I recently spent some time in Helsinki and at first, I didn’t know what to expect. Unlike most cities in Europe, I had heard that Helsinki didn’t really have an “Old Town” and was a pretty modern looking city. Some of my favorite places in Europe, Prague for example, are filled with old architecture and culture. Could I like something that didn’t have this kind of tradition?
My misgivings were short lived. I found Helsinki to be throbbing with life and it possessed a vibe that the French explain as Joie de Vivre. Yes, the people of Helsinki have plenty of that. My stay lasted a few days – more than enough time to really feel absorbed into the culture. However, you can get a nice overview in only a few hours if that’s all you have.
The First Place You Should Go is the Wharf
We were hungry after we arrived and decided that the wharf would be the best place to go to absorb into the local culture. Helsinki has a wonderful market over by the wharf. The market runs every day and has sellers that hawk anything from those Russian fur hats to ice cream, seafood, and produce. Browse around at the stalls and most definitely get something to eat!
I purchased a bag of cherries from a produce stand and proceeded to the seafood handlers. I ended up with an order of fried fish – they looked like sardines only smaller – perhaps they were smelts? You could also get salmon, fried shrimp, and other seafood treats with various sides. The pickings depend on the catch of the day. Watch out for the seagulls though. They’re aggressive and you should really seek shelter under one of the tents. One landed on my head right as I got my fish and started walking over to a table.
Helsinki Bars and Restaurants
We ate in a different place each night. We had everything from traditional Finnish food to Italian food to French cuisine. When we visited the traditional Finnish place I was intrigued by the reindeer so I gave one of the traditional reindeer dishes a try. The Fins eat dinner around six or seven o’clock but stay open fairly late. Take your time to browse at the menus and find the food you really want. It’s all wonderful!
Helsinki also has a lively bar scene and especially during the summer months tend to stay open all night. We arrived at one place around midnight and left around three in the morning and the place was packed when we went back to our hotel (and the sun was rising). Each bar has a different vibe – it all depends on what you like. Wander around a bit and find the place that suits you best.
Shopping in Helsinki
One of the things I like the most about Helsinki is the shopping. It’s a modern city and the men and women dress fashionable. You could spend days wandering in and out of the shops doing nothing but trying on clothes and buying the occasional “souvenir”. There are also some nice souvenir shops selling anything from traditional Finnish goods to Russian handicrafts.
No matter how long you’re staying in Helsinki, this article will get you started exploring all that the city has to offer. In addition to what’s mentioned you can also take a boat ride, ride the ferry to Tallin, Estonia for the day, and trek into the Finnish countryside and get a feel for country life. The important thing is to find the things that you enjoy doing most and to keep an open mind. Helsinki, Finland is one of the fairly undiscovered gems in Europe.