Usually you don’t see the words Helsinki and budget-friendly appearing in the same sentence with each other. Until now. The Finnish capital isn’t known for being cheap but with a little skill and some savvy advice, you can make a trip to Helsinki this summer and still come out with money in your pocket.
It’s no secret that Helsinki is one of the world’s most expensive cities, to both visit and to live. It’s not unheard of for even the locals to travel across the Baltic Sea to Tallinn to stock up on things like beer, spirits, clothing and other supplies. But while prices may be higher than what we’re used to seeing elsewhere, it’s no reason to skip the Finnish capital. Here’s how to see Helsinki on a budget.
First thing, learn that when Finnish people say “cheap hotel“, they mean €25 for a bed/night, a price you can only find at backpacker’s youth hostels. Stick to the hostels though if you want to save, they’re located all over the city and there are even some on the islands. An added bonus? Find one with a free sauna. Keep in mind that hostels on the islands are popular with school groups visiting the capital so if you’re lucky you’ll find yourself in a peaceful oasis but if you’re not you could find yourself among a class full over-excited school-children.
The key to cheap eats in Helsinki is the lunch menu… specifically the lunch buffet. Start making lunch your main meal of the day and you’ll quickly see how easy it can be to eat cheap and well here! Expect the lounas buffett to cost anywhere from €8 to €13, usually including all-you-can-eat, coffee/tea and dessert, a steal! A latte at a café will easily set you back €3, so if you want to keep up with the Finns, known for their coffee consumption, you better save up. Tip: some places offer a discount if you bring your own cup.
Painting the town red
Can you imagine hitting up Helsinki and not going out on the town? The Finns love to drink, everyone knows that. Even the locals feel the pinch of the price of alcohol with is why so many of them make their beer-runs across the sea to Tallinn. Still for drinking cheap, head to Kallio. While some call it shady, you can’t beat the drink prices here. It’s loud, over-crowded on weekends and it’s a blast. Happy hours here tend to be more generous than at home.
Helsinki is best enjoyed in the spring/summer for a few reasons. The most important one is that you can tour the city and appreciate its gorgeous architecture without getting frostbite. Grab your camera and hit the streets! Central Railway Station, Sibelius Monument, Katajanokka, Finlandia Hall… these are just the beginning. One of the city’s most influential architects was Alvaro Aalto, the Father of Modernism. For design eye candy, head to the Design District where you can window shop all you like. For more, check out the Design Forum and Museum.
If you’re in Helsinki on a free museum day, take advantage of it. The Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ateneum Art Museum are both free on the first Wednesday of each month. The National Museum of Finland is free every Tuesday in the evenings only.
Getting around the city
Most of the city’s attractions are close to the centre, although if you want to get out then you’ll inevitably need to take public transportation. It’s best to plan your out of the city sightseeing all in one day since day passes, which can be used for the underground, buses and street trams, cost €6.80. For inner city sightseeing via public transportation (obviously much cheaper than the tourist ones) take Tram 3B and 3T. Both routes take one hour to do their full circuit and pass most of the major sights in Helsinki. If you have this day pass, then you can hop on and hop off as much as you like.
Still think Helsinki isn’t a budget destination? Think again! Another way to cut the price is by flying to Helsinki with a low cost airline. If you can manage carry-on luggage only, then you’re already set for grabbing a cheap flight to Finland.