Helsinki Backpacking Travel Guide

Information on hostels, transportation, cheap food and drinks, sights to see, activities and more.

About Helsinki


Helsinki is the capital and largest city of Finland. It is also the world's northernmost metro area of over one million people. Helsinki is Finland's major political, educational, financial, cultural, and research centre as well as one of northern Europe's major cities. Helsinki regularly features towards the top of the 'world's most liveable city' list, coming at no. 10 on this 2015 ranking.

Finland is not the ideal place for a budget backpacking trip due to the cost of living here. A lot of backpackers visit Helsinki as part of a larger trip through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which thankfully, are much cheaper. Helsinki is often cheaper to fly to than those other Baltic countries ad it is very easy to catch a ferry to Tallinn from Helsinki.

Hostels


SweetDream Guesthouse

My top pick in Helsinki. Sweet Dream strikes the balance between affordability and comfort. It is located further away from the city centre than Yard Hostel or Diana Park, but it is cheaper. The neighbourhood is quite lively with quite a few bars and clubs nearby should you want to party in Helsinki.  Book SweetDream Guesthouse here!

The Yard Hostel

Excellent hostel with very helpful staff and reception. The free breakfast is a great way to meet other travellers from different countries. The rooms are clean and so are the bathrooms. Great location in main downtown area and only 10 min walk from the train station. The staff are great at helping to book ferries and giving directions/suggestions for things to do in Helsinki.   Book The Yard Hostel here!

Hostel Diana Park

A comfortable and cosy hostel set up in the very centre of Helsinki. Fantastic location. It's a small and relaxed hostel with a good vibe. Very easy to get everywhere by walking if you stay here. Dorms are spacious and beds are comfortable. Overall, lots of good attention to detail.  Book Hostel Diana Park here!

CheapSleep Helsinki

CheapSleep is indeed the cheapest hostel in Helsinki, but this nearly all it has going for it. The location is not great and the hostel is too large and hotel-like to be enjoyable. It is a very large and so tends to fill up only when the better hostels are booked, as is often the case on weekends. I wouldn't choose CheapSleep if the other hostels have room unless you really wanted to save money. However, the beds are quite comfortable and you can get a good night sleep.  Book CheapSleep here!

Sights and Highlights


Free Walking Tour

There are two free walking tours to choose from in Helsinki. The Historic Helsinki Centre tour is run daily at 11 am and also at 2:30 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tour duration is approximately 1.5 hours. The meeting point is on on the steps of the Helsinki Cathedral.

The other option, Free Walking Tour Helsinki, is only run on weekends starting at 12:00 pm. This is the tour that I went on in Helsinki and I really enjoyed it. It is a longer tour, running for 2-3 hours but if you have the time, it's a lot of fun. This tour also departs close to the Cathedral as well.

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress built on six islands just off the coast of Helsinki. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and a picturesque picnic site. The Swedish crown commenced the construction of the fortress in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. The original plan of the fortress was strongly influenced by the principles of star fort style of fortification, albeit adapted to a group of rocky islands.

In addition to the island fortress itself, fortifications on the mainland would ensure that an enemy would not acquire a beach-head from which to stage attacks. In the Finnish War, the fortress surrendered to Russia on May 3, 1808. The fortress became part of an independent Finland in 1917.

You can get to Suomenlinna by public ferry. If you purchase a day pass on Helsinki's public transport system, it is also valid for the ferry, a very economical option. Catch the ferry from a wharf east of the market square.

Suomenlinna

Puu-Vallila

Vallila is a central-northern neighbourhood with a reputation for being a working-class neighbourhood. Though in the past two decades, people from artistic professions have found the area. But Vallila though still retains its roots from the middle 1900's by being one of the rare neighbourhoods that still has an industrial area with workshop businesses. Puu-Vallila (Wooden Vallila) is an area of Vallila famous for its many old wooden houses dating back to the 1900s–1920s, which are spread over many blocks. Many buildings by the main streets are fine examples of Nordic Classicism from the 1920s–1930s. I recommend stopping by at Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo for a coffee when you visit.

Puu-Vallila

A wooden-house in Puu-Vallila.

Nightlife


Kaiku

A really fun bar/nightclub located a short walk from SweetDream Guesthouse. This place is one of the best clubs for house and techno music styles in Helsinki. It attracts a large crowd, hence good vibes on the dance floor. A few different rooms with different DJ's to pick from and lots of bars so you never have to wait too long for a drink.

Brewdog Helsinki

Brewdog is one of the best Craft Breweries in Europe. Brewdog are present in many cities across Europe, but none of them feel like franchises. If you love good craft beer, this is one of the best bars in Helsinki.

Shot Bar Helsinki

A wide selection of amazing shots. They have a spinning wheel with 16 shots on it to make things interesting. In total, they have over 120 different shots on the menu. On weekends there are DJ's playing all evening. The owner has a really good vibe and attitude towards customers.

Steam Hellsinki

A very stylish cocktail bar and one of the coolest in Helsinki. A fantastic ambience in the interior and a great place to enjoy a gin-based drink as the variety is huge. This is where you learn how to appreciate real cocktails and have romantic and fun dates.

To Eat


Unicafe

Unicafe is a chain of restaurants owned by the Helsinki University student union. There are around 10 outlets in central Helsinki and they offer full meals from around €6, including vegetarian options. Menus and more details can be found at Unicafe.fi.

Kappeli

This is a restaurant with 150 years of history. Convenient location, nice decor, excellent food and service. This is a great spot to try traditional Finnish salmon soup. Located on the eastern side of Esplanadi park in the city centre.

Ekberg

Ekberg is Finland’s oldest bakery, patisserie and café, located in Helsinki’s centre on the atmospheric. In the summertime, the terrace is a great spot for having a cup of coffee outdoors and observing the bustling life of Helsinki on the Boulevard. The central location is easy to reach by walking.

Cafe Esplanad

A lovely cafe selling a tonne of different type of cakes, sweets and other desserts. They also serve savoury foods like sandwiches, pies and soups. While they charge for espresso based coffee, filter coffee is free of charge. As the name suggests, it is located along the side of Esplanadi park.

Transportation


Local Transport

All public transport within Helsinki is coordinated by HSL. You can find the route maps for HSL in Helsinki here. But since Helsinki public transport is fully integrated into Google maps, you can just get directions there.

A single ticket is €2.90 from ticket machines and €3.20 from the driver and is valid on all HSL services within city limits for one hour. The single ticket allows you to travel by almost any local public transportation method (buses, trains, trams, metro, Suomenlinna ferry) within the boundaries of Helsinki.

The HSL ferry to Suomenlinna from the Market Square (Kauppatori) is a cheap and popular summer getaway. HSL's Day Ticket and mobile-phone ticket are both valid also on the Suomenlinna ferry. The Day Ticket is great value if heading to Suomenlinna.

Getting In and Out

Turku

Transportation back and forth between Turku and Helsinki is very easy. Onnibus.com run a very regular service with tickets as low as 4€ if booked in advance, but closer to 9€ if booked close to departure. The trip takes a touch over two hours and the departure point in Helsinki is

International Ferries

There are two harbours in Helsinki for international ferries, South Harbour and West Harbour. There are then multiple terminals at each harbour. Make sure you are aware of the precise departure location of your ferry as the harbours are very large and walking between terminals can take a long time. Directferries.co.uk is the best online resource for checking schedules and booking seats. Make sure you take not of the boarding time for your ferry. If you are late you will not be allowed to board.

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