Despite its reputation as Europe’s most expensive city, it’s possible for you to visit Helsinki on a budget vacation. You won’t be staying at five-star hotels or eating at fine restaurants, but you won’t have to beg for euros on a corner every evening either. Helsinki, home to almost 1.2 million Finns, is the capital and largest city in Finland. The city was named the world’s most livable city in 2011 for many of the reasons that will make it an enjoyable destination for your next vacation.
Preparing for Your Journey
Finland is a party to the Schengen Agreement allowing U.S. citizens to enter the country with a U.S. passport without a business or tourist visa. The only restrictions are that your passport must not expire during the time of your planned visit and you must have a return airline ticket for your departure within a three-month period. As is the case for all planned travel abroad, you should purchase an international medical insurance policy in the event that you become ill or are injured during your visit.
Helsinki offers many youth and travel hostels, some in the central city set in the Olympic Stadium and less expensive ones at the fringe area where the suburbs begin. There’s even one in Suomenlinna Island area, a UNESCO World Heritage fortress site.
Summer months open up hostel space run by universities while students are absent. In keeping with the city’s reputation as an expensive destination, hostels usually run about 25 to 45 euros a night or just in the range of U.S. $35 to about $60 at a recent exchange rate; however, their quality is almost uniformly neat, clean, uncrowded and comfortable.
Sources for Food & Sustenance
Don’t even tempt yourself by reading menus posted in central Helsinki’s sit-down restaurants. A nice—but not special—sit-down restaurant can easily cost as much as your hostel bed space without wine or cocktails. There are some extremely desirable options as far as filling your belly, however—none of which involve dumpsters.
One experienced travel blogger suggests opting for a gigantic and super-filling sandwich from one of the harbor stalls for a mere 7 to 9 euros ($9 to $12). Another budget travel expert suggested gorging at one of the all-you-can-eat lunch buffets—lounas buffett —offered by most Helsinki restaurants for about the same cost. Just be sure to purchase elastic-waist pants or some other unrestricted attire prior to your visit.
Getting Around Town
Like most European capitals, Helsinki has an excellent public transportation system; a city tradition of cycling only adds to your options for travel. You can rent a bicycle and lock for a small fee or purchase a pass for public transportation for 7 euros (around $9). Conveniently and unlike some other cities’ “day passes,” your pass is good for 24 hours from first use, not the time of purchase; nor does it expire at midnight, regardless of having purchased it only a few hours earlier.
You may not require any transportation aside from biking or walking because the central city is relatively compact. The Helsinki tourist and visitor board also wisely offers a mobile phone app, CITY-OPAS, free of charge for iPhone and Android users. This app can provide you with maps, directions and—if desired—public transportation information to reach a spot.
Fun & Games, Recalled
Helsinki, like most capital cities, is awash in culture with museums, art, art galleries and architecture. The city is also home to regular festivals and concerts, particularly during its short summer. Admission to many museums is free one day per week and some of the festivals are public events without admission fees. Now that you know these tips and tricks, consider visiting the city for more than a rushed day or two. Save up for a week of budget travel in this intriguing, friendly city and enjoy!