As I have been traveling throughout Europe, I always make a stop in the nation’s capital city. I expect the normal hectic activity of a large city with thousands of people; the traffic, the lines, the prices. However, when I landed in Helsinki, I could sense that it was different, which was a pleasant surprise. The Finnish capital is quieter than most other major cities, and it felt incredibly welcoming from the very beginning. I walked miles and miles every day, stopped by the most popular sights, but still experienced a homely feeling among the strangers.
With beautiful weather for those few days, I did quite a bit of wandering around aimlessly to see what I found. These kinds of walks usually tend to be where I find some of my favorite spots, because they’re off the tourist trail. I walked through one of Helsinki’s older residential areas, where colorful wooden houses decorate the neighborhood. I also found a botanical garden to walk through and a peaceful lake right in the middle of the bustling cityscape.
Helsinki has a very rocky terrain naturally, so they have to explode rock before they can build. You can see some places where they just built around the natural makeup, and it creates a different atmosphere than other big cities. One of the most popular attractions in Helsinki is the Temppeliaukion Church, which is a church literally built inside a rock. Legend has it that the rock was too expensive to blow up, so they decided to be a little more creative with their architecture plans. The church has large windows that let the natural light in, and the walls show the rocky foundation. This was a very serene stop and I sat in its ambience for about an hour.
There are many other famous churches throughout Helsinki, some of which were established during the time that the Soviet Union had influences in the region. Many cities on this side of Europe have historical ties to Russia, and the remnants still stand in some places. Finland embraces their past by preserving some of these artifacts but also pushes towards future growth with developing newer, more modern buildings.
Finnish tradition was also something I enjoyed learning more about. My hostel had a sauna, which was something I had never tried before, but it was immediately added to my Finland bucket list. The Finns have been using saunas regularly for generations, with some of the benefits including stress relief, muscle relaxation, fighting illness and many, many other things. To put its popularity into perspective: there are 5 million people living in Finland, and there are 3 million saunas. It was definitely a refreshing experience and I would love to start doing it more often!
Another thing on my Finnish bucket list was trying a traditional reindeer dish. I like to think I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to trying eccentric foods, especially after I ate pig’s ear in Spain last year. I went to one of Helsinki’s highly rated traditional restaurants and ordered their sautéed reindeer dish. The plate was covered in mashed potatoes with cranberries on the side and topped with the meat. It was super delicious, and I would highly recommend it! Another bonus random food I tried was Salmiakki, a salty licorice “candy.” This one wasn’t my favorite, but I still bought a small pack to bring home for the brave foodies to try.
After my time in Helsinki came to a close, I hopped onto a ferry and rode over to Tallinn, Estonia. It’s hard to believe how quickly this trip is going! 2 countries down, and 12 more to go.