The basics from a beginner who’s still getting lost learning
Since Brigitte and I spent some time this morning rushing around the city (registering for social security and tax, and checking out our first rental apartment option), I thought it might be worth writing a little about how we’re getting around Helsinki.
Helsinki and the surrounding cities of Espoo and Vaanta comprise the greater Helsinki metropol, a region of about 1.2 million people (about 20 % of Finland’s population). Helsinki does not cover a very large area, with the city centre fitting nicely onto the Vironniemi peninsula. Further north the suburbs are more spread out, while numerous islands to the east and the west have been developed as residential areas (all according to Wikipedia – we’ve not ventured too far from the city centre yet).
The metropol has a real mix of public transport systems: trams (restricted to the central parts of the metropol), local and regional busses, trains (running north-south in the city) and a subway (the Metro; running east-west). The trains, trams and subway are pretty straight forward (although I’ve now jumped on the wrong tram twice). For example, the tram system can be easily represented much like the London Underground (a full map is available at http://www.hsl.fi/SiteCollectionImages/Kartat/hsl_ratikkakartta+pys%C3%A4kit.pdf).Helsinki tram route (from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e3/Helsinki_tram_map.png)
The bus routes (like everywhere else?) are more confusing – probably just because there are so many different routes. However, HSL (the Helsinki Regional Transport company) has a great site to help you figure out which bus (and/or tram and/or train) to take – http://www.reittiopas.fi You tell it where you are and where you want to be, and it will figure out the fastest way to get there using the metropol’s public transport system. My only warning, is that sometimes the trams and busses are a bit earlier than scheduled – so if you need to be somewhere on time you need to be a little early, just in case…
So far we’re loving the Helsinki public transport system. It’s a little tricky to go somewhere for the first time, but the service is fast and reliable (and generally you’ll wait a maximum of 15 minutes at a stop during the day). We’ve got no worries about finding or paying for parking, insurance or ice-tires, etc., and with a resident’s travel card (which we were able to upgrade to today after receiving our Finnish ID numbers earlier in the week) it’s about €40 per month for unlimited travel within the city. To put that amount into perspective, a litre of petrol costs more than €1.5 here and you’ll probably need to a parking space if you live in central Helsinki (from €40 per month, unless you are lucky and it’s included in your rent). As a visitor in Helsinki you will pay about €40 for a two week ticket, or €1 – 4 per trip.
For more information you can check out the excellent HSL website at http://www.hsl.fi/EN/Pages/default.aspx (I’m definitely going to see if I can catch a ride on their Culture Tram some time soon – http://www.hsl.fi/EN/passengersguide/Pages/CultureTram.aspx).
UPDATE: As we were reminded today, not all buses run on weekends. Luckily we weren’t too far from a tram.