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What to Do in Helsinki and Everything Else You Need to Know

What to Do in Helsinki and Everything Else You Need to Know

If you are wondering what to do in Helsinki, this post will blow you away. There’s so much to see, do, and eat in this charming European city. Known for it’s fabulous winter sports areas and refreshing summer temperatures, this Nordic country is a good bet when looking for an off-the-beaten path, quirky, and breathtakingly beautiful city to visit.

Helsinki is full of surprises…delicious, fun, interesting surprises. It boasts an urban vibe while also being crazy friendly. It is sleek, yet warm, full of function as well as tradition. I consider myself honored to have experienced this wonderful Finnish city. And I hope you get to experience it too!

Amos Rex Museum skylights

The skylights of underground Amos Rex Museum pop up at street level in unusual shapes.

What to do in Helsinki

Here’s everything you need to know regarding what to do in Helsinki…and everything else.

I didn’t know much about Helsinki in particular and Finland in general before I visited. Honestly, that’s half the fun of travel, experiencing the most fascinating things you never knew existed. Helsinki blew my mind with it’s rich history, awe-inspiring architecture, and variety of tourist destinations. Here’s a few I really enjoyed.

Amos Rex

Helsinki is filled to the brim with interesting art, like the collection at Amos Rex Museum, and it’s all housed in immaculate, intriguing buildings. The curving mountainous skylights at the Amos Rex Museum are breathtakingly beautiful, but also functional as they provide light to the museum below. This museum houses 20th-century and contemporary art collections and exhibitions. It just opened last year but has quickly become a tourist hotspot. Over 10,000 people visited within the first few weeks it was open! I can see why!

When I was here. there were two amazing exhibitions. There was a collection on display by the famous painter Magritte, and it was amazing. Only thing missing was his most famous painting, Son of Man (man wearing a bowler hat with a green apple in front of his face).

However, the showstopper for me was Floating Monolith, by Studio Drift. A gigantic block that looked like concrete literally floated in the middle of the gallery, untethered and without any visible wires. It defied logic, and was so very cool to see in real life.

Floating cube Amos Rex Museum, Helsinki Finland

This floating cube defies logic, gravity and physics. Or it’s a fantastic ruse.

Soumenlinna

Want to go back in Nordic history? Then make sure you visit World Heritage Site Suomenlinna. It is an 18th-century military sea fortress turned nature area, spread across several islands linked together by bridges. Suomenlinna is filled with ancient-looking cobblestone walkways and centuries-old artillery and defensive walls. Mixed in are modern touches like a local micro-brewery and several restaurants. Walking trails cross rambling park land and waterways with bridges abound.  Popular sights include the King’s Gate drawbridge and Suomenlinna Museum, which tells the story of Finland’s military history.

During the summer, Suomenlinna is a huge hit with locals. Families, lovers and everyone in between all swarm to the island for picnics and scenery. When we visited it was relatively quiet, but crowds gather when the weather warms. Trees blossom, flowers spring up, grass greens and locals love it. You will too.

Suomenlinna Helsinki Finland winter

Suomenlinna is very important in the history of Finland, from the time the country was part of Sweden and then Russia before its independence.

Oodi Central Library

A library is a tourist attraction? Uh…yup! The brand new Oodi Central Library in Helsinki is a masterpiece! Honestly when it was suggested we visit the library, I rolled my eyes anticipating extreme boredom. Quite the contrary. Never have I seen a library more innovative, inviting, and thoughtfully-designed.

Library Oodi, Helsinki Finland

Opened less than two years ago, Oodi is a masterpiece inside and out.

Oodi was warm and inviting and lives up to its goal of being the free, open-to-all “living room” of Helsinki. It’s architecturally interesting, lively and filled with people. No one was stage whispering “Shhh!” in here! I totally could have hung out there all day. It has two coffee bars, a cafe, meeting rooms, kids play area, recording studios, 3D printers, sewing machines and tons of places to relax. (Oh, there are books there too I’m told.)  Locals can access all of this and more with just their library card.

Library Oodi top floor interior, Helsinki Finland

The interior top floor of Library Oodi slopes upwards, giving views of unusual perspective.

Loyly Helsinki Sauna

There are something like 2 million saunas in Finland, and there are only 5 million people in the country! Finns adore their saunas! If you visit this tremendous country, it’s mandatory to check out at least one of their saunas. When I was in Helskini, I visited an uber-cool and luxurious sauna, Loyly Helsinki. It seriously rivaled a health club. Their public saunas fit about 20 people each. They are co-ed and swimsuits are required. (Thank God.)

