Helsinki in Pictures

Helsinki is a beautiful city and easy to explore, especially in summer when the days are long and every day is a good day for a picnic. There are so many things I loved about the city and Finland in general.

It’s easy to get around Helsinki without a car. The transport network of buses and trams is excellent, making it delightfully easy to navigate. We also loved how easy it was to travel by boat, whether to Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari, Suomenlinna, or Harakka (Magpie) island for a spot of bird watching. We were able to truly appreciate the ‘land of a thousand lakes’ thanks to the ace water transport system.

One evening we got caught in a downpour and instead of being stuck indoors, we decided to take advantage of the white night and explore Helsinki by bicycle (compliments of Scandic Paasi). It was magical. With few people or cars on the road, we felt like we had the entire city to ourselves.

I’ll always associate Finland with Moomin, Arabia, Marimekko, and Aarikka. But I am happy that I can now add some of our favourite Helsinki spots to the mix — Café Ursula, Kamppi Chapel, Hakaniemi Market and Café Regatta, to name a few. Oh and of course, we mustn’t forget the Finns. We’re so grateful to the many friendly people who helped make our Finland adventure special. Kiitos!

 

Backyard Adventures: Suomenlinna

If you fancy a little maritime adventure while you’re in Helsinki I highly recommend making a trip to Suomenlinna (Sveaborg), which also happens to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Built during the Swedish era as a maritime fortress and a base for the Archipelago Fleet, Suomenlinna is only a quick 15-20 minute ferry ride away from the Market Square.

You can easily spend an entire day at Suomenlinna. In addition to several shops (in which you’ll spot some Moomin goodies) and museums, there are many trails that lead to spectacular views. We were excited to come across an enchanting family of swans–the fluffy cygnets were just adorable.

IMG_3914.CR2Before you go, check the HSL website for detailed ferry schedules. Finnish weather can be unpredictable so be sure to dress in layers. When we set out on the ferry the weather was quite nice but as we arrived at the fortress we were suddenly surrounded by fog. I might as well throw in a reminder to wear comfortable shoes. We saw several ladies looking quite miserable in skinny heels–not the best choice for walking on slightly rugged, unpaved roads.

Turku: Medieval Markets and Marathons

Our Finland adventure was comprised of two parts: Helsinki and the Turku archipelago. When we booked our stay at the Radisson Blu Marina Palace Hotel, we had no idea there would be hundreds of athletes staying there with us in preparation for the Paavo Nurmi Marathon. The marathon is an annual occurrence in Turku, which we got stuck in when trying to leave our hotel. It didn’t take long for the roads to clear and it was fun watching all the runners speed past our car, but I thought it should be something to make note of when planning your visit to Turku in summer.

The Medieval Market in Turku is also an annual summer affair, and yet another event that we stumbled upon during our stay. Succulent pig roasting over an open fire, fried white fish and grilled salmon, candied apples (that staple of medieval Europe), roasted root vegetables and bottomless cups of mead. Perhaps not the most historically accurate medieval meal, but a wonderful spread to be found at any festival. There were crafts and souvenir stalls set up along the Aura River, and lots of friendly, creative folk dressed up in medieval fashion, dancing and singing what I am assuming were medieval-ish songs. Plenty of merriment to be had by all!

 

Island Hopping in Finland

The Turku archipelago is easy to fall in love with, especially when the warm sun is beating down on your back, and you have some hot smoked rainbow trout fresh out of the smoker in one hand and a delicious korvapuusti (Finnish cinnamon roll) in the other.

While we drove around exploring the islands, I could picture the characters of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book coming to life in the ever-changing mood of the northern summer and everything felt simultaneously exciting and calm. I also imagined the Moomins and all of their picnics and outdoor adventures.

I love the sound of the Finnish language and am by no means an expert at picking out Scandinavian languages, but after we had travelled beyond a certain point I was pretty sure most of the locals were speaking Swedish.

