13 Free Things To Do in Helsinki
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If you think that there aren't a lot of free things to do in Helsinki, then you'd be sorely mistaken. Despite Helsinki being considered an expensive city to visit, you can comfortably visit Helsinki on a budget, and still experience a lot of the city's main attractions. We flew to Helsinki in September, which proved to be the perfect time of the year to visit since there were a lot less tourists hanging around and there was a cool temperature that was comfortable to walk outside in. Many of the attractions on our Helsinki itinerary were free to begin with, so we were pleasantly surprised at how far our budget actually got us.
Whether you're due to spend a day in Helsinki or a few days like us, there's no shortage of free things to do in Helsinki. In fact, if you're on a really tight budget, you can even take advantage of the many free walking tours in Helsinki! I've put together a list of 13 free things in Helsinki that we did during our autumn trip which are well worth adding to your own Helsinki itinerary:
1. Visit Senate Square
Visiting Senate Square is probably at the top of any list of free things to do in Helsinki. The square is home to the iconic Helsinki Cathedral, which is currently free to enter, but as of March 2021 there will be a €5 voluntary entrance fee. The cathedral was built in 1839, and since then has proudly stood overlooking Senate Square. The square is surrounded by beautiful shops and restaurants, and sits only a few minutes walk from the waterfront too.
2. Browse Old Market Hall
Sitting along the waterfront is an indoor market known as Old Market Hall, which dates back to the 19th century. When we visited it was due to close, but we had enough time to walk around and enjoy some of the food stalls and treats that they had on offer. Since it's a market, it's obviously going to be on the list of free things to do in Helsinki (unless you buy something). The hall sits next to Market Square, which serves as an outdoor market during the day, and has a lot of interest stalls to browse through.
3. Walk to Uspenski Cathedral
Just across the road from Market Square is Uspenski Cathedral. It was built in 1868, and is actually the largest orthodox church in western Europe! If you have some extra time in your schedule, I would recommend taking the short, uphill walk to look at its architecture up close. From the top of the hill you get a gorgeous view of Helsinki's city centre below too which is a bonus, and is of course something free to do in Helsinki! The cathedral was sadly closed when we arrived, so if you're thinking of going to it check the opening times first - the entry is free of charge though!
4. Stroll Through Esplanadi Park
Another fantastic free thing to do in Helsinki is to take a stroll through Esplanadi Park. You can find the park next to the Old Market Hall, and it sits between two of the main shopping streets in Helsinki too. It's known as the green heart of Helsinki, and is also the most famous park in Finland. Rather than walk along the road, we decided to cut through the park instead and thoroughly enjoyed the change of scenery.
5. Visit Helsinki Railway Square
If you're travelling to Helsinki via train, directly next to the main station is Helsinki Railway Square. There wasn't much going on here in September, but during the winter months the square is transformed into an outdoor skating rink. So if you're looking for things to do in Helsinki in the winter, this is a great place to start! The square is also very close to a number of popular shops and restaurants in various directions.
6. Have a Rest in the Kamppi Chapel of Silence
One of the more unusual things to see in Helsinki is definitely the Kamppi Chapel of Silence. It's located right next to the Kamppi Shopping Centre, and its unusual design makes it very hard to miss. Entering the chapel is one of the best free things to do in Helsinki. Why? Because this unique piece of wooden Finnish architecture lets absolutely no noise into it from the busy outside world. As soon as you enter the chapel there's pure silence, which is both a little eerie and quite calming.
7. Explore the Outdoor Markets
Markets are a big thing in Helsinki, and it seemed like every district we visited had at least one outdoor market in it. So if you come across one while you're walking around Helsinki, I would highly recommend spending a bit of time at it. You can usually find some interesting souvenirs for sale, and buying food at these markets is a great way to save money too! The one pictured above was open every day we walked past it, and was even open in the evening too. Of course, if you don't buy anything, you can consider visiting a market an excellent free thing to do in Helsinki.
