With trips to Scandinavian capitals becoming increasingly de rigueur, the Finnish capital Helsinki, offers a quirky but stylish experience filled with hip design and cool eateries juxtaposed with beautiful historic architecture. Our guest blogger The Picky Traveller, tells us exactly what should be included on your Helsinki itinerary…
Take in the beautiful Art Nouveau buildings
The city’s fine historical centre is easily compact enough to discover on foot. I recommend heading down to the streets of Eira, Ullanlinna, Punavuori, Kamppi, Töölö and Katajanokka and taking your time to wander, soak up the atmosphere and take in the city’s superb collection of beautiful Art Nouveau buildings.
Marvel at the mysterious Rock Church
In Töölö, make sure you include a visit to the unique Rock Church (Temppeliaukion kirkko) which is carved inside the granite. It’s not only lovely to look at and a very special place, but it has amazing acoustical features too.
Dine on a Michelin-starred dinner
Helsinki offers a large number of excellent options to experience upscale new Nordic cuisine. There are four different Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from – Olo, Ask, Chef & Sommelier and Demo. Although for a less expensive but still fabulous culinary experience I would recommend dining at Kuurna in the Kruununhaka district, a small but popular place serving up traditional Finnish cuisine with a stylish twist.
Grab a cocktail at the Ateljee Bar, Hotel Torni
When the sun begins to set (which means very late during summertime), climb up to Hotel Torni’s 13th floor and grab a cocktail at their stylish Ateljee Bar. It’s a trendy joint which offers stunning 360-degree views of the city bathing in golden light – easily worth the trip alone!
Visit the Sibelius monument
It’s located a little off the beaten track in a less visited district of West Helsinki, but the impressive Sibelius monument (in tribute to the Finnish compositor) is definitely worth a quick visit. I would recommend walking there from Töölö.
Explore the Suomenlinna sea fortress
This UNESCO-listed sea fortress which dates back from 1748 is a must-see and is located 15 minutes by ferry from the city centre (included in the public transportation system). Circle the island by foot, then have coffee at the hidden and delightfully kitsch Cafe Samovarbar – just make sure you don’t leave without sampling their exquisite apple pie!
Take a peaceful stroll around Puu-Käpylä
To sample a slice of local life, take a tram ride (line 1) to the neighbourhood of Puu-Käpylä. Here you can have a peaceful stroll along the calm residential streets which are lined with colourful traditional wooden houses.
Dare to try some ice walking
Helsinki makes a fine weekend trip during the middle of the summer (from mid-June to mid-August) when there is sunlight almost 24 hours a day, or in the middle of the winter (mid-January to late February) when the sea is usually frozen and snow covers the city. A very special winter experience during this time is to go walking on the frozen Baltic Sea. Although just be aware this can be quite dangerous and sadly each year many people drown because of thin ice (even if it has been freezing for a long time, the sea and its unpredictable currents are tricky). Only head out when there are already other people on the ice and always stay close to the shore.
Discover the pictuesque Seurasaari island
Further away from the city centre, but easily reached by bus (line 24) and a long wooden bridge, is the pretty island of Seurasaari. It’s actually an open-air museum showcasing Finnish living, labour and lifestyles from the late 17th century to the 20th century and features old constructions from all over Finland. You’ll find lots of locals and families spending time here on their weekends off, the President’s official residence is also close-by and can be seen from the bridge.
Take your camera to Siirtolapuutarha
Another interesting way to pass the time away from the city centre is to have a walk in an allotment garden (siirtolapuutarha in Finnish). There are many of them around greater Helsinki, but the easiest ones to access are in Vallila (which you can reach by tram) and also Herttoniemi and Marjaniemi (by metro). Although just be aware this is a summertime activity only – the allotments are only open to the public from May to September.
Head out to explore Old Porvoo
This place is also not located in Helsinki, but I would recommend taking at least a half-day to tour the charming old town here, which is located only 30 minutes from Helsinki by freeway (no train service to Porvoo, but many buses per day). Old Porvoo is one of the very few historical wooden towns in Finland which has survived all the wars and fires. All made of traditional timber, the oldest houses date from the late 1700s and Porvoo itself was founded in 1346.
Hunt for bargains at the colourful markets
From the very touristy Kauppatori market located the harbour to the more popular local’s market of Hakaniemi, Helsinki’s open-air markets are worth a visit especially in summertime when they are filled with local delights such as Finnish berries, sugar snap peas and mushrooms. Also pay a visit to the adjoining market halls which are a little more refined and are in contrast to the market at Hakaniemi which is much more popular and down-to-earth.
Pay a visit to one of the many excellent museums
Finally, if you are keen on culture (or if it’s raining) there are a number of excellent museums to visit in Helsinki. My personal favourites include the Design Museum, the contemporary art museum Kiasma, the National Museum and the fine art museum Ateneum, which are all handily located within walking distance from the Three Smiths Statue (which is considered to be Helsinki’s point zero).
Enjoy your Helsinki trip!
All words and photos by guest blogger The Picky Traveller. The Picky Traveller is always looking for the best and most unique travelling experience possible by paying attention to the smallest details. He specializes in upscale travelling and Scandinavia. Connect with him at www.thepickytraveller.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and find out more about his Finnish experiences here.