Top 10 FREE Things To Do in Helsinki, Daughter of the Baltic (Finland)

by Things to Do, Finland37 comments

I was invited to Helsinki months ago by its tourism board in order to take part in their campaign named #HelsinkiSecret. Their simple yet exciting aim for this project was to introduce the city to travelers like me as they planned experiences that would give us an overview of how the locals live in this distinguished capital of Finland. (Free Things to Do in Helsinki)

I stayed there for a week in a great apartment hotel called Aallonkoti, and without a doubt, such a span of time and stay was enough for me to fall deeply in love with Helsinki.

I can’t quite describe the exact wondrous feeling that I felt, but the closest description that I can say is that though it’s a city that is dynamic and esthetic, it still had such a ‘small town’ feeling to it — I just felt right at ‘home’, which must be the reason why I left a part of my heart there. True enough, it was incredibly refreshing how the city moves on in such a laid-back manner.

However, don’t let its size fool you. It may not be a huge metropolis, but it is packed with tons of interesting attractions and activities that can easily fill up your travel itinerary. For a start though, it’s always great to know the top FREE things to do in Helsinki, and so here they are!

» Quick Travel Planning

Free Things to Do in Finland

1. Explore the city on foot to see its famous landmarks

Senate Square

Photo by: Ewan Bell / Visit Helsink

With an area of around 180 km², you could imagine how Helsinki is a compact city making it easily explored on foot! Otherwise, with their superb tram and bus system, you can reach certain areas or districts in no time.

So apart from parks, churches, cathedrals, museums, and shopping areas, (which I will be discussing below in other top free things to do in Helsinki), there are 3 other main attractions that you must absolutely see; and I bet that much like me, you’ll be amazed at Helsinki’s charming architecture. They are, after all, awarded as the World Design Capital last 2012 and that says a ton about the prevalence of design and art among many others.

  • Senate Square: This place displays unique Neoclassical architecture filled with 4 domineering buildings: the Government Palace, the Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library of Finland, and the University of Helsinki. You could even find the Sederholm House here in the southeast part of the square which is said to be the oldest stone building in the city.

TRIVIA: Every 5:49PM, you will hear the “Sound of the Senate Square” which is a composition by Harri Viitanen and Jyrki Alakuijala and a moden version of the European glockenspiel (xylophone-like instrument).

  • Central Railway Station (Rautatieasema): Back in 2013, this station was called one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations by BBC — and it’s no wonder why. As you set foot here, you will be awed by its design and you will also see 2 distinguishing features: the clock tower and the pair of male statues that are holding spherical lamps. This is, by all means, the focal point of public transport in the area and with the number of passengers that come here every day, naturally, it became Finland’s most-visited building.

TRIVIA: Some people said that Batman’s Gotham City was influenced by the architecture in this railway station.

  • Olympic Stadium: In 1952, the Olympic Games were held here. Today, it hosts national and international sports and outdoor concert events. One of the cool things about this is its ‘Stadium Tower’ that rises 72 meters high. For a small fee (€5 for adults), you can go up to see a bird’s eye view of central Helsinki. Regrettably, January 2016 marks the renovation of the Olympic Stadium but it will open up again by 2019!

TIP: Join a city tour of Helsinki here, or you can also join a hop-on hop-off tour bus here.

2. Enjoy the FREE museums!

Free Things to Do in Helsinki: Suomenlinna

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Finland

Most of Helsinki’s museums are paid, but they have certain days when entrance is free; therefore if you can time your stay well, you can definitely enjoy these perks as one of your top free things to do in Helsinki.

Anyhow, entrance fees are often cheap. But if you want a whole package deal, you can choose to purchase a Helsinki Card that is worth €41/day and this will grant you access to museums, sightseeing tours and so much more!