Loyly sauna entrance Helsinki Finland

Loyly sauna is positioned right at the water’s edge, with striking architecture.

I tried both the smoke and regular sauna and both were HOT. So hot that I even dunked into the freezing Baltic Sea to cool off…3 times! It was unbelievably cold AND just the ticket after baking in the sauna. The whole experience was surprisingly refreshing. Once again travel expanded my horizons.

Loyly Sauna ocean plunge, Baltic Sea, Helsinki Finland

After baking in the sauna at Loyly, guests are encouraged to dunk in the freezing cold Baltic Sea.

Kids activities

Helsinki can be a fantastic family destination, with a variety of things to do that will keep the kids occupied and happy:

  • Helsinki Zoo: Situated on an island, Helsinki Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. (Established in 1889.) It boasts 150 animal species.
  • Sea Life: This Aquarium offers lots of colorful fish species and even sharks. There’s also an ocean tunnel at Sea Life where you can walk below the sharks…if you dare.
  • Amusement Park Linnanmäki: Unlike amusement parks in the US, the entrance to the park is free of charge. Linnanmäki was opened in 1950 and still has a vintage feel. The most popular ride is the wooden rollercoaster from 1951. Would you ride it? Uh, I’m OK with missing that one I think!

How to get to Helsinki: Finnair

Look, there are probably a lot of options to get to Helsinki from the US. However, the luxurious personal service I experienced on the official airline of Finland, Finnair, was pretty darn special. Finnair recently invested heavily in its fleet by adding 13 new Airbus A350 wide-body jets over the last few years. And they also added a direct flight from LAX to Helsinki. And I had the good fortune of being  on the inaugural flight between these two amazingly different destinations. It’s a 10.5 hour flight which goes over the North Pole, Greenland (that is icy) and Iceland (that is green) all the way to Finland. If you can splurge on Business Class, the lay flat seats are like a little cocoon of heaven.

Finnair inflight map to Helsinki

Flying on Finnair to Helsinki was a dream, direct from LAX and so comfortable.

When to go to Helsinki: Helsinki weather in Spring won’t freeze you to death

I visited Helsinki in April and thought it was the perfect time to go. It was coldish but not freezing. Typically, in April Helsinki weather averages to be about 39 degrees. Winter tends to last through mid-May. Coming from LA, the Helsinki weather was fun and different and made me appreciate the sun and warmth back home. It was novel to see the last remnants of snow in a couple of shady spots. Honestly, it was all rather lovely. One day was even legit Spring-like.

You will need to pack a heavy coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. It can get chilly year round, especially at night. You could go in summer when the average temperature reaches a balmy 65 degrees, but it’s crowded and can get pricey. The best part of going in Spring was that there were almost no crowds. By the way, it also gets crowded in winter because these hearty Scandinavian folks love their outdoor snow sports.

What to eat in Helsinki: Everything

I enjoy good food, so I was honestly very worried about what I would eat in Finland. Was every meal going to be like the food in Ikea? Not always. (Fun fact, Finland used to be part of Sweden so the food does seem kind of similar). My meals were all really delicious. If you want smoked fish and gamey reindeer meat, you can definitely find it. But if you want contemporary cuisine and international restaurants, you can find that too.

Helsinki Finland pastry shop

The Finns do a fantastic job with pastries, including these traditional berry-topped numbers.

I ate in some swanky restaurants and was definitely impressed with each of my meals. I did not go hungry! One thing I couldn’t make myself try is the Finland favorite, salmon soup. It looked as disgusting as it sounds. I could not do it. You find it EVERYWHERE though and the Finns adore that stuff. Next time I come to Helsinki maybe I’ll be brave enough to try it. Maybe.

steak tartare, Restaurant Emo, Helsinki Finland

Delicious steak tartare from Restaurant Emo in Helsinki – every dish here was out of this world.

The top restaurants I experienced:

  1. Restaurant Emo is located in the middle of the city center. It is described as “modern European with a Nordic twist”. Delicious.
  2. Story is a restaurant/café found in the Old Market Hall in Helsinki. It offers traditional market fare, incorporating the ingredients found at the market and nearby sea.
  3. La Maison is exactly what you think it is: a charming French bistro. It’s the kind of place that makes you remember you are in Europe.
Cafe Maison seafood salad, Helsinki Finland

This fresh seafood salad at Cafe Maison was created from 100% locally raised ingredients.

Where to stay in Helsinki: Hotel Katajonkka

I stayed in a Helsinki prison. No really. I did! The Hotel Katajanokka was once the Helsinki County Prison, dating back to the 1800’s. Prisoners were still being held here as late as 2002. You’d never know that by looking at this magnificent hotel though. Look for a post soon on this modern, service-orientated hotel. https://www.hotelkatajanokka.fi/en/

Hotel Katajanokka interior hallway Helsinki Finland

The Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki used to be a prison – until 2002!

Bottom line

If Helsinki is not on your bucket list of places to visit, it should be. It’s a city designed to welcome visitors. Don’t let the fickle Helsinki weather scare you away! Open and friendly, the Finns love to show off their jewel on the Baltic Sea.

Kiwi.com – book cheap flights, trains & buses


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Finnair Wings It to Helsinki in Style

Finnair Wings It to Helsinki in Style

Finnair is stepping up their game considerably. The Finnish airline has heavily invested in its fleet by adding more than 13 Airbus A350 jets over the last few years. Along with that investment comes new and longer routes, because those A350’s are way more fuel efficient and speedy. I had the opportunity recently to join the airline on their inaugural Finnair direct flight from LAX to Helsinki. It was a pretty darn cool experience.

I had the privilege of being seated in Business Class, of which there are 46 seats on this aircraft. There are 43 Economy Comfort seats on the Finnair Airbus A350-900, and another 208 Standard Economy class seats.

location map Finnair Airbus A350

I love to watch the location map on a flight like this.

Finnair Direct Flight from LAX to Helsinki

Checking In

I’ve not been on an inaugural flight before, and the excitement and anticipation in Los Angeles International Airport was palpable. Finnair had not had a flight from LAX in more than 30 years, so it was a big deal for them to begin with this flight. There were balloons to greet passengers at the brand new check-in counters, and many smiling agents to help the process go smoothly. It was really kind of sweet actually, since they were all so excited!

Finnair check-in counter LAX

Finnair’s brand new check-in counter at LAX was open for business.

Boarding Gate

The gate where we would depart was at the very end of the Thomas Bradley International Terminal, and more excitement was developing there too. There were dozens of blue and white helium balloons (the airline’s colors) and a full spread of treats along with a celebratory cake to honor the occasion. The flight crew posed for photos while we waited to board, and then we all queued up to enter the aircraft and take our seats.

Since I was seated in Business Class, our group boarded through a door located near the front of the plane. As soon as we stepped on board, I was so happy to see the clean lines and extremely well designed cabin.

Finnair flight crew inaugural LAX

The Finnair flight crew posed for a photo as the ribbon was cut for this new route.

Business Class Seating on the Finnair Airbus A350-900

For this Finnair direct flight to Helsinki, we would be flying overnight and I was so happy to be seated in Business Class. Coach seating looked way above average too, but my lay-flat seat in Business Class ensured I would have a good night’s sleep on the 10.5 hour flight. We would be flying over the North Pole, Greenland, Iceland and then the Norwegian Sea before reaching Finland and landing in Helsinki.

Business Class seat Finnair A350

My sweet Business Class seat on Finnair feature a lay-flat seat and comfy Marimekko pillow.

One of the design features of the extra wide-body Airbus A350-900 is an incredible amount of room to move around. The ceiling heights are quite spacious, and there were just 4 total seats across each row in Business Class. I was seated in the right(is that port?) side window row, then two seats were paired in the center and another row of seats on the (Starboard) side. I also liked that the seats were staggered, so if I happened to peer out from my private cocoon I would still not see anyone next to me. Loved it.

The happy flight attendant poured me a celebratory glass of champagne, and I settled in to my comfy seat for take-off. (More on my seat later.) She even came around with a polaroid camera and took a photo of me to mark the occasion. There was a commemorative little frame for it too!

My commemorative polaroid and frame from the inaugural LAX to Helsinki direct flight.

Finnair Airbus A350 Aircraft Features

Regardless of where a passenger was seated on this inaugural Finnair direct flight from LAX to Helsinki, there were features of the Airbus A350 aircraft anyone would cheer for. First, the windows. The windows on this airplane are ENORMOUS. Most people above five feet tall have to stoop to look out an airplane window, especially when seated right next to it. These windows are enlarged and oval, giving passengers a far better view of what’s going on outside.

Finnair A350 window view

The windows on the Finnair Airbus A350 are enormous, and I could watch more of the world go by.

Another wonderful thing? This aircraft is quiet. Sooooo quiet. The new engine design of the Finnair Airbus A350 must have some sort of sound muffling system in place. I noticed almost immediately upon take-off that the characteristic roar of airplane engines was not apparent. It was never noticeable throughout the entire flight.

