I was in Helsinki for a few days for a course. I thought I would write a few words about my experiences on public transit while I was there.
I’ve been to Helsinki once before in June 2015, which was before the airport rail link was opened. On that occasion, I remember feeling very negative about the Finnair City Bus, which seemed to take an age to reach the city centre, was over-full, and stops in the city were slow because people had to retrieve luggage from the compartment under the bus. This time around, I was able to take the train (cost of a single is €5 if bought from a machine of €4.20 bought via the local transit app). Rather than building a bespoke airport express service, the airport is simply a stop on Helsinki’s suburban rail network, served by both the I and P trains, which run to the city by different routes, both taking just over half an hour. This means there is a steady supply services to catch. The downside to these otherwise nice trains is a lack of luggage storage, as they have been designed to carry people on local journeys rather than travellers with suitcases. However, the services I used weren’t busy so this wasn’t a tremendous issue.
There are a range of trains at Helsinki’s main railway station, serving local, national and international destinations.
On my day of arrival I was fighting jetlag and reckoned a good idea was to try out various bits and bobs. After installing the HSL app on my phone and adding my credit card, it was simply a case of paying €9 for 24 hours of unlimited travel in the Helsinki zone. This meant I could try out the trams, buses and metro.
The tram network is comprehensive in central Helsinki, covering almost all central areas. Stops are at short intervals, trams are frequent and the system seems to work well. The new tram rolling stock is both stunning in appearance and comfortable to use. There are no ticket sales on board, which doubtless speeds up travel times too.
The metro felt similarly efficient, making use of a proof-of-payment system which meant there were no barriers preventing access to platforms. The trains are functional, with plenty of seating and plenty of space to stand. I particularly liked the use of time markers on the map to show how long travel between each stop was.
I didn’t make it onto the buses, but there is clearly a busy and efficient network in place. If I return, I will definitely give them a go when using a day ticket.
Helsinki is a fairly walking-friendly city. While it isn’t altogether flat, nothing in the centre is ever far away. The course I attended moved us around various locations by minibus, which seemed borderline unnecessary given the city is almost home to a nasty one-way system.
The HSL app worked well for ticketing and planning purposes. There is a widespread city bike scheme in Helsinki, which I didn’t have time to use – I would have liked to see how straightforward it was to use as an English-speaking newcomer. It will also be interesting to see how developments like Whimapp pan out – the subscription plans it offers vary. While unlimited travel on public transit may seem par for the course, the addition of unlimited taxi travel and car hire options seems innovative.
All in the all, Helsinki works well when it comes to public transit – and looks quite good doing so.