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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
The vendor said it was, ‘Finnish Fish from Lapland.’
Whatever it was, it was jolly good!
A quiet time was had in Sibelius Park at the monument dedicated to famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
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.)
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!
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
- Zip around Helsinki like a local on a Jopo bike, a gearless, unisex bicycle.
- Go to Toolo Bay, a beautiful park in the middle of the city
- Visit the 160 year old Helsinki Cathedral (Finland’s most photographed building) and Senate Square
- The Church in the Rock church is called Temppeliaukio Church and is built inside a massive block of granite – definitely worth a visit.
- 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).
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.
I’m a guest of Princess Cruises, but all opinions are my own.