What do you expect from a museum with free entry? Maybe a few pieces of mediocre art? Perhaps some boring artefacts which you try to be interested in but completely forget once you leave the museum. There are definitely some free museums which suffer from these downfalls, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Even if you’re down to your last euro, you can still see some interesting museums in Helsinki. The three below are free at all times and are definitely worth the visit. If you’re hungry for more, try to be in Helsinki in the first week of any given month. That’s when many museums offer free entry on a specific day of the week. Here are some examples:
The Helsinki City Museum is an exploration of the history of Finland’s capital city. The permanent exhibits include a “Time Machine (Aikakone)” which uses VR to take users back 100 years. Then an entire floor of the museum is dedicated to an exhibit called “Helsinki Bites”. This is a collection of nine core collective experiences which have defined being a Helsinkian throughout the decades. You shouldn’t be surprised to find a model 1970s bar there, complete with a jukebox and mechanical till. My favourite bit was the complete model 1950s flat – especially with the gorgeous old Singer sewing machine! Be sure to grab a “Helsinki Echo” magazine, which gives more details about the exhibit.
The majority of the museum’s first floor is taken up by a whimsical, utterly charming lounge area. There are wooden sculptures, funky seating, and tables decorated with retro advertisements. There is also a media presentation with a timeline of Helsinki’s history to check out. Children are always welcome at the museum and can spend time learning about Helsinki in the “Children’s Town”.
The top floor of the museum holds a temporary exhibition called “Helsexinki”. It is a collection of stories from LGBTQ+ people about their experiences living in Helsinki. Thankfully the years have brought much more freedom and liberation for sexuality- and gender minorities, although there is still a ways to go. Visually the exhibition is noticeably distinct from the rest of the museum, lit as it is in Red Light District inspired boudoir lighting.
The Päivälehti (Daily Newspaper) Museum chronicles the history of news media, including Finland’s largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. The design of the first-floor exhibit is immediately striking from the second you walk in. You start by seeing a map that displays real-time estimates of freedom of the press around the world. There is also a colourful installation displaying major historical events in Finnish news media.
The rest of the permanent first-floor collection is comprised of brilliantly displayed news stories and supplemental materials, such as short documentaries about the industry. You can also view advertisements, illustrations, and other tidbits.
The basement of the museum is just as striking and was my personal favourite part of the whole experience. There you can find historical tools for printing newspapers, from a replica of the Gutenberg printing press to a massive offset printer.
You can also currently see the exhibition “Vapaus, Rakkaus, Taso-arvo”, which is described as a show of parlour life in historical Helsinki and Kuopio.
The Helsinki Art Museum, or HAM, resides in the Tennis Palace in Kamppi. It shares a space with a branch of the Finnkino cinema chain, so you can always catch a movie as well if you visit! The HAM has paid exhibits, but it also has a smaller wing called the HAM Gallery which is always free. The gallery houses work from a changing roster of contemporary artists. Right now the show in place is called “With time” by Jenni Eskola.
Next to the HAM Gallery is a small auditorium which you can also enter for free. When I walked past, a documentary film about the Finnish painter Eero Nelimarkka was playing to a rather sizeable audience.
For an added bit of eye candy, be sure to browse the HAM gift shop. Even if you don’t buy anything, the merchandise on the shelves is art in its own right!
All three of these museums are close to the centre of Helsinki. You can even visit all of them on the same day if you’re up for a huge dollop of culture! And the only things that might cost you are a tram ticket or a cup of coffee.