Top 5 free things in Helsinki

Last updated 08:56 03/07/2013

WORLD HERITAGE SITE: Suomenlinna Fortress, a star-shaped bastion built in the 1700s atop a cluster of six islands.

Related Links

48 hours in wintry Helsinki A weekend in Helsinki Five free things to do Miami Five free things in Amsterdam

Relevant offers


A guide to the Anzac Day dawn service at Gallipoli Beyond Gallipoli: Sea of Marmara and the Prince's Islands Ask an Expert: Greek Islands on a budget Kiwi photographer finds haunting beauty in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Hotspot of the week: Amsterdam Portuguese tarts at Pasteis de Belem, Lisbon: When the 'world's best' food lives up to the hype Bizarre innovations that never made it: Museum of Failure embraces idea we learn from our mistakes Europe road trip holidays: The top 10 European coastal drives Taormina: The stage is set in Sicily Kiwis in flight:Why Croatia should be at the top of your bucket list

Helsinki is known as an international capital of design, and Finland is one of the eurozone's wealthiest nations.

But despite that upscale reputation, the city offers a wealth of experiences that are light on the wallet.

In summer, glorious, sun-filled days draw picnickers to every available last patch of grass. The city also has a timeless maritime character, with its location on the Baltic Sea offering views of the bay filled with boats and dozens of tiny islands.

There's a cosmopolitan side to Helsinki, too, with striking architecture and street art as far as the eye can see.

Here are a few adventures to be had for free.


You know summer has arrived in Helsinki when trendy young urbanites blanket every corner of Esplanadi Park and set up picnics.

Known locally as Espa, the charmingly small park lives up to its short name. Sandwiched between parallel streets that are lined with cafes and shops - think of home-grown design brands like Marimekko and iittala - it's also the hot spot for a number of free outdoor concerts and one of the most vibrant parts of town.

For a different kind of adrenaline rush, head over to the hillside amusement park of Linnanmaki, where the observation deck of a 53-metre tower offers a panoramic view of the city.

Admission to the park, tower and even some (though not all) of the rides are free of charge.

For complete serenity, try the manicured botanical gardens at Kaisaniemi Park, where hundreds of exotic plants populate the greenhouses that are maintained by the University of Helsinki.


Though the grounds are as lavish as any royal residence, there are no castles on Suomenlinna Fortress, a star-shaped bastion built in the 1700s atop a cluster of six islands.

Today, the only invaders of this UNESCO World Heritage site are visitors who explore the church, theatre, craft galleries and half a dozen on-site museums.

One museum is an entire submarine! There's no entry fee to the island, though if you lack a boat of your own, there's a small cost for the ferry ride over.

The particularly adventurous can even stay the night at the fortress's own hostel - not free, but potentially priceless.


The parks that envelop Toolonlahti Bay showcase the exotic plants of the Winter Garden, the quiet splendour of the Finnish National Opera House and the vastness of the Olympic Stadium, built when the country hosted the Summer Games in 1952.

At the end of boulevards leading from the park next to the bay, locals bring their competitive spirit to the beach volleyball tournaments at the man-made and ever-popular Hietaniemi Beach.


Nestled in the heart of the city, and steps away from iconic spots like Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square, the fashion-forward Kluuvi shopping centre showcases trendy items that aren't available anywhere else in the country. During summer months, the open-air flea market at Hietalahti offers a more bohemian feel and a glimpse of the everyday objects that are desired by many Finns.

Ad Feedback

But if there's only time for a single excursion, the place to go is the century-old Hakaniemi Market Hall, where 70 shops offer an endless array of knickknacks, such as local delicacies (reindeer meat and blinis), alpaca jackets and other regional specialties from the northern Lapland to the north, and toys and other crafts that have been handmade from local fir.


And finally, no visit to the country is complete without basking in a sauna, where an extra burst of heat is felt every time a shot of water is ladled onto piping hot stones.

Saunas are a source of national pride, and most private homes have them. Many hotels and hostels have them, too, so in all likelihood, you'll have access to one as part of your overnight lodging.

There's also a new public facility called Kulttuurisauna that was built as a result of Helsinki hosting the 2012 World Design Festival, but admission is 15 euros ($25).

- AP

Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content