I consider Helsinki, Finland to be an off-the-beaten-path hidden gem in Europe. It's also the port of departure for a 3-day visa-free trip to St. Petersburg, Russia. What should you do in Helsinki if you have a day before and after the ferry trip to Russia? Read on to find out how to spend a relaxing city break in Helsinki.
Stay at Helsinki's Historic and Funky Radisson Blu
There is a new train that runs from the Helsinki airport to the main train station. From here, it's an easy walk to the funky Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. The hotel has two sides. Try to get a room in the historic side and check out the dramatic chandeliers and stained glass. In my opinion, the Radisson Blu chain has the comfiest pillows out of all hotel chains in Europe.
Dine Like a Helsinki Local at The Cock Eatery and Bar
Locals love to dine out. I have a friend based in Helsinki and she recommended The Cock Eatery and Bar. I love how restaurants in Helsinki stamp their name onto the napkins.
We enjoyed a Helsinki Gin and Tonic with fresh lingonberries to start the meal. The restaurant offers an eclectic mix of cuisines from Sicilian arancini balls...
Revel in Helsinki's Art Deco Architecture
My favorite feature of Helsinki has to be the Art Deco architecture which is heavy and dramatic. The main train station is a particularly good example of design in that era. Two solid looking gentlemen sternly hold lighted orbs on the outside of the facade.
Zoom in on Helsinki's Architectural Details
In addition to dramatic Art Deco architecture, Helsinki also boasts fine architectural details. We enjoyed looking at the little flourishes above the doors around town.
Visit Helsinki's Rock Church
Helsinki's Rock Church is unique in the world. Carved into the rock, the interior has outstanding acoustics and a mesmerizing copper ceiling.
Have a Coffee and Sweet Bun at Regatta, a Helsinki Local Gem
Local recommendations are best recommendations and having friends in different places is an awesome way to find some hidden gems. My friend Anna took us to her favorite coffee spot, Regatta.
Regatta is bright red, sits right on the water and simply exudes optimism and happiness.
We ordered coffee and a cardamom bun and sat outside in front of a wood fire.
I loved Regetta! Not only did we find great coffee but also a tower of birdhouses.
Admire Helsinki's Sibelius Monument
The Finns really embrace their own. Sibelius was a famous Finnish composer who became well-known world-wide. Recognized as Finland's greatest composer, Sibelius is honored with a silver pipe-organ inspired monument near Helsinki's waterfront.
Find Out Why Helsinki is Considered 'Little St. Petersburg'
Helsinki is known as 'Little St. Petersburg'. Finland in general has a complicated relationship with Russia. For about 100 years, Finland was part of the Russian Empire. Finland negotiated independence from Russia in 1917. Despite tension with the Soviet Union, Finland walked a fine line and maintained an independent democracy in Europe. The architectural look of Helsinki and some of the sculpture definitely has a Russian feel and influence.
Enjoy an Economical Workers Lunch in Helsinki
Like other countries in the Nordics, Finland has a strong social support structure. Workers get a modest lunch allowance that they often spend in local salad bars.Putte's Bar and Pizza. We enjoyed a plate of mixed salads that we'd selected from the salad bar as well as a modest pizza.
See Where Old Meets New in Helsinki
Similar to the Dublin Docklands, Helsinki has a neighborhood that used to be full of old warehouses and is now home to sleek office buildings and a new concert hall. Some remnants of the old remain and give this part of Helsinki a unique look and feel.
Stroll the Esplanade in Helsinki
Helsinki's Esplanade is a strip of green extending from the shopping district to the waterfront. On a sunny day, it's a lovely path to walk and an easy landmark to find your way to the Market Square (Kauppatori).
Shop for Snacks and Crafts at Helsinki's Market Square
In and around the Market Square, you'll find a variety of shopping opportunities. Outside stalls sell fruit and meals as well as handmade and mass produced crafts. I picked up a nice warm wool hat made by an elderly Finnish woman for the ferry ride to Russia.
When the weather is cold (as it is much of the year in Helsinki), retreat indoors to the Old Market Hall to pick up some local tasty treats.
Treat Yourself To Finnish Licorice at Helsinki's Old Market Hall
Definitely keep an eye out for Finnish sweet and salted licorice. There are many varieties to choose from and it's unique to the region. Yes, you can get licorice in other Scandinavian countries, but the Finnish variety is a real treat if you like anise.
Take the Tram to Hakaniemi Market Hall and Sample Finnish Flavored Coffee
Tram #2 rattles through a number of interesting neighborhoods in Helsinki. We boarded near the city center (not far from the main train station) and took an easy ride around. If you buy a day ticket for the tram, you can hop on and off for 24 hours and use Helsinki's convenient public transit system to explore the city. We stopped at Hakaniemi Market Hall. We especially enjoyed smelling different kinds of flavored coffee which the Finns seem to love. On a previous trip. we brought back a chocolate infused coffee. On this trip, we sampled an intense cardamom brew. In addition to coffees and other treats, Hakaniemi Market Hall also features a wide selection of crafts and a Marimekko outlet on the upper floor. Don't miss this!
Toast to Your Trip with a Signature Helsinki Gin and Tonic at Cargo Cafe
With just two days to explore Helsinki, the time really flies. We once again toasted our departure with a Gin and Tonic made with Helsinki Gin at Cargo Cafe. We're looking forward to visiting again soon!