Hei Helsinki

Sunday 5th to Monday 6th January 2020


Two members of the Herd had to return to the UK to fulfil work and study commitments so having said a fond farewell to our beautiful offspring and the beautiful . . .

. . . Apukka Resort [where you can stay in an ice cabin if you wish] . . .

. . . we dropped them at the airport by taxi before going and depositing our bags in the luggage lockers at Rovaniemi train station. 

We then walked into the town to visit the shops and try to replace the gloves and hat we had lost the previous evening before heading to the Arktikum Science Centre and Museum. 

Extended exhibits show how native Finnish people have adapted to life within the Arctic Circle and the impact of global warming here. The museum has a strong ecological theme and it is a thought-provoking experience.

The atrium is particularly impressive and its silhouette is a landmark in the city.

Robert had been unable to book a sleeper berth for us for the overnight journey to Helsinki. Robert is normally very good at maintaining a spreadsheet detailing the first day all train tickets go on sale so he can get the best prices and guarantee our travel. Unfortunately on this occasion they went on sale on a day when we were a bit incommunicado on our recent trip to Morocco. So when he tried to purchase them two days after they went on sale we found all the sleeper cabins had sold out. It happened to be the end of the Finnish Christmas holiday and many families were travelling back to work the next day in Helsinki. Therefore we only had overnight seat tickets. 

Waiting on the platform in -12º we had not appreciated quite how busy our overnight train would be [see video of the day below] but with hindsight we realised many people, like our daughters, would need to return home on the Sunday after New Year. 

We shared a six seat compartment with a family with two young children but everyone was mercifully tired and quiet. It was still not a very refreshing night’s sleep and periodically Matilda thought enviously of our daughters tucked up in their comfortable beds back at home back in the UK.

Helsinki Station is an impressive building.

When we arrived shortly after 09:00 the streets seemed curiously deserted and it slowly dawned on us that we had arrived on a public holiday. The hotel receptionist confirmed this and also informed us that many of the sights could be closed. 

Fortunately as loyal customers [IHG Gold Elite], we were able to check in early at our hotel and after a restorative rest and a shower we set off to find our bearings. We strolled down Eteläesplanadi past the very enticing Kappeli cafe/restaurant which looks like a Victorian palm house. We were disappointed that we were really not in need of refreshment at this point.

We walked on to the old market on the harbour where a range of traditional Finnish food was on offer including tinned bear meat and reindeer chips.

Close by there was a public sauna and although we were wrapped up in our arctic coats, thermal underwear, hats and gloves, people were swimming in the open air. The pool is not actually the open sea, but it is a freshwater pool with no insulation suspended in the Baltic Sea. We were impressed by the way people walked calmly and smoothly down the steps into the pool without hesitating or flinching.

From the harbour we walked up to the Uspenski Cathedral [see feature photo above] which was closed for the bank holiday. The Helsinki Cathedral [see selfie of the day] was also closed and we planned to visit them both during opening hours the following day.

We then walked along the streets, past the Kamp Galleria [below left] . . .

. . . and the famous Stockmann department store.

Back near the harbour, although the unusually warm weather meant that the water was not frozen over, the icebreakers were all moored up in readiness. The Baltic Sea normally freezes over throughout the winter months. The icebreakers usually run constantly, keeping the shipping channels open. But not this year: a tangible impact of global warming.

Having had our first taste of Robert’s Coffee some years ago in the old market in Stockholm, we obviously felt an instant affinity for the brand name. In Helsinki they are as common as Costa in other parts of the world.

We were pleasantly surprised when we went into the branch of Robert’s Coffee near the harbour on