If you’re visiting when it’s cold, which statistically you will unless you visit in the heart of summer, you need to join in the Finnish tradition of sweating your butt off in a sauna. I’m lucky enough to have known a local who invited me to share in her apartment building’s sauna. There are many public options available. A famous one is Kotiharjun, keep in mind that it’s closed on Mondays.
How to Get Around in Helsinki
The more days you include in your ticket, the cheaper it is. The one-way ticket includes transfers since it’s valid up to almost 2 hours from purchase. Helsinki is divided into zones A, B, and C. For transport to and from the airport you need an ABC ticket. You can also map your route using the HSL app and it will show which is the quickest way to get there with public transport along with up to date time tables.
“Free” is my second favorite word.
FREE Places to Visit
If you travel loads or you’re on a budget here are some great ways to explore Helsinki.
If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month,
you can enter any museum for free!
If you’re in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month, you can enter any museum for free! I chose to check out Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, where I immediately became a fan of the amazing Finnish artist Iiu Susiraja. Her self-portraits are so thought and laugh provoking, I was truly inspired by her boldness and colorful portraits.
There are many other museums to choose from such as the National Museum of Finland where you can learn about Finland’s history, including the civil war from where the bullet holes in certain monuments come from. There’s also the Finnish Museum of Natural History, famous for the sculptures of the coffee drinking-sun bathing giraffes on the balcony. Here is a list by Culture Trip of the best museums in Finland. If you’re undecided, you can see the current exhibits on display on the museum’s website or simply, flip a coin.
Island hopping in Finland is a thing!
How to Visit the Islands in Helsinki
When in Helsinki, a day trip to Suomenlinna island is a must. The ferry is not technically free but it is included with the metro day pass. You also have the option of going island hopping for €10, a good idea on a sunny day. Suomenlinna is a world heritage and an old army fortress where you can explore the old tunnels and touch the huge cannons (pun intended) facing the Baltic Sea. It also has some beautiful views and beaches where you can chill. Above all. we happened to pass by a pirate ship on our way back to land. Anything can happen in Helsinki.
There are two places that stayed with me from my visit…
After exploring so much of Europe, cathedrals rarely impress me anymore, but Uspenski was a breath of fresh air… literally, it’s next to the port.
This beautiful brick, turquoise and gold cathedral sits on top of a hill surrounded by boulders. The interior has a very minimalistic decor, definitely not what I am used with Spanish, Italian, French or Belgium cathedrals. It is easy to locate since it’s next to the port with the ferries departing for the islands, and also near the market.
It’s hard to believe that the Sibelius monument was built in the 60’s since the design looks so modern and it’s 600+ metal pipes look shinning new.
It gives a magical feeling because it seems to be floating above the water when seen from a distance facing the lake. Jean Sibelius is a Finnish classical music composer during the romantic era. The monument was built by Finnish sculptor Eila Hiltunen. A smaller version of the monument sits in the United Nations building in NYC.
The Best of Finnish Food
Salmon and Reindeer are very common in Finland. You’ll even find reindeer kebabs in the market, as well as their antlers for sale at the outdoor market. I didn’t have the heart to try the reindeer meat but I did have an amazing salmon burrito worth the €12 at Soma Sushiburrito. I also remember seeing a huge salmon sandwich in the market for only €6.
Alcohol is restricted in the city
Where to Drink in Helsinki
Helsinki is known as an expensive city, so expect to pay up to €8 or €9 for a beer. Also, alcohol is restricted in the city. Hard liquor, wine, and high percentage alcohol beers can only be bought at bars or in liquor stores which have limited opening hours.
If you’re into craft beers, I recommend B-Side Bar. It has a very chill vibe, friendly bartenders and it’s in an artsy square that holds concerts in the summer. Another artsy and lively area in the summer is Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo (cultural center). It is an old tram hall that is now used for outdoor drinking, music, art exhibits, food and it even has a movie theater. Definitely worth checking out during the summer or warmer days.
Another artsy and chill bar, despite the name, is Bar Molotov. The walls are covered with random stuff and you could spend the whole evening exploring all the knick-knacks used as decoration in this bar or you could also relax after a day of touring the city while playing board games and enjoying a long drink. This is a local specialty cocktail with gin and different flavors such as cranberry and grapefruit. Don’t expect anything fancy since it’s premixed and comes from a tap, still pretty good.
There’s quite a few bars, restaurants, and cafes you can check out on Vaasankatu street (where Bar Molotov is). It’s a hip area with some cool street art, worth exploring during the day or night.