We approached by ferry from Tallinn, Estonia. As Helsinki appeared ahead I could not help but notice the city didn’t appear as old as I hoped. Sure it was still nice being a coastal city and it appeared green. We may or may not have passed Suomenlinna and noticed the huge cruise ships in the port.
The port we arrived was very central and as soon as exiting the station we could see the huge white Lutheran Cathedral. This dominates the skyline from a few places in Helsinki, on many a postcard and a symbol of Helsinki.
The birthday of Helsinki
12/6/1550 – The birthday of Helsinki. Founded by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden the city started off as a trading post and small fishing village for a couple of centuries sit increased in importance it was captured by the Russians, and Tsar Alexander I moved the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki.
Helsinki is not so big and it is easy to walk around the centre although the good tram and bus network and daily pass options mean you may want to take transport around. There is also a metro but it does not cover large parts of the city. It is quick though and a day pass should cover using the metro as well.
Helsinki has plenty of choice in museums, Valeria visited the architectural museum and the design museum was nearby.
There are also nice cafes with some foods. It was hard to find a Finnish restaurant. The cuisine (unless you are in to eating reindeer) does not appear distinct.
You could easily find Italian food, kebab places and Hesburger, the Finnish equivalent of McDonalds.
As for places to see, the main symbol of Helsinki, the Lutheran cathedral is towering and outside of impressive statue although inside it is fairly plain inside, although it is adorned with a huge organ, a chandelier and some statues of protestant (Lutheran) reformers such as Martin Luther himself. Outside the church is where you will find crowds congregate as sitting on the stops gives a nice view over the square and surrounding area. In the morning this square was sometimes filled with tour buses so it is better to go there in the evening. We experienced good weather while here. In the square in front of the cathedral is a statue of Tsar Alexander II.
I have read that the vast majority of people who visit are tourists. Lutheranism is the biggest religion in Finland was told by more than one Finn is a growing phenomenon to ‘divorce’ the church. A concept which might not be clear to people not living in a similar society construct.
Apart from the Lutheran cathedral is the huge Finnish Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral dedicated to the Dormition of the Theotokos. Once part of the Russian Orthodox Church it is now used by the autonomous (under the EP) Finnish Orthodox Church. It is also imposing and is beautiful red brick church with a large iconostasis inside. From the church grounds one can also enjoy a view of Helsinki. The coast is visible but also the Lutheran cathedral.
A small Finnish Orthodox minority still exists in Finland and the Finnish Church has national recognition and the liturgy is in Finnish. The Russian Orthodox Church is still present in Finland and some Russians and Finns prefer to attend the Moscow Patriarch’s churches because of some large variances from Orthodox tradition in the Finnish practice just as in the date of Pascha.
In Helsinki Valeria and I used couchsurfing and we found a wonderful host in Jasmine, who was very friendly and upbeat. We walked along the shore with her and we also went to the Ateljee Bar in Hotel Torni which has the best views of Helsinki. In fact it is said the best views are from the ladies toilets, with the men having fine views, But the bar itself has great views from both sides where you can sit outside on the rooftop drinking an exorbitantly priced cocktail, coffee or hot chocolate. The smallest hot chocolate I ever drunk was around 6 Euros!
Still it is the view you pay for and it is nice. A rival viewpoint but further away from the centre is the Olympic stadium tower. It is reputed to have the 2nd best view.
Helsinki overall is not full of must see sites but we found people friendly (yes the Finns are known for being reserved but we found friendly people when we needed help) it was clean and walkable.
Finnish inventions #1 Angry Birds
Created by Finnish Game Developer Roxio, Angry Birds has become a worldwide phenomenon much like its Nokia brand
However in Finland there is a special kind of mania, when already overpriced expensive items either double or even quadruple when they are given the Angry birds facelift. Whether it be an Angry Birds mug (priced 18.40 Euros!), chewing gum, can drink, clock or children’s toy, it can be found here at a premium Finnish price.
The game itself is addictive fun but whether the brand can survive long-term and became Finnish classic cultural items like the animation the Moomins or instead burn out in the hype waits to be seen.
The fort to the south of Helsinki was built in 1748 as a state of the art fortress by the Swedes to deter or thwart a Russian invasion. Grand as it is, its Swedish rule had a rather tame end as the fortress surrendered timidly to the Russians without a shot in 1808 and the Russians completed their conquest of Finland a year later. The Russians built on the fortress.
This place is recommended by everyone as a World Heritage site. From the air it seems it looks amazing but first impression when arriving on land is it is not particularly special. However one perception will became much more favourable when you reach the coast (away from arrival) as you have some beautiful views of the sea especially near where the canons are displayed before the Kings gate. Suomenlinna is a nice place and has a toy museum with a big display which Valeria enjoyed and other more moderate attractions.
What was a disappointment in the church on the island. A rather plain square building with no special features it was once a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church before nationalists gave it a facelift or rather hack. See the photos of the comparison shown inside the church, outside and on this website of course.
The church now also functions as a lighthouse. Walking around Suomenlinna is a nice activity and it is either a half day or day trip. Queues can be long on the Helsinki side. And if you decide to eat in line be wary of attacking seagulls! They like to steal locals or tourist food and watched one unsuccessful ‘divebomb’ by a seagull on a tourist or local. They can be a menace!