Having been scheduled on another single-aisle rotation within Europe, this time I had the pleasure to catch up with one of my favorite destinations in the North again: Helsinki.
While most people think of Finland being part of Scandinavia, geographically it would actually be more suitable to speak of the Nordic Countries, a geo-political inter-parliamentary forum that was established to improve cooperation between its member states Finland, Greenland, Aland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden).
Referred to Monocle and The Economist magazines, Helsinki is one of the world´s most livable cities and scored titles such as World Design Capital 2012. It also hosted the 1952 Summer Olympics or the 52nd Eurovision Song Contest.
I personally love Helsinki, because it offers a wide range of gorgeous architectural styles from playful Art Nouveau to the minimalism of today´s Modernism, all well combined to form an extraordinary cityscape and skyline. So you can window shop and sightsee at the same time.
Helsinki offers an almost endless selection of international cuisines, from Arabian to Nepalese restaurants, local eateries and a wide range of bars suitable for any mood and style. The Finns certainly know how to eat well and party, making Helsinki an international mecca for foodies! These next three places are some of my favorites when in town:
The port is also a popular meeting spot during any season. In Spring and Summer, when it hardly gets dark at night, people sit on the piers and enjoy drinks, finger food and a good conversation while hungry seagulls are desperately waiting for them to spill a bit from their plates.
During Winter time, people enjoy hot Glögi (hot spiced wine in Finland) while wandering around over one of the many Christmas markets, selling local products and crafts.
From here, it is only a stone´s throw to two of the city´s most recognized landmarks: The Helsinki Cathedral and the red-bricked Uspenski Cathedral.
Uspenski is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral built on Katajanokka peninsula in honor of Russian Emperor Alexander II, who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland during the cathedral’s construction. It is considered to be the largest orthodox cathedral in Western Europe.
Originally known as Saint Nicholas Church, the dome was built back in 1852 as a tribute to the formerly Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. It´s plan is a Greek cross and the center spire thrones above the Helsinki skyline, making it probably the most recognized building of the city.
While the interiors are not as breathtaking as the outside may suggest, come here during the afternoons when the massive organ is being played on.
The area around the dome is strewn with old cobblestone roads and historic shops to explore.
If you are looking for a more up-scale shopping experience, head over to Kappeliesplanadi. This central pedestrian zone runs from the port towards the Svenska Theatre and features all the high-end brands that you may seek for. It is a small public park at the same time and a popular spot for locals to enjoy a decadent afternoon tea either at Kappeli restaurant & cafe or the elegant Kämp Hotel.
As there are no real skyscrapers within the city limits, one of the best elevated observation platforms is the Skywheel Ferris wheel. It is open year round and offers great views from the top at any kind of weather!
Another favorite of mine is the gorgeous main train station Rautatieasema Jarnvags. The impressive Art Deco elements on the out- and in the inside make it a wonderful place to escape the winterly cold for a few moments while watching the people rush by and warming up with a cup of coffee.
Even though our hotel is a little walk outside the city center, one place that I enjoy to stop by at any time of year (particularly during Fall) is the beautiful Kaisaniemi Park around the Botanic Garden. The adjacent Tölöviken Lake is fabulous for running errands or simply taking long walks along the picturesque shores. A wonderful spot to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Helsinki for a moment.
I could have walked forever this afternoon and even though my plan had actually been to finally visit one of the city´s amazing museums, my tired body (I had to get up at 2:45am this morning) was leaving me in the lurk and it was time to retreat back to the hotel to catch some rest before hitting the skies early the next morning again.
One thing was sure though! I needed to come back for some more. And so should you!