What the Helsinki? Two Days in Finland’s Capital
To be completely honest, I’m not 100% sure how and why I ended up in Finland this past summer. It was never a place that I had planned on visiting; not that I was opposed to the idea, I just had no idea what the country had to offer besides funny words. The best way to travel from Tallin to Helsinki is by the ferry we took and when I say ferry, I am being incredibly modest. This boat was like a freaking Disney Cruise, if you replace the Mickey mascots with Finnish folk singers and ice cream cones with beer. After the three hour trip, I wasn’t even convinced we needed to visit Finland. This boat was my new home. Alas, the crew did not agree with my new lifestyle choice and I was hurried off the ferry with the throngs of tourists.
So we get off the boat and here I am in Finland. Hungover, covered in heat rash, and feeling pretty kuin perseeseen ammuttu karhu. This is a Finnish term for grumpy. Direct translation= like a bear shot in the ass. About ten steps out of the harbour, I saw the first sight that would intrigue me about this city: this glorious piece of art (WARNING: EXPLICIT AND HILARIOUS).
I knew that if this was the first thing the city presented to it’s visitors, we would get along just fine. Of course, I was right (humble as always). While Helsinki isn’t the typical European tourist destination packed with castles and old town squares, it has a really unique and young energy that drew me in immediately. So if you randomly find yourself in Helsinki with no game plan, here’s how to spend your time and leave feeling happier than a joulupukki (Christmas goat).
Day 1: Explore the Streets
I know, so original right? Getting lost in the streets and finding hidden gems? Although this is usually a pretty foolproof plan in any city, I really feel like this is the key to enjoying Helsinki. The city is filled with upscale shopping, contemporary architecture and a smorgasbord of different museums. I can’t tell you what you should do with your limited time, because there really is something for everyone! As a certified tightwad I personally preferred to spend my time exploring the area around the Central Train Station, which was filled with funky little parks and outdoor cafes. It’s so easy to spend a day here by just finding a comfy spot and people-watching, especially because everyone who lives here is obscenely and unfairly good looking (think an entire race of Thor’s).
By lunch time you should be ready to hit the harbour market, which is full of food trucks serving up authentic Finnish snacks. After filling your gut, check out the artisan stalls in the market for the best (and cheapest) souvenirs in town. If you’re feeling extra-touristy, hop on the giant ferris wheel for a bird’s-eye view of the city and incoming cruise ships.
On top of being stupid-hot, Finnish people are also incredibly friendly and funny. I would just like to point out that this is incredibly unfair to the rest of us normals. Pick ONE good quality and stick with it, or the rest of us just look second-banana. Anyways, these friendly Fins were more than happy to point us in the direction of some of their favourite eats. We heard amazing things about Skiffer Erottaja for pizza, but the place was constantly packed. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we found our new favourite hangout, Cafe Bar No. 9. If I had to describe my life in five words, it would be family, pasta, love, travel, pasta. This place took me to fettuccine heaven and sent me back to earth just so I could ask to have the rest packed up to go. We ate here for both nights of our stay and had zero regrets. If you hate your body but love tasty noms, try the Pablo or Pollo Limonello.
Day 2: Suomenlinna Island
If you’ve made it this far, that means that you woke up from your carb-induced coma in time to hit the road. The fortress Suomenlinna is not exactly off the beaten trail, but that’s usually for a reason. The ferry to the island leaves every twenty minutes from the harbour market and once you reach the dock, the day is yours to explore. Just by wandering around you’ll stumble upon old cannons and restored navy ships, but if you want a more in-depth look at the island’s history there are guides for hire who will take you around the island and school you.
Most people burn through the island in a quick two hours and return to the city for more sightseeing, but I thought that the island was one of the most relaxing stops on my entire trip. As soon as you sneak away from the crowds and head for shore there are several stretches of beach where you can crack open a beer, dangle your feet in the Baltic and soak up some much-missed vitamin D. It was the perfect final impression of Finland and a great way to pre-heat before our flight to Iceland.
Finland is expensive, it’s out of the way of most tourist trails, and it may be lacking in the typical tourist draws that lure in backpackers like myself. That being said, I actually had a really enjoyable stay in Helsinki thanks to the lively university town vibe, friendly hottie locals and abundance of summer sun. I might not ever have the chance to go back but I’m definitely glad that random happenstance brought me there in the first place.