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The Tailor-Made Top 21 Free Activities to Do in Helsinki

Updated: Nov 3, 2023


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki

Author: Barry Pickard

Helsinki is a vibrant and unique city that offers a range of activities for travellers without breaking the bank. From exploring the picturesque streets to indulging in its rich culture, there is something for everyone in this Finnish gem. Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveller, this city promises to leave a lasting impression with its free activities.



Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the free things to do in Helsinki, or indeed, a general tour of Helsinki.


It is difficult to create a list of the best free activities to do and is sure to be a little controversial with some, but here’s my top twenty-one.



Free Activities in Helsinki


21 - 16. Bad Bad Boy, The Cable Factory, Street Art, Tram Museum, Lapinlahden Lähde, Helsinki University Library


Bad Bad Boy is a pink sculpture made of concrete created by sculptor Tommi Toija and represents a naked urinating boy. The sculpture is 8.5 metres (28 ft) tall and weighs seven and a half tons.


Cable Factory is one of the largest cultural centres in Finland. Once an industrial complex producing marine cables, the centre houses three museums, galleries, dance theatres, restaurants and cafés, art schools, artists, bands, and companies active in the creative industry.


Helsinki doesn't have a big street art culture, however, the exception are their colourful electrical boxes that appear on many of the city centre streets. Keep an eye open for them!



Helsinki's oldest tram depot houses the small, but interesting Tram Museum. The museum presents the history of trams in Helsinki from a passenger's point of view. At the Tram Museum, you can have a seat in an old tram that instantly transports you to the Helsinki of yesteryear.


Lapinlahden Lähde (The Mental Museum), in the main building of the former Lapinlahti hospital, is a small exhibition about the treatment of mental health disorders. There is also a café, where you can learn about the transformation of the hospital into a mental well-being center, now open to everyone.


Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of Helsinki University Library and soak in the beautiful architecture and interesting views of this architectural gem.




15. Old Market Hall


The Old Market Hall was established near the Market Square in 1888. The building was designed by Gustaf Nyström who had studied how market halls were built in large European cities. At the time of opening the hall had 120 stalls as well as 6 shops in the central gallery. Regulations stated that vendors were allowed to sell meat products, eggs, butter, cheese and garden produce. At the turn of the century, some of the fish trade from the outdoor marketplace was also moved into the hall.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The Old Market Hall is an ideal place to pick up some traditional Finnish foods and ingredients. Fancy some reindeer or bear meat?


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14. Helsinki Central Library Oodi


Helsinki Central Library Oodi is a stunning new library that opened in 2018 and must be one of the most user friendly and welcoming libraries in the world. It is more than just a place to borrow books. It is a space for people to learn, create, and connect. The library has a wide range of facilities, including a reading room, a music room, a makerspace, and a café.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Oodi is a great place to relax and unwind. Pick a space on the stepped area at the back of the main library area and enjoy the view.




13. The Old Church (Vanha Kirkko)


The Old Church of Helsinki is a hidden gem in the heart of the city. It is a beautiful wooden church that was built in 1826, designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. The church is located in a small park is a simple building, but it is very elegant. The exterior is made of wood, and the interior is decorated with simple white walls and dark wood accents. The church has a capacity of about 500 people, and it is used for a variety of events, including weddings, baptisms, and concerts.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The Old Church is a great place to visit if you are looking for a quiet and peaceful place to relax.



12. Juttutupa Bar and Helsinki Congress Paasitorni


The down-to-earth Juttutupa is one of Helsinki’s oldest restaurants, having opened in 1884. Its warm, beer hall-like atmosphere is both bohemian and traditional, tinged with an air of relaxed and unhurried activity. At the bar's "revolutionary table," Vladimir Lenin met with fellow conspirators and plotted Russia's Revolution.



The bar is only one part of the ruggedly beautiful granite building, known today as Paasitorni, which was designed by the architect Karl Lindahl. At the time of its completion in 1908, it served as Helsinki Workers’ House. The extension to the building was completed in 1925.



In terms of its architectural style, the oldest part of Paasitorni, completed in 1908, represents late Art Nouveau. The extension from 1925 represents the Nordic Classicism of the 1920s. Paasitorni houses nearly 30 characterful and adaptable meeting, party, and event spaces for 8–800 participants, complemented by restaurants and hotel rooms.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: Tours of the Paasitorni can be organised, giving a fascinating insight into this stunning Art Nouveau masterpiece. On the tour, you can also get access to the roof and get panoramic views of Helsinki.


