Finland: Helsinki


Intro to Helsinki

The capital of Finland is a modern European city with Nordic roots strategically located in the Gulf of Finland, which is part of the Baltic Sea.  While it’s not the first Nordic city you should visit we were pleasantly surprised and if you’re ever in the area it’s worth a night or as long it takes to sample a Finnish sauna and take it its rich modern architecture.


Helsinki has direct flights to and from some cities in the US, mostly via Finn Air. From NYC it’s just over 8hrs.  It’s connected to Tallinn via high speed ferry and many ships bound for Russia leave from here, which is why on our Baltic tour we flew into Tallinn (via Helsinki), took a boat to Helsinki, then another overnight ship to Russia, eventually departing from Moscow. However, if you wanted to do Helsinki and Tallinn as a long weekend we would suggest flying into Tallinn (via Helsinki) and out of Helsinki.

When we went

May 2014. This was part of a longer Baltic Sea Itinerary; flew into Tallinn (via Helsinki) and slept in the old town for 2 nights, took a fast morning ferry to Helsinki (1 night), took a late departure overnight boat to St. Petersburg Russia (3 nights), took a high speed train to Moscow, flew home via a short stop in Helsinki.

Market Square and the beginning of the esplanade.

Market Square and the beginning of the esplanade.

The Mr. and I began our adventure in Helsinki with a coffee at Kappeli Cafe which was perfectly located at the entrance to the city’s esplanade. We toured the city by foot and tram and were able to visit the main sites.   We saw Senate Square with the Lutheran Cathedral, Uspenski Cathedral, and the Church in the Rock.  We also strolled through the Finnish History Museum and the main railway station.

Church in the Rock

Church in the Rock – the ceiling is made with miles of copper coil

Lutheran Cathedral

Lutheran Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral

Uspenski Cathedral

We enjoyed a delicious herring focused meal at Sudmanns Krog.  We also made sure to eat in the market square where we grabbed a tasty and freshly grilled salmon platter for lunch.

Salmon grills in the market square

Salmon grills under the orange tents in the market square

Suomenlinna — the “Gibraltar of the North” — is a must see stop in Helsinki.  An island across the harbor, it was once the greatest sea fortress on the Baltic. Built by the Swedes, taken over by the Russians, it is now home to the Finnish navy and approximately 800 citizens.  We spent a few hours exploring the grounds, trekking over tunnels, playing with canons and grabbing coffee at the naval officers’ local hangout.

Taking the ferry over to Suomenlinna

Taking the ferry over to Suomenlinna

A beach was tucked away

Down the path from the officers’ meeting house, a beach was tucked away in a cove inviting those who wanted a cool dip.

We really liked Suomenlinna.


Mrs’s Highlight – While exploring Suomenlinna on a cool May morning, we were in desperate need of a coffee and popped into a small “cafe” at the top of a hill and unexpectedly interrupted a naval officers meeting.  I opened the door, the room fell silent and everyone turned in the chair to look at me. I smiled and apologized, grabbed some coffee and quickly left. It felt like I was transported to a movie set.

Mr’s Highlight – Experiencing a real Finnish sauna (at our hotel)

Mrs’s Favorite Meal – I really enjoyed my meal at Sudmanns Krog which was a locally caught white fish, Zaret, prepared three ways — filet with dill potatoes, tartar with sweet pickles, and mousse with caviar.

Mr’s Favorite Meal – salmon grills in the market square



Suomenlinna Fortress; island fortress in Helsinki’s harbor.  See description above. To get there, take the little ferry from Market Square.  It runs a few times an hour and takes about 15 minutes to get there.  Buy tickets from the machine next to the ferry.  Make sure you are buying tickets for the public HKL ferry and not the more expensive private boats.  There is a little museum on the island that provides a brief video history of Suomenlinna.

Temppeliaukio (“Church in the Rock”); Helsinki.  Helsinki’s modern church built underground by blasting away bedrock. Take Tram #2 away from the city center to get there.

There are two churches near the water that we didn’t go to but have a grand presence in the city — Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral and The Lutheran Cathedral in Senate Square.

The National Museum of Finland; Helsinki.  This museum is jammed packed with ALL of Helsinki’s history.



Hotel Kamp – located right along the Esplanade, convenient to those arriving by ferry



Sudmanns Krog – dinner, Helsinki. Great fresh seafood and herring buffet.

Kappeli Cafe – any time, great location along the Esplanade.

Salmon grills in the Market Square.  Great spot for lunch before or after visiting the fortress.

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