Have you ever booked a trip in less than ten minutes, committing to cover a new city within 36 hours? No? Most people haven’t. However, you know I can never turn down a challenge. When I saw one of my favourite travel bloggers and good friend, Catherine, tweet she was going to Helsinki, I simply replied “I want to come!”, as most people do. Here is the plot twist… I actually did! Catherine and I exchanged a number of WhatsApp messages, covering all the essential details, and within 10 minutes, I was joining Catherine’s solo-now-accompanied trip. I mean, how could anyone turn down a trip that costs less than a total of £200 for hotel and flights to a new city? I certainly couldn’t.
It was both of our first time visiting Finland, and quite frankly we couldn’t be excited to do it together. After all, we had talked about making a trip together for the past five years. However, we never managed to actually bring it to life. Alas, we did, distinctively and spontaneously.
Day one in Helsinki:
Our flight from London was around three hours, meaning we landed into Helsinki Airport around 12:30pm. Before jumping aboard a train from Helsinki airport directly to the city centre. The journey itself approximately 30 minutes and costs €4.60 for a single ticket. To be honest, you will only require the train going in and out of the city, as it’s an extremely walkable city.
After we checked-in and freshened up in our contemporary, yet quaint hotel, Radisson Blu Aleksanteri Hotel, we were ready to head out and explore. The first thing on our agenda was to stop at the Moomin Café. I mean, it was a no brainer. Catherine and I both watched The Moomins as kids, meaning it felt like the perfect place to grab some cake, a hot chocolate and a few gimmicky shots. Totally worth it!
I would certainly recommend getting the moist red velvet cake, served with a drizzle of milk chocolate and a few berries, alongside a hot chocolate to warm our cockles. Even if you didn’t grow up watching The Moomins (shame on you!), it’s worth visiting, as you will so realise The Moomins are a big part of the Finnish culture, and they are proud of their cartoon creations.
After, we decided to stroll through the Market Square, where you will find the local food markets, which serves up a significant number of different local snacks such as grilled salmon served in bread and various Finnish gifts. Close to the square, you will find the local outdoor pool area, where you will find the locals going in for a dip, even though the temperature was in single digits, and we had scarves wrapped around our necks and warm coats on. But apparently, it’s very much a part of their culture.
We spotted the Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral at the top of the hill, which sat like a crown on the head of the city, with beautiful Gothic exteriors, which is truly exceptional. We had to check out what it was. The interiors are filled with beautiful golden facades with high-arched ceilings. We soon spotted a couple undergoing their marriage ceremony, we stopped for a few minutes to watch the stunning, sacred ceremony before stepping out and moving onto the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral.
The stunning white-washed Cathedral presents the awe-worthy architecture and a few dozen steps that span the length of the square below it. Catherine and I spend a reasonable amount of time staring at the details added to the house of prayer, before snapping a few iconic shots in front of it. But let’s just say, we are no good at standing still for “posey” shots without bursting into hysterics, as bystanders look on.
After an early start, and as the day drew to a close, we decided to head back to the hotel and freshen up, ready for an evening of antics. We kicked off our evening at one of Helsinki’s famous rooftop bars sitting at the top of Hotel Torni, with stunning panoramic views across the city, which gets enhanced by a golden sunset across the city’s skyline. Between us, we guzzled a couple of drinks before heading to a local restaurant, Savotta, which serves up some of Helsinki’s most exquiste traditional cuisine.
Catherine ordered the roast Reindeer steak for her main course, which was served with potatoes. I, on the other hand, went for a typical Finnish stew made with slow-cooked lamb and beef, baby potatoes, and various root vegetables, all served inside a light flavoursome broth, with a few side pickles and beetroot sticks. It was incredibly delicious and very hearty finishing, especially with the slight chill in the evening air.
For dessert, Catherine ordered a wild blueberry mousse, and I ordered the raw Vegan cake would absolutely delicious and rather moreish.
After dinner, Catherine and I decided to go on a short “bar crawl” across some of Helsinki’s most raved about watering holes. We were drawn in by the fairy lights of Kappeli, where we stopped for a glass of prosecco, before sauntering through the gardens towards Grotesk Bar. I called in for my favourite cocktail classic, an Amaretto Sour, and the bartenders certainly delivered. We could have stayed at Grotesk all night – the music was popping, the drinks were delicious, and the bar was full of a young, fun crowd but sadly it was tough to get a table long enough, that wasn’t reserved. I would certainly recommend booking a table in advance if you want to check it out.
We started our day bright and early, had our breakfast at leisure, getting our energy levels up for another day of exploring Helsinki’s delights.
Our first stop of the day was the Chapel of Silence, which resides in the centre of Helsinki. Its unique structure and shape get a lot of visitors interested, and it’s worth going in to check it out. It’s not like any other place of worship I have come across, especially as you have to be incomplete and utter silence during your visit, which makes it the perfect place to get some peace and quiet in the morning. Catherine and I have our own rituals of lighting candles in holy places, so we lit our own candles, took a minute of silence before quietly scurrying out.
As we left the church, we stumbled upon the local wool market that occurs on Sundays. There was live sheep, and a few Finnish ladies demonstrating how they churn sheep wool into threads and other beautiful pieces of clothing. If you’re into locally made products, I would recommend checking it out.
We both have a bit of a sweet tooth, so naturally, we had to check out the famous chocolatier, Fazer. A few chocolate tastings later, we settled down to try one of the local Finnish cinnamon buns, paired with a hot chocolate. Especially as people say, the best hot chocolate shops are made by chocolatiers, and they aren’t wrong either.
With full tummies, we were ready to take on our Finnish sauna experience. Saunas are a significant part of the Finnish culture, and there are around two million saunas in Finland for a population of 5.3 million citizens — that’s almost one sauna for every three citizens. I mean, there are saunas attached to bars, restaurants, and even privately built saunas. We booked a spa experience in advance at Loyly, where they provide you with your own locker and an opportunity to experience two different saunas. We specifically picked Loyly, as it was one of the few saunas where you are allowed to wear swimsuits, plus they have two sauna areas, the traditional sauna as we know it, and a charcoal sauna which purifies your skin in the process.
What’s the proper way to experience a sauna? Spending 10 to 15 minutes sweating it out, then running out and diving straight into the ice-cold Baltic seawater. I wish I were kidding, but apparently, it helps circulate your blood better and has added health benefits. I joked it was the perfect combination to get a stinking cold, but hey, when in Finland, you do as the Finns do, right? I think my face says it all.
After an exhilarating, and refreshing experience in the sauna, we found refuge in the resident restaurant, next to the fire with a glass of wine to warm us back up again.
The last thing we wanted to see was the Temppeliaukion Church, also known as the Rock Church. An absolutely stunning piece of architecture, built by two architect brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen as a result of winning a competition. When we were there, it celebrated its 50th anniversary of being open to the public, and it was definitely well received by those visiting Helsinki. Isn’t it stunning?!
And before we knew it, our time in Helsinki came to an end, and we were on our way back to the train straight, back to the airport.
Honestly, I have never experienced such a beautiful city with breathtaking views and preach an effortless way of living. Helsinki has so many great experiences and monuments to see, they will simply take your breath away. It’s a very underrated destination, but it offers something completely unique and can easily be covered with a weekend, saving your annual leave too.
Would you give our 36-hour itinerary a go?
Until next time…