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11. The National Library of Finland


The National Library of Finland is a must-visit for any book lover visiting Helsinki. The library is home to a vast collection of books, manuscripts, and other materials, dating back to the 16th century. The library also has a beautiful and historic building, which is worth visiting even if you're not a bookworm.



The library is located in the heart of Helsinki, opposite the Senate Square. The building was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1836 and built between 1840 and 1845. The library's main hall is a stunning example of Neoclassical architecture, with high ceilings, marble columns, and a large chandelier. The annex is called the Rotunda and was built in 1902-06, architect Gustaf Nyström.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Access the gallery in the main hall for some of the best views of this stunning room.


Read on to find out which free activities are in our top ten.



10. Bank of Finland Museum


Ironically for a museum about money, it is actually free to enter! The Bank of Finland Museum's displays include the history of money in Finland and abroad. The permanent exhibition is constructed around three themes. The main focus is on the operation of the Bank of Finland and the European System of Central Banks and monetary policy. The history section presents the history of cash in Finland and around the world as well as monetary policy developments as part of Finnish society. In the banknotes section, the emphasis is on developments in banknote art and banknote graphics since the early 19th century.



9. Helsinki City Museum


The Helsinki City Museum is a great place to learn about the history of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The museum is located in the heart of the city, in one of the oldest buildings in Helsinki.


The museum's collection includes exhibits on a variety of topics, including the history of Helsinki, the city's architecture, and the lives of its residents. The museum also has a number of interactive exhibits, which make it a great place for families.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: The museum seems very popular with the locals and can get quite busy, so it is a good idea to go early or late to avoid the crowds.



8. Hietaniemi Cemetery


Hietaniemi Cemetery is the final resting place of many heads of state and other dignitaries and is culturally and historically the most important cemetery, not only in Helsinki but also in the whole of Finland. Established in 1829, this cemetery consists of a number of separate areas all with their own individual characteristics that reflect various periods in the history of Helsinki and Finland. It is divided into 5 sectors which are called Old Cemetery, New Cemetery, Hietaniemi Area, Urn Grove and The Cemetery of the Guard of Finland.



More than 50 nationally and internationally acclaimed Finnish artists and their spouses are interred in a special section at Hietaniemi Old Cemetery, so called Artists' Hill. The first artist buried there was painter Akseli Gallén-Kallela in 1943.


The Heroes' Place, which spreads in front of the Heroes' Cross and the surrounding area with its monuments commemorating fallen soldiers has become the symbol of the nation's unity and history.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: The western end of the cemetery is bounded by Hietaranta Beach, which is a great place to relax on a beautiful day (but unfortunately, there was freezing fog when I visited!).


Read on to find out which activity tops the list.



7. Art Nouveau Buildings


Helsinki is home to a large number of Art Nouveau buildings, which are mainly in the German-inspired Jugend-style. These buildings were built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during a time of great economic and cultural growth in Helsinki.



The Art Nouveau style was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and it emphasized natural forms and curves. Jugend-style is a variation of Art Nouveau that is particularly popular in Finland. Jugend-style buildings are often brightly coloured and decorated with floral motifs.

You can spend a fascinating day just walking the streets of Helsinki admiring the Jugend architecture. These buildings can be found in all parts of the city, but some of the most popular areas include: Katajanokka, Kruununhaka, Ullanlinna, and Eira.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: A free map of Helsinki’s Art Nouveau buildings is available from many of the tourist brochure displays at various museums and attractions throughout Helsinki. Alternatively, look out in a few weeks’ time for a dedicated post on these beautiful buildings that I will be publishing.



6. Kallio Church


The grey granite Kallio church from 1912 is one of the most prominent landmarks of Helsinki. The church is another example of Art Nouveau architecture, but I feel that this impressive house of worship needs its own entry in this list, especially since it is one of the few that you can actually enter.



Architect, Lars Sonck, is said to have taken the shape of the church from the dimensions of the Solomon's Temple, described in the Old Testament. The interior dimensions, on the other hand, are reminiscent of the Temple in Jerusalem. Longitudinally, the altar of the church is exactly in the same place as the screen in the Temple in Jerusalem between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Kallio Church

The seven German bells in the granite tower play a tune by Jean Sibelius at noon and six o'clock pm. Yleisradio, the national broadcasting company, used the tune for decades for its evening bells on Saturdays.



