We spent 2 days in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, before heading over to Tallinn to begin our two-week trip through the Baltics. Why Helsinki? Well, we’d already decided to fly Icelandair to Europe so we had to pick a destination in Europe that Icelandair flew into. We knew we wanted to travel through the Baltics, so Helsinki it was! It turned out to be a great choice.
See our full gallery from Finland here.
Helsinki is a very cool city. It’s located right on the Baltic Sea and is comprised of over 300 islands! There are regular ferries and waterbuses that you can take to visit some of these, which is a great way to spend a day. While it’s a big city with tons of restaurants, cafes, and shops, it’s not too big. It’s very walkable (we didn’t use public transit once within the city), incredibly cyclist-friendly, not overly crowded or touristy, and has a cool artsy vibe.
On our first day, we bee-lined it to Kauppatori or Market Square, which is the city’s famous market located in the South Harbour at the beginning of the Esplanade Park. There are loads of booths set up here with vendors selling produce, cooked local dishes, coffee and pastries, as well as clothing, crafts and souvenirs.
After touring around the market for a bit, we decided to jump on a ferry to the sea fortress, Suomenlinna, which is actually made up of six connected islands. The ferry just takes 15 minutes and a return ticket only cost 5 euros. This is a must see for anyone visiting Helsinki – we spent a couple of hours wandering around the islands’ footpaths, checking out the old fortress walls, sea cannons, and even an old submarine. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes, although it seemed the popular thing to do is bring over your own picnic and find a patch of grass with a view.
We took the ferry back to mainland and grabbed lunch at one of the market stalls because we wanted to try some local food. Yum! There’s plenty of choices, making it hard to decide. After lunch, we walked to a nearby brewery restaurant that Trevor had heard about and wanted to check out – Bryggeri. He bought a flight of beers and we sat in their great beer garden out back to enjoy the sunshine!
Later that afternoon, we walked by the Senate Square and then hiked uphill to check out the Church of the Rock (Temppeliaukio Church), which is pretty cool for a quick visit.
On our second day in Helsinki, we hopped on a bus to the small, medieval town of Porvoo, which is just under an hour away. Here, we walked along the harbourfront, browsed among the shops in Old Town, checked out the old cathedral, and walked along the trails in some nearby parks. It always amazes Trevor how much the countryside in the Nordic countries can look like Northern Ontario. It was the case when he was in southern Norway years ago, and was the same here. Similar trees, landscape, and rock outcroppings. Made us feel like we were at home.
Before going to Helsinki, we had been pre-warned by several people that Helsinki was incredibly expensive – but after a week in Iceland, it almost seemed cheap. We didn’t eat any meals at restaurants (because we often self-cater), but you can eat at the market or buy salads or sandwiches at a grocery store for a good price. Café prices for coffee, tea, and pastries were also pretty reasonable. Probably because Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world – the average consumes a whopping 8 cups of coffee per DAY! Wow!
For both of our two days, the weather was beautiful – sunny and high teens in temperature. If only it was like this year round, but unfortunately that’s as warm as it seems to get and then it’s all downhill. We could totally see living there, but we’re not really winter people.
Overall, we had a great two days in the city before heading off by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia.