The most famous market in Finland, Helsinki’s Market Square is one of the city’s main tourist destinations, and it has been a centre of trade for hundreds of years. Even today, it still hosts some of Finland’s most well-known events and is a major shopping location for both locals and visitors.
Structure of the Market Square
The Market Square is located on the eastern side of central Helsinki, between the south harbour and Esplanade Park. Surrounding the square are the harbour itself, ferry ports connecting the mainland to Suomenlinna, the Presidential Palace, the Uspenski Cathedral, and a market hall.
The central square hosts market stands that sell items including fish freshly caught from the harbour, fruits and vegetables, coffee, and local arts and crafts. Salmon soup with rye bread is a must-try when dropping by the market, but it is possible to find anything from moose meat to reindeer skin gloves in the square depending on the time of year it is. It is a good place to find Finland-specific souvenirs and support local merchants and artists.
The square is also the location of multiple special events and themed markets such as the famous Baltic Herring Market, which will be held during the first week of October in 2017. The market hall, or Kauppahalli, has been operating since 1889 and has a larger selection of merchants including bakers, delis, cafés, cheesemongers, butchers, chocolatiers, and Finland’s smallest Alko liquor shop.
The market’s location on the south harbour makes it a ten minutes’ walk from the central train station and easy to reach from anywhere in Helsinki. Trams regularly run past the square, with tram number three connecting the square to the train station. The old cobbled streets can be highly uneven, so be cautious when walking around there— especially during the winter.
Peak times and tips
The market is busiest during the summer tourist season and has more stands than usual selling food and souvenirs. It can be incredibly busy during the summer holidays, even on weekdays, so it is often best to visit first thing in the morning to beat the crowds and pick up the highest quality of food. In the winter, it is much quieter. Still, there are always at least a few stalls open and many of them sell hot coffee necessary for a cold winter’s day. The nearby market hall is open year-round and is ideal for winter shopping. Special events can also be crowded, especially on weekends, so it is best to visit them on a weekday if possible.
Pickpockets are known to operate in central Helsinki, so it is advisable to keep money and valuables stashed away safely. However, the most common threat is actually from the seagulls who hang around the harbour and are known to pillage food straight from people’s hands. Remember to keep an eye out for them while eating outdoors, to not feed them, and to properly throw away any rubbish.
Helsinki is a capital city and therefore expensive, so merchant prices at the Market Square vary greatly. Haggling for prices isn’t very common in southern Finland, but it is still worth asking the merchant (most of whom are bilingual) about any deals they may have as this could lead to a discount in price.