After spending 3 days in Helsinki in May 2013, here are snapshots of my visit.
The first thing , Finnish people would be surprised for tourists to choose Helsinki as first destination. After all, the Finns are not themselves full of ego on the their capital . But as the most Russianized of Nordic countries and as member of eurozone , Helsinki is my first Scandinavian country ( well not exactly scandinavian ) . My travel buddy living in Sweden said Helsinki was really a party destination.
We are in the best period to visit : from May to August . May is still spring , most attractions open in summer.
The landmark of Helsinki is the Helsinki cathedral. In front is the senate place. Overall I’m not impressed.
The Temppelinauko church made inside a rock
The orthodox church ( my favorite )
At the market square , there are of tour boats. I chose Suomenlinna , a sea fortress , classified as UNESCO world heritage .
A walk from the start of the Esplanden avenue (filled with with luxury boutiques) earned a design award to the market square is really worth.
Nokia, the biggest Finn company , is very present in Helsinki . Even thought some Finns have bought smartphones from other OEM , they feel a bit of ashamed.
But the current national pride right now is “Angry Birds“. There are two “angry birds” shops in whole Finland, one is at Kamppi center, the other is at Vantaa. Rovio , the company behind the global success, is located in Espoo west of Helsinki. But the brand is so huge that different merchandising such as clothes, bubble gums, sweets can be found anywhere in Helsinki. One my reason to come visit here is Rovio Ltd.
As a Nordic country the cost of living there is expensive.
Housing is expensive. For more than 100€, you can get only 2 stars hotel. Airbnb is still the better solution. Even food can be expensive, hot dog on the street cost 4€.
Alcohol is expensive. A pint in a bar is about 6€. Beer cans at supermarket are 2€. Not wonder, people go elsewhere shopping ( see Tallinn, Åland )
Everyone speak fluent English. Swedish is also an official language.
Finnish language sounds like no other language ( except Estonian ). It’s not related to the Indo European languages group. FIt inspired the Elvish tongue in “the Lord of the Rings” series . Tolkien wrote :
Finnish, which I came across when I had first begun to construct a ‘mythology’ was a dominant influence
A lot of unflattering jokes has been around Finnish cuisine.
From my experience , I had a wonderful dinning experience at Konstan Möljä.
The buffet has fresh salmon, reindeer meat, pork meat , Borscht ans other specialties for only 18€ . On the left side of the photo is a rice Karjalan piirakka. At first I thought it’s eaten like a pizza. But Finns put something on top of it ( eggs, butter ).
On Finnair, I bought a Salmiakki pack . The vendor asked and laughed: ” Do you like it ?”. “No but I ‘ll give it to my colleagues so they can have a taste of Finland :)” . Maybe only the Finns can like because it’s an acquired taste .
Helsinki as a Gateway
As its position in the Baltic sea , it’s easy to go visit Tallinn , Estonia . Most Finns go to alcohol there due the high taxes on alcohol in Nordic countries. The old town of Tallinn is worth the trip ( read on a next post )
It is also possible to visit St Petersburg without a Russian visa under 72 hours. I will explore more this option fur a trip to Russia.
Sightseeing : 2/5 not really impressive landmark places
Cost : 3/5 expensive
Infrastructure : 5/5 transportation is really good. Thought Ion saturday May 11 , all the electronic display did not work. I had to take a taxi after waiting 20 minutes
People : 4/5 . Finns are willing to help and fluent in English.