of classical art in Finland, with over 4,300 paintings and 750 sculptures. You’ll also find pieces by artists such as Van Gogh and Cézanne. Admission is 17 EUR ($19.50 USD).
Helsinki Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in an 8-bed dorm room costs 20-35 EUR ($23-40 USD) per night, with private rooms ranging from 40-85 EUR ($46-98 USD). Expect prices to be 25-50% higher in the summer. Free Wi-Fi is standard, and linens are included (many hostels in Scandinavia charge extra for blankets). For those looking to cook their own meals, about half of the hostels in the city have kitchens.
If you’re traveling with a tent, wild camping is legal outside of the city on public land. Just make sure to be respectful and use common sense. There are also plenty of campgrounds outside of the city, usually charging between 10-25 EUR ($12-29 USD) per night.
Budget hotel prices – Hotels in Helsinki are quite expensive, especially during the busy summer season. Generally, you can expect to pay 60-120 EUR ($70-139 USD) per night for a budget hotel with free Wi-Fi and all the standard amenities. During the summer, prices will be closer to 100-200 EUR ($115-230 USD) per night.
Airbnb is a great budget option in the city, with shared accommodation starting as low as 25 EUR ($29 USD) per night. If you’re looking for an entire home or apartment, expect to pay closer to 60 EUR ($70 USD), though prices usually average closer to 100 EUR ($115 USD).
Average cost of food – Food is expensive here. I never found anything cheaper than 5 EUR ($5.75 USD), and that was for a tiny lunch special. Many restaurants offer a lunchtime buffet costing between 8-12 EUR ($9-14 USD). Fast food will be around 7 EUR ($8 USD).
Stockmann supermarket has a wide variety of pre-made cheap meals (bread cheese, trout soup, sandwiches, sausages, pizzas, local cheese, yogurt) for around 5-6 EUR ($5.75-7 USD). Inexpensive restaurants will offer meals (salmon soup, pasta, salads, smoked salmon) for 9-14 EUR ($11-16 USD).
If you want to splash out, I suggest Aino for good Finnish food (try the reindeer). Dishes are between 50-55 EUR ($58-64 USD). In terms of alcohol, beer (domestic or imported) will cost you between 6-8 EUR ($7-9 USD) when eating out. A bottle of water will cost between 1.50-2 EUR ($1.75-2.50 USD).
If you plan on cooking your own food, groceries will cost between 90-150 EUR ($104-173 USD) per week for basic staples like vegetables, bread, and pasta.
Backpacking Helsinki Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Helsinki, my suggested budget is 50-60 EUR ($60-70 USD) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel, cooking most of your meals, doing lots of free activities, keeping your drinking to a minimum, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number.
A mid-range budget of about 130-180 EUR ($155-215 USD) per day will cover staying in a budget hotel, eating out at cheap restaurants for all your meals, a few attractions per day, and taking some guided tours.
On a luxury budget of about 400 EUR ($460 USD) per day, you can stay in a luxury hotel, eat at any restaurant you want, drink as much as you want, take taxis to get around, and enjoy luxury spas and saunas. The sky is the limit!
Helsinki Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Helsinki, like the rest of Scandinavia, is expensive. Here are a few tips to help you keep your budget in tact while visiting Helsinki:
- Avoid taxis – With the Helsinki card, local transportation is free. Out of pocket, local transit costs between 2.90-5 EUR, however, the inner city is small enough where you can easily walk or bike around. In short, you have plenty of cheap options for getting around, so avoid taxis when you can!
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is a cost-efficient alternative and really popular in a city with such expensive hostels. It’s a great way to get some local insight about the city while saving some money on accommodation. While there are a ton of hosts available, be sure to send your requests in advance during the summer just to be safe!
- Skip the drinking – A night out in Finland, especially in Helsinki, will put a deep hole in your pocket. To maintain your budget, avoid drinking alcohol.
- Go grocery shopping – Buying basic staples like bread, meat, and cheese for breakfast or for a quick lunch on the go can save you quite a bit of cash. By cooking your own meals you’ll save a ton of money, enabling you to eventually splurge on some great local dinners and traditional fare.
- Take the free city tours – One of the great things about Europe is that you can find free walking tours in all the major cities. They’re a great way to see the city attractions, learn some history, and get your bearings without spending any money. Helsinki has a few options, like Freetours.com, that touch on the historic, cultural, and architectural elements of the city. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
- Get a Helsinki Card – If you’re looking to save money, I recommend getting a Helsinki card. There’s a lot to see in the city and paying 10-15 EUR ($12-17 USD) per museum will add up. You can buy the card for 51, 63 or 74 EUR ($59, $73 or $85 USD) for either 24-, 48-, or 72-hour periods. If you buy a single-day pass and visit 4-5 attractions, you have already got your money’s worth. There are also discounts on some buffets and free city transportation is included too.