Here are the top museums which you can enter for free:

  • Suomenlinna Sea Fortress: this isn’t exactly a museum per se, however as one of the biggest sea fortresses in the world, its rich history is enough for it to be regarded as somewhat of a ‘museum’ in itself (rest assured, there are distinct museums in the island). Now, this is one of the most popular attractions not only in Helsinki but the whole of Finland; besides, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1991 due to how it portrays unique European military architecture.
    • FREE entrance, but you’ll have to pay for the ferry to go to this island (which can be free with the Helsinki Card.
      .
  • Seurasaari Open-Air Museum: this is yet another island near Helsinki that’s worth looking into because it is in this place where you can see a tranquil oasis of Finnish buildings that are specially relocated here in order to perfectly portray the traditional Finnish way of life.
    • FREE entrance, but you’ll have to pay for the ferry to go to this island (which can be free with the Helsinki Card) or you can also go via a bridge from Meihlahti.
      .
  • Finnish Museum of Natural History: to see the diversity of Finnish nature (from south to north of Lapland) but also of the world as a whole.
    • FREE on the 1st Friday of the month
      .
  • Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art: as the name implies, Kiasma exhibits contemporary art collections of the Finnish Natural Gallery.
    • FREE on the 1st Friday of the month
      .
  • National Museum of Finland: to witness Finnish history from the Stone Age up to the present day.
    • FREE on the 1st Friday of the month

3. Venture out into Kallio

Free Things to Do in Helsinki: Old Market Hall

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

Dubbed a ‘hipster haven’, Kallio is an interesting neighborhood that’s located north of Helsinki’s center. It is in this district where you will find unique boutiques, cafes, market halls, restaurants, shops, and more — an array of choices that can easily grab your fancy! So feel free to explore and sample and let your senses go wild.

Some of which you shouldn’t miss that are in and near this area:

  • Hakaniemi Market Hall: From fresh food to souvenirs and handicrafts, this 2-storeyed market hall is also situated next to a market square wherein a lot of outdoor stalls provide typical Finnish goods.
    .
  • Old Market Hall (Vanhakauppahalli): This is the oldest food market hall in Helsinki, dating back to 1889. This is near Kallio (specifically in the city center next to the market square) and I LOVED stepping into this place because there were a lot of colorful stalls that provided Finnish delicacies (which you can sample too!) and lunch spots that sell great dishes (such as that of Soppakeittiö or “Soup Kitchen” where you can get a great-tasting bouillabaisse).

4. Do some window-shopping

Moomin Shop

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

It’s a great way to acquaint yourself with the typical goods and fare that are unique to Helsinki and Finland as a whole — and who knows, you might find some cheap finds!

Two of the fascinating things that you should look out for as one of the top free things to do in Helsinki are:

  • Moomin Shop: Finnish people LOVE the Moomins which are basically fairytale “trolls” (that look like cute hippos). If one would think about it hard enough, they are probably the most adored Finnish icon (apart from Santa Claus). Created by the writer and artist Tove Jansson in the 1940s, you can see these characters up close in this Moomin Shop for example which is located in the Forum shopping center.
    • TRIVIA: New customers can enjoy a 10% discount.
  • Design District: If you are a design enthusiast, strolling through the Design District will be an absolute joy for you! This was actually a local initiative that began in 2005 wherein they decided to cluster together all the creative businesses in the neighborhood — think fashion stores, jewelry shops, art galleries, showrooms, hotels, restaurants, and others.

5. See the city’s iconic cathedrals

Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Photo by: Joni Rousku / Visit Helsinki

There are two that I can think of and they were both marvelous sights to see!

  • Helsinki Cathedral: Smacked in the middle of Senate Square (mentioned in #1), it’s not a wonder to know that this Lutheran Cathedral is the most photographed landmark in Helsinki as it is such a distinctive landmark in the cityscape — some Finnish people would even refer to its as the symbol of the city.
    • TRIVIA: This was originally built as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland.
      .
  • Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral: This is said to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe which is a clear sign of the Russian impact on Finland’s history. As history goes, this cathedral was dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and it is majestic both inside and out.
    • You’ll be absolutely happy to know that entrance here is free of charge, much like Helsinki Cathedral which is unlike most cathedrals across Europe that typically have an entrance fee.

