Tervetuloa Suomeen! – WELCOME TO FINLAND!
A sometimes Scandinavian, once-upon-a-time Russian and extremely cold country based in Northern Europe.
Whether you want a city break, a delve into a sauna (pronounced ‘soww-na’) or want to drink a lot of coffee (that’s me), Finland’s capital Helsinki is for you.
So what is there to get up to in your brief time in the city’s capital? Here are my recommendations from our stop in the city during our tour around North Eastern Europe last November.
The Finns do coffee right. It’s not surprising from a nation in which an individual consumes an average 12kg of coffee EACH YEAR. That’s about my intake level too, so I felt right at home.
One of my favourite coffee shops is Robert’s Coffee, it might be ‘just a chain’ but the decor and quality of coffee were both on point. I recommend the Jugend branch, in the heart of Old Helsinki and located near many attractions including the Cathedrals.
Another grand cup of coffee can be found at the beautiful Mumin Kaffe. Yes, you could go to the Moomin Store in Covent Garden but that isn’t half as fun as going to a Mumin Cafe in the land that birthed Moomins.
The Cathedrals are unmissable.
And not just because they’re really blooming big.
St. Nicholas’ Church, also known as Helsinki Cathedral, is one of the most stunning buildings on the planet. The architecture is incredibly intricate and it’s just so Russian, with it being completed long prior to Finland’s independence from the Russian Empire.
Fun Fact: The video for Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ was filmed here.
You can take a look around inside the Cathedral for free, but it’s the outside you’ll be spending your time marvelling at.
Another Russian influenced Cathedral is Uspenski Cathedral, located only a short walk from St. Nicholas’ Church for a double whammy of that Russian architecture.
Like the above, it’s free to enter, but it’s the building itself, not the interior decor, that will leave it’s mark on you.
When we were visiting there was filming for a TV show going on inside, so not much could be seen anyway.
Due to Uspensky’s hilltop location, you can look across to St. Nicholas’ and contrast the pair. Both Russian, but contrast starkly.
From pastel buildings to giant golden tortoises, Helsinki is filled with fun and unique photo spots and architecture. It’s well worth walking around aimlessly to see what you can find.
Taking on the city by foot means that you can come across all of this wonderfully bizarre and unique buildings. Half of what I’ve gone on about in this post thus far is architecture, but in Helsinki it’s well worth appreciating. It’s a city that is just nice to be in and experience.
You might see trams but you don’t really need them, the main landmarks are all walkable. We used the trams once and then decided to walk for the rest of the trip, it’s better to be out in the fresh air than in a cramped metal box any day.
GET IN THE SEA.
Head to Loyly if you’re looking for an amazing authentic sauna experience. Loyly sits right on the gulf of Finland, meaning it’s a bit of a walk outside of central Helsinki, however it’s rewarded by the scenic coastal views.
If you couldn’t tell from the above pics, it was cold as tits the day we headed down. Due to the fact I was in an actual room of steam, I don’t have photographs of the interior because I value my electronics more than I value adding a bit of extra content to this blogpost, sorry.
There are multiple steam rooms/saunas, a room to relax around a traditional wood fire whilst taking in views of the gulf, the ability to shower yourself in icy water and most importantly, at Loyly you can…
throw yourself into the Gulf of Finland!
It’s really fucking cold but it does cool you off from your eyeballs feeling like they’re going to melt and almost doing a total Toht.
For only €19, you can spend two hours exploring Loyly. I think it’s totally worth it, just make sure you book online ahead of going.
After you get yourself out of the Gulf, hop on a boat Suomenlinna, an offshore fortress.
The island of Suomenlinna is surprisingly easy to get to, just head to the ferry terminal (located as centrally as possible), buy yourself a return ticket from the machine and you’re good to go. The ferries are as often as once an hour, so this doesn’t require the utmost planning.
Most of Suomenlinna shuts over winter due to it being the off season, and because famously, tourists avoid Finland’s climate in the winter months. But hey, we’re brave explorers who spend hours in saunas and throw our sweaty bodies into the Gulf in November, just to stop us breaking a sweat.
The fortress actually spans six connected islands that you’ll get the chance to explore, and over the many, many years, it’s been home to Swedish, Russian and Finnish armies. Now it’s a thriving small community, hotspot for locals in the summer months and tourist destination boasting a few museums! It’s no longer something of war but a peaceful community.
Old tunnels can be found all over the place, if you’re up for some exploring, it’s definitely the place to visit. Climb atop bluffs with the wind smacking you in the face, explore pitch black underground tunnels and stop for a coffee, because you are in Finland after all.
And now, head off on your next adventure!
For us, this was Tallinn, Estonia which we reached via ferry booked through Direct Ferries!
Catch up on other travel posts here.