Discovering Helsinki

Happy Monday, all! We’re nearing the end of November and wrapping up 2021 – which may be ending as turbulent as 2020 it seems. Damn, Covid, just leave us alone already! Thankfully, most places around Ireland have their Christmas lights up, Xmas markets operating and festive spirit just dripping through the streets! So, although Covid is coming back with a vengeance, it can’t take away the holidays vibes.

I feel lucky though. Recently, I got to tick off one of my bucket list destinations – HELSINKI, FINLAND. Damn, that place has been on my list for 4 or 5 years now since my time living in Spain and I got myself some cool Finnish buddies. But, after years of saying “This year I’ll make it” well – I finally did it. Finland is my first adventure into Scandinavia and it was worth it!

I booked the trip as a gift to myself for my birthday and also because I was sick of torturing myself on Skyscanner and Kayak looking at flights to here, there and everywhere. I was torn between a trip to Helsinki (a dream), a weekend in Brussels (a dream) or a couple of weekdays in Paris (Surprise! Also a dream). Eventually, I found a good deal on Skyscanner and Airbnb (Sari’s Airbnb in Kallio was the cutest studio apartment and in such a good spot) and booked my way to Helsinki for November.

I knew this trip was gonna be a special one because not only was I going to a city I’ve had on my bucket list for years but I was also reuniting with my Finnish friends who I hadn’t seen in 3 or 4 years! So with that being said, I am going to tell you some of the things I saw, did, ate and experienced and they’re all things I’d recommend to you guys – Enjoy

Getting There

Helsinki Vantaa is the main airport of Finland, based in Vantaa, a city on the outskirts of Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Helsinki being the capital, and similar to most European capital cities, it is easily reached. From Dublin Airport you can fly direct with Finnair, the flag carrier of Finland or you can transfer through a different city to get there. I flew from Dublin with Lufthansa and had a quick stopover in Frankfurt on the way over, which was fine as I had forgotten to bring my European adapter and was craving a tasty bretzel too.

I got from Galway to Dublin Airport with Citylink bus company (super convenient to get to the airport with them) but I had to go fairly early as I didn’t wanna take any chances. I haven’t traveled outside of Ireland in nearly 2 years so, I felt it was better to be there early. Now, I was there 7 hours early so I had a lot of time to kill in the airport. My flight departed Dublin at 5am and arrived for a quick 1 hour layover in Frankfurt, having me safely in Helsinki by 1pm (Finland time).

Before traveling to Finland, I recommend you to download the “HSL” app, a cool mobile app that you can use to purchase bus, tram and even ferry tickets from. I was recommended this by my buddy Max and the Airbnb host. Getting to the bus terminal at the airport. I just had to wait for my 617 bus to bring me literally straight to corner of my Airbnb street and conveniently almost colliding with my friend Simon who was zipping along on his e-scooter.

Getting home from Helsinki was pretty much the same for me. I flew with Lufthansa from Helsinki to Munich and a quick 45 minute layover (And when I say I SPRINTED through Munich Airport…), I took Air Dolomiti back to Dublin, having me back in Dublin by 7pm in the evening.

Getting Around

Maneuvering through Helsinki is actually fairly convenient. Like a majority of European cities (Except Dublin -_-), Helsinki is fitted with an underground metro system. I love a good metro. Having spent a year making my way through Madrid mostly with the metro lines, it just so quick and handy to use. Also in Helsinki is a very regular tram network. We had a tram just outside our Airbnb which took us to different parts of Helsinki and it was so useful for getting home after a few too many Lonkeros and Minttus.

Again, after a few drinks in the city, it may be more comfortable to take a car home. Helsinki, again, like most cities, has Uber which is always handy to use or they have their own taxi network service called Yango. Its a quick and efficient service to get through the city. We took it a few times to different parts of the city and it really was quite good value for money. For another efficient way to get around, lots of people use e-scooters which you can rent and ride!

Walking in any city is lovely but walking through a fresh, cold Helsinki in early November just hits different. Christmas lights are going up, the city is bustling but doesn’t feel too crowded and there is always little bars to go into or different landmarks to see. I loved walking through the city. Because it was a fairly compact city, it wasn’t too hard to get lost and find your way. For me, all roads in Helsinki led to an Irish bar hah!

Things to Do

I wasn’t too confident about things to do in Helsinki and my research about touristy things was fairly limited as I was just really planning to hang out with friends. That being said, the few things I did do, they turned out to be really fun and things I would do and see again. For example:

  • Tennis at Tennis Center Tali: This was an unexpected but really fun activity. Two of us went for an hour or two and played a mix of tennis and badminton. It was a really fun activity and also a great cardio workout. We were lucky to get a spot on the tennis court as most of the courts were taken. If you’re visiting the city, I recommend taking a Yango out there to rent a couple of rackets and have fun!
  • A Day Trip to Suomenlinna: An island about 4km from Helsinki and reachable by ferry (which you can pay for with your HSL app). I HIGHLY recommend taking a boat out there when you’re visiting. Scenic views of the Baltic sea, old fortress constructs and cannons welcome you as you walk around the island. We went for about an hour until we got caught in a quick hail shower. The views were incredible. A UNESCO Heritage Site, it is definitely a super fun day trip to take to lap up some culture.
  • Galleries: Helsinki, even walking through, feels kinda artsy! There is so many cool galleries to go and visit. On my last day in Helsinki, I went and visited the Amos Rex Art Museum which was exhibiting works by digital artist Bill Viola. I have experience Bill’s work before but it was even more impressive inside the structure of Amos Rex. A uniquely designed building that juts out in different places. The building itself is a piece of art. Other museums I have to go back and visit include: the Kiasma, the Helsinki Art Museum and The Museum of Design. I like constructive art and I reckon these would be ones to check out.
  • Cool Landmarks: Similar to Galleries, there are some cool landmarks across Helsinki City that are worth seeing. Firstly, the Helsinki Cathedral. A towering church that really makes for a cool external photo shoot. This place stands on top of a lot of steps and it towers over the Senate square which, itself, is surrounded by cool architecture. The Kaisanemi botanical garden is a cool place to walk through. I’ve been to a few botanical gardens throughout Europe and this one is very peaceful. Kamppi Chapel, near the Amos Rex, is such an impressive and kind of solemn structure. A reflective chapel, it is such a cool piece of art. Even walking through the city, you’ll see the cool architecture, statues and streets.

