To be perfectly frank, Helsinki doesn’t offer much in the way of exciting, inexpensive eats. Sure, if you’re willing to shill out for Michelin-rated Scandinavian cuisine and seafood, you’ll find no shortage of gourmet options. For those of us on a budget, however, choices are limited to kebab and pizza joints, as well as “grillis,” which serve up hot dogs and other greasy, filling treats.
Are your taste buds unstimulated? Not to fear—Helsinki’s hidden culinary strength lies in its selection of cute cafes. No one can subsist on coffee and pastries alone, but here are three Cheapo-approved cafes for tiding you over between meals.
Sitting pretty just off Helsinki’s Esplanadi Park, Café Esplanad is known for more than its prominent location. The café’s giant “korvapuustit” (Finnish cinnamon rolls) are simply delicious. Esplanad is self-serve, so ask the cashier for a roll, pour yourself a coffee, and sit near the window to watch the pedestrian traffic pass by. A pastry plus a coffee (with free refills) will set you back about €5.
If you prefer stunning views to people-watching, take a seat at the Café Engel, which counts as its neighbor the famous Helsinki Cathedral. (The café is even named after the cathedral’s architect, Carl Ludvig Engel.) The café is popular with locals, and even hosts outdoor film screenings in the warmer months. A full breakfast costs around €13, while coffee and a slice of cake is €7-10. After lingering over your table, head across the street to the Cathedral’s steep steps for a post-meal workout.
Southwest of Esplanadi Park in Helsinki’s hip Kamppi district, Café Ekberg dates back to 1915. The beautiful, bite-size pastries and cakes on offer here make for the perfect afternoon sugar rush. Known for attracting a more mature crowd, the café also offers a good breakfast. Just make sure to have the morning meal on a weekday, when the meal costs €9—the price doubles to €18 on the weekends. If you prefer to stop in for a pastry or sandwich, expend to spend €2-10.