We took yet another ferry back across the Baltic Sea from Tallinn to Helsinki. This one wasn’t overnight as the crossing only takes 1.5-3.5 hours: we had time to spare so opted for the 3.5 hour ferry which was cheaper than the others. (Funnily enough the 1.5 hour ferry is sometimes the cheapest, but we’d heard that it was a smaller vessel and the crossing could be rough enough to toss it around so we avoided it just in case.)
We had one week in Finland (17-23 September). Rather than split it over two cities like we have been doing for most of this trip we decided to spend it all in Helsinki so we could take some time out to organise ourselves. Our next stop would be Russia where we have a faster paced itinerary so Helsinki was an opportunity to relax and regroup before the next stage of our adventure began.
And, it was lovely. A few fellow travellers we’d met in the Baltics warned us that there wasn’t much to do in Helsinki but this actually worked to our advantage because it took the pressure off to see and do lots of things. We stayed at a beautiful self contained Airbnb apartment on an island just to the west of central Helsinki, spent a lot of time just hanging out, and we cooked all of our evening meals there too. This saved us from the other point the backpackers warned us about; that Helsinki was expensive. But thanks to Airbnb and quite a bit of self catering we saved a lot of money. We didn’t find Helsinki outrageously expensive anyway, in fact I think it was probably slightly cheaper than Denmark and Stockholm. (Except for alcohol, which of the Nordic countries was cheapest in Copenhagen supermarkets.)
So what did we get up to apart from relaxing, organising and commissioning a beautiful engagement ring? Here are the top 10 things we enjoyed doing in Helsinki:
- Wandering around the design district.
- Admiring buildings and architecture such as the central train station, Finnish National Theatre and Helsinki Cathedral.
- Going to a Finnish sauna.
- Learning about the history of Finnish design at the Design Museum.
- Admiring a very cool exhibition called Camouflage at Kiasma, Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Visiting the Finnish Museum of Photography.
- Alex also enjoyed the Computer and Game Console Museum (but note that unfortunately there isn’t much English signage).
- Browsing the Old Market Hall.
- Checking out the graffiti wall and old power station buildings at Suvilahti. (Although the rest of this area felt slightly dodgy… saw a few drunks (or worse?) being carted off by uniformed men and women in the middle of the day…)
- Taking arty snaps of the Sibelius Monument.
We found almost all of these spots thanks to the excellent Like A Local Helsinki map. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you visit! (You can also get them in Tallinn.)
Cheap eats in Helsinki
- UniCafe (for lunch). Filled with students but non-students are welcome. Pick up a tray and cutlery then follow the aisle collecting along the way: 1 glass of water, 1 glass of milk or cordial, bread or crispbread with spread, a plate of salad, 1 hot main, wholemeal grains (brown rice, brown pasta or boiled potatoes), and depending on which main you pick this will cost about €6 (just under for a soup main and a little more for the premium main of the day). The mains change daily and we ended up eating here twice.
- Kitchen & Co (for lunch). Each day 3 different soups and 3 different salads are on offer and they cost €8.50-9.50 including really lovely breads. We had the delicious and filling bouillabaisse (which seems to be available almost every day).
- Cafe Regatta. A super cute cafe on the water near the Sibelius Monument. There’s plenty of outdoor seating but I couldn’t pass up the tiny and cosy interior which is filled with the delicious smell of freshly baked cinnamon buns. There are free refills for the tea and coffee and they actually give you €0.05 back with each refilled cup!
After Helsinki we took our last European ferry (on this trip ;) overnight to St Petersburg in Russia. We spent three days there before taking a rather plush overnight train to Moscow, which is where we are at the moment. I’ll write more about these cities later, but tomorrow is our last day in Moscow before we take the first official leg of our Trans-Mongolian journey: 80 solid hours on a train sharing both day and night with two complete strangers, with no access to a shower (only a toilet and washbasin), and possibly no access to powerpoints either. It certainly will be an interesting experience! After that we stop off at various points in Siberia and Mongolia before arriving in Beijing on the 12th of October. I’m not sure if we’ll have internet access between now and then so… wish us luck and we’ll see you on the other side!