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Back by popular demand – another CliffsNotes version showcasing our adventures in Europe – this time in Helsinki, Finland. Fair warning, this is a picture heavy post!
Gabe and I took a €10 Eckero line ferry from Tallinn, Estonia up to Helsinki, and loved every minute of the just over 2-hour journey. We didn’t expect much for that price, but the ferry had a nice lounge with live music, a casino, cafeteria with extensive buffet (get the Swedish meatballs), kids’ play area, beautiful views on deck (though it was freezing), and shopping areas. They accept credit cards on board so you don’t have to worry about currency, and they offer lockers you can rent for €4 to store your luggage if you don’t want to lug it all over the ship with you. Highly recommend this mode of transport if you’re wanting to see Estonia and/or Finland.
Once in Helsinki, we walked around the train station for a while, just because it was cool looking! We didn’t take the train there, but it was a well-organized station that was easy to navigate, in case you are thinking about utilizing that option.
After just finishing a wonderful experience at the Red Emperor Hostel in Tallinn, we were looking forward to trying out another highly rated hostel in Helsinki called Eurohostel. The good ratings are well-deserved – it was clean, had good wi-fi, a nice breakfast, was 50 feet from the tram stop and had a free morning sauna! The staff at the reception were very friendly and the hostel did not have a party vibe – it was quiet and felt more like a hotel. This was perfect for us, but don’t book a room here looking to make connections with other travelers, because the setup doesn’t really lend itself to that. Definitely start your day with the sauna if you can (and if nudity doesn’t bother you). It’s invigorating and a great way to warm up before you brave the chilly weather.
Trams are the easiest way to get around here. It cost €14 per person to get from the port to our hostel, but the other trams around the city were much cheaper. They rarely seemed to validate our tickets, so they must trust that everyone will be honest and buy a ticket. Some of the trams got quite crowded during rush hour, but overall we enjoyed using them all over the city for places that were too far to walk. They run often and stay on schedule, so don’t waste money on a taxi.
Looking for something a little different? Head on over to the Sibelius Monument and learn a little history. Sibelius was a famous Finnish composer and the monument is meant to symbolize his music. It was in a neat park right by the water.
You’ll also enjoy the creative street art scattered throughout the city. We just happened upon these while out exploring!
Cafe Regatta wins the award for being the most fraught with tourists, but we still enjoyed going. It’s an adorable but tiny place to warm up with some fresh cinnamon buns and hot chocolate!
Fitness & Health
Don’t miss the traditional Finnish saunas. As I mentioned, they have the type you have probably seen before in most of the hotels and hostels, but there’s more! Since it stays light long into the evening (if you go in Spring) you’ll have plenty of time to visit an outdoor sauna like Loyly and maybe even take a polar plunge in the Baltic Sea! Get some swimming in between your stints detoxing in the saunas and you’ll get the blood flowing!
Bites & Brews
Ravintola Base Camp – Amazing Nepalese food – get the lamb momos (dumplings)!
Karl Fazer Cafe – The best chocolate cake of my life, along with many other sweets (they even had overnight oats with chia seeds)
Il Birrifico – Their Gose was on point. The Joker didn’t hurt either. Update as of September 2019: I just learned the sad news that this place is now closed!
Soma – There are only a few places in the US that I’ve found Sushi burritos, so I was completely geeking out to find them in Helsinki. This variety had purple potatoes and did not disappoint!
Off The Beaten Path
On our last night there, Gabe surprised me by taking me to a “secret bar” called Trillby & Chadwick. You need a password to get in, and once you do, no pictures are allowed. If you go, try the Red White Lie or the AM to PM (both were delicious cocktails). This was a former police station turned into a speakeasy and they like to maintain the mysterious atmosphere. Very fun evening spot!
If you need a peaceful respite in the midst of your exploring, visit Kampii Chapel
Take the Ferry to Suomenlinna Fortress. It is only 15 minutes from downtown Helsinki and about €5 per person. We spent a few hours just exploring and enjoying the scenery.
In Europe, our MO has been to visit the 5-star restaurants for lunch so they’re both less crowded and less expensive. That’s exactly what we did at Savotta. We tried a sampler plate that included things like reindeer mousse and bear meat. While it may not have been our favorite type of cuisine, it was still neat to try the traditional Finnish dishes there and the service was great.
The place I most enjoyed was the Tempeeliaukio Rock Church. Pictures don’t do it justice. We happened to visit during a choral practice, and it was glorious! I couldn’t understand any of the words, but enjoyed the superb music!
All too soon, it was time to leave Helsinki. I don’t usually have much to say about airports, but the one in Helsinki was actually enjoyable. It has a Book Swap where I left one I was done reading in exchange for the spy novel below. They also had plentiful options for healthy food and check in was completely automated from tag printing to bag drop. Efficiency makes me happy and it was nice to not have to remove shoes and breeze through security because they have plenty of lines. The only disconcerting part was that my Passport was not checked at any point before boarding so I really could have been anyone pretending to be me. Another random fact – throughout most of Europe, they no longer give you Passport stamps when you leave or arrive. This made me quite sad!
Of all the Scandinavian countries we visited, the people in Finland were definitely the most friendly, but still a little on the stoic side. I would definitely recommend at least 3-4 days there if you are able to swing it, just because there is so much to see and do. Helsinki definitely stole our hearts and we’d love to go back to spend more time there someday.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions below. Thanks for reading!