In Holidays, Travel & Adventure

Helsinki Postcard

Ice white air, a myriad of small islands, and pockets of sunlight shafting through rain clouds, which made the sea glitter like silver in the distance, heralded our approach to Helsinki on 30th June 2016.

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So many islands

The islands ranged from tiny solitary granite outcrops to larger stretches of land with small beaches and rows of beach huts. On one small island there was only a small hut and a solitary tree, others were just like floating rocks.

Flocks of sea gulls followed the ship like a vanguard escort, and we saw a flotilla of sailing dinghy with blue orange and pink sails near the harbour.

Land of the midnight sun

We’d been awake for quite a while as this part of the world, tucked between Sweden and Russia, has almost 20 hours of daylight in summer time, and light had been peaking into our cabin since early bells.

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Fresh fruit at the market, so colourful on a grey day.

The Best of Helsinki

Late morning we set off on a Princess shore excursion; a coach tour to discover the best of Helsinki, with talkative Fia as our guide – a wealth of information – sometimes too much information, and I struggled to take it all in but she provided snapshot of Helsinki which helped us get the impression of a modern cosmopolitan city with fascinating history to discover.

Temppeliaukio (Rock Church)

First to the Rock Church, a one of a kind Lutheran church, amazingly built into solid granite rock.

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A hole was blasted into the granite in the middle of the city to create this beautiful church, which has rough stone interiors. Natural light pours in from the church’s glazed dome and the acoustics are incredible.

Pearl of the Baltic Sea

On the way to the church we passed many Art Deco buildings, Neo-Classical buildings, Empire-style brick buildings, and what Fia termed ‘functional architecture’ which all  jostled for space in this modern Nordic city with its trams and iconic landmarks such as Senate Square over which the massive Helsinki Cathedral (below) looms.

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Senate Square

“This square is the centre for arts,culture, religion, politics and education,” Fia told us. “Carl Ludvig Engel designed its four main buildings including the famous landmark Helsinki Cathedral (above) in the early 19th Century.”

Market Square

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In a dusting of rain we walked down to Market Square with its rows of tents; food stalls, fruit and veg stalls, and arts and crafts stalls (we bought a couple of presents) before stopping for a shared plate of locally caught fish that included what we thought were Whitebait.

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The vendor said it was, ‘Finnish Fish from Lapland.’

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Whatever it was, it was jolly good!

Sibelius Park

A quiet time was had in Sibelius Park at the monument dedicated to famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

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The monument, which looks like organ pipes, is meant to show the rugged natural beauty of Finland as inspired by Sibelius’s work Finlandia (I posted an audio version of this beautiful piece to Lifestyle Fifty on Instagram.)

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Public Sauna

We saw a beautiful modern public sauna which jutted out into the sea like a ship and sported a modern restaurant overlooking the Baltic Sea where people not only drank beer and wine but also jumped into the sea after their sauna!

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We didn’t jump into the sea, but we did have a lazy late afteroon Aperol Spritz watching a sailing competition.

5 Things you might like to do in Helsinki

  1. Zip around Helsinki like a local on a Jopo bike,  a gearless, unisex bicycle.
  2. Go to Toolo Bay, a beautiful park in the middle of the city
  3. Visit the 160 year old Helsinki Cathedral (Finland’s most photographed building) and Senate Square
  4. The Church in the Rock church is called Temppeliaukio Church and is built inside a massive block of granite – definitely worth a visit.
  5. Visit Sibelius Park and Monument and definitely listen to Sibelius’s work Finlandia – it’s an extremely emotive piece (I posted an audio snippet of this on Instagram at Lifestyle Fifty).

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Curious Facts for Trivia Buffs!

Did you know that Finland is home to five million people and 1.5 million saunas? I had no idea!