8. Visit the Colourful Neighbourhood of Puu-Kapyla
If you're looking for some offbeat things to do in Helsinki, I would recommend either walking or taking the tram to Puu-Kapyla. It's a little further out of the city centre than most of the attractions in Helsinki so you'll need to be wearing some comfortable trainers, but if you're spending a couple of days in the city it's a nice area to walk around. It's know as the "wooden house neighbourhood", as the buildings are made of wood and are very traditional looking. They're also painted in different colours so they make for a great photo spot too! There isn't much to do in this area other than walk around, but it's definitely something free to do in Helsinki that you shouldn't miss!
9. Stop at the Hietalahti Market Hall
Another market you say? Oh yes. We came across Hietalahti Market Hall while we were on a walking tour, and made a note to come back to it for something to eat. The hall itself dates back 115 years and is now home to an amazing selection of cafes and restaurants, offering delicious experiences from around the world. The food isn't overpriced either, and you definitely get your fill from eating here. We chose to eat at Fat Ramen and loved every bite. Since it's classified as a market, it's completely free to walk around, and you're under no obligation to buy anything from the food stalls.
10. Dive Into Teurastamo
Teurastamo was one of my favourite places to visit in Helsinki, and it was actually our first stop on our itinerary. The complex was once home to various warehouses, but now it's been transformed into a series of restaurants, bars, and even a distillery! And if you're in the mood, you can try out their traditional Finnish sauna experience (for a fee). In my opinion, some of the best restaurants in Helsinki can be found here - and most tourists don't even know it exists! Unless you're paying for something to eat or drink here, visiting Teurastamo is another amazing free thing to do in Helsinki, and during the summer months they have live outdoor performances for you to attend.
11. Walk Around the Töölö District
The Töölö District is where you'll find a number of interesting sites in Helsinki. We took our time and walked around the district, and crossed quite a few attractions off of our list. Many of the sites you can only see from the outside, but they're still very impressive to look at, which is great if you're wanting to find some more free things to do in Helsinki. Parliament House, Finlandia Hall, and the National Museum of Finland (expensive to enter) are just some of the attractions you can expect to find in this district.
12. Get Under the Sibelius Monument
One of the most unique things you'll come across in Helsinki is the famous Sibelius Monument - named after the Finnish composer. When I was doing my research before the trip, I was shocked to find that this monument appeared on almost everyone's list of the top things to do in Helsinki. But having visited it, I can understand why, especially if you go under the monument and take a photo facing towards the sky. Not only is this a popular attraction, it's also something else that's free to do in Helsinki!
13. Take a Break at Cafe Regatta
A very short walk from the Sibelius Monument is probably the prettiest Finnish cafe you'll ever come across - Cafe Regatta. The fact that it's not situated in the city centre doesn't take away from its popularity. We had to stand in the queue for almost half an hour before being served. If you're wanting to get something to eat or drink here, you're most likely going to have to sit outside because the interior is incredibly small and difficult to move around in. But, if you'd rather just take a look at it from the outside and take some photos, then you can definitely add it to your list of free things to do in Helsinki! However, I would highly recommend grabbing one of their famous cinnamon buns and a cup of hot chocolate.
So, is Helsinki worth visiting? Definitely! Even if you're travelling to Helsinki on a budget, there are a lot of incredible things to do in the city. I try to add as many free things into my itineraries as possible, and most of the time they turn out to be some of my favourite places. Helsinki may be classified as an expensive city to visit, but there are ways around that, and having travelled to it once I can't wait to go back and see more places that I missed the first time around.
Accommodation in Helsinki can take a huge bite out of your budget, so I would recommend staying at Hiisi Homes Haaga which are short-term serviced apartments, meaning you have a kitchen on hand to make your own meals. Helsinki is also ideally placed to visit other popular cities such as Tallinn or even St Petersburg, which are both only a boat ride away! I would love to hear about your own experiences in Helsinki, so please drop me a comment below! And don't forget to follow my travels on Instagram as well.