5. Sinebrychoff Art Museum


The Sinebrychoff Art Museum houses Finland's most significant collection of paintings by old foreign masters from the 14th to 19th centuries. This house museum of Paul and Fanny Sinebrychoff illustrates Finland's connections to the centuries of tradition in European art and antiquities.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Tailor-Made Top Tip: My favourite restaurant in Helsinki – Saaga – is just two doors down from the museum and is an excellent place to sample Finnish delicacies for dinner.


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4. Sibelius Park & Monument


The Sibelius Park was named after Finland's greatest composer Jean Sibelius on his 80th birthday in 1945. The world-famous composer Jean Sibelius' (1865-1957) monument by Eila Hiltunen is located at the Sibelius Park. It was unveiled 7 September 1967. The Sibelius Monument, resembling organ pipes, is made of welded steel with over 600 pipes and with the bust of the composer on one side.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Sibelius Monument


3. Helsinki Cathedral


Helsinki Cathedral is an iconic landmark for those arriving by sea and has become the symbol of the whole of Helsinki. Earlier called St. Nicholas Church and Great Cathedral, the current main church of the Helsinki Diocese was completed in 1852. The Kazan Cathedral located in St. Petersburg is considered to be the model for the neoclassical style of the church.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Helsinki Cathedral

The twelve apostles on the roof form one of the largest collections of zinc sculptures in the world. The neoclassical church was designed by Engel, whose work was continued after his death by architect, Ernst Bernhard Lohrmann.


Tailor-Made Top Tip: Entry to the church is free, but there are donation machines at the entrance if you would like to support the upkeep of this beautiful work of architecture.


Have you guessed yet which activity tops the list?



2. Uspenskin Cathedral


The Uspenskin Cathedral is a Finnish Orthodox cathedral in Helsinki, Finland. It is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city.

The cathedral was built in the late 19th century in the Russian Revival style. It is a beautiful example of this architectural style, with its red brick walls and onion-shaped domes. The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive, with its ornate iconostasis and stained-glass windows.


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Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Uspenskin Cathedral

The Uspenskin Cathedral is a popular tourist destination, and it is also a place of worship for the Orthodox community in Helsinki. Visitors are welcome to attend services, and they can also take a tour of the cathedral.



1. Fortress of Suomenlinna


The Fortress of Suomenlinna is a sea fortress located just off Helsinki. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Fortress of Suomenlinna

The fortress was built in the 18th century by the Swedish Empire to protect Helsinki from attack. It was later used by the Russian Empire and Finland. The fortress has never been attacked, but it played an important role in the Finnish War of Independence in 1918.



Today, visitors can explore the six kilometres of walls, 100 cannons, exciting tunnels, and beautiful parks while admiring the panoramic views of Helsinki. If you are interested in history and culture, then the Fortress of Suomenlinna is a must-visit in Helsinki. It is a fascinating place to learn about Finland's past and its unique military history.



Tailor-Made Top Tip: A small ferry regularly shuttles between the island and the jetty beside Market Square. The ferry tickets are quite cheap and there are also two interesting museums to visit on the island, the Military Museum of Manège and the Suomenlinna Museum, and both charge an entrance fee.



Conclusion


Helsinki can be expensive to visit, but with a little planning, there is an amazing range of free activities that can be experienced, making it a city that should not be missed. With its stunning sights and diverse offerings, you're sure to have an unforgettable experience in this charming city. So, pack your bags and get ready for an adventure that you won't forget anytime soon!


Related Blog Posts

If you would like more information on the beautiful city of Helsinki, please view the Tailor-Made Itineraries posts below:


Comment below and let us know what your favourite budget activity in Helsinki is.


Don’t forget that Tailor-Made Itineraries delights in creating bespoke self-guided tours. So, if visiting any of these attractions appeals to you, reach out to me by email. I would be more than happy to design a self-guided tour around your requirements incorporating the free things to do in Helsinki, or indeed, a general tour of Helsinki.


Join me next time on my adventures when I discover the best family attractions that you can visit in Helsinki. Tailor-Made Itineraries posts every two weeks, and you can subscribe to the latest blog and newsletter here. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.

Barry

Tailor-Made Itineraries creates one-of-a-kind bespoke self-guided travel itineraries for adventurous and curious travellers.

These self-guided tours deliver a personalised and exciting holiday experience that takes the effort out of trip planning.


Free Activities to Do in Helsinki
Free Activities to Do in Helsinki


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