Five (almost) free things to do in Helsinki

Yes, Finland does have a reputation for being an expensive country and the capital city Helsinki is no exception. Having said that, there are many (almost) free things to do in Helsinki. Do you want to know what they are? BTW – if you’re looking for accommodation, check out our Helsinki design hotels post!

1) Visit Helsinki’s unique churches

Visiting churches? Boring, I hear some of you say. I might be inclined to agree with you on some aspects; I’m not a big fan of visiting churches, unless they contain stunning artworks or are really special. But let me tell you, Helsinki’s churches are something else. They’re cool. Well, at least three of them are.

Let’s start with the first one, Helsinki Cathedral. The whitewashed neoclassical building sits on top of a staircase just above Senate Square, right in the city centre. It’s one of the most recognisable landmarks of the city, clearly visible from the ferries on the way to the islands.

Free things to do in helsinki Cathederal 2
The white Cathedral under a stormy sky

Why I loved the Cathedral so much? It’s one of the most elegant buildings I have ever seen. From the outside, it looks like a cross-between a museum and a Greek temple. Inside, it’s the epitome of cool Nordic design; white walls, plain wooden pews. No frescoed walls and gloomy atmosphere. A place that makes you want to sit down and think.

Which leads me to the second church. Actually, it’s not really a church as such. Helsinki’s Chapel of Silence is an odd-looking structure, looking like a spaceship that just landed in the city centre.

Temple of silence helsinki
Odd-looking, right?

Built almost entirely of wood, it’s a place that makes you feel peaceful and relaxed as soon as you step in. Even though it was built by local parishes, the aim of this place is not purely religious. The Chapel is an oasis of silence and contemplation in the middle on one of the busiest districts of the city centre.

Helsinki Temple of Silence Stairs
From the outside
Helsinki Temple of Silence
Inside, silence and quietitude

How about the third church? Temppeliaukio Church, commonly known as the Church of the Rock, is exactly that: a church excavated from the rock. Natural light enters from a ring-shaped skylight surrounding a copper dome; the walls are bare rock, making the rock-climber in me want to trace a quick circuit around the altar. When we visited, a pianist was playing. The church is famous its excellent acoustics, making it double as a concert hall.

things to do in Helsinki Rock Church
The Church of the Rock inside (see the organ in the corner?)
things to do in Helsinki Rock Church
The copper roof with skylight

2) Head over to the Salmiakki kiosk

Helsinki Salmiakki Kiosk
Lucas serving some salmiakki coffee (really tasty!)

A quick hop from the Church of the Rock you can find this famous kiosk, dedicated to one of Finland’s national obsessions, black salted liquorice. You can find salmiakki on sale at every supermarket and corner shop around the country; but in this kiosk you’ll find literally dozens of versions of salmiakki sweets (or shall we say salties?) plus salmiakki flavoured everything, from sauces to ice cream and even coffee.

Our opinion? Definitely an acquired taste. Coffee was good, ice cream was way too weird for us.

***UPDATE*** The Salmiakki kiosk is now closed. However, as we said, you can pick up Salmiakki everywhere in Finland, and there are plenty of cafes around the city where you can have a break! 

3) Play the pipes at Sibelius Monument

Free things to do in Helsinki sibelius
Sibelius Monument with double rainbow

This is another Helsinki landmark, dedicated to Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius. The monument is an abstract creation made of welded vertical steel pipes, vaguely resembling an organ. You can walk around the monument and blow into one of the 600 pipes creating your own symphony.

It’s located in Sibelius Park, a beautiful green area right on the waterfront. If you fancy a break, head to nearby Café Regatta for some wonderful cinnamon rolls.

4) People-watch (and drool!) at one of Helsinki’s markets

Helsinki market Blueberries
Do you prefer chanterelles or blueberries?

