To top off my triple threat of Scandinavian capital cities (see Stockholm here and Oslo here!), I took advantage of a cheap flight deal and flew to Helsinki a few weekends ago. Yes, I went to Finland in the middle of January. Wanna hear about it? Course you do!
I flew out to Helsinki from London Heathrow on Friday 11th January (fortunately, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I work about 15 mins from Heathrow, making it nice and easy to hop across to the airport after finishing work!) – a nice evening flight to Helsinki, lasting about 2.5 hours with Finnair. Unfortunately, because I’m a moron who doesn’t understand the concept of time zones, this meant the flight landed at 12.30am Helsinki time – cue a mad dash across Helsinki airport once the plane had landed to catch the last train to the city centre.
After a swift 25 minute train, costing €5 (seriously, London has to be the worst city for pricey transfers), I got to Helsinki city centre, and was immediately confronted with a) drunk people, b) expensive prices, and c) lots and lots of snow. I’d luckily chosen a hotel right next to the train station (well done past me), so after a 2 minute walk I was checking into the hotel and getting ready for bed.
The next morning, I ventured out after loading up on the layers, and made it about 10 steps before skidding on the ice covering every surface of Helsinki. Top tip – bring grippy boots. My New Look Chelsea boots just didn’t cut it (I know, surprising, right?). To save face, I skidded over to Oodi, the Helsinki Central Library, which was conveniently opposite my hotel.
Library Oodi, as it’s known, is a brand new building (it had been open for a month when I visited!), and is already seen as a central hub for Helsinki residents. I’ve never seen a library like it, with plenty of people reading, listening to music, browsing, and yes, just chatting with each other. One of the coolest bits about the library was the second floor, which was marketed as an “urban workshop” with 3D printers, laser cutters, sticker printers, sewing machines and heat presses for use. It was a truly lovely space, and the architecture was also quite stunning…
After an hour or so browsing, drinking coffee and perusing 3D printers, I made my way downtown to the Finnish National Gallery (can you tell I was feeling particularly cultured?), which cost €17 entry. The National Gallery is a huge white building opposite the central train station, and I was excited to go and see some Finnish artwork – it’s not exactly a speciality of mine 😉
(Don’t kill me for the large images, thumbnails just weren’t going to cut it. It’s art!)
After spending a considerable amount of time walking through the beautiful gallery and getting emosh at the artwork, I went and had a very late lunch/early dinner at a cute little sushi place in a mall (look, there’s only so much culture I can deal with in one day, leave me alone) and did a bit of window shopping (see also: Project No-Buy 2019 which is going SPLENDIDLY thank you for asking. More on THAT later!). Drinking coffee and overlooking one of the squares in which ice skating was taking place was like the winter we never really had in the UK this year:
It was then time to go and experience a classic Finnish tradition to round off the day.
Sauna, for those of you who aren’t aware, is a Finnish staple – there are even saunas in the Finnish Parliament! It basically consists of a gently warmed wooden room, with benches to sit on and an area of hot stones, which water can be poured on to release moisture and steam (commonly called löyly). Participants are more often than not naked, and it’s a huge bonding experience for families, friends, acquaintances and even colleagues (apparently a fair amount of business deals are done in saunas!). It’s an integral part of Finnish life, and something I was so excited to partake in – and fortunately my hotel had a sauna right across from my room!
The process is very straightforward – you basically strip off in a communal area (usually divided by gender), have a shower, and then go and sit in the sauna. Rinse and repeat as required. There were a fair few ladies in the sauna when I went in, so I followed the process and went and sat with them. Didn’t understand a word of what they were saying, and it was slightly odd to be sat in a small wooden room naked with a load of strangers, but you just have to embrace it! My skin did feel fantastic afterwards, so at least there’s that.
The next day, after my sauna experience (slept like a BABY afterwards, maybe those Finns are onto something), I decided to trek out to Helsinki Cathedral before having some lunch and hopping on my flight home.
Helsinki Cathedral is one of the major landmarks in the city, and is an absolutely beautiful neoclassical building with a gorgeous interior. It was also featured in the opening sequence of the video for ‘Sandstorm’ by Darude, so naturally you can imagine my excitement at visiting it.
The interior was drop dead gorgeous, and I sat myself down in a pew and took full advantage of it.
After a brief lunch, it was time to go back to the airport. Once again I took the €5 train from central (seriously, up your game London!), and relaxed in the airport before popping on the flight and landing in Heathrow 2.5 hours later.
I really enjoyed Helsinki – it was bloody expensive, and very cold, but the people were friendly (if not slightly eccentric!), and it was a beautiful city with a fair amount to do and see. Just bring your pocket money, you’ll need it (€18 for a Caesar salad, ouch!).