Enjoy a cold beer at a terrace café, hike, run or cycle around numerous lakes, coastal pathways and parks and enjoy a smorgasbord of cultural delights. What other European capital offers such diversity all within its city limits? Helsinki may not have featured highly on your city break bucket list before now, but it should. It offers plenty to entertain nature and sports enthusiasts as well as those who enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. Lovers of the great outdoors can indulge in 130km of shoreline, and an abundance of parks and forests within easy reach of the city. For those who prefer to satiate their taste buds, visitors can feast on a wide range of cuisines washed down with local beers, vodkas, and cocktails. But if you like culture and architecture you will also not be disappointed. This compact city on the Baltic Sea blends modern architecture with stunning neo-classical architecture from the early 1900s. Once you arrive however, flaunt convention and get your groove on with these four fun ways to get around Helsinki. You will have a ball as you whizz through the city or sail around the islands in these fun transportation modes.
Any visitor to Helsinki simply must download the HSL app. This app allows you to buy bike vouchers and search local transport options. On the app you will find details of all the transport links and you book train tickets. You will also need it to pay for City Bikes, possibly the most fun way to get around Helsinki.
Four ways to get around Helsinki
City bikes are as useful to locals as they are to tourists. For only €5 a day, you can enjoy unlimited 30 minute bike trips around the city. Simply register on the HSL app and pop in your cyclist code (the last 7 digits of the phone number you use to sign up). Then enter your pin and you are off. No need to waste mobile data to use these bikes which makes life easy.
Once you have entered the details and released a bike, you can use it for 30 minutes with no additional charges. If you do exceed the 30-minute period, a further €1 charge applies per extra 30 minutes. To avoid the extra charges, simply return the bike to a station, ensure it locks in then sign it out again. When you return the bike, it shows you your cycle time and distance and you can view this information in the HSL app.
City Bikes planner
If you plan to go to any areas that are a little out of the way plan your route to ensure that there is a station where you can drop and pick up bikes. You can find details of all the stations on the HSL app.
Do ensure also that when you return a bike that it properly locks into place otherwise it does not recognise that your journey has finished and you will incur additional charges.
We absolutely loved using these bikes. The wind whistling through our air and thighs burning as we pushed up the hills around the waterfront was a thrill indeed. We found the bikes a great way to get around. Not only are they incredible value but they are great fun. They give you freedom to explore at will and the city is compact enough that you need never use public transport. Note, there are just 3 gears on the bikes so they can be hard work at times but that is all part of the fun.
City Bikes costs
Rates are €5 for a day but for those staying longer you can purchase a voucher for a week for €10 or for a month for €35. Note passes are valid for 24h from the point of purchase not from first use if you opt for the day pass. Ensure therefore that you only buy when you are ready to start using the bikes.
How to use the bikes
The instructions for the bikes are in Finnish. The signs next to the stand are no use either. Although they have instructions in English they simply say ‘follow the instructions on the bike’. No option exists on the bike for instructions in English so we had to muddle through and figure it out. Here are the steps to release a bike.
- Click on the green button
- If a picture with a little card pops up press the green button again. Once wording comes up with a 2 on the end, press 2
- Enter your 7 digit pin and press enter
- Enter your 4 digit pin and press enter
- Wait for the machine to display ok ✅ and then wait for the click to indicate that the bike is ready to extract
- Then simply pull the bike out and cycle to your heart’s content.
As I mentioned before, when you return the bike do ensure it locks into the stand correctly. Not all stands seem to function properly so you must check to ensure it is locked. If you do not lock the bike back into the stand properly, you will be unable to take another bike.
Note, we saw lots of bikes abandoned by the stands but I would not recommend this as we could not figure out how to end the cycle session in this manner. If anyone knows please do let us know in the comments.
If you prefer a more leisurely mode of transport, in spring and summer, you can jump on a scenic cruise out to the Helsinki archipelago and explore the islands in the bay. This gives you a great view of the Helsinki skyline but also is a way to get a birds’ eye view of the islands. The boats have both indoor and outdoor seating so you can stay warm and dry whatever the weather.
Tours last around 90 minutes and tickets cost £21.15. You can book the tour that we took here.
Citytour Hop on Hop off bus
The hop on hop off bus lasts around 90 minutes and takes you to all the major sights of the city on 22 stops. The bus offers commentary in 9 languages and you can bask in the sunshine on the open top bus. It is also a great way to get your bearings when you first arrive in the city when you need to figure out how to get around Helsinki.
Tickets cost £25.38 and you can book them here.
As the city is mainly flat, and with so much shoreline Helsinki really is a great city for runners.
Helsinki city running day
We went to Helsinki to compete in the city running day. This is a fun event comprising marathon, half marathon, 5km and a mini race for the kids. It has a good atmosphere and some scenic flat routes and is a great way to experience a new city. If you like to combine your running with overseas travel, check it out here. The next event takes place on the 13th May 2023. The race base is the Olympic stadium just north of the town (easily accessible on your City bike) and tons of swag is on offer.
We downgraded from the half to the 5km due to injury. I expected the route to be pretty uninspiring given it follows the outside of the stadium. It was however lovely as the area around the stadium is crammed with lakes and woodland much of which the course passes through.
Some sights not to miss
Other than the parks and waterfront, Helsinki offers a small selection of buildings not to miss. Thankfully these are all close together so they are easy to visit in just one day. Here are my must see tips however you decide to get around Helsinki.
From the water and many places around the city the white towering dome of the cathedral is visible on Senate Square. It is a beautiful columned building on a raised area of land and the focal point of any city views.
In sharp contrast to the white of the Senate Square cathedral, the red brick of the orthodox Uspenski Cathedral on the waterfront looks more Eastern.
The Rock Church
The rock church is truly unique with its main hall carved into the rock to create incredible acoustics.
Kaivopuisto Park is a delightful park set on a peninsula south of Market Square. In the 1830s it was a popular attraction for visitors from St Petersburg who would visit the spa within the park. At the highest point of the park is an observatory and there are a number of charming cafes dotted around the park and shoreline.
Other important information to get around Helsinki
Getting from the airport to Helsinki
The quickest and cheapest way to get into the city is by train direct from the airport to central station.
It costs just €4.10 each way and you can buy tickets on the HSL app. The station is in a convenient location close to the waterfront and town centre.
Where to stay in Helsinki
We stayed at the Scandic Grand Central in Helsinki and I would highly recommend this hotel. Whilst not cheap, it is in an excellent location by the train station. It has a beautiful ornate lobby with comfortable lounging chairs adorned with soft blankets and cushions.
The breakfast buffet is sublime with a huge selection of hot and cold food and ample seating in a minimalistic art deco environment. The bar is moody and comfortable with big chairs around the large bar.
Rooms are chic and cosy with soft comfortable beds and stark modern bathrooms. They cost from £100 per night which is a very reasonable rate for a capital city particularly considering the central location.
What are your tips for Helsinki
If you have been to Helsinki I do hope you enjoy trying these fun ways to explore. Feel free to share any tips you have for other travellers too in the comments.