Exploring Helsinki

Helsinki, Helsinki, Helsinki… where do we start?

First of all, it was awesome that it almost never got dark in Helsinki. There were maybe four hours a night where the sun was down, but even then it wasn’t dark, but rather there was still a bit of a “glow” out. I figured this would be awesome, though to be honest it presented a challenge I wasn’t expecting. I napped during the day when we arrived, so ended up staying up pretty late, till about 3AM. At that point the sun slowly began to rise, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sleep. For a moment I dreamed of being in Longyearbyen in winter with darkness all day. So yeah, maybe it was just my jetlag, but I do think places with extreme sunlight are a bit of a double edged sword.

Darkest it got in Helsinki

Second of all, the weather in Helsinki was abso-friggin-lutely beautiful. Seattle summers might be nice, but the weather in Helsinki was even nicer. It was sunny and upper-60s all day, and the one thing that made it a bit different than Seattle is that there were clouds. Really, really animated and cool 3D-looking clouds. In Seattle when you have a nice day there are usually no clouds in the sky.

As far as the city itself goes, Helsinki is a small city. It only has about 600,000 residents, and Finland as a whole has only a few million residents. But the city felt even quieter than that. During rush hour there were basically no cars on the street, and the only time you really saw people was in the middle of day walking around. I figured since there’s so much sunlight things would be open late at night, but they weren’t. Everyone seemed to still keep a pretty normal schedule.

Before visiting Helsinki I heard from lots of people it’s boring. Yes, it is a bit boring compared to other cities, and if I were to visit Europe for the first time I doubt Helsinki would be at the top of my list of places to visit.

But it’s charming, it has some nice architecture, it has a nice harbor (though there are definitely more picturesque ones out there), and it has good food (if you like fish and reindeer — for the record I only had the former).

Helsinki park

Helsinki harbor

Helsinki harbor

Helsinki harbor

Helsinki Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral

Is that an onion?

Streets of Helsinki

Streets of Helsinki

Streets of Helsinki

My favorite part of the city had to be the street market by the harbor, selling everything from flowers to magnets of reindeer doing it, to reindeer “delight,” to reindeer skin, to reindeer stuffed animals, to… well, you get the point.






Handmade leather…?

Who do these people think pulls Santa’s sleigh?!

The second afternoon we took a ferry to Suomenlinna. Rather than pretend I’m now an expert on the island, I’ll refer you to other sources — you can check out the island’s website here, or the island’s Wikipedia page here. Insider’s tip, though: the cheesecake you may consume on the island while waiting for a ferry is way overpriced (for those of us that have watches that are about five minutes off from the ferry schedule).

Ferry to Suomenlinna

Harbor views

Harbor views






Helsinki was an awesome place to spend a couple of days. I wouldn’t spend more than that there, though I was thrilled to finally make it to Northern Europe. Now onwards to Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and most importantly, Longyearbyen!

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Thanks so much for this post! Very interesting reading about a place I haven’t been and might make a daytrip to now at some point. Appreciate it

  2. Great post. It looks boring indeed. I’ve only been to Copenhagen in Northern Europe and found it boring as well but worth visiting.

  3. Cities/Town in Finland tend to get very quiet in July. Almost everyone takes their vacation in July and that for many, means going to the country side to their summer cottages etc. 🙂

  4. Next time, take the Ferry to Stockholm. There’s more action in STHLM (~3x larger than HEL). Moreover it is more diverse. As you may have noticed, Finland is remarkably aryan. The population is much more diverse in the rest of Europe.

  5. Olli is right, most corporate offices in Finland during July have only a skeleton crew.

    Did you really go Finnish and take in a sauna then plunge into the icy cold water? Or maybe try a Hesburger?

  6. @Erik, the Baltic isn’t that cold in the summer. I went swimming in the Baltic sea 2 weeks ago (much further south). It was lovely. You should try it in the winter!

  7. I’m sure if we had been there longer we could have found some more exciting things to do in the city (although in all likelihood we would’ve just taken the ferry to Tallinn).

    Also, for the record, the frozen yogurt in Helsinki is boring, although I did like the fact that lingonberries was a topping choice. Still, I’ll take Pinkberry anytime.

    I really want to go to Longyearbyen too!

  8. I did a four day Hilton HHonors VIP stay at the Hilton Strand in Helsinki last year in August. Compared to so many other European capitals this was a true breath of fresh air. The hotel had free bikes available to use. It was incredibly easy to get around the entire city via bike, (and I tend to be a real sissy when it comes to riding a bike in any kind of urban situation). Another great little excursion is to visit the recreated rural village on the edge of the city. Finnish modern design is on view at the Design Museum, and the Museum of Fine Art has free tours and lectures that can be worthwhile, in addition to the art of course. Virtually everyone I met in Helsinki spoke fluent English fortunately, since Finnish is a very challenging language.
    I would definitely recommend a visit.

  9. Helsinki is a quiet city but can be charming and a great gateway to St Petersburg or the Baltic states. Finland has beautiful lakes and the country side is amazing. Stockholm and Copenhagen are bigger cities with much more to see and do. Oslo also falls on the small side though, though livelier than Helsinki. I think the key to Scandinavia and Finland is to enjoy nature, in one word, pristine. For fast city action, I go to London or NYC.

    I have spent lots of time in Scandinavia, and maybe since I speak Swedish, that makes it even better for me. Needless to say, I think they speak better English than I do.

  10. Great photos. I had the reindeer when I was there several years ago. I seem to recall it was very salty and there was way too much of it and the mashed potatoes it was served with.

    I was just in northern Germany where the sun set around 10PM and it was still twilight at 11. For some reason I thought that was really cool.

    I love all of that part of the world. People really know how to live over there.

  11. @Lucky: you do know that they’ve invented curtains to block the light from coming inside your room, right? 😉

    Helsinki is one of the cities still on my list. Yep, I know it’s small, but actually I like that. Better than the ever fast pace in London, it would be nice to relax during my holidays.

    You should have gone even more north, where the sun doesn’t set for three months!

  12. Definitely more for laid back nature lovers, as opposed to bar/club hopping.

    How is the cultural scene, ie, any decent museums/galleries?

  13. I just went to Helsinki after July 4th. Everyone was out in the parks & markets, and the weather was great.

    I think the gods must of dropped a bottle of beautiful over this country! I always enjoy girl watching, and the view was truly spectacular in Helsinki!

    Sometimes quiet & laid back is why you get away, and Helsinki has that aplenty. I will go there again as soon as I can.

  14. Lived one year in Helsinki… never found it boring… you need to look around farther away from the harbor. Did you go to Stockmann? Kamppi? The Arts Museum? The rock dome? Nightlife? Some of the best clubs in Northern Europe there… Lappi Ravintola?

    Much more to do, see, and eat there than in Seattle for sure…

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