Looking for sights, snow or sauna? Helsinki has all this and more! The Finnish capital is approximately a 3 hour flight from the UK and combines warm hospitality with brisk sea air and a variety of delicious eateries.
Day 1 – Kick off your first day with some sightseeing! Helsinki is fairly small and easy to navigate so you’ll often find yourself stumbling upon a variety of historical buildings, traditional cathedrals or commemorative statues. Helsinki CBD is littered with shopping plazas, coffee shops and centred around the rather grand ‘Helsingin päärautatieasema’ (train station) which offers speedy Metro links to all areas of the capital, as well as transport across the country.
Make your way towards Helsinki South harbour, stopping along ‘Norra Esplanaden’ for some brief window shopping at one of the many traditional bakeries, gift shops or clothing boutiques. Alternatively, you can head through the Esplanadi, a narrow stretch of park which offers the perfect setting for a spot of lunch or a warm cup of coffee in the crisp, winter months. As you reach the end of the park, you will be greeted by the fresh scent of sea air. Look to your left and you’ll notice the City Hall, Supreme Court and Presidential Palace facing proudly out to sea, with Helsinki Cathedral, Senate Square and Helsinki City Museum just a five minute stroll behind this cluster of landmarks.
Glancing over to your right, you’ll spot the local ferries ready to board passengers and whisk them off to Suomennlina. Just ahead of you will be the Helsinki market square which takes place 8am-4pm Monday-Friday, all year round – with more stalls being available in the summer months. If you look upward, you’ll also catch a glimpse of Uspenski Cathedral in the distance and you can visit this unusual yet lavish building which is just a 5 minute walk away from the harbour. Fancy a quick snack? Don’t forget to grab a pistachio twist from one of the bakeries along Norra Esplanaden. End your first day on the SkyWheel Helsinki for a 360 degree view over the city at sunset. Then head back to Senate Square for a traditional Finnish meal of Reindeer, mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce at ‘Savotta‘.
Day 2 – Earlier I mentioned ‘Suomennlina’ which is a small island, around 30 minutes from Helsinki harbour which is perfect for visiting in both warm or chilly weather. This island is a world heritage site, home to 18th century fortresses, a local church and even residential houses. Visitors can discover more about the Swedish, Russian and Finnish inhabitants of Suomennlina at the on-site museum or with a guided tour (costing 11 Euros for adults and 4 for children). Stumble upon battle monuments, hidden bunkers and a jetty barracks as you roam around this popular tourist spot.
As the evening draws in, you’ll no doubt feel a little tired from all of your walking around Suomennlina. Why not head back to Helsinki and take a little ‘you’ time in the country where sauna was born? Loyly is a waterfront restaurant with built in sauna and open terrace. Relax in a choice of either a smoke or wood-fired sauna for 21 Euros, before grabbing a drink on the terrace or sampling the catch of the day. Bear in mind that this is one of the more expensive saunas in Helsinki and cheaper options can be found dotted around the city.
Day 3 – You’ll already be familiar with the harbour area by now – why not spend your last morning visiting Finland’s most famous market which sells the likes of fresh fish, coffee, and arts & crafts. The square is also the perfect place to purchase souvenirs from your trip, which helps local vendors instead of large franchises. ‘Kauppahalli‘ is located to the right hand side of the market square and this indoor food hall offers traditional snacks such as reindeer or bear meat, as well as fresh salmon and sweet treats. Or, for those of you who prefer not to eat meat, ‘Story’ is little cafe which offers some vegetarian dishes, with a few tables in the centre of the market hall. I’d recommend the mushroom burger for lunch or their Chai Latte for those who aren’t staying for a quick bite.
Your afternoon can be filled with exploring the likes of Helsinki’s historic museums and art galleries. Helsinki offers the Ateneum for art enthusiasts, the museum of Contemporary Art, or Amos Rex Art museum which offers underground exhibitions. Close by, visitors can also enter the National museum of Finland and Natural History museum – all of which are smack bang in the centre of Helsinki and within a few minutes walking distance of one another. Should you be visiting from out of town, these buildings can also be located within a short walking distance of the train station. For your final meal, the options are truly endless! If you have a hankering for Japanese food, the city offers an extensive amount of sushi buffets. I personally enjoyed ‘Domo’ which is a quaint restaurant nestled in one of Helsinki’s backstreets. However, there’s a fabulous mix of other cuisines such as Turkish, Indian and Chinese which are scattered throughout the city centre.
If you’re looking for a destination which can be enjoyed all year round and don’t have much time on your hands, choose Helsinki. It’s rich with culture but still offers modern comforts such as local cafes, shopping centres and bars, blended with the natural beauty of its harbour and neighbouring islands.