Although I’m half Belgian, half Italian; I have the feeling there is some Scandinavian blood in me too. If my budget and work schedule would allow it, I would go up north at least once a year. In reality I’ve only travelled twice in Scandinavia. Once in Copenhagen and once on a road trip in Finland (combined with Tallinn, Estonia).
I can chat for hours about my trip, but let’s start with five things well worth doing in Helsinki; a city that combines the liveliness of a capital with the cosiness of a village.
1. Chill at Esplanadi Park
Esplanadi Park is the epicenter of the city. When you’re done with shopping, you can drink a coffee there, have an ice cream or listen to street performers.
2. Go to a sauna
According to Wikipedia there are over 2 million saunas in Finland. It would be a pity to leave the country without trying out at least one of them. My Couchsurfing hosts took me to Arla. Lovely murals show you the way to this sauna that was founded in 1929 and is enclosed in an apartment building. In Belgium saunas are situated in luxurious wellness centers. In Finland they are part of everyday life. No luxury at Arla, but loads of authenticity. Cooling down doesn’t happen in a bubbling hot tub but on the courtyard with some fruit and water. Lots of locals here and almost no tourists; but keep it quiet…:-)
3. Book a table at The Savoy
The terrace of this restaurant overlooks Esplanadi Park and gives a superb view on Helsinki Cathedral. Designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto back in the thirties, you can still feel the atmosphere of that time. Off course the Savoy-vase Alvar Aalto designed for iittala, and which was named after the venue, is on every table. Unfortunately, the menu is not cheap. If you want something budget friendly (17,60€) try the traditional dish Vorschmack. It looks rather rustic, but it tastes nice. The Savoy-beer matches perfectly with it.
4. Taste the salty liquorice ice cream…
Or local dishes with reindeer meat, salmon, little fried fishes,… You can try them out at the Kauppatori, a market outdoors at the haven. Oh yeah, you can shop here to. While we’re on the subject of shopping…(look at number 5…)
Stockmann is Helsinki’s main department store. The building is impressive and you can almost literally find everything here. You prefer small shops? Then go to “Uudenmaankatu”. It’s a cool street with a lot of design shops. It offers design of new talent, but also well-known design brands have a spot here, like a concept store from Marimekko.