Who would take Finland for a foodie destination? That was one of the best surprises for us. There are several markets around the city; Market Square is perhaps the most famous, just opposite the harbour. Yes, it does have a hint of touristy about it, but it’s still a wonderful place to have a traditional Finnish breakfast of coffee and Karelian pies with egg butter, or watch Finnish families buy buckets full of colourful berries.

Helsinki Bad Bad Boy
Eat your lunch in front of Bad Bad Boy, just outside the market (until October 2014!)

If you prefer a more ‘authentic’ experience, head to Hakaniemi Market Hall in the city centre. The ground floor offers delicious fresh food and the first floor sells Finnish souvenirs, from reindeer hides to Marimekko design.

Free things to do in helsinki market
Fruit and veg at Hakaniemi Market

5) Enjoy nature at Suomenlinna or Nuuksio National Park

Nature really steals the show in Helsinki. The town is literally surrounded by nature; from woods to islands, lakes and of course the Baltic Sea. Suomenlinna is a great place to get away from it all. It’s a fortress built on six islands just off the coast, where you both outdoor and history lovers can enjoy a day out. And you can also sleep there.

Free things to do in Helsinki skyline
View of the city from the Suomenlinna ferry

Nuuksio National Park is the ideal destination to leave the city behind. It’s a wonderland of forests and lakes, with three walking trails, cooking huts and plenty of opportunities for berry and mushroom picking. And guess what? It’s only 45 minutes bus from the city centre!

Suomenlinna Island Bridge
Beautiful Suomenlinna

20 thoughts on “Five (almost) free things to do in Helsinki”

  1. Aw, Sibelius monument looks interesting, hope to see it next time when in Helsinki. My most fav is definitely the Silent Chapel and Suomenlinna island. So particular places!

  2. Bad boy made me chuckle, haha! I’d love to visit the Salmiakki kiosk and of course those food markets for some food and also a good people watch!

  3. Interesting!
    Finland is the only Scandinavian country that I haven’t visited yet and totally on my list.
    I actually enjoy visiting churches, as I consider them very charming pieces of art – and these ones you’ve listed are definitely different and original!

  4. Awesome list–these look like great stops and I always love finding free things to do in a city! The churches look really pretty, especially the Chapel of Silence–it has such a unique design!

  5. That wooden church is awesome. I would love to check that out. And those pipes are really neat, too! There are lots of fun, free things to do there!

  6. Those are some cool churches! I’d love to see the wood one and the rock/copper ceiling one. The markets look interesting too- one of my fav things about traveling is trying local foods (and eating of course).

  7. Helsinki is great! Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend any time there when I was there for #outdoorsfinland but at least I walked around it for a bit. Martijn used to live here so we know the city quite well. The white cathedral is pretty stunning indeed!

  8. Finland sounds like an amazing country! I love the architecture and how everyone seems to love being outside. Plus those churches look breathtaking! Once my husband and I leave Japan we want to definitely explore more of Europe – and Finland is up there on our list. I love the photos and can’t wait to read more about your travels!

  9. These are so cool. I’m not much for religion but those churches look super awesome. People watching has to be the best free thing one can do when in a different place. I love to do it when traveling. Thanks for the great list!

  10. Great list! We were only in Helsinki for one day on a cruise stop but managed to visit the Helsinki Cathedral, the Church of the Rock, Sibelius Park and Suomenlinna. I would love to go back and spend more time though!

  11. The one I love happens to live in Finland… And in a entire month I have been living with her over there, in Lahti, a town about 100km north of Helsinki, she has shown me all of these churches and some of the markets, mainly this one in front of the Finnair big wheel, in the harbours where we can take the ferries to these small islands and to Tallinn, Estonia, her country, which we visited together too.

    I see now once more her very fine taste. And how lucky I am to have her love. Kiitos, Marika! 🙂

    • What a lovely comment. I wish you both lots of happiness together. Kiitos for your nice comment Giuseppe! (are you Italian by any chance?) Ah, and we’ll be in Finland in January!

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