Should you rent a car in HelsinkiFinland>Helsinki

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James says - a few trip notes:

I visited Helsinki briefly in 2009 as I was spending a week travelling around various cities in Scandinavia. I would love to return and do it more justice, but there is still plenty that I would want to see outside the city without needing a car.

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  • Lakes and landscapes. As the main gateway to Finland, Helsinki affords plenty of opportunities to explore this beautiful country. The best way to access this landscape is by car.
  • Flexibility – as with anywhere, a car means flexibility to explore at your own pace. Although there are some good reasons below to get around without a hire car in Helsinki, these are all based on accepting the schedule of the transport provider you are going with.
  • Limited rail network. Outside the Helsinki urban area, public transport is limited to major roads and a small number of trunk railway services.

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Around Helsinki without a car

  • City of architecture and design — never underestimate what Helsinki has to offer in its own right! The centre in particular has many fine examples of great architecture from the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Central Station — the Central Station in Helsinki, designed by Eliel Saarinen, is one of the major architectural landmarks of the city. You might as well start your Architour here and continue onwards on foot or by using public transport.
  • Walk and bike — Helsinki is an excellent city to travel around on foot or by bike, and it is well worth getting out beyond the centre to enjoy some of the lovely coastal areas which are so easily accessible either by hiring a bike in the city centre and riding there, or by taking one of the suburban trains out of the city centre.
  • Helsinki pass — as with other Scandinavian cities, you can buy a Helsinki travel pass which will give you discounted access to main museums as well as free unlimited travel by bus, underground and tram.
  • Boat trips — there are numerous options for taking boat trips around Helsinki, including taking a boat in one direction and then returning to the city by bus or train.
  • Tapiola— many architects have rated the Helsinki district of Tapiola as having the highest standard of human settlement anywhere in the world. If you have any interest at all in urban design or simply in looking at better ways of living, then taking a trip out to Tapiola is an absolute must. Here you will see a seamless blend of human habitation within a stunning natural environment of pine forests, criss-crossed with trails and exposed stone.To get there from Helsinki city centre, allow around half an hour by bus, although the Metro should be coming out to Tapiola by 2013.

Beyond Helsinki

  • Train excursions — trains in Finland are more than and efficient, giving plenty of options for heading out in various directions from Helsinki. Any of the train lines to and beyond Joensuu are rated as particularly scenic, as is the route to Oulu if you take the central option via Pieksamaki.
  • Cost — unsurprisingly, hiring a car in Helsinki doesn’t come particularly cheap, even if car hire rates here are generally a little lower than they are in Norway or Sweden. That doesn’t mean to say that the longer distance trains are particularly cheap either, but for one or two people they can often work out better value.


  • Stockholm and Tallinn— Helsinki might look quite isolated up in the north-eastern corner of the European Union, but you can easily combine a visit to Finland with Sweden, by taking the overnight ferry between Stockholm and Helsinki. In a hire car, doing this kind of journey would be impractical as you would have to travel in a loop and return at least to the country where you picked the car up, whereas travelling on ferries is a foot passenger gives you the flexibility to travel in just one direction and then fly back from a different city. A much closer option is the Estonian capital Tallinn, which is just two hours away from Helsinki by ferry.

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Conclusion — if your main priority is to drive around the Finnish landscapes, then picking up a hire car at Helsinki airport is probably the best option, although we firmly believe that Helsinki is massively underrated as a city in its own right. Once you start allowing time to enjoy Helsinki and its surrounding area, then the car becomes a lot less useful, especially as the standard of scenic railways in Finland is very high.

Do you need a car in Helsinki? No! For all the reasons above, we advise at least looking at other options before automatically getting a hire car.

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Author: Carometer

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