I wrestled with captioning this post because although I loved my time in Helsinki, I am currently stuck in the Helsinki airport feeling not-so-happy. To keep a boring story short, there was some major drama with my tickets and I wasn’t allowed to get on the plane. After one small breakdown that saw me crying into my gumboots (I am coming, Bestival!), I am waiting for an Air Norwegian flight to leave in five or six hours. If you were frightened by a gumboot-wearing, hysterical girl in the Helsinki airport this morning, then I apologise. I realise now that maybe wearing ripped jeans and gumboots wasn’t the best sartorial decision I have ever made. I look like a farmer that got lost on the way to the stables. All I have to say is thank goodness for budget airlines, comforting cups of pumpkin-spice latte and free (unlimited) airport wi-fi.
Anyways, I forgive you Helsinki for this one small indiscretion because otherwise you were awesome.
Munchin’ on those Finnish Blueberries, feeling good about life
Arriving in Helsinki, I had a couple of hours to explore before being whisked away to the Finnish countryside.
I soon figured out that the city of Helsinki is centred around the main railway station and the South and West Esplanade. The railway station is the most visited building in all of Finland and is a beautiful example of scandinavian design: it also has (what I would wager to be) the fanciest Burger King in the whole world. You almost feel sacrilegious scarfing down a burger amongst such beautiful design.
The creatively named South and West Esplanades are a good place to start and strolling down them is a good way to get orientated. I am only saying this because I got super lost in the first fifteen minutes of being in Helsinki and ended up in some sketchy park. Please don’t do that.
After getting lost, I managed to find Stockmann’s which is a Finnish department store in Senate Square. If you’re feeling hungry or just like to ogle food (I do) then I suggest heading to the basement floor where they have an amazing food hall. I grabbed some blueberries and they were the best I had ever eaten. From Stockmann’s it was a short walk to the Lutheran Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko). The cathedral is raised quite high above the other buildings and offers a good view of the city.
As I was sitting on the steps, probably with a blue mouth, I just had one of those really cool travel moments. It was just one of those moments where you are like “Hey, I love this!” and suddenly all those boring moments waiting in airports and those months of eating ramen are worth it. The setting sun turned all the buildings a pale orange, seagulls squawked and this wonderful new country was just there, in front of me waiting to be explored.
Suomenlinna, Porvoo and a secret rooftop bar
After a brief stint at the summer house, I headed back to Helsinki for a couple of days. On the lost of things to see was the fortress island of Suomenlinna. Although impossible to pronounce (swammylina?!), it is super easy to get to on public transport. I saw lots of tourists getting sucked into expensive tourist ferries when there is a public ferry that goes every half and hour. You can just buy a normal return ticket or even use your day pass.
Although i’m not really into military history (cannons=boring), the island does seem like a world away from Helsinki with windswept cliffs and impressive views of the Baltic Sea. It feels very nordic so if you don’t have enough time to experience Finland’s gorgeous (and rather desolate) countryside then Suomenlinna gives you a little taste. For all those UNESCO nerds out there (thats a thing.. right?), it is listed as a world heritage site, so give it a visit and tick it off the list.
Maybe the harder the name is to pronounce, the better it is, because Porvoo was flippin’ delightful. About an hours drive from Helsinki, the little town of Porvoo will take you back to simpler times with its brightly painted wooden houses, cobblestone streets and charming design shops. Although brimming with charm, you will have to jostle amongst the ‘older’ tourists who seem to flock anywhere that novelty tea-towels and fudge are on offer.
If all that jostling leaves you hungry, my friend and I chanced upon a little deli/lunch spot called Zum Beispiel. I was a little hesitant at first as the menu only had 10 or so items but the fact that there was unlimited serve-yourself organic bread and butter sealed the deal. The food tasted home-cooked in the best possible way and for Finnish prices, 14 euros was pretty much a steal. I highly recommend it for a wholesome, authentic dining experience.
Now I don’t know how secret this little bar really is but the concealed, tiny spiral staircase entryway certainly makes you feel like you are in on a local secret. Situated on the rooftop of Torni hotel, the Ateljee bar is a great way to spend a couple of hours sipping (crazy expensive!) wine as the sun goes down. If you can grab a table outside, the unobstructed views of Helsinki are so worth that 9.80 euro glass of wine.
So that concludes my time in Helsinki, although keep tuned for at least one more Finland blogpost because I managed to get a few cool things at Finnish Flea Markets that I want to show you!
Like pretty much everybody who visits Scandinavia, I am itching to come back to this part of the world. And who knows, the way things are going today I might just never leave.
Have you been to Finland and Helsinki? I would love to hear about all the things I missed! (haha jokes! I really would..) What about Sweden, Denmark or Norway? Leave me a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.