Helsinki is the capital of Finland but is so close to Estonia they could almost be in the same country. Towards the end of our Baltic road trip through Latvia and Estonia, we decided to spend a day in Helsinki as it only took 2 hours to get to from Tallinn. In all honesty, we weren’t graced with great weather which meant our plans did have to change a bit but all the same, day tripping from one country to another never gets old.
Our ferry left Tallinn at 7:30 am so it was an early, and rainy, start but a quick 20 minute walk from the town centre and we were at the port. Pretty convenient! The ferry was fairly modern, huge and comfortable. We’d heard the crossings can get a little crazy as lots of Finnish people head to Estonia on what is essentially a booze cruise as the alcohol is so much cheaper. The early morning crossing was pretty calm but it was a little more lively when we came back!
Helsinki greeted us with rain and grey skies. Not to be put off we caught the tram to the Market Square and braved the weather to walk around the stalls. This was definitely a locals market as there were so many fruit and veg stalls interspersed with food stalls and the odd souvenir stall. Set right on the harbour front the fishermen basically pull up and off load their catch to waiting buyers. Large signs and overhead netting told us that there were problems with seagulls stealing food from people so to watch out if you’re eating anything!
Next to the outside market was the Old Market Hall. Finished in 1888 but not opened until the following year the Old Market Hall was the first indoor market built in Helsinki. Before that trading was done primarily outside but rising concerns about food hygiene led to covered markets. Today you walk through 2 corridors with numerous stall/shops selling everything from spices to meat, vegetables and wine. There are quite a few coffee shops and places selling food too. More touristy than the outside market but still a great place to stop and watch the world go by.
Helsinki was preparing for a charity midnight run which meant there were big stands in the Senate Square which were a mild irritation as they got in the way of my pictures of the cathedral. Set high up on a platform Helsinki Cathedral is a little intimidating. We climbed up to the top and decided that our plans for the day needed to change. We wanted to head to Suomenlinna island but the weather was not participating. A quick tram ride led us to our new-next.
I really like a religious building, I find them fascinating. The Church in the Rock was no exception. Built into a rock it is renowned for its acoustic properties and is one of the most visited attractions in Helsinki. When we arrived it was shut for a wedding, from what I could tell it was open at 30 minute intervals if there were other events on. We waited for the opening time, wandering around the rock garden, up on top of the church and across the road to Helsinki’s oldest souvenir shop ‘Anne’s Souvenirs’.
Inside the church, you really are treated to an acoustic marvel. We stayed for the full 30 minutes taking in the architecture, the actual rock walls, beautiful light and the music they played throughout. It was a highlight of the whole week trip across the Baltic’s. If you’re in Helsinki make time to go here!
After a pretty early morning and a busy day it was time for lunch, Finland, like Sweden and Norway is known for expensive food – which was true! We went to a recommended pub (which I have not kept the name of!), it had great beer but the portions of food were so small. Probably not helped by the fact we only ordered one sausage platter!
On the water
The weather had improved a bit so we reassessed our options with a coffee opposite the cathedral. The hop on hop off buses were pretty much finished for the day so our only real option was a 90 minute boat tour. Helsinki is made by its location on the water so it seemed right that we put on all our layers and braved the cold. We sat on the top deck while most people sat inside but we got great views – if a little chilly!
The tour took us around all the highlights that could be seen from the coastline, including right into the middle of Suomenlinna so we got to see some of it anyway! Perhaps my favourite view was of all the wooden saunas dotted about, all with direct access into the sea. Next time we are in Finland I’m putting this at the top of my list.
The end to our day was a little eventful, waiting at the tram stop for the right tram to get us back to the ferry, only to find out they weren’t running!! We didn’t have a huge amount of time to get there so we had to pretty much run across the city to another line that was running. We made it with about 10 minutes to spare so it could have been a lot worse!! Successfully back on the ferry the two hour trip flew by in a mixture of Finnish Long Drinks and 5 euro challenges in the shop.
A quick day trip from Estonia to Helsinki is really straightforward with little hassle (as long as the trams are running). Estonia has so much to offer so you don’t need to add in a day trip but if like us the novelty and adventure vibes kick in then go for it! I’d like to go back to Helsinki in better weather as I think the whole experience could have been 100 times better!
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