One of my business trips this year brought me to Helsinki. It was my first time in Finland, and I really regretted that I didn’t go when my sister was there for her exchange semester during uni. What a lovely place!
So while I cannot claim to be an expert on Helsinki or Finland, I did enjoy my trip so much, I certainly recommend to consider it for your next weekend trip. For some reason, the city does not seem to be one of the typical getaway locations which is clearly a mistake, so I want to increase awareness about how awesome a trip to Finland can be. I went there in mid-June which is when the mild summer starts (for an extensive guide on Finish weather, see here) and stayed for about 3 and half days including one day of business meetings. If you go, take 3 full days, especially if you want to include a trip to a national park, which you should definitely do! Here is a list of 5 things to do that make it worth your while spending a long weekend in Helsinki:
- Discover the city centre
Probably the most famous sight in Helsinki is its White Cathedral, Tuomiokirkko (The Lutheran Cathedral) designed by German architect Carl Ludvig Engel, which is built on a stone hill in the historical quarters of Helsinki and overtops most building so it appears to be reigning over the city, despite not being really that tall itself. Another popular church is Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) with natural rock walls, which interestingly is also a popular venue for concerts (Lutherinkatu 3).
Right next to the White Church, the Tori Quarters begin. The buildings which used to house administrators’ offices are now filled with craft shops, cute cafés and restaurants. You can walk all the way to the Market Square and then turn right for a stroll on Pohjoisesplanadi, where you will find more cafés, restaurants and Shops of big brands, or take a break and relax in the nearby Esplanade Park.
One of the most impressive modern buildings in the city centre is certainly the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (Mannerheiminaukio 2), in front of which you will find lots of young people hanging out in the adjacent park area. Another exceptional piece of art is the Sibelius Monument by the Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen. The statue made of more than 600 wedged stell pipes is dedicated to the famous Finish composer Jean Sibelius (Sibelius Park).
But more than any of the architectural highlights, it is the city’s many parks and proximity to the sea that really stand out and make Helsinki a truly great place to be.
2. Excursion to the sea: Visit of Suomenlinna Island
Take a boat ride along the coast and its many small islands and visit Suomenlinna Island, the “fortress of Finland“. The fortress which was constructed in the 1700s is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one ofthe most popular attractions in Finland. Apart from history and stunning views, the island offers restaurants, museums and events such as the Viapoir Jazz Festival.
How to get there: Ferries to Suomenlinna depart from the passenger quay at Helsinki’s Kauppatori Market Square. More about Suomenlinna can be found here.
3. Experience Finish nature: Trip to Nuuksio National Park
I guess it is true when they say you haven’t seen Finland if you haven’t seen its nature. Even if you are not a nature person like me, nothing will make you feel more relaxed then spending a day in one its national parks. In acceptable distance from Helsiniki city center, it should be a must on your travel iteniary.
Our day trip to Nuuksio National Park was one of the best travel experiences I ever had: we kicked our day off with some fresh Korvapuusti (cinnamon and cardamon buns) and brewing our own coffee outdoors. Then we went for a two-hour hike in the forrest, passing by a few of the hundreds of lakes there are in Finland. For lunch, we stopped at a cosy and well-equipped cabin where we were served delicious mushroom soup from fresh local mushrooms, followed by salmon which our guide prepared for us on the grill in the cabin while we were sipping ginger ale and Finish beer on fur-covered wooden benches and were happy as you can be. After lunch we made our way down to the saunas located in convenient proximity to a foodbridge of a lake. With perfect sunny weather, switching between sauna sessions, swimming in the lake and sunbathing on the foodbridge, no one of our group wanted to leave that place again. Our minds were completely off – everyday troubles forgotten, just pure, good life. A day I will certainly never forget.
4. Shopping: Discover Finish Design
Back to city life! Not only the Swedes and the Danish are exceptionally creative, so are the Finish. You will be amazed by the large number of design shops all over the city – be it clothes, accessories or tableware. I am sure you have at least seen the famous Marimeko prints. If only for a souvenir, pay the Marimeko Flagship Store a visit (Pohjoisesplanadi 33). Another superfamous Finish design brand is Ittala; they specialise in tableware and home interior and you will find it in the department stores (for example in Stockmann) or in their shop on the Esplanade(Pohjoisesplanadi 25). If you have time, take a walk around the Design District (all shops listed here).
While you are at it and because it is just around the corner located in the South Harbour at the very beginning of the Esplanade Park, stop at the Kauppatori (Market Square) for the market (opening hours Mon-Sat 8-16, during summer season also Sundays 10-17). You can take the chance and grab some lunch there (traditional Finish food, lots of fish) and it is also a great opportunity to buy reindeer fur directly from the producer at a bargain price or related handicrafts and other souvenirs .
5. Last but not least…
As always, try typical local food. I don’t think I have eaten that much salmon in my life before, but once you have eaten salmon in Finland, you know the real deal and you just cannot get enough of it. Also, relish the opportunity to taste reindeer meat. Finnish reindeer meat normally comes from small local herders in Lapland, where reindeer husbandry is common.
Enjoy Finland! ❤ Kate