More Than the Degree

My Experience in Living in Greater Helsinki Area, pt.1

Since September 2, 2021, I have been living in Otaniemi where Aalto campus is located. For clarification, Otaniemi is connected to Espoo municipality. But Espoo, Vantaa, and Helsinki are considered as the Greater Helsinki. It is fairly easy to travel in between these cities with public transport or car. So, if you’re coming from a big city (like me), then it is likely that you will feel like all three of these are the same city. 

For background information, I have lived 14 years in Izmir and 5 years in Istanbul. Both of these are huge cities in Finnish standards, with Izmir having over 5 million inhabitants and Istanbul being one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the whole world.

My initial observations about Helsinki was that it is a nice, clean, and quiet place, a typical European city. But Helsinki also has a very artsy vibe, in my opinion. As you might have noticed, people dress as if they just came from a fashion show. Both men and women have really good fashion sense. There is a big underground techno and indie music scene. There are so many museums around, especially in the city center. You will see that some rich art collector families turned their villas into art museums. There is so much art going on in the city, but it takes time to explore it. I have been to Kiasma, Weegee, Espoo City Museum, Didrichsenin Taidemuseo, and Villa Gylenberg last year. Villa Gylenberg has a really unique and peaceful vibe in the spring, highly recommended. There’s a LOT going on in Kiasma and Weegee in terms of contemporary art, so if you like modern stuff, definitely check them out.

Helsinki feels like two different cities in winter and summer. I was pretty confused about the roads when all the snow had melted because I was so used to the snow-covered Helsinki. But don’t worry! You will have no time adapting to the summer version of Helsinki. In fact, you will fall in love with it. One of the good things about Helsinki’s summer is that it has perfect weather. It’s not as hot as Turkey, Spain, or Italy so you don’t get burnt out but it’s still warm so you can enjoy the sea. 

One thing that stood out for me is that Helsinki has a very efficient public transport system. It really is clean and fast %95 of the time. If the HSL app says your bus is gonna come in 53 past, it comes latest at 55 past. So you can rely on HSL even in very time-sensitive appointments. Personally, I would consider myself a big car enthusiast but I purposefully didn’t buy a car here. That’s because you really don’t need one, especially if you’re a student. With only 35 euros per month, you get unlimited, efficient transportation. I rented a car for a week when my parents visited me and believe me - it was a big problem, especially in Helsinki. We couldn’t find places to park the car inside the city and even when we did, we could only be there for 2 hours or something. In some more busy streets, the maximum time for a park spot can be as low as 1 hour. That’s why we had to search for paid parking lots (which are very expensive by the way), whenever we went somewhere in the city. Unlike places like the US or Turkey, Helsinki is designed in a way that would prioritize the usage of public transportation rather than cars. So long story short, you won’t need a car here in Helsinki but you will still be able to go wherever you want.

Last year, I was pretty into Helsinki’s nightlife and I can confidently say that I have been to almost all the prominent nightclubs in the city. When it comes to nightlife, Helsinki is not as big as Amsterdam or Maastricht, for example. But you will still have fun. I personally like Kaivohuone and Maxine a lot because there are a lot of lounges where you can just chill and talk without having to shout. On special occasions like Halloween or New Year’s Eve, these places are usually packed so be prepared for the long queues in the cold. One good thing about Helsinki nightlife is that the bouncers don’t expect your group to have the so-called “gender-balance”. In Turkey for example, it is almost impossible to enter the club without bringing some girls as a part of your group. In Helsinki, if you’re with your boys, as long as you have tickets and a valid ID, entering the club won’t really be a problem.

Maybe the best part of living in greater Helsinki is that it is really safe. Only one or two homeless people approached me asking for food/money over the last one year, which is a super super good number. I have lived in Amsterdam for a month and every time I was going to my home, one homeless person approached me asking for money. Every single time. I was seeing them so much that I even became friends with them. Anyways, you won’t get those in Helsinki - which I suppose is a good thing. 

My List of Must See Places in Greater Helsinki 

  • Aalto University (Of course) 
  • Suomenlinna 
  • Nuuksio 
  • Linnanmaki Amusement Park (during light carnival) 
  • Hietaniemi Beach (during sunset in spring) 

Read part 2 here!

- San, Second-year bachelor's student in Computational Engineering

San standing outside of the Botanical Garden.
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