This week, I traveled to the capital of Finland, one of Norway’s fellow Nordic countries. I flew into Helsinki-Vantaa Airport on Tuesday evening, the main international airport serving Helsinki, and took bus 615 to Järnvägstorget, the Railway Square. From there, I walked to Kauppatori, the Market Square, where I caught the ferry to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a history that dates back to the 18th century. I checked into Hostel Suomenlinna, planned my activities for the next three days, and got some much needed sleep before the adventures began. My Helsinki kindly provided me with a Helsinki Card during my stay and I started exploring Finland’s capital the following day.
In the morning, I took the ferry from Suomenlinna to Kauppatori and walked to Vanha Kauppahalli, the Old Market Hall, for my first taste of Finnish coffee. I ordered from Robert’s Coffee, a family-run Finnish coffee shop, and immediately understood why Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers. With a delicious cup of coffee in hand, I made my way to the Senate Square for a two-hour free walking tour. There’s really no better way to learn about a new city than from a local, and it was an added bonus that our guide Sara was a history major at the University of Helsinki.
The tour started at the Helsinki Cathedral and ended at the Uspenski Cathedral, showing the city’s Art Nouveau buildings, Neoclassical architecture, and the influence of modernism and functionalism throughout. Sara walked us through the country’s unique history, from being ruled by the Swedes and then by the Russians, to Finland gaining its independence in 1917. As the city center came to life with stories of war and politics, I saw why Helsinki is known as a major city of architecture. When the tour concluded, I warmed up with another cup of coffee at Johan & Nyström and then set out to explore the local design scene.
In the heart of the city, Helsinki’s Design District combines Finnish tradition with modern culture. I browsed the trendy boutiques and one-of-a-kind coffee shops, finding the cutest stationary in Papershop and a coffee counter in Plootu, a two-in-one furniture store and cafe. From one street to the next, I stumbled upon everything from artwork and antiques to second-hand clothing and accessories. As the daylight dwindled, I returned to the Market Square and grabbed some dinner before catching the evening ferry back to Suomenlinna.
Having spent the previous day exploring downtown Helsinki, it was time to discover the maritime and military history that lies within Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. Spread across six islands, the winds from the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland made for a chilly morning, but it was totally worth it. The King’s Gate, restored vessel, lighthouse, and many cannons are all beautifully located in close proximity to the sea and tell the story of the three historic eras: the Swedish era, the Russian era, and the era of Independence. When I could no longer feel my fingers and toes, I stepped into the Suomenlinna Museum and read up on the history from the 18th century to present day.
Once I was ready to brave the cold again, I made a dash for the ferry, only to find it had started snowing while I was inside. I bundled up as best I could and continued towards Temppeliaukio Church, a 1960s church excavated into a rock and a popular tourist attraction. After exploring the Rock Church, I hopped on the tram to embark on an afternoon of museum hopping, but not before I took a break to stop and smell the roses, literally. Andante is both a coffee shop and a flower shop, with plants hanging from the ceiling to create a refreshing space with a serene atmosphere. I drank a cup of coffee and ate a cinnamon bun while I mapped out the museums I wanted to explore.
The first stop on the museum tour was the Design Museum, Designmuseo, internationally recognized for its collection of both Finnish and foreign design. Next up was the Helsinki Art Museum, HAM, which showcases modern and contemporary art within the walls of the museum as well as on public display around the city. Then I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma, which was by far my favorite, combining art with technology to create a complete sensory experience. The final museum of the day was the National Museum of Finland, Kansallismuseo, which is home to over 10,000 years of Finland’s history. By the end, I was absolutely exhausted and spent the evening working at a cafe until it was time to return to the hostel to sleep.
On my third and final day in Helsinki, I checked out of Hostel Suomenlinna and took one more walk around the islands while I waited for the ferry. Once I was back across the water, I sat down at a cafe called Story in the Old Market Hall and began sorting through my photos from the trip. Drinking one cup of coffee after the other, thanks to the unlimited refills, I reflected on my first official adventure as a solo traveler. As my stomach filled with coffee and my heart filled with memories, I knew that this is exactly what I want to be doing and I couldn’t help but smile.
With a couple hours left until I had to head to the airport, I walked to the Ateneum Art Museum, Finland’s most known art museum for its popular exhibitions of both Finnish and international art. Wandering the halls of the Ateneum, I took in the cultural heritage of Finland one last time before crossing the street to the Central Railway Station. I got on train I towards the airport and just like that, I was on my way back to Oslo. I had such an amazing trip to Helsinki and while it may have been my first trip to Finland, it most certainly won’t be my last.
A special thank you to My Helsinki for hosting me in Finland’s capital. As always, all opinions are my own.