A Serendipitous trip to Helsinki

While flying back from Moscow a few years ago, our plane encountered engine difficulties and the pilot decided to land in Helsinki. Once we arrived, we were told another plane would be arriving late that evening. Well, we decided that rather than waste half a day waiting at the airport, we would turn it into a four day holiday- the airline of course ensured us that we would not have to pay on our way out.

It was the end of April and I had always thought of Helsinki as a frigid city with icy roads, tons of snow and old buildings from the days of the Vikings- how wrong did I turn out to be. Helsinki turned out to be one of the finest cities on this planet and no wonder it was designated as a World Design Capital in 2012.
It was nearly evening the time when we arrived at the airport and the thing that caught my attention was the friendliness of the people, who by the way also spoke English. And once we took a taxi to go downtown, I was impressed with the Nordic architecture. And yes, it was a nice spring day and I did not see any snow and this was a start to my memorable trip to Helsinki.
The next morning the hotel offered us a brochure called “Helsinki on foot” or you can select from several of the walking tours of the city. The city is composed of a mixture of Northern European and Russian architecture.  Helsinki is one of the rare cities in Europe which one can get around on foot or bike. So do not waste your money on cabs. But if you get tired, Helsinki has an excellent public transport system.
The walking tours take you to Market Square, Art Nouveau houses, along the water and through the seafront market. We skipped the walking tour and decided to explore the city on our own. The first stop was the enchanting, enamored churches- the Uspenski Cathedral with its red bricks and the Temppeliaukio church with its saucer- shaped design. Yes I was hooked on the architecture. Along the way we saw the Eliel Saarinen designed train station with four huge granite stones.  For the best view of the city, we went to Observatory Hill.

In the evening we went to the Helsinki Music Centre to listen to a visiting orchestra and all I can say that we were in heaven- magnificent.
On Sunday, it appeared that all the people in Helsinki were out by the pier- boating, biking and walking. And if you bike, fear not, the city does provide free bicycles for a small deposit at many stands. The same day we spent at the Culture Factory, where you get to hear the local music and enjoy a cool beer. The outdoor Market Square near the harbour sells sporty goods and there are make shift outdoor cafes all over the place.
The third day we spent at Pihjalasaari, which is a small recreational island where we had a great picnic and enjoyed great scenery. The only museum we went to was Ateneum which was highly recommended. We were not disappointed. A visually stunning building with classic and contemporary  art exhibitions from both Finnish and European history.
Luckily we were there on May 1 and got to celebrate Vappu- it is like “Disney at Night” but with even more excitement and lots of beer/foods.
Prior to departure the one souvenir we bought was Finnish made at Design District. Here there are many specialty stores where you can buy almost any type of garment or shoe- all designer made (and slightly on the expensive side).

What surprised me the most was the excellent Finnish cuisine. We ate at many cafeterias and restaurants – and almost all had  a flair of Nordic roots etched into the recipes and the utensils- the food by the way was awesome. The typical Finnish dish consists of sea food, variety of bread, meat (reindeer), sausages, many types of cheese and dairy products. Finnish people also love to eat desserts and there were many types of cheesecakes to taste. Average cost for two people ranged from $60- $100 for dinner. Finally no matter where you go, Finns love their local beer (Karjala). Along the seaside and at many restaurants, we tried out the delicious fresh salmon that was served with another local beverage- Salmiakki.
There are plenty of great hotels in Helsinki. We stayed at the Hotel Grans Marina which was relatively cheap ($150/night). Located near the harbour it is most well known for its Art Nouveau exterior. Almost all hotels in Helsinki offer a buffet breakfast and a sauna.
This small cosmopolitan Nordic city is exotic, vibrant and alive and it shares its beauty very well with nature. Today most airlines fly directly to Helsinki from Europe and America. While not as well known as Paris or London. Helsinki does hold its own when it comes to cleanliness, friendliness and above all beautiful.
Article submitted by Clarette Kayley Ellery

Clarette Kayley Ellery: I’m a new travel blogger and my blog is not yet ready to be shared, a link will be updated in the next couple of months once I’m ready to share my blog with you all.

For essential information on things to do and museums to visit during your time in Helsinki. Visit this site’s Finland page. All information is written from first hand experience to give you a truly terrific trip in Finland.