Helsinki, baby! The Finnish capital is every bit of cool you’d imagine. But there’s no pretence, no wannabe hipster try-vibe. Helsinki is a design haven: galleries, museums, and inspiration everywhere. It’s hard to fit it all in. This place is legitimately cool. And the people are so friendly & genuine. Even after I almost to set fire to a bar…
When did we go
Saturday 11th until Tuesday 14th February, 4 nights and two-ish days – we got a 7am flight on our last ‘day’. We arrived at 10pm via ferry from Tallinn. The ferry took around 2.5 hrs and was a great way to arrive into the capital city.
Temperatures were just below zero averaging between -3 and -5. The water was frozen (and epic) and snow was still on the sides but footpaths and roads were cleared and had been free from snow for some time – they were just waiting for the big thaw to set in!
Where we stayed
We deliberated for a while, there were arty hotels and then there was the ex-prison one but we found Glo after looking into Airport hotels. We’d booked a fight to our next destination early doors so it made sense to stay closer to the airport the night before. Funnily enough, we didn’t stay at that airport hotel. We opted for a Holiday Inn. After our experience at Glo we were SOOOO sad to be getting a shuttle bus to a Holiday Inn when it came to it…but I digress.
They have a number of branches in Helsinki but as it was close to the port we went for the Glo Hotel Kluuvi. We had no idea where we were when we arrived – this hotel couldn’t have been more central. It was excellent.
We checked in late but there had been a bit of a mix up. They didn’t have the room we booked. The very apologetic concierge said he did have another room for us and gave us free drinks.
The room was a twin, we have no idea what type of room it was but it was undoubtedly better that what we’d booked. It was huge, luxurious and had a proper bath! We went back down to the bar – had two large glasses of wine and felt as though we were more important than we were!
The staff were so helpful too: there was our quest for Semlor, followed by our endless questions about the zoo, logistics and new bits of Helsinki. And the missing memory card incident. What superstars.
Oh and let’s not forget about brekkie. They had a super healthy/wholesome selection and we even tried karjalanpiirakka all included in the price of a room. I also wanted to steal their bowls.
We’d stay here again – 100%.
What we did
We invested in a Helsinki Card. Predominantly because we were very tired of walking. Apart from our coaches between cities we’d been on our feet ever since we started our winter holiday. In hindsight, Helsinki is easily the most compact city we’ve ever been to. But there are other perks of the card – so we got our culture on!
At first thought, Helsinki might be lacking in the landmark dept. There are some truly fascinating places to see but excuse us for ignorantly not being able to name any! Well, that was before. Architecturally, both past and present, Helsinki has some superb structures.
Our first stop was at the Rock Church just north of the city but walking distance from Kamppi. Temppeliaukio Church is built directly into the rock – from the outside it looks like a slightly out of place mound in the middle of a street – but as you near you realise your entering into something magical. Inside the ceiling is overwhelming in the space. The copper tones shimmer in the roof lights and changes throughout your time there. It’s a must see.
Helsinki not to be defined by one awe inspiring church also have the Church of Silence. A rather out of place structure in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Kamppi. An enormous train and bus depot next to a construction site and a busy crossing and there’s a wooden structure plonked right there inviting you for a moment of escape.
Of course, Helsinki Cathedral, is equally impressive. The rocky-esque steps will have you out of breath but the view over the top of the buildings and toward the water is worthwhile. We ventured up there in the twilight as the sun was dipping below the buildings and we caught its last hurrah as it sunk into the horizon.
a href=”http://www.suomenlinna.fi/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>Suomenlinna Island is a UNESCO heritage site. A 20 minute ferry crossing south-east of the city, the group of islands linked by bridges are beautifully preserved. From brightly coloured buildings to wild grasses and hills. There is something lurking under those hills though as it was once a fortress!
Galleries & Everything Else
First up: Kiasma! We’re always in awe of purpose built galleries and sometimes that is to the detriment to the art work displayed within them. But the exhibitions held their own. A rather provoking and weepy wander around Meeri Koutaniemi & Arman Alizad “After the Turmoil” really put perspective on life. Followed by the work of Mona Hatoum in her first solo exhibition in Finland.
HAM has taken over an old Olympic venue in the city. The gallery, based on the second floor of this complex, offers lots of design led touches which really make you want to engage in the space. At the time of visit they had an exhibition of the early work of Tove Jansson and we saw one of the very first Moomins.
Amos Anderson Art Museum is set across many floors of the namesake’s home – converted to a museum after his death in 1961. It’s due to expand over to Kamppi, with building works well underway, but the charming museum on Yrjönkatu is worth a look!
Our favourite of the lot however is, Designmuseo. We had a wonderful time appreciating Finnish design of the century, lol-ing in sphere chairs and snapping away at huge textile installations – not to mention the insatiable scent of cinnamon buns that wafted throughout the museum.
Helsinki Zoo is on its own island accessible by its very own bus service. It is unique (well at least to us) for its north native animals and its stunning views over the sea. We thoroughly enjoyed our morning there.
Where we ate
But first, coffee! We googled best coffee in Helsinki and the resounding top result was Johan & Nyström. With their bare brick walls and menu projected on the wall – we were pretty sure this could be an underwhelming option. It was almost impossible to get a seat. Although we lucked out as we nabbed the last table and a puppy was sat by the next table. We enjoyed good flat whites & gooey gluten free brownie.
Helsinki is covered in coffee shops, from the entrance to our hotel we could see at least 3 and heading down Aleksanterinkatu we passed so many great looking places. You won’t be short of options!
Opposite the hotel is Karl Fazer. We’d been lulled across the way by the promise of Semlor (seriously, whyy we so obsessed!) we ordered enormous hot chocolates too! We’d 100% recommend dropping into one of these on your trip – it’s an institution!
Bryggeri is a great little brewery in the centre of the City. Via a back entrance and across a courtyard we were first introduced to its enormous cylinders encased in glazing. Stout for Dan, IPA for Anders (you know the drill by now) and we shared some bar snacks – a pretzel & cheese dish and fries. Then I set fire to the place, not metaphorically speaking, actual “S**T, S**T the place is on fire” fire. It’s okay, I totally contained it but can’t shake that fire starter tag.
Our last recommendation is FAFAs. A fast food chain restaurant specialising in Falafel. It’s good. Cheap, cheerful and the haloumi & falafel wrap and sweet pot fries were great!
Places we wish we went to
THE MOOMIN CAFE. I just really, really wanted to go, but it wasn’t really in the right direction anytime we thought to go.
Would we go back?
Yes, we now long to see it in the summer. We won’t stop at anything to be sat dock side, sipping a beer enjoying the sun (and having bought even more Moomin paraphanelia <3)
Good to know before you go?
- It’s quite a dense city centre. That’s not to say it’s small but we found a lot of the good stuff was really on-top of each other. We managed to round off most of the museums, churches and centre in a morning. A really great place to explore on foot.
- Shopping is next level. We were staying in the shopping district but we could drop a small fortune within a few hundred metre radius (just on glasses!). Look up Torikorttelit too!
- Like many Nordic countries – it’s not cheap. But for comparisons sake we don’t think the UK is particularly cheap – so for a city, a capital even, we’d say it was on par and maybe even cheaper than London.
- We say this about a lot places we know – but every single person we came into contact with was lovely and spoke perfect English, honestly! Such a happy, friendly city!
Andrea & Dan x