Finland can be summed up from the costs as follows: Travel is cool but staying can be tricky. Especially in Helsinki one has to expect a high cost of living. Here you have to do clever plans to save money. But on the other hand you get from the harbour at low cost to other interesting destinations.
It’s been a long time since I last wrote a travel documentary. In 2011, the radio documentary about Japan grew to something that could also be described as a timely travel report (with reference to the triple catastrophe in Fukushima). The beginnings of the “low budget” series, after which this article is named, can be ordered to 2008. At that time Heiko Donat and I travelled to Paris with a single “rule of the game”: Whoever pays less for the entire journey wins. We recorded the daily experiences (and expenses) in a podcast. I can’t remember who won. We both spent surprisingly little money. But after this experiment we also agreed on one thing: Who handles it as we did – will not have a nice holiday. Of course, you should only follow the individual tips in any guidebook if you personally are okay with them – without having the risk to spoil your few days off. Nevertheless, I will not take the whole money saving too seriously during my two weeks in the Nordic countries. But don’t worry, I’m still pretty successful.
Helsinki as home port
Although it will also take me to other cities on this trip, the focus of this article is the stay in the chosen home port of Helsinki. At the cash points of Finlands capital, as a spoiled Berliner, one often can be pretty surprised and overwhelmed. Even small purchases can cost a lot money. And that can hurt especially, when you buy something like cheese instead of yogurt, because you are not fluently in the Finnish language. Also living and transport are not cheap. But there is a very inexpensive way to get far away. Do they want to tell us anything?
Getting a flight from Germany to Finland (in this case from Berlin to Helsinki Vantaa Airport) is quite inexpensive. I have paid for return flight with Airberlin 135 euros (i.e. 68 euros per flight). If you book early, you can also get around 115 to 120 euros with other airlines like airBaltic back and forth. Here I can not assure you, if you can take so much luggage. I had need for some trousers and sweaters, of which I end up wearing only the warmest combination. (But when you pack, you are more fashion-conscious.)
The transport in the Finnish capital is a little tricky. As far as I understand it, you can charge your electronic ticket at the vending machines anywhere in Helsinki, but there is no way to get this electronically rechargeable card (for 5 euros) at the airport. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) But that’s not so bad, if you’re also happy with a paper ticket.
It’s worth it to plan ahead for several days directely, otherwise you have to buy single trips or a single day ticket. These can be bought directly from the driver or the train attendant, but are unfortunately a little expensive. Depending on where you go, a single trip will cost 4 or 5 euros. A daily ticket costs 8 euros already. Combined with other days it will be cheaper. It is most worthwhile to book 7 days together if you want to stay in the city. (This is unfortunately the maximum. There is also the possibility to book 14 days for a huge price advantage. But since you need a registration address in Helsinki, this is unfortunately not bookable for us tourists.) In the end I payed now painfully 90 euros for 16 days (of which I needed no ticket on 3 days – used only 13).
The following offer is not proper for savers, but for the sake of completeness, I also like to tell you about the special tourist tickets with discounts for museums and restaurants, such as the Fortress Island Suomenlinna, the Ferris wheel, the Art-, National- or Natural History Museum, the zoo or even the Hard Rock Cafe. There are three versions that are valid for 1, 2 or 3 days, with a price range of 44 (for 1 day) to 64 euros (for 3 days). More information about the Helsinki card can be found at www.helsinkicard.com.
Apart from that it is actually quite simple with local transport. Only the bus rides are difficult at the bus stop, if you don’t know why the buses just pass by. It helps to wave. (The tickets are specially equipped with a reflecting surface.) With the accommodation we have good luck with a very cheap Airbnb. For those who do not know what this is: These are private short-term rentals. At www.airbnb.de you can try to get a cheap room. Of course, Couchsurfing is also available in Helsinki. Although this is free, it is more difficult to find a good located and cozy bed. On average, you can find an Airbnb in Helsinki for about 25 to 35 euros per night – at least. This also corresponds roughly to the payable hostels with multi-bed rooms. In my research, the cheapest offers were 23.20 euros per night. “Ugh, that’s expensive!!!”, you may think now? Yes, it is. But don’t worry, there will be special paragraphs later in this article that will give you and your wallet a little peace and bliss.
One more time breathe deeply please: Going out is not cheap. So it’s worth buying in the supermarket and cooking yourself. During travelling by ship to other destinations one can, however, eat as much as you like at the buffets. There you can also buy tax-free which is morely in the Berlin price range.
In general, the lower price segment in Helsinki can be arranged at 8-12 euros in cute cafes and 12-20 euros per inexpensive meal. Visithelsinki.fi has put together a beautiful guide and divided the city into thematic districts. For example, north of the historic District is the home of the hipsters. (Man, I almost feel like home again.) Funny: For some of the cafes presented I became unconsciously a temporary regular. If I had known this card before, I would have had a much more easier search.
Sightseeing & Trips
I admit: It is the last point of this listing, but now it will be favorable. You have already covered most of the costs. The trips inside and outside Helsinki are wonderfully inexpensive. It is unbelievable but true that the trip on a small cruise ship to Sweden and back can be cheaper than a bed in the Finnish capital. Since you have already paid for the Transport of Helsinki and the surrounding regions (where you can find cheaper Airbnb’s), you will be able to get there without extra charge. Even the ferry to the Fortress Island Soumenlinna is included. Of course, museums, the zoo, the amusement park (and and and) must be paid separately, but the general sightseeing is free of charge.
Finland is expensive! Yes, indeed, Finland is really not cheap. But you can still save money. Why sleep in a crowded dormitory in an hostel, if you can afford a cozy Airbnb with much more privacy for the same price. (Those who are lucky and who prove a lot of patience in the search may even find a place of a nice couch surfer.) They also have a kitchen where you can cook yourself. This saves you regular dinners in expensive restaurants. Cafes can be cheap – I recommend the collection of visithelsinki.fi.
It is cheaper than you think to travel more often. On days when you save the local transport and the bed in Helsinki and sleep in a cheap cabin in the ship, you can spend surprisingly little while you also experience a new adventure.
But the most important thing is: Saving is good, living is better. So don’t spoil your vacations. With these tips (which do not hurt so much) you can get a lot out of the trip. And perhaps at the end there will be a little bit money left for a nice dinner or a cocktail in the ship’s lounge.