Nautical summers are my favourite and because of that I felt completely relaxed and at home as we hopped from island to island. We started out in Nagu/Nauvo, the port to the Turku archipelago, passed through Pärnäs/Pärnäinen and Korpo/Korppoo and turned back just in time to catch the last ferry back to Turku. We hand’t exactly planned on an island adventure–it was a spur of the moment decision after spending the morning in Moominworld. If only we had more time…the weather was perfect, the food was simple but delicious, and the pace of life was perfect.

Hungry in Helsinki

We visited Finland a week before the start of the Finnish summer holiday. I thought it would be enough time to fit in a few tasty meals before the entire country shut down. Sadly, a lot of the restaurants that were on my food itinerary were either closed for renovation or for an early start on the summer holiday.

Hyvää huomenta

Hyvää huomenta! Breakfast was included in all of our hotel stays–lots of meat, dairy and rye.

That said, we were still able to sample a variety of the local fare. I loved the full Finnish breakfasts served in our hotels, the Hotel Scandic Paasi, Helsinki, having the best selection. We had a lot of salmon soup and fried whitefish (the Kauppatori stalls served the best soup), as well as a bit of reindeer and mash and fresh berries.

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Kauppatori Food Stalls

Our favourite restaurants were Gastrobar Emo and Ravintola Gaijin (literally means Foreigner Restaurant in a blend of Finnish and Japanese). Emo served a refreshing menu featuring a lot of seasonal vegetables, although I’ll admit we were a bit hungry after the meal.

Emo

High Five Menu at Gastrobar Emo

Although the food scene is slowly becoming more diverse, ethnic food is still harder to come by in Helsinki. We craved steamed white rice after 10 days of rye and potatoes so decided to go back to our gaijin roots on our last day in Finland.

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Ravintola Gaijin’s Tasting Menu – Menu Gaijin

A lot of our friends were surprised we chose Finland of all the Scandinavian countries to visit because we’re so big on food. We got a lot of “You should’ve gone to Norway!” I had no idea that Finnish food ranked so low on people’s ‘must try’ lists. In any case, I had to see Moominvalley with my own eyes. And why not Finland? Although we did not find as many choices for food as we may have had on our other travels, we enjoyed almost everything we tried.

If we ever have a chance to return to Finland, I would like to try Ravintola Juuri (you really broke my heart last summer…we had reservations, but due to delayed renovations they were cancelled) and Patisserie Teemu & Markus (the mere thought of how disappointed I was when we finally found you and you were CLOSED makes my tastebuds ache for you all over again).

Moominworld At Last!

After many months of anticipation my biggest Moomin dream finally came true!  We finally made it to Finland in late June and crossed the bridge from Naantali to the island of Kailo.

You can definitely see Moominworld in a day, but we also wanted to explore the Turku archipelago so we hired a car and made Turku our base for a few nights. This allowed us to take a leisurely drive to Naantali and it was nice not being confined by a bus or train schedule. We were blessed with good weather the morning of our visit to Moominworld, but Finnish weather can be quite fickle (with more rain than usual this summer) and it started raining shortly after we left the park. So it may be wise to spend a few days in Turku to increase your chances of having a sunny day to explore.

We knew Moominworld wasn’t going to be anything flash (e.g. big Disney theme park), and it turned out to be even smaller than expected. That said, it was still as cute and charming as I’d imagined it to be. As far as theme parks go, everything was thoughtfully laid out to make parents’ lives easier and optimize the fun for little ones. It was almost relaxing in the sense that there were no loud screaming children (just excited well-behaved ones) and the absence of queues for the attractions was nice. I’d like to think that anyone that loves the Moomins is a good person, which is probably why Moominworld had such a great vibe to it. We especially loved the open access to nature paths and the sandy beach. And of course, I still hope to have a Moomin House of my own one day!

Not wanting to eat theme park food, we opted for lunch in Naantali, where there is another Moomin Shop and lots of lovely little restaurants and cafes along the harbour. I can’t end this with a sweeping statement like “no Moomin fan’s life is complete without a visit to Moominworld” as that would be overhyping the place. But if you’ve been Moomin-obsessed for as long as I have been, it’s a real treat. I’m so grateful to hubs for accompanying me on this Moomin pilgrimage and can now close this chapter of my life.