  • Finland is known as ‘the land of the midnight sun.’ During summertime the sun is visible for 24 hours and stays above the horizon for 70 consecutive days.
  • The country’s official fish is perch.
  • Lily of the valley is Finland’s noted flower.
  • Finland’s animal symbol is the brown bear and the swan is the official bird.
  • The maple tree is the city’s official tree.
  • There are over 140 nationalities in Helsinki.
  • Helsinki is called the Daughter of the Baltic because it’s made of one third land and two thirds of the Baltic Sea, with 315 islands.
  • The Kremlin Letter, Reds and Gorky Park were filmed in Helsinki.

Helsinki Pintrest

I’m a guest of Princess Cruises, but all opinions are my own.

Do you have any tips for things to do, or curious facts to offer about Helsinki?

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Showing 20 comments
  • Seana Smith
    Reply

    Hi Jo, I once went to Finland briefly for work but not to Helsinki so good to read this and see your photos. I would so head straight for that public sauna, I bet I could spend a whole day there joyfully.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      The public sauna was amazing Seana – and to be able to jump in the sea must have been shocking but stimulating. Having the seafront restaurant and bar there did make it more of a destination than just a sauna. Interesting that you went to Finland for work … journalism?

  • Irene Levine
    Reply

    Sounds like Helsinki is a wonderful port of call….so many things to see and do!
    I always love markets.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      It was great to be able to discover so much in a day, Irene.

  • The GypsyNesters
    Reply

    We were right behind you coming to Helsinki and loved it as we can see you did too. Had a wonderful time at the open air market in Market Square.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      That’s a coincidence! Glad you enjoyed the open air market as much as we did!

  • Donna Janke
    Reply

    Helsinki looks like a great place to visit. I love the church built into the rock. I have a Finnish bit of trivia to add. The traditional Finnish housewarming gift is salt and bread. (I think the meaning is a wish the house never runs out of food and stay preserved.) I know this only because I have Finnish friends who brought us a jar of Himalayan sea salts and a lovely loaf of bread to our housewarming party a couple of years ago.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      Hi Donna! What a wonderful piece of Trivia to add! But what a lovely tradition too. Thank you for sharing with us 🙂

  • Julie Dawn Fox
    Reply

    Not sure if my last comment went through but thank you for enlightening me about Helsinki and Finland in general. I knew almost nothing about them until now so the fun facts were quite an eyeopener.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      Hi Julie, yes your last comment went through – sometimes comments post but don’t show as posted until ‘approved’. But thank you! We also knew little about Finland and Helsinki, and so in one day we only scratched the surface, but so so interesting.

  • Julie Dawn Fox
    Reply

    Finland hasn’t really made it onto my radar, except for the lure of the northern lights so it’s interesting to read more about it, especially the fun facts!

    • Johanna
      Reply

      Like you, would also love love love to go back and see the Northern Lights, Julie 🙂

  • Kay Dougherty
    Reply

    I’m going there next month and really looking forward to it (and have my heavy duty eye mask packed). Thanks for giving me a sense of the “don’t miss” places!

    • Johanna
      Reply

      Hello Kay, Thank you – and really hope you enjoy your visit too next month.

  • Rebecca
    Reply

    I’d love to make it to Finland one day – but yes, only to visit as I think 24 hrs of sun, then 24 hrs of darkness in the winter would be bound to affect my psychology.
    It looks a beautiful place to visit. I like the idea of zipping around Helsinki on a unisex bike.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      Agree the bikes would be such fun Rebecca! I’m not sure how I’d deal with 24 hours of darkness either.

  • Janice Chung
    Reply

    Loved the overview. Not sure how I would handle 20 hours of daylight…I guess just wear a eye mask at night or keep partying! The Temppeliaukio rock church looks amazing.

  • Jackie Smith
    Reply

    Loved the vibrant feel of Market Square! Finnish fish looked yummy!

  • Kathy Marris
    Reply

    I don’t know whether I’d cope with the 24 hours of sunlight! But at least you would have more time to explore the great outdoors and maybe have a sauna! Helsinki looks like another beautiful city.

    • Johanna
      Reply

      It’s a stunning city Kathy and so much to see and do. I know 24 hours of sunlight would take some getting used to!

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