The capital of Finland, Helsinki, has become one of the world’s trendiest destinations, thanks to its top-class design shops, lively café scene, fancy eateries, hipster neighborhoods, and cool music festivals like Flow Festival. Helsinki has come a long way since the 90’s, when I moved here and eventually decided to make it my home.
From being a European backwater, Helsinki has managed to evolve into a dynamic, world-class capital, without losing its unique, “East meets West” character. But what I like the most about Helsinki is its people. They have a witty sense of humor combined with a healthy dose of self irony, they are hospitable and polite, and although they are extremely proud and full of respect for their city’s history, they are not reluctant to changes. On the contrary, they are eager to embrace new trends and even take them one step further.
I am honored that the guys from Five Free Things asked me to compile a list of five free things to do in Helsinki. So here is my list:
5. Sederholm House – Children’s Town
One of my top five free things to do in Helsinki is the Sederholm House – Children’s Town, located in the centre of Helsinki, just opposite the city’s Cathedral.
Children’s town is not only a fun way to spend some quality time with the family, but it also provides an interesting insight into the life of Helsinki and how it changed through the centuries. My favorite part of Children’s Town is the “Grandma’s Apartment”, decorated with vintage 60’s furniture and a real Grandma sitting on the sofa, reading fairy tales to the kids. Children’s Town is housed within the oldest building of Helsinki, the Sederholm House.
4. Pihlajasaari Island
At number 4 of the five free things to do in Helsinki, is Pihlajasaari, a tiny recreation island, easily reached by boat from Helsinki and a great place for spending a lazy summer day.
There are beautiful spots to have a picnic, a few sandy beaches, a network of walking paths for the active ones, and a restaurant serving local delicacies. For those who want to spend the night on Pihlajasaari, camping is allowed in the designated areas for free during weekends.
In the end of August and for three consecutive evenings, the area next to Helsinki’s Music Center is transformed into an open air cinema with free entrance. Just remember to bring a blanket, your picnic box and your best buddy! “Movie picnic” is an event organized by Helsinki Festival and the Helsinki film industry in co-operation with the City of Helsinki.
2. Night of the arts
Helsinki Festival is one of Helsinki’s biggest annual events and it takes place in last two weeks of August. On one particular night during the Festival, the streets of Helsinki transform into a huge and joyful happening venue, with all kinds of free admission art performances from all around the world: music concerts, opera, modern dance performances, you name it!
And there is even more: all the museums are open until 9 pm, free of charge.
The “Night of the Arts” is your chance to be part of a colorful crowd, celebrating art and life in one big party, where everybody is invited.
1. Suomenlinna Fortress
The group of islands that form Suomenlinna Fortress is not only Helsinki’s most popular tourist destination, but also a free one. Enlisted in UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a unique monument of military architecture, Suomenlinna is easily accessible by ferry from Helsinki harbor, and the ride takes less than 15 minutes.
Suomenlinna Fortress has a long history that dates back to the 18th century, when Finland was still part of Sweden. These days is a tranquil and leafy island with colorful buildings, cosy little restaurants and cafés, and unobstructed views of the Baltic Sea and Helsinki harbor.
I always take my foreign guests to Suomenlinna. It is a wonderful place to spend a whole morning. Although packed with tourists during the summer season, you can always find quiet areas to stroll and admire the nature and unique architecture of the island.
Suomenlinna is an integral part of the Finnish capital and my favorite of the five free things to do in Helsinki.
I hope you enjoyed reading my list. See you in Helsinki!