  • Finnish Sauna: Not something I am particularly used to but something I absolutely will do again. On the Sunday of my trip, my friends and I went to Löyly Sauna. A public sauna/restaurant which is quickly becoming a staple of Finnish tourism, according to different articles and sites. It was an experience I was actually really looking forward to. I know how important Sauna is to Finnish people so it was exciting for me to give it ago. I expected it to be hot. But I have never felt heat hit my face like that before. But after adjusting to it, it became super relaxing. It was a thing where we sat in the sauna for 10 minutes or so and then went to take a dip in the Baltic Sea. It was the hottest and coldest sensations mixed into one but it was super soothing.
Food and Drink

Traveling wouldn’t be anything without food and beverages and oh boy did we indulge in some good food. We tried a few different restaurants and Finnish chains that turned out to be really good eating. Here is a list of restaurants we visited and a list of the chain restaurants we went to:

      • Goose Pastabar: The first restaurant we got to visit. They really want to impress the customer in this place. I got the cheese and pepper pasta with the white wine but the duck dish was very VERY strongly recommended. According to my friends, the duck was quite nice though. The wine served with the dinner was quite delicious also, so I wasn’t complaining too much.
      • BasBas Kulma: This place felt fancy but it was super duper good. We were indulged in craft beer, delicious wine and this was before we even ordered food. I got the brioche with garlic aioli, the pork belly and sorbet for dessert and I was so stuffed but so content.  My friends ordered the Steak Tartare and the Quail, which was met with praise. The vibe of this restaurant is so nice and chill and for the amount we ate, it was actually quite well priced!
      • Pontus: We ate here as we reunited with another friend of ours, Teemu. It was a very cosy restaurant with again, delicious wine. I mean, its never a bad trip when you’re having wine with every dinner! For this restaurant, I just ordered the lasagna as we were too busy chatting and enjoying the reunion. It’s a great place to sit and chat over a glass of wine though and the food is top notch.
      • Harju 8: We went here on my last evening. This place is dimly lit, except for candles, there is light jazz playing and the service is quite nice. We sat and ate the pasta pesto (Probably my favourite dish) served with goat cheese and guess what I had to drink? … Hah! I had a San Pellegrino! Another content belly was the result of this restaurant and it was just nice to relax with my friend over some good food.
      • Naughty BRGR: A chain developed by Finnish Top Chef Akseli Herlev. I got to try this after the sauna day so not only was my outside feeling good but the burger made my inside happy too! I am a sucker for a good burger and having seen a few of this guys cooking videos and shows on cable TV, it was definitely worth the visit. If you happen to be in Helsinki, absolutely check it out!
      • A few other chains in Helsinki I’d recommend trying: Chalupa Mexican Restaurant (Awesome Quesadillas), Hesburger (Again, sucker for a good burger and paprika sauce!) and Kotipizza (Incredible chicken tenders are served here)

As for some cheeky beverages, here are a few drinking spots we went to that I’d definitely revisit:

      • The Old Irish Pub: Based in the Center of Helsinki, this place is really nice and the staff are super cool too! And I wouldn’t normally recommend this but they do a good Guinness (Ask Jacek to make it!)
      • Ølhus: A nice little Danish bar that serves nice craft beer! Quite pricey but delicious all the same
      • Pyynikin Taproom: Another cool little bar, very vibe-y. They do a delicious craft beer here, perfect after coming back from Suomenlinna
      • The yellow tents near the dock: Go here before you get on the ferry to Suomenlinna and enjoy a coffee and a Trip! (A Finnish carton drink, its so good)

Obviously, this whole post is about recommendations but here are some extra things I’ll include when traveling to Finland (Transferable to other countries too) – Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to new people. One of the big reasons I traveled to Helsinki was to visit a few of my friends who I met on my Erasmus year in Madrid. So, when you’re in a bar in Finland or out on an activity somewhere, strike up a conversation and you could make some good connections or make a new friend! It’s something I like doing when I travel and hey, the more friends you make abroad, the more incentive you’ll get to travel.

Similarly, if you’re university/college, I’d recommend looking into doing an Erasmus semester/year abroad! It’ll also be a great way to meet new people and get a desire to travel more. I done my year in Madrid, which I will discuss in a later blog, but it could be the best thing you do!

That concludes this post on my recent travels! At the moment,  I’m cautiously planning my 2022 travel itinerary. I still have so many places on my travel bucket list I wanna visit! Now, Turkey has replaced Finland in my top 3 of my bucket list and hopefully I’ll be soon able to make my way through this list.

If you guys have any travel plans for 2022 or have any suggestions for places I should visit next year, I’d love to hear about them!

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