6. Witness the unique churches too

Free Things to Do in Helsinki: Rock Church

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

Much like the cathedrals that I’ve listed, I have also discovered 2 churches that were very special — mostly because of how they were constructed.

Like what you see in the photos above (the one on top of this number and the brown structure in the featured photo), these are not the typical churches that you would often see in cities; hence with their uniqueness, I recommend that you take the time to check them out as part of your free things to do in Helsinki!

  • Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Church): A Lutheran church in the Töölö neighborhood of Helsinki, this was quarried out of natural bedrock so both the interior and exterior were created naturally and the rest were designed by two architects: the Suomalainen brothers. I swear to you, the moment that I stepped into this, I was utterly awed by its aesthetics!
    • FREE entrance
      .
  • Chapel of Silence (Kamppi Chapel): This is an enthralling chapel since it welcomes everyone irrespective of their religion, philosophies, and background. It basically offers itself as a place of calm if you want to get away from the hype of the city; but apart from its function, its facade is absolutely quirky — a perfect example of contemporary architecture.
    • FREE entrance

7. Enjoy nature in the city’s green parks

Free Things to Do in Helsinki: Sibelius Park

Photo by: Paul Williams / Visit Helsinki

In case you want to escape the city scene in search of green spaces to lounge in, I can assure you now that there are a lot of parks spread out across Helsinki. The best ones would be:

  • Helsinki Central Park: With an area of over 10 square kilometers, this is actually more of a forest with trails rather than a park, and people come here to jog, cycle, ride horses, pick mushrooms, etc.
    .
  • Esplanade Park: Found in the heart of Helsinki, this is a common place that locals would visit. During summer, there are even free concerts that are being played here from the Espa stage. Some examples of the shows are Marimekko Fashion Show in June and the Jazz-Espa concert series in July.
    .
  • Sibelius Park: A vast and lovely patch of green, this was named after the world-famous composer Jean Sibelius and one of the popular attractions would be the Sibelius Monument which is a grand work of steel that resembles organ pipes and rises at 8.5 meters.

8. Watch free concerts!

Musiikkitalo

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

For more free things to do in Helsinki, I have come to know of 2 places where you can have the chance to watch concerts at no charge:

  • Helsinki Music Centre (Musiikkitalo): Opened just last 2011, this first-class concert hall offers a wide range of musical experiences. Though most of the shows are paid, there are often free concerts (often by music students) that welcome just about anyone. To watch out for these, check out their schedule here.
    .
  • Finnish National Opera: This is a state-owned Finnish opera that was built in the 1990s and there are several affairs that you can partake in for free: the Saturday chamber music concert, art exhibitions, production presentations, artist briefings, etc.
    .
  • Finlandia Hall: Designed by the world-renowned Finish architect, Alvar Aalto, this is a dynamic venue for congresses and events. Now I did say 2 places, but I still wanted to include Finlandia here because even though they don’t have free concerts, admission here is free so you can come in and see its wondrous architecture for yourself.

9. Join the city’s annual events

Lux Helsinki

Photo by: Jussi Ratilainen / Visit Helsinki

“You don’t need money to have a good time!” — and that’s absolutely true! Below are a few of the major happenings all throughout the year that is a must on your free things to do in Helsinki list.

  • Lux Helsinki: (January) As the darkest time of the year, light artworks will be displayed each day from dusk onwards
  • Taste of Helsinki: (June) A fine dining festival where visitors can sample the best Finnish fare at reasonable prices
  • Helsinki Pride Week: (June) Celebrating gender and sexual minorities — a rainbow-colored affair, that’s for sure!
  • Tuska Festival: (July) A heavy metal music festival (Finland is known for this!)
  • Helsinki Festival: (August) Held in the summer, this is dubbed the biggest arts festival in the Nordic region.
  • Helsinki Design Week: (September) An international festival wherein design professionals and enthusiasts alike would meet
  • Helsinki Comics Festival: (September) Said to be the largest comic-related event in Finland and Northern Europe.
  • We Jazz: (December) The biggest annual jazz happening in the city!