- Check out free attractions – The Bank of Finland Museum and the Helsinki City Museum are always free. The National Museum of Finland is free on Fridays from 4pm to 6pm. The Museum of Contemporary Art is free on the first Friday of every month. Don’t miss them when you get there without paying, you’ll save money!
Where To Stay in Helsinki
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in the Cameron Highlands:
How to Get Around Helsinki
Metro – HSL is Helsinki’s public transport system, which operates buses, metro and local trains, trams, and a ferry to Suomenlinna. A single ticket costs 2.80 EUR ($3.25 USD) in advance or 3.20 EUR ($3.75 USD) on the bus/tram. A 24-hour transit pass is 8 EUR ($9.25 USD). Free city transportation is included with the Helsinki Card.
Bus – Prices are the same as above: a single ticket costs 2.80 EUR ($3.25 USD) in advance or 3.20 EUR ($3.75 USD) on the bus/tram.
Tram – The trams work on the same ticketing system as the metro and the bus. Taking the tram in Helsinki is an experience by itself; it’s one of the oldest tram network in the world and has been around since 1891.
Bicycle – Bicycle rentals start at 15 EUR ($17 USD) per day or 65-70 EUR ($75-81 USD) per week. You can also rent them per hour, but renting by the day is cheaper.
Taxi – Prices start at 5.90 EUR ($6.75) and go up 1.55 EUR ($1.75 USD) per kilometer. Avoid them if you’re on a budget.
When to Go to Helsinki
Spring is a good time to visit Helsinki, especially in May and June. The weather is comfortable (18°C/65°F) and there are many events like the Vappu Festival on May 1st (which marks the end of winter) or the Finnish Carnival early June. Moreover, not many tourists go there in spring.
Summer is also a good time to head to Helsinki. Green spaces are not too crowded and enjoyable, and the same goes for the beaches. Keep in mind summertime is the peak season, and the sunsets very late in July and August (around midnight). Prices will be higher summertime since it’s the peak season.
Prices are the lowest in autumn. It’s not too cold (9°C/48°F) and the days are still long enough to enjoy the city. Winter is good if you’re into winter sports. Otherwise, it’s very cold (-6°C/22°F).
How to Stay Safe in Helsinki
Helsinki is a safe city. In fact, Finland is considered one of the safest countries in the world. But pickpocketing can happen (mostly in the summertime, during the peak season) so keep an eye on your belongings.
Additionally, be careful at ATM machines since credit card skimming is not uncommon.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 Major Travel Scams to Avoid and be in the know! There aren’t many in the region, but the few there are can be quite expensive!
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Helsinki Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Cameron Highlands. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- 12Go.asia – 12Go.asia is the best website for booking transportation around Southeast Asia. You will be able to research your journey ahead of time and figure out the best schedule and prices.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Finland, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Helsinki Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to the Cameron Highlands, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Helsinki
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Helsinki
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier. The tap water is safe to drink here. This is just to cut down plastic bottle usage!)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Helsinki Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson
This is probably the most popular Finnish book out there. An elderly artist and her young granddaughter spend a summer together on a tiny island in the gulf of Finland. Despite their age difference, they gradually learn each other’s fears and fancies, and their bond strengthens despite their individual needs for independence. This is a classic Finnish book, andit’s a little dry, but the backdrop of island beauty and the rugged, windswept coast is really poetic.
The Year of the Hare, by Arto Paasilinna
A quick but classic read, The Year of the Hare is about a journalist and a photographer embarking on an assignment together one fine sunny evening. As they drive through the countryside, they hit and injure a hare — much to the dismay of the journalist, who leaves the car and searches for the animal. The hare is so grateful, he “adopts” the journalist and together they head out on a satirical journey through political scandal. If you like politics and satire, check this one out.
The Kalevala, by Elias Lönnrot
This is the national folk epic of Finland, translated in English. It’s dense reading, but the translation is excellent, and the writing is very lyrical and poetic. There’s a lot of classic Finnish wry humor and exaggerated characters and plots, but that’s what makes this such a delightful read.
The Seven Brothers, by Aleksis Kivi
Aleksis Kivi came under a lot of fire for this book because of its scathing account of life in rural Finland. It took him 10 years to write this. It’s hard to describe what this book is about, but it follows seven brothers who are not particularly peaceful and end up constantly fighting with locals, including jurymen, policemen, and teachers. They eventually run away and settle into the wilderness, where a whole different set of misfortunes befall them (e.g. their sauna burns down…this book is very Finnish).
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Helsinki
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Helsinki Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Finland travel and continue planning your trip: