With the longest day of the year just around the corner, what better place to spend a long weekend, we thought, than right up north in Helsinki!
We flew into surprisingly warm weather, and it stayed that way almost the entire time, save for a small sun shower one afternoon – 25 degrees in Helsinki is almost unheard of in June! I was very happy to note upon arrival that our hotel (Hotel Cumulus) had decent curtains that blocked out a fair amount of the night-daylight. Though if you tend to be light-sensitive, I would recommend taking an eye mask anyway. The hotel was perfectly located, only a 5-10 minute walk to Market Square, right near a big supermarket and across the road from a daily market. The subway station was also right there, along with the bus stop to the airport.
Helsinki is a fantastic walk-around or bike-around city. Unfortunately, due to my current back issues, we had to forego the bike riding and instead racked up plenty of k’s trekking around on foot. Coming from land-locked Austria, it was lovely just being able to enjoy the salty air and beachside cafes and bars, as well as taking in the various churches, buildings and markets the city is famous for.
What’s that, you ask? Oh yes, Helsinki is expensive. But there are plenty of different options for eating and drinking, so you just need to work within your budget. We certainly weren’t going to forego a cocktail by the water, or a few ciders on tap at our local pub-cum-boat, but we also enjoyed several supermarket-purchased beers in the local park, just hanging out, people watching and enjoying the sun. For food we sourced a small lunch locally each day from one of the markets, and then wandered round until we happened upon something that tickled our fancy for dinner – we started our trip with Indian and ended it at an Aussie pub! Word of warning – if you’re eating picnic-style near the water – the seagulls are bold! We only learnt this important lesson after the last bite of my husband’s salmon sandwich was stolen right from his hands!
On the last day we headed off to the Fortress of Suomenlinna, which is built across six separate islands, its original purpose to defend the Kingdom of Sweden against the Russian Empire, and serve as a fortified army base. Like everyone on Trip Advisor says, even if you’re not a huge fan of checking out island fortresses, it’s free apart from the ferry (€5 return, if you can find the local ferry, or €7 tourist ferry), and the boat ride is a highlight in itself, especially for the views of the city on the way back. Take something for the wind, and once you’ve had enough walking, grab a beverage or snack at one of the many cafes or the small grocery store.
Just one last thing I have to mention about Helsinki – the public toilets – fully automated, self-cleaning, free public toilets. Although there were definitely good and bad ones, on the whole, they were pretty damn good! Once you got the hang of it, managed to press the right buttons in the right order, and actually locked the door, they led to many successful and necessary toilet breaks!
Finland is a huge country, and visiting Helsinki means I’ve only touched a very small part of what must be a fabulous land to tour. I’d love to see more, and though I am curious about how dark it must be in winter, I think I’d rather stick to the lighter months!