Beginners Guide to Helsinki
I spent the last two days of my summer Scandinavian/Baltic adventure exploring Finland’s capital city: Helsinki.
I’ll be honest (aren’t I always?). I was nervous adding Helsinki to my itinerary. I met a few travelers who didn’t like this city very much. Like, at all.
Why? The most common complaints were Helsinki was “boring” and “expensive” – especially compared to its Baltic neighbors. Normally “boring” and “expensive” aren’t adjectives I wanna hear attached to an upcoming destination. Part of me even considered extending my stay in Estonia.
However, as my trip was winding to a close, I longed for relaxation. The Baltics were high energy experiences, to say the least. Boring suddenly sounded appealing. I looked forward to savoring peace and quiet in Finland, and kept my hotel reservation. And guess what? Helsinki totally delivered.
Are you thinking of visiting Helsinki too? My beginners guide to Helsinki will help you plan your trip to Finland’s capital city.
Why You Should Visit Helsinki
Over all, I thought Helsinki was a unique city. In particular, I adored the diversity of churches. My favorites were Temppeliaukion
Furthermore, you ought to visit Helsinki for its food, especially the sort of food that lives in the Baltic Sea. Nom, nom, nom. My favorite spot was the Market Square, located in the south harbor. Although packed with tourists, I came here twice to enjoy some seafood and watch the cruise ships.
Finally Helsinki is a very safe destination for solo female travelers. I spent two days in a hotel and actually didn’t meet any other travelers on my stay (trust me, I needed the break), but even though I was alone, I never felt the slightest bit uncomfortable walking around Helsinki, day or night.
Transportation to Helsinki
Helsinki is super easy to tie into a trip to the Baltics, especially Estonia. I took the Linda Line Express which is the fastest ferry ride between Tallinn and Helsinki. You reach Helsinki in under two hours. I opted for this ferry since I was limited on time. However, even though Linda ferries are zippy, they can get canceled if the seas are rough. Other ferry options exist too – such as Tallink Silja Line.
And, of course, Helsinki airport is connected with much of Europe. Finnair is the country’s largest carrier, flying to 108 destinations.
Where to Stay?
Helsinki has plenty of options when it comes to accommodation – especially hotels. I didn’t have too much luck finding a hostel that suited my needs, haha.
For this visit, I stayed in Hotel Katajanokka – an interesting hotel because the building used to function as a prison dating back to 1837. Each hotel room was originally two jail cells. Cool and spooky! I loved this hotel’s authentic atmosphere, free breakfast, and incredibly helpful front desk. Hotel Katajanokka is in a great location, too, and easily walkable to all of the main sites.
Helsinki is super easy to explore. I didn’t take public transportation once, instead opting to walk everywhere. If you’re feeling lazy (don’t blame you), you can opt to take trams around the city center. You can purchase single ride tickets or passes for the entire day.
What did I do on my full day in the city center besides visit tons and tons and tons of churches?
My first stop was the National Museum of Finland where I learned all about Finnish history. The museum’s exhibits spans from the middle ages to the 19th century. Depending on the day, you can get free admission into the museum, which is a great option for budget travelers.
Then I took photos of the Helsinki Central Station (don’t judge, I think train stations are cool), and explored the harbor. At Market Square, I enjoyed fresh salmon and fried vandace, small freshwater fish. And yup, you eat them whole!
Like I said earlier, Helsinki was super safe and easy to explore on foot. Throw away the map, explore the parks, shops, and cafes, and take your time enjoying the city. There aren’t any overwhelming sites, like the Louvre or Vatican City, that demand a ton of your time, so avoid sticking to a strict schedule.
Venture to Suomenlinna
One of Helsinki’s biggest attractions is actually located outside the city itself. Suomenlinna, a fortress located on a cluster of islands close to Helsinki, allows visitors to soak up nature. Trust me, this place is a gem on a glorious summer day.
Only visit if the sun is shining. All of the attractions are outdoors, and I don’t know about you, but I’d be miserable here if it rained. Keep an eye on the weather.
The fortress is amazing. You feel like you’re back in time, searching the open seas for intruders, and you’re free to climb and roam as you wish.
Keep it in mind that Suomenlinna itself is free. However you need to pay for a boat to reach the island. Kind of like Alcatraz in San Francisco. So it’s “free but not really free” if you know what I mean. Another suggestion is to catch an early boat. I went on a gorgeous day and took a boat at 10 am., which turned out to be perfect. I returned at 1 pm. and noticed cruisers swamped the mid-afternoon boats. Avoid.
To summarize: Finnish nature is gorgeous, and if you don’t have time to see its countryside (like me), then you need to make going to Suomenlinna a priority.
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