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With its striking architecture, leafy parks and booming restaurant scene, Helsinki is the perfect city-break destination. For disability-friendly transport suggestions, hotel options and insider tips, here’s a guide on how to make the most of your trip to the Finnish capital.
Overlooking the beautiful Baltic Sea, Helsinki is known for its grand historic monuments, bustling markets and vibrant nightlife. While heavy snowfall can make the city centre challenging for people with limited mobility during the winter months, the Finnish capital is generally an extremely accessible city with mostly smooth pavements, pedestrian crossings and excellent public transport. The city also has plenty of ramps, lifts and accessible toilets which are required by law in most buildings. For those with reduced mobility, here’s everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Finland’s capital city.
With the main sights all within easy reach of the city centre, Helsinki is compact and easy to get around using a mobility aid. Public transport is also first-rate and passengers using a manual or electric wheelchair or mobility scooter can travel for free without a ticket on the Metro, tram, local buses or HSL commuter trains. The train is one of the best ways to travel to and from Helsinki airport, with accessible carriages clearly marked with a wheelchair symbol.
Although mobility scooters are not allowed on trams and buses, trams all have a low floor in at least one carriage for wheelchair access and a ramp to the middle doors. Press the button to alert the driver to unlock it. Drivers will also provide assistance on buses, which all have low floors and a manual ramp to the middle doors. The Metro is perhaps the easiest way of getting around Helsinki with limited mobility, as all stations have an accessible lift, level platforms and onboard announcements.
“When I’m travelling by myself on public transport, I prefer to go by Metro or commuter train as I can use them completely independently,” says tour guide and wheelchair user Sanna Kalmari. “I also fit in them easiest. Buses and trams have less space and you have to reserve more time, as the space that is available can be full when they arrive at your stop.”
It’s easy to experience Helsinki’s tourist attractions, tranquil parks and beautiful coastline with limited mobility. Although there are some cobbled streets in the historical district between Market Square and Senate Square, most pavements are smooth with regular dropped kerbs so visitors can explore the city centre without difficulty.
“What I love about Helsinki is its compact size,” says Kalmari. “I can drive my electric wheelchair all the way from the shoreline to the city centre.”
Some of the best tourist attractions for visitors with limited mobility include the awe-inspiring Temppeliaukio Rock Church, which has a level entrance and accessible toilet, and the City Museum, which is fully accessible, free of charge, and also has a disabled toilet. The iconic Old Market Hall is also fully accessible, although cobblestones in the adjacent Market Square can make the area challenging.
The Linnanmäki Amusement Park and SEA LIFE Helsinki are worth visiting for restaurants, rides and panoramic views over the city. All stairs in the park can be avoided and it is possible to get on most rides from a wheelchair.
To get closer to nature in Helsinki, head to Lammasaari, which opened a new accessible nature trail in 2018. “The trail is one kilometre long and gets you into the heart of the local nature, ending at an accessible birdwatching platform,” says Kalmari.
The spectacular 18th-century sea fortress at Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is spread over six islands reached by a 15-minute ferry from Market Square. Anyone using a wheelchair or mobility scooter may travel on the HSL Ferry for free.
“There are lots of cobblestones and some tricky height differences, but I would still recommend going,” says Kalmari. “What I like to do most at Suomenlinna is ride around the islands and admire the scenery.”
Consult the map available on the Suomenlinna website or from the tourist office in the Jetty Barracks building, and follow the blue route for the easiest way around the islands. There are five accessible toilets in Suomenlinna and several restaurants, including Bastion Bistro, Restaurant Susisaari, Viaporin Deli and Restaurant Suomenlinna Brewery that have ramps and accessible toilet facilities.
All new hotels in Helsinki by law have to have facilities for those with limited mobility, so there are several suitable hotels throughout the city. Choosing one close to the city centre means the main sights, restaurants and Baltic shoreline are all within easy reach.
GLO Hotel Kluuvi
Right in the centre of the city next to the historic main road, this sleek and modern 4-star hotel is close to Helsinki’s Cathedral, Central Station and Kämp Galleria Shopping Centre. It has several wheelchair accessible rooms, an on-site spa and an excellent all-day restaurant serving breakfast, a hearty buffet lunch and à la carte dinners. Be sure to order the churros with chilli chocolate dip.
This 3-star hotel in the city centre is the ideal fuss-free option if location is key. First established in 1907, the hotel is in a beautiful Art Nouveau building very close to the Central Station and most of the city’s major sights. It has two accessible rooms, a disabled access toilet on the fourth floor (ask reception for a key), free WiFi, an all-day restaurant and a snack bar in reception.
Perfectly placed for sights and shopping, this modern 4-star hotel has a relaxing rooftop bar, 24-hour shop, extensive breakfast buffet and excellent accessible facilities. These include 10 disabled rooms, guaranteed clear walkways between the reception and lifts, a hearing induction loop at the reception desk and wide walkways to the bar and restaurant. There are also accessible toilets in public areas and disabled parking spaces. Staff are friendly and trained to cater for guests with additional needs.
To hire wheelchairs during your trip to Helsinki, simply visit Respecta’s website to reserve equipment. For accessible taxis with a lift or ramp, you can easily order one from Taksi Helsinki on +358 100 0700.