And the restrooms – not an area that passengers usually find pleasant on any aircraft. On this Finnair flight, however, the restroom was spacious (!) and stocked with luxury amenities like face lotion, body lotion, face spritzer, air freshener and more. I’ve never lingered in an airplane bathroom for any reason – ever. This one however? I took my sweet ass time.

My Business Class Seat

My cocoon was heaven – I don’t even like to call it a seat. Angled away from the aisle, the seat was cushy and comfortable upright, and downright dreamy when laying fully flat. Near my left armrest was a large compartment holding my own set of full headphones. To my right was a little table surface, and a hook to hang I-don’t-know-what. Several other compartments held various menus, magazines, flight information documents, etc. The well for my feet was large enough to fit me comfortably, but it’s the only area I wished had been slightly larger so I could turn on my side easily while sleeping. The seat pillow? Designer Finnish chic in authentic Marimekko blue and white polka dot pattern.

Finnair Business Class seating Airbus A350

So comfy in my cocoon seat, I just watched some movies, ate some food and caught some winks.

I liked the enormous size of the entertainment screen as well. It swiveled towards me from the console for easy viewing, and could be pushed away when I no longer wanted to watch anything. And by enormous, I mean larger than any I have seen – easily 14 or 15 inches across in my estimation. High quality image and sound too.

I slept like a baby for a good 5 hours, before waking up to have a light breakfast and coffee before landing.

Onboard Meals

Okay, I was a little worried about what I would be served in Business Class on a Finnish air carrier. I let them know I am not a big fan of fish to avoid any craziness (I actually like many types of seafood but I was scuurrrrdddd.) Sure enough there were odd seafood dishes served, which I managed to avoid. The meals were pretty good, but nothing memorable that I would rave about here. It’s hard to get airplane food right, and they tried hard. I will leave it at that.

However, let’s talk about Finnair’s glassware because it is truly gorgeous. Created by Finnish designer Ultima Thule, Finnair’s signature glasses are made to look like melting ice and icicles. So delicate and beautiful. And I was given a set to bring home! It’s a mighty classy way for me to enjoy my occasional post-work scotch on the rocks.

Entertainment

The breadth of films and other shows on the onboard on-demand entertainment system was impressive, and I watched a couple of movies before nodding off. Picture quality as excellent, and so was sound – the airline-supplied stereo headphones were very good for noise reduction and sound.

Another cool thing I would qualify as entertainment: the live cameras installed on the tail of the plane. One camera faced forward, looking down the aircraft towards the direction of flight. The other pointed downwards, so I could view what we were flying over. This whole live cam concept fascinated me, and I must have checked back in on it two dozen times in flight to see what I could see. So very cool.

Finnair tail camera

During the flight, Finnair’s tail camera showed me what was below us.

One of the other surprises I enjoyed was the light show on ceiling. While we jetted across the globe, there was a light projection experience on the ceiling that morphed in shape and color.I joked with the flight attendant that it looked like the Northern Lights, and he said that is exactly what they had planned. Go figure! As it turns out, these were the only sightings of Aurora Borealis that I would experience on this visit, because evidently the season for viewing had recently passed. Darn it!

Amenities Kit

Usually I don’t get very excited about an airline amenities kit. However, this one stood out because it was contained in a sweet little zippered Marimekko pouch. Blue polka dots on a blue background. Inside were designer face cream, lip moisturizer, face moisturizer, toothbrush and toothpaste. I packed mine into my carry-on to bring home for the girls, and got another one on the flight back home. They were big hits at our house!

Finnair Business Class amenities

The amenities provided in Finnair’s Business Class included slippers and a Marimekko kit bag.

Landing and Deplaning

An Airbus A350 is a very large aircraft. Ours seated  people and weighs more than 205 tons unloaded. Well this Finnair pilot should be commended, because he touched that airplane down on the runway at Helsinki International Airport (HEL) gently. It was so gentle, in fact, that several passengers did not realize we had landed until the characteristic bumps of the runway asphalt made us feel the ground a bit.

Finnair live tail camera

Pulling into the Helsinki airport, I watched our Finnair flight dock via live tail camera.

We taxied up to the gate, deplaned and breezed through security to grab our luggage. All in all, a spectacular experience – I am so very glad I got to be part of this momentous occasion. Finnair had a lot to celebrate, and rightfully so. I expect this Finnair direct flight from LAX to Helsinki to be extremely successful for the airline. And judging from the positive reactions from the rest of the passengers on our inaugural flight, it will be.

Helsinki Airport as we deplaned our Finnair flight direct from Los Angeles.