Helsinki Offers Myriad Dollar Stretching Options for Visitors

With the Euro up and the Dollar down travelers of all styles will find a bounty of free and inexpensive things to see and do in Finland’s exciting capital this summer. Summer fun includes free concerts, city cards good for discounts and free rides on trams and trolleys, roving tourist helpers and free bike rentals. These perks and more await the five million tourists expected to visit the capital between May and September when the average midday temperature is 72 degrees, the city’s parks are lush green and the midsummer sun just about doubles one’s vacation time with almost 24 hours of daylight.

1. Helsinki Helpers – A Helsinki Helper is a valuable, and free, bonus to summer travels in Helsinki. The 20+ specially schooled, mostly tow-headed Helsinki Helpers are ready to assist in up to 20 languages, including English, Japanese and Croatian. They are found daily in key tourist areas of city center such as the Esplanade and have been known to go to extremes to help visitors. One wayward gentleman from Connecticut, separated from his voucher-bearing wife, explained that he did not know where he was booked for the night. The Helpers called around until they found his hotel and escorted him there.

2. The “3T” Tour – Prefer sightseeing on your own? For about 2 Euros (US$3) you can hop Tram No. 3 (in either direction T or B) and do a figure 8 through Helsinki. Journey past South Harbor’s Market Square (one of many fabulous Helsinki markets) where vendors of fresh produce and quality crafts hawk their wares and a fresh salmon and salad lunch will ring up at about 10 Euros (US$15). Also see the Opera House, the art deco Railway Station, the Natural History Museum, the Rock Church and Senate Square crowned by its imposing Lutheran Cathedral and University Library. Holders of a Helsinki Card may hop off and on the tram as they please at no additional charge.

3. Spårakoff Beer Tour Tram – The1950s red Spårakoff Beer Tram is a traveling bar serving fresh Finnish beer and more while you tour Helsinki. The attraction-chocked 40-minute ride starts from the Mikonkatu tram stop, near Helsinki’s Railway Square; there are five stops including the Helsinki Opera House. The tram operates Tuesday-Saturday May 1-August 31, 2008; departures every hour from 2 PM to 8 PM. The price is 8 Euros (US$12).

4. Dress Rehearsals for a Song – For a double dose of superb music and award winning architecture, all for only 2 Euros (US$3), try a dress rehearsal of the Helsinki Philharmonic at Finlandia Hall January through May concerts start at 10 am. Dress rehearsal tickets are sold prior to the performance at the InfoShop in the main foyer of Finlandia Hall.

5. Helsinki Card Perks – Nearly 90 percent of Helsinki Card users are foreign tourists accustomed to similar cards in other European capitals. In addition to free entrance to nearly 50 sights and museums including Suomenlinna Sea Fortress a UNESCO World Heritage site, Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, the Olympic Stadium, Linnanmäki Amusement Park and Helsinki Zoo the card offers free entry to most museums, unlimited free travel on public transportation, discounts at: restaurants, concerts, tours, and shopping. Costs for the 24-, 48- and 72-hour cards are 24, 35 and 45 Euros (US$36, $53, $68, respectively).

6. City Bike Around – A Citybike is a practical way to get around town during summertime. June through August you can hop on one of the bright green bikes located at 26 stands in the center of Helsinki and tour the city as you please. There are well-marked bike paths throughout Helsinki, on its busiest streets and scenic districts such as Töölö Bay. Pay only a 2 Euros (US$3) deposit. After you have finished cycling, and return the bike to any City-bike stand your deposit is returned.

7. Designer Wares, Outlet Prices -Seeking good deals on designer glassware, tableware and kitchen items? Try a trip to the Arabia Factory in Hämeentie just outside Helsinki. Discounts of up to 30% can be had on a large selection of goods. Open daily. Take Tram No. 6 to Arabia.

8. Interesting Festivals – You will be thrilled while attending one of Helsinki’s many and outstanding festivals taking place spring to fall. Many performances are free; otherwise the average price range is 10-15 Euros; US$15-$23.

9. Great Sites – Finland’s dynamic capital alone offers more than 80 museums and art galleries. These include Kiasma, the architecturally stunning museum of modern art and Ateneum, Finland’s oldest museum housing art works from the 18th century to the 1960s. The new Bank of Finland Museum, which livens up monetary policy and the history of money with novel exhibitions, is free all year round as is the Kirpilä Art Collection of Finnish at. Almost all museums including Suomenlinna Fortress have admission fees ranging from 4 to 10 Euros (US$6-$15). Additionally, there are many free attractions in Helsinki such as: Seurasaari Open-Air Museum with folk buildings; the Cable Factory center for art galleries, cafes and cultural events; City Winter Garden established in 1893 with a cacti and palm laden conservatory; the famous “Rock Church” carved in granite as well as the lavishly Byzantine-Slavonic style Uspenski Cathedral and the austere Cathedral; Old Hall Food Market at South Harbor brims with fantastic Finnish herring, cold cuts, fruit, fresh berries and bakery items.

10. Finnish Sauna – In Finland the sauna is an institution revered by every Finn and the traditions involved are treated with respect. Most hotels have sauna, but for public saunas try the wood-heated Kotiharjun sauna, the Finnish Sauna Society or Cafe Tin Tin (where you can sauna and dine all in one place). Sauna is a uniquely Finnish cultural experience and rates are generally under 10 Euros; US$15.

11. An Art Nouveau Walk around Helsinki’s fanciful Jugendstil districts is fun and exciting. Themes from nature (flowers, vines), rounded doors and windows, artful hinges and metal and wood combos underscore Finland’s national identity. Katajanokka and Eira are favorite districts, but Jugendstil is everywhere.

12. Grand Casino Helsinki — 2 Euros gains you entrance to 1920’s glamour, 30 gaming tables, 300 slot machines, 3 restaurants, 3 bars, shows and live music and unlimited amusement in a tastefully decorated palatial setting. The casino is open 363 days a year from noon to 4 a.m