I have wanted to visit Helsinki for a while and was initially planning to check it out when on my Scandi trip but due to time couldn’t. As soon as some cheap flights appeared on Finnair I persuaded my friend Lizzy to head there with me for a weekend getaway. We booked a cheerful airbnb and things were set. Finland and Helsinki are very good to travellers like us as everyone speaks English and everything is signed and easy to navigate. From the few days we were there I fell in love with the people, the general atmosphere of the place and also the calmness.
For the start of our trip we walked through the city to possibly the most iconic building on the Helsinki skyline – the Helsinki Cathedral. There are a bunch of churches and cathedrals in the city but this one is the pinnacle of keychains and magnets. It is at the centre of Senate Square, a popular meeting point for residents to host rallies, get togethers and generally hang out. The cathedral is in a neoclassical style and the choice of white and green makes it a really stand out building, you can spot the green dome from miles away. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside but just seeing how grand it looked was enough. The surrounding streets have a few cafes but are mainly office and residential based. There is another cathedral around the corner called Uspenski that shows the impact of Russia in Finland. The red brick and golden roof is very different to what you’d consider regular Finnish design.
One of the best places to grab souvenirs, groceries and lunch treats is Market Square. The name is very original, would you believe a market happens here? Come and check out the different stalls from hats with the Finnish flag on to magnets with the Finnish flag on. There’s also a selection of grocery stalls to grab your lingonberries and reindeer meat. We arrived as the stalls were setting up but if you aim for midday I’m sure things are more alive and kicking.
From Market Square you can get a ferry to Suomenlinna that takes about fifteen minutes. It’s a series of inhabited islands that used to be a fortress but still with some of the old remains including tunnels and cannons. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon exploring, picnicing and soaking – in fresh air or the water. I really loved the terrain of the edges with the rock pools, I got big Cornwall flashbacks. We saw people jogging, playing football and even drinking on the different grassy hills. Of course you can also check out the different buildings on the fortress from the church (that doubled up as a lighthouse) and the dry dock. If you read my post on the Boston Islands, it’s definitely a similar vibe here.
For a city status, Helsinki feels like a charming village. There aren’t any real skyscrapers or influx of people in suits. It is quite small but that’s what I find most appealing. The locals seemed to know one another and they were happy going about their day to day.