Finland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. If you don’t own an unlimited credit card (or a sugar daddy, haha), you should be careful when spending your money here. As Helsinki was the first city I visited in my 77 Days of Euro Trip – 2016, I definitely tried my best to keep all the expenses low so I could still survive for the whole 2.5 months!
In spite of being a frugal backpacker, I still found fun things to do that cost me either very little or nothing. Whether you’re into city life or nature activities, I’ve got some cool recommendations here.
Going around the city by tram
This is actually the coolest way to explore Helsinki. You can of course forget taking a taxi to go around because, believe me, that would cost you a fortune. Helsinki trams are very convenient, clean, and most importantly – you’ll always find an empty seat.
Buy the 1 Day Ticket (8 EUROS) from the ticket machines at the tram stops, and then you can hop on and off the trams all day long wherever you want, whenever you feel like it. The ticket is valid for buses and trains, too. You can see a lot of interesting sites while getting around – from museums, gardens, cathedrals, and markets. As suggested in Helsinki’s official tourism website, I took the 3 most famous tram lines for travellers:
- Tram Route 2: Sightseeing Tour
- Tram Route 4: Architectural Tour
- Tram Route 6: Design and Culinary Tour
Tip: Bring cash in Euro coins or a credit card to make purchase on the ticket machines.
Shopping at secondhand shops
Hunting secondhand goods is a thing in Helsinki, and my favourite secondhand shop is no other but UFF! They have several branches in the city and sell items in very good condition, all neatly arranged in different sections by colour and type. I’m happy to learn that they actually use the profits they earn for donation and some sustainable projects in less fortunate areas of the world. You can find more information here.
Sometimes they have 1-week clearance sale, and that’s when the prices get crazily cheap. On the first day, they’ll sell every single item for 7 Euros each. The price goes lower each day and on the last day of the sale, everything only costs 1 EURO. I bought a Gina Tricot cute pink sweater for 1 Euro here, I swear! I also bought a red sweater and a pair of knee-length leather boots, same price as well.
Tip: If you see something you like during clearance sale period, take and buy it right away. Don’t wait until the next day cause most likely that item will no longer be there.
Observing the silent crowd around Kamppi Chapel
Generally, Finnish people are very quiet and respectful. They do not talk in the streets and they give (more than) enough personal space in public places. Even in one of the busiest areas in Helsinki (Kamppi), lies the iconic site of the city which is called Kampin kappeli – or Kamppi Chapel.
Also known as the Chapel of Silence, Kamppi Chapel is a Lutheran chapel located on Narinkka Square, surrounded by malls, shops, hotels, and restaurants. You can enter the chapel for FREE and be there as long as you want. Just make sure that you don’t make loud noises as this place is meant for people who want to have a moment of silence.
Tip: Always show respect to a religious site, no matter what your belief is. I think it’s also better not take photos inside the chapel. You can just do it in Notre Dame de Paris or Sagrada Família de Barcelona :p
Trying out local coffee shops
I’ll have to admit that sometimes I go to Starbucks when I want to be sure that my coffee will not taste weird and I have Wi-Fi to stay active on WhatsApp. But I believe that it would be a shame if you don’t try local coffee shops in Europe. Helsinki is no exception for this.
I was taken to Bulevardin kahvisalonki by a friend and we had coffee together. This coffee shop is located at Bulevardi 1. It has many options for coffee and pastries. The place is cozy, with Wi-Fi that works really well. I spent about 2 hours there as that day I had to work and submit some reports on my laptop. It’s also a nice place if you like to spend time reading or just watching the life happening outside the windows while sipping your 3-4 EUROS coffee.
Tip: Do not hesitate to go there if you’re allergic to gluten! This place is well-known for its gluten-free options.
Relaxing at city parks
If you’re more of an outdoor person, you might want to hit the city parks around Helsinki. The parks here are so well maintained and… pretty. Yes, I’m going to use ‘pretty’ to describe them. I’ve passed a few parks and the one I liked the most was actually Vanha kirkkopuisto, or the Old Church Park!
The park is named as such because Vanha kirkko, the Old Church of Helsinki, is located in the middle of the park. Quoting from Wikipedia, the church was completed in 1826, and the park itself was a cemetery from the 1780s where some victims of the Finnish Civil War and fallen volunteers of the Estonian War of Independence were buried. The interesting part is that some gravestones and memorials still remain in the park until now. Even with this exceptional history, this park is FREE to enter.
Tip: If you’re a dog lover, you’ll love going to city parks in Europe. Dogs always gather there (with their owners, of course)!
Picking apples around Espoo or Kirkkonumi area
Last but not least, if city parks are not appealing enough, go somewhere a little bit out of the city! Because I stayed at my friend’s place in Espoo and she works in Kirkkonumi, I got the chance to see both neighbourhood areas there. Not far from the city center, you can get a piece of countryside already.
It’s common for people in Finland to pick their own apples during summer and autumn. They also pick berries and even mushrooms! It was a special experience for me, being out in the “woods” and grab my apples right from the trees, for FREE! Make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes, though. Long pants and sneakers are highly recommended.
Tip: If you decide to visit Espoo or Kirkkonumi, you might wanna get a different type of 1 Day Ticket cause the one I mentioned previously is only valid for Helsinki area. Check here for further information regarding the ticket fares depending on the regions/zones.