In addition to a large selection of world renowned museums, galleries and attractions for which an entrance ticket is required, there are many inexpensive ways to enjoy a short break in Helsinki. Listed below are my suggestions for some really lovely free things to see and do.
Helsinki City Museum – located on the corner of Senate Square, this fascinating museum explores the history of the city sharing memories of the past through tales of everyday life. Helsinki City Museum, Aleksanterinkatu 16. Open Monday-Friday 10.00-19.00, Saturday-Sunday 11.00-17.00
Helsinki Tram Museum – trams have been clattering their way around the streets for over a hundred years. Take a seat in an old tram and stamp a ticket the way it was done in bygone days. A fascinating museum for transport enthusiasts. Helsinki Tram Museum, Toolonkatu 51A, Open daily 11.00-17.00.
Bank of Finland Museum – displays include the history of money in Finland and overseas as well as the role of the Bank of Finland in the European System of Central Banks. Bank of Finland Museum, Snellmaninkatu 2. Open: Tuesday-Friday 10.00-17.00, Saturday-Sunday 10.00-16.00. Please note the museum is currently closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic so do check the website for re-opening updates.
Central Railway Station – designed by Eliel Saarinen and inaugurated in 1919, the railway station was selected as one of the world’s most beautiful by the BBC in 2013. Clad in Finnish granite with distinguishing features of a clock tower and its two pairs of statues holding spherical lamps on either side of the main entrance. Address: Kaivokatu 1, 00100
Winter Garden – founded in 1893 featuring ornate glasshouses and a rose garden. The palm house contains exotic plants and is divided into separate rooms. View a large variety of cacti and succulents. The landscaped garden overlooks the beautiful Töölö Bay. Helsinki Winter Garden, Address: Hammarskjoldintie 13
Sibelius Monument – dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The monument resembles a sound wave made from clusters of organ pipes. These consist of over 600 steel pipes unevenly grouped together to embody the spirit of the composer’s music. Address: Sibeliuksen puisto, Mechelininkatu
Oodi Library – this stunning new library was chosen as the winner of the 2019 Public Library of the Year award. Located in the city centre, it has become a flagship library for a nation of book lovers. In addition to books there’s a cinema, recording studio, cafe and restaurant. Step indoors to view its sloping floors and walls and view the Parliament building from its outdoor terrace. Library card holders can learn new skills such as the use of 3D printers, laser cutters and sewing machines. Oodi Library, Kansalaistori Square. Open: Monday-Friday 08.00-22.00, Saturday and Sunday 10.00-20.00.
Helsinki Cathedral – is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral. This neoclassical masterpiece designed by Carl Ludvig Engel rises from the north side of Senate Square and is a landmark to those arriving by sea. The current building was completed in 1852 and is adorned with sculptures of the twelve apostles guarding the city from its rooftop. Helsinki Cathedral Address; Senate Square, Open daily. Admission free but donations towards upkeep welcome.
Uspenski Cathedral – This is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and red brick facade it stands as a symbol of the Russian impact on Finnish history. Uspenski Cathedral Address: Kanavakatu 1, Open: Tuesday-Friday 9.30-16.00, Saturday 10.00-15.00, Sunday 12.00-15.00.
Seurasaari Island – Cross the wooden bridge to visit this idyllic island which, during the summer months, is home to the open-air museum of Finnish life. Even when the museum is open, it’s free to follow the scenic coastal trail passing the exterior of the historic buildings on your way around the island. Spot red squirrels in the trees and enjoy Finnish nature year round. Take Bus 24 from Kamppi bus station to its terminus.
Helsinki Markets – the city boasts three market halls, all providing an authentic cultural experience plus two bustling outdoor markets. The Market Square is located between the south harbour and Esplanade Park where you can wander the stalls and call into one of the bright orange tented cafes for a coffee and delicious cinnamon bun or if it’s lunch time sample a bowl of the delicious creamy salmon soup with dark rye bread.
Old Market Hall – located next to the market square overlooking the sea, this market has been serving customers since 1889. With its central location, it’s very popular with cruise passengers and tourists. Browse the stalls filled with local gourmet delicacies from cured salmon to handmade chocolates.
Hakaniemi Market Hall – opened in 1914 and currently closed for renovation. All is not lost though as the market traders have moved into a temporary building beside the outdoor market next door. The many stalls here are mostly frequented by locals stocking up on provisions including meat, fish, sausages and cheese. There are numerous non food stores offering handicrafts and gifts plus several cafes.
Hietalahti Food Hall – built in 1908 as a traditional market hall and re-developed in 2013 as a food hall, it also served as an antiques hall for several years. It is now home to a variety of inviting bistros and cafes catering for all tastes and budgets.
Suomenlinna Island – constructed during the Swedish era as a maritime fortress. In 1991 Suomenlinna Fortress was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list as a unique monument of military architecture. It has served in the defence of three realms Sweden, Russia and Finland. There is no charge to explore the island as you just need to buy a return ticket for the ferry which is part of the local HSL transport system.
Pick up a leaflet from the tourist office and follow the blue route taking in the main sights across the fortress starting at the main quay and terminating at the King’s Gate. Enjoy a cliff top walk and either find a scenic bench for a picnic or pop into one of the island’s pretty little cafes.
Kaivopuisto Park – one of the city’s largest and oldest parks, located at the tip of the Helsinki peninsula and within easy walking distance from the centre. Climb up to the highest point in the park by the observatory for some stunning coastal and city views. Walk back into town through the neighbouring Eira district where you can view many beautiful old villas and international embassies.
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