Having not left Dusseldorf for nearly a whole month, it was time to get out! Destination? Helsinki.
Here are my top travel tips for this awesome destination in Finland.
#1: Be bold: visit a naked sauna
Did you know there are over 3 million saunas in Finland? You’ll find them everywhere – in the basement of your apartment building, on the top floor of your hostel (in our case) and even in the city centre!
A massive part of Finnish culture; now is the time to leave your fear and clothes at the door. It is totally normal in Finland to go to the sauna several times a week.
According to our tour guide, nudity in Finland is nothing to be ashamed of and a sign of equality. So go ahead, give it a try!
#2: Follow the moose hat – weekend walking tours
You know every major city has one… the free walking tour. And this one comes complete with moose hat wearing tour guide! Starting at the left hand tower of Helsinki Cathedral at 12pm every Saturday and Sunday, this two and a half hour tour gives you a fantastic introduction to Helsinki’s architecture, history and Moomin!
More information on Helsinki Walking Tour: http://walkingtourshelsinki.com/free-weekends.html
#3: Travel like a local from the airport
After arriving at Helsinki Airport, you’ll soon discover that you’re not in Helsinki at all. Rather, the neighbouring city of Vantaa – inconvenient at worst, plain annoying at best. But never fear, this is the time to be savvy.
Whilst you can take the heavily advertised FinnAir City Bus which runs into town every 20 minutes for 6,30€ each way, there is an alternative! Just pop over to the local bus stop and flag down bus 615. For just 5€, this bus runs every 10 minutes and your ticket is valid for 80 minutes.
So that will not only get you straight into the city centre, but also to your accommodation using the local tram.
#4: Eat like a local – but watch out for the seagulls!
As Helsinki is located on the coast, it would be rude not to try the local seafood specialities such as deep-fried herring. The best place to buy them is fresh from local stalls right on the harbour rather than pricey restaurants.
However, as the seller warned my friends, the seagulls love it as much as you do. My advice? Grab your food and run for your life! (At least until you’ve outwitted the nose-diving predators).
#5: Catch a ferry to Tallinn
Helsinki’s port is a gateway to destinations across Europe and as far as Russia. You can travel from Finland’s busy port to Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg. This is particularly exciting for those of you who would like to travel to Russia as if you travel by ferry, you can avoid the costly inconvenience of trying to get a visa before entering the country. Our group opted for the medieval city of Tallinn, Estonia.
An absolute gem for a day trip, I was able to not only tick another country off the list but also see some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe.
If you book ahead, you can get a return crossing for just 17€ here: https://www.eckeroline.fi/en/Cruises/A-Day-in-Tallinn-Cruise-sku-PaivaTallinnassa
#6: Check out that view in Tallinn
There is no better way to see the full beauty of Tallinn’s old town than from its city wall. Dating back to 13th century, only part of the city’s fortification now remains and for a mere 3€ you can experience its spiralling towers and walkways for yourself. Definitely the city’s best photo opportunity.
#7: Drink like a local
Finns take a trip to Tallinn for more than the architecture. Unlike Scandinavia, Estonian prices on alcohol/tobacco etc. are dirt-cheap. So much so that we witnessed people pushing trollies full of booze back through the ferry terminal. So if you want to party in Helsinki but save yourself some money with pre-drinks, take advantage of the ferry port kiosks and supermarkets. Just don’t be tempted to buy the lingonberry vodka…
#8: Skip breakfast, go for brunch
On the advice of a lovely guy at our hostel, we headed down to Café Köket for brunch on our last day. And we were not disappointed. For just 15€, we were in heaven; freshly made smoothies, coffee and tea on tap, a table full of sandwiches, cake, soup, porridge, salad, fruit and the most incredible chocolate brownies I have ever had. By far the best value for money we found in Helsinki, its definitely worth a visit.
#9: If dessert is free, take it
On our first evening we went to the restaurant Zetor, which boasts a menu in 28 languages, serves reindeer and comes complete with full size tractor and cow in the entrance. Are you confused? I certainly was. But when they offer you a traditional free dessert, you’re not going to say no are you? And this was my first experience of Mämmi, a rye based dessert served with lingonberries and vanilla sauce. Whilst it looks totally odd, if you’re a fan of malt loaf it’s definitely worth a try!
For more info on Zetor Restaurant Helsinki: http://www.ravintolazetor.fi/zetor2012/panorama.htm
#10: One weekend is enough
Whilst the city is a haven for designers and art students alike, for your average traveller, 2 days in Helsinki as an introduction to Scandinavia is enough before you get itchy feet and are ready to move on.
During summer, the city offers some fantastic festivals such as the “Weekend Festival”, which sees the likes of David Guetta and Avicii gracing the stage. My advice? Jet off in August, see the city and a festival at the same time!