Falling in Love with Helsinki, Finland

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Have you ever visited a new destination and felt instantly at home, as if you could move there tomorrow and your life would fit in seamlessly? I’ve traveled through over 40 countries, but only felt that sort of serious connection to a handful of places, including RigaDublin, Budapest, Paris, and New York. Another city I’d be happy to move to is Helsinki, Finland. It’s quiet, unassuming, and a little quirky – like me! I only spent a weekend in Helsinki, but it left an imprint on my heart. Here’s how I made the most of my short time there, and why I’m so eager to return.

Helsinki Finland

Helsinki is a shopper’s paradise, with boutiques and designer stores at every turn. Famous names like marimekko and iittala might be the big draw, but Helsinki’s Design District boasts more than 200 venues where one can peruse the latest in fashion, jewelry, and home decor. I loved being surrounded by that level of creativity, even if I could only afford to window shop!

Helsinki iittala store

marimekko helsinki store

Vibrant marimekko fabric for sale at the brand’s flagship store in Helsinki.

Helsinki Design District

The distinctive Finnish aesthetic can be further appreciated at the Design Museum. The ground floor takes visitors on a walk down memory lane through showrooms filled with innovations by decade. Upstairs, it’s all about fashion. It’s really a shame some of the styles never caught on!

Helsinki Design Museum

During the warm summer months, artisans and farmers sell their wares in Market Square next to the harbor. This is a great place to pick up affordable souvenirs, seasonal produce, and fresh fish. Nearby in the Old Market Hall, you can find all manner of Finnish delicacies. My friends and I put together a picnic of cured reindeer meat, crusty rye bread, sea buckthorn jam, and cold pear cider.

Helsinki harbor market

Helsinki harbor market fresh fish

Old Market Hall Helsinki

We enjoyed our picnic on Suomenlinna, a UNESCO-listed island fortress not far from the city. Built by Sweden in the 1750s to protect against Russian expansion, the fortification changed hands several times over the centuries, as did Finland itself. No longer used for military purposes, Suomenlinna – which means “Castle of Finland” – is a grass-covered haven for tourists and locals alike. To get there, hop aboard the ferry which departs from Market Square harbor. Tickets cost €5 and are good for 12 hours.

Suomenlinna Island Fortress

Helsinki Suomenlinna Fortress

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Interestingly, around 800 people live on Suomenlinna year round.

Helsinki’s Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral is a striking visual reminder of the century Finland spent within the Russian Empire. The redbrick church topped with golden onion domes is perched on a hillside above the city where it captures the morning light.

Helsinki Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral

Helsinki Orthodox Church

It’s possible to visit Helsinki as a day-trip from Tallinn, Estonia, but I don’t recommend it. Helsinki deserves much more than a single day (as does Tallinn)! Plus, where else can you spend the night in jail and not have it show up as an offense on your permanent record? Hotel Katajanokka is located in a historic building that was used as a prison until 2002. Although tastefully updated into a modern boutique hotel, many of the prison’s interior features have been left intact. It was definitely one of my more memorable hotel stays!

Helsinki prison hotel

As ever, I ate well during my time in Helsinki. The Sea Horse restaurant has been serving up traditional Baltic fare since 1934. I feasted on pickled herring, Finnish meatballs, and pancakes sweetened with homemade strawberry jam in the homey bistro setting. At the other end of the dining spectrum, Restaurant Kuu puts a modern spin on those classic flavors. Reindeer steak is updated with barley risotto and a port wine reduction; the humble salmon is elevated with a delicately herbaceous broth. I regret not sampling one of Kuu’s innovative desserts, but I was saving room for salmiakki, or salty licorice, ice cream and all the Fazer chocolates.

Helsinki Sea Horse Restaurant

Helsinki Restaurant Kuu

Finnish Salmiakki Ice Cream

I think part of the reason I felt such a connection to Helsinki is that it reminded me of my beloved Riga, particularly the architecture. I had a constant crick in my neck from looking up at the unusually-shaped buildings decorated with unexpected details. Pear cider in a leafy park helped me recuperate.

Helsinki 25

Helsinki train station

Helsinki architecture

Helsinki in summer

Like Riga, Helsinki comes alive during the summer months.

Tell me: how would YOU spend 48 hours in Helsinki?

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48 Hours in Helsinki, Finland

10 thoughts on “Falling in Love with Helsinki, Finland

  1. Great blog as usual. Glad you got to go back and spend more time exploring. Our first trip was rather quick although we did see quite a lot. Loved both the cathedrals. They were so beautiful.

  2. Looks like you had a splendid weekend there! Ahh, Marimekko….while some of the prints are too much for me, some are just fabulous. My mom still owns Marimekko sheets for twin beds she bought for my sister and me when I was all of 2 years old!

    • How fun that your mom still has those sheets! I really wanted some throw pillows but they weren’t exactly practical with my lifestyle. I settled on some socks instead 🙂

    • Thanks, Victoria! My first visit to Helsinki was actually in December and I went over for the day from Tallinn. Considering I only had about four hours of daylight in which to explore, it was more of a tease than anything! 🙂

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