If you want a detailed list of free events and festivals, you can check Visit Helsinki‘s website.

10. Venture outside the urban city

Nuuksio National Park

Photo by: Jussi Hellsten / Visit Helsinki

Bus fares aside, there are a couple of places just outside of the center that I urge you to explore as one of the top free things to do in Helsinki because I guarantee you that you will never, ever regret it!

  • Nuuksio National Park: About a 40-minute bus ride away from the capital, you will be greeted by the vast setting of typical Finnish natural scenery. Now, Nuuksio offers guided tours and services but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do stuff on your own — because you can. For instance, with their well-marked trails, you can freely hike and bike on your own (and rest assured, it’s simply impossible to get lost here). Feel free to camp or do picnics here too!
    • TIP: Join a half-day trip to Nuuksio from Helsinki here.
      .
  • Porvoo: In just less than an hour, you can visit this 2nd oldest city in Finland and you will be absolutely charmed by its iconic red wooden shore houses and cobblestone streets. For sure, you shouldn’t miss out on visiting the Old Town which dates back to the Middle Ages, as well as the Old Railway Station.

• • •

Helsinki Travel Guide

If in case you’re willing to splurge a bit, here are some additional things to do in Helsinki:

  • Try the SkyWheel: open all year round, this is a 40-meter-high Ferris wheel that can provide you with a panoramic view of Helsinki. (Prices: €12 for adults, €9 for children, toddlers are free)
    .
  • Do a tram sightseeing tour: purchase a day ticket and you can use any of the trams below for the kind of tour that you would want to do. Just make sure to arm yourself with a map so you know the sights and the stops
    • Tram 2 for sightseeing
    • Tram 4 for an architectural tour
    • Tram 6 for art, design, and culinary tour
      .
  • Experience a relaxing sauna: you should never leave Finland without experiencing its saunas! There are public saunas in the city and one that I can recommend is Sauna Hermanni (€10 for adults). Nevertheless, almost all hotels in Helsinki have their own saunas so make sure that you take advantage of such.
    .

– – –

» Getting into Helsinki

By plane. Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport is the main airport and from here, you can reach the city center via airport taxi (around €30-€4o), train (€5.50), or bus (€5.50).

By train. All long-distance trains in Finland, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg can end up in Helsinki where the stop is at Rautatieasema in the Central Railway Station.

By boat. There are ferry services from Tallinn (Estonia) and Stockholm (Sweden) to Helsinki.

– – –

» Where to Stay (Helsinki Accommodations)

I highly recommend staying in Aallonkoti Apartment Hotels especially if you’re planning on staying for long in Helsinki. Nevertheless, getting an AirBnB flat could be a great option too since most of the listings can be very affordable.

If you’re more into hotels, here are some other best choices:

– – –

» Getting Around Helsinki

By foot. As I’ve mentioned above, Helsinki is not a dizzyingly big city; so you can easily explore it without the need to hop on a tram or bus.

By tram, bus, or metro. All public transportation in Helsinki has a standardized charge:

  • Tram ticket for 1 hour: €2.50
  • Single ticket: €2.70 via mobile and ticket machine, €3.20 from the driver (card button “1”)
  • Regional ticket: €5.50 valid for 80 mins within and between Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen (card button “2”)
  • Full region ticket: €8 valid for above plus Kerava, Sipoo, and Kirkkonummi (card button “3”)
  • Day ticket: €8
    .

By taxi. Taxis start at €5.90 on weekdays and €9 after 8 PM and Sundays, and an additional €1.52 is charged for every kilometer.

– – –

» Must-Try Helsinki Food & Drinks

Finnish Food

For authentic Finnish breakfast. Open sandwiches are typically eaten at this time of the day, if not puuro (porridge).

For lunch and dinner. Don’t miss out on hernekeitto (pea soup that is traditionally served on Thursdays) as well as any ‘game’ food (moose, deer, duck, etc. One example would be tattikuorrutettua or reindeer fillet).

For snacks and dessert. Check out pulla (sweet cardamom-flavored bread), Runeberg’s tart (commonly served around February to commemorate the national poet J.L. Runeberg), rönttönen (pastry with berry filling), salmiakki (salty black liquorice candy), and vispipuuro (sweet pink porridge).
My favorite: Leipäjuusto (fresh cow’s milk cheese which is best eaten with cloudberry jam)

For drinks. Definitely make it a point to drink Finnish coffee! Did you know? Finland actually has the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world so if you want to experience this ‘coffee culture’, head on to cafes and try a cup of jo. If you’re looking for beers instead, pale lagers are common and the most popular brands are Koff, Lapin Kulta, and Karhu.

– – –

» Helpful Finnish Phrases

Finnish and Swedish are the 2 main languages in Finland, which is why you’ll often see signs that are in both of these languages. However, it’s actually around 91% of the population who speaks Finnish — the Swedish signs still remain as some sort of adherence to their history.

Rest assured, everyone, can speak English well enough so there’s no need to go out of your way to learn the language; but of course, below are phrases that you can use to somehow ‘impress’ the locals.

Hello: Moi (MOI), Hei (HAY), Terve (TEHR-veh)
Thank you: Kiitos. (KEE-tohss)
Yes: Kyllä (KUUL-la), Joo (yoh)
No: Ei. (ay)
Goodbye (formal): Näkemiin. (NAK-eh-meen)
Goodbye (informal): Hei hei (HAY-hay), Moi moi (MOI-moi)

Excuse me / I’m sorry: Anteeksi (AHN-tehk-see)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Puhuuko kukaan täällä englantia? (POO-hoo-koh KOO-kahn TAAL-la EHNG-lahn-tee-ah?)
Help!: Apua! (AH-poo-ah!)
Cheers!: Kippis!

• • •

» Top Helsinki Tours «

Tallinn Cruise

Tallinn Cruise
Journey to Tallin from Helsinki or vice versa.

Auckland Sky Tower

Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
See the top city highlights!

• • •

Top 10 FREE Things To Do in Helsinki

Overall

We didn’t expect such a small city like Helsinki to have so much energy and versatility! I was even amazed at how the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ blend in such perfect harmony, that I can absolutely agree with just about anyone who makes a statement that the architectural scene here is captivatingly impeccable.

But of course, it’s not all about the external features, since there is still so much more to love about Helsinki: the food, the nightlife, the culture, the history, the seasons, the music, and the people! And I do bet that you’ll come to love them all too.

Here’s to hoping that this list of free things to do in Helsinki can help maximize your trip as you gain a full experience of this Finnish wonder. Safe travels!

• • •

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37 Comments

  1. Ana

    This was very helpful! I’m going to Helsinki in a few days – thank you for the food tips :)

    Reply
    • Aileen

      I’m happy to hear that! :D Enjoy your trip!

      Reply
  2. Ugand

    Never been to Helsinki but this sounds like one awesome place to visit.

    Reply
  3. Megan

    I was never able to get out to kallio when I was there last, and now I’m really regretting it. Next time I’m in Helsinki I will have to make sure that I can get there.

    Reply
  4. Heidi

    For a free thing to do in Helsinki I would recommend Hotel Torni’s (roof top)Ateljee bar. It has the best view of the city! I visit ot at least once a year since I love my home town Helsinki so much. Of course it’s not free if you wish to have a drink or so but no entrance fee. Only open from Spring to Autumn as it’s not covered.

    Nice article and I’m glad you loved Helsinki too!

    Reply
    • Aileen

      Oooh, thanks for that tip Heidi! I really appreciate that <3 (I guess that's why I didn't see it since I came there this winter haha) Thanks too! Helsinki was amazing :D

      Reply

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