In April 2019, my boyfriend (Kubo) and I took a trip for business/pleasure to Finland, and we had the chance for a day in Helsinki… well, maybe partial day as we caught the 9:50am bus from Kotka, and arrived shortly before noon… but a “day” nonetheless. Though quick, we were able to catch a lot of sights in our short time!
The only other foreign city I had visited before this was Reykjavík, Iceland, and my week in Finland did teach me that Iceland and Finland are very different from each other. My first impression of Helsinki was that it was very “city-like” (and it didn’t help that one of the first things I saw was a guy just peeing on the street corner with no shame). I’m not exactly a person that enjoys cities, and opt for more nature-oriented travel, but nonetheless I enjoyed seeing a different kind of European city and exploring what it had to offer. I had researched a few things, but honestly I didn’t have any sort of itinerary or plan for our day in Helsinki (also polar opposite to my approach with Reykjavík).
Upon arriving at the bus station, we exited and found the train station, which has luggage lockers where we stashed our backpacks after struggling for eons with the change machine. The information desk at the train station is very helpful, and the woman helped us figure out the public transportation and recommended Suomenlinna to us, and good walking routes on the island. Definitely worth a stop if you are unsure of anything!
The next needed thing was food, so we set out, eventually ending up at the Vanha Kauppahalli, or Old Market Hall. This 1800s building is filled with different food vendors, and you can get everything from reindeer meat to salads to seafood to ice cream to sweets. We settled on Story, which is a “nordic” cafe (whatever that means). I braved a hamburger, emphasizing I wanted it really well done (see my Iceland blogs for my feelings on the undercooked hamburger found in Europe and resulting food poisoning…) and Kubo selected the stroganoff. Both meals were delicious, and my hamburger was fully cooked to my liking (and to my relief).
Bellies full, we poked around Market Square at the various souvenir shops, purchasing some postcards to send home later the day, and chatting with a metal artist who immigrated from Egypt. The ferry to Suomenlinna also leaves from this area, and we only had a wait a couple of minutes to catch it.
Suomenlinna is a 18th century fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction started in 1748 by Sweden, and never fully completed as planned. In 1808 the fortress was surrendered to Russia. After the Russian Revolution and Finland’s independence, Suomenlinna was taken over by Finland in 1918. Not only are there museums, restaurants, and history abound, about 800 people live on Suomenlinna as well.
Following the suggestion from the information center, we followed the “Blue Route,” which has all the main sights and is the major north-south route. It is about 1.5km one way from Jetty Barracks near the ferry drop-off to King’s Gate. We had lovely sunny weather, though a bit chilly, but perfect for walking and exploring.
After arriving back we stopped at the cafe at the Allas Sea Pool for some quick snacks and coffee. Then it was on to the Uspenski Cathedral, the Orthodox church. We narrowly beat a tour bus there, so was able to get a couple of photos before a hoard of people approached. Sadly it was closed, so we were not able to see insane. I had visited some Russian Orthodox churches in New Jersey, and loved the ornate interiors, so it was disappointing to miss out on the inside of Uspenski.
Then it was onto the Helsinki Cathedral, which honestly looks more like a government-type of building than a church. This Lutheran church was built between 1830-1852, and is one of the main attractions in Helsinki. The stairs leading up to it are steeeeeeeeeppppp!
The next must-do for me was getting to the Posti, or post office, to mail some postcards and buy some stamps! I collect postage stamps, so I always love seeing foreign stamps and their designs. I’d end up buying a first day cover and souvenir bag about Santa Claus and the Arctic Circle, and we dropped some postcards in the mail to the U.S.
Kubo was pretty insistent on finding the “rock church,” or Temppeliaukio Church, which is literally a church built into solid rock. I must admit my feet were KILLING me, and I whined quite a bit, but I kept on walking along trying to feed off of Kubo’s energy. Naturally… it was closed. But we got to see the outside!
So.. dinner choice was… McDonald’s. Ha, travel halfway across the world to eat what I can eat every day, I know! But I always wanted to eat at a foreign McDonald’s as people talk about the different menu items and how it tastes better. Yes, indeed, there were menu items not found in the U.S., but the food tastes exactly the same. Kind of disappointing, but still a fun experience. Across the street a Taco Bell was slated to open the next day, which I laughed about, as I’d love to try out a Taco Bell elsewhere and see if they actually use 100% beef. Or a Subway, just because you can find one of those in every little corner of the world it seems!
After eating dinner, we checked out a few things on the way back to the train station.
By now we were losing daylight, so we set out for the train station, collecting our backpacks from the locker and finding the train to take us to the airport, where we would be staying at the Hilton.
It was short and sweet, but a perfect taste of Helsinki. The biggest disappointment was the cat cafe not being open on Mondays (seriously devastating to me as I only saw one single cat my entire time in Finland, severely derailing my dream of meeting a Finnish cat and petting it!), and getting to the cathedrals and churches after-hours and not being able to see the interiors.
Kubo and I did spend an entire week in Finland, but were based in Kotka, where we stayed with our friend Mika and his family. It definitely was not a very tourist-y style trip, though I will make a post about Kotka soon, as that corner of Finland has some fun things to offer! We also had 6-7 hour layovers in London each way, and I will be following with a blog about our adventures then, too.