In a serendipitous chain of events, my dad was in Helsinki, so I was able to visit him for a weekend. To avoid missing class, I booked a trip that arrived at 1:00 a.m. on Saturday and left at 6:00 a.m. on Monday. It was a tight deadline, but we were able to pack a lot of sightseeing in without stress. We got the Helsinki Card for 48 hours, which gave us free travel in the city and free admission to the city’s most popular attractions. Here was our weekend itinerary!
10:00 a.m. Normally I’m a sucker for old wooden bookshelves and stained glass windows, but the Helsinki Central Library, which is less than a year old, blew me away. The swooping ceiling and light wood provide a bright atmosphere, and the assortment of fun seating, like the bubble chairs pictured below, made it feel more like a playground than a library.
1:00 p.m.: Formerly a fortress built during Swedish occupation, I expected the island of Suomenlinna to be dull and gray, meant only for history buffs. Oh, how I was wrong. Suomenlinna has remnants of its military past that can be seen in its military museum, but the island was filled with vibrant pastel buildings. While we were there, we stopped at a quaint cafeー fun fact: Finns drink the most coffee per capita in the world! Though we were only there for a few hours, if I could go back, I would definitely aim to spend at least a day there.
6:00 p.m. For dinner, we went to a traditional Finnish buffet. There were about five different types of reindeer on the menu, and I opted to try the stewed reindeer and reindeer meatballs. After eating exclusively pasta and pizza for the past five weeks, it was nice to eat something hearty that appealed to my Midwestern soul.
9:00 a.m. In Market Square, you can get some of the best views and food in Helsinki. In addition to orange tents where farmers and artisans sell their fare, there’s the Market Hall, an indoor space with several traditional and Finnish-fusion food stalls.
11:30 a.m.: The canal tour was by far my favorite part of the trip. A ferry brought us around the islands that surround Helsinki, most of which house summer residences. Though we didn’t venture that far from the city, it felt like we traveled further north into the forested countryside. It was around 50F° and windy, but the bright oranges of the foliage made me forget about the chill (and they provided blankets, which greatly helped).
2:00 p.m.: During the afternoon, we opted for indoor activities and went shopping at Stockmann’s, the largest department store in Scandinavia. Finland is no exception to the rule of Scandinavian design dominance. Perhaps because Helsinki only gets two hours of sunlight in the winter, Finnish prints are bold, nature-inspired, and gorgeous. I was drooling over the fuchsia and scarlet poppies of one of the more well-known design brands, Marimekko.
6:00 p.m. As much as I’ve been eating excessive amounts of Italian food, I could not resist trying the Berlusconi pizza from Scandinavian pizza chain Koti. In 2005, Former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi said that people in Finland only eat “marinated reindeer,” so this pizza chain dedicated a reindeer, red onion, and mushroom pizza on rye bread crust to him. It was not as strange as I expected, and it actually tasted a lot like Domino’s
Though I would have liked to stay longer in the city and spent more time with my dad, my excursion to Helsinki and first adventure in the Nordic countries allowed me to get a varied sampling of Finnish culture (and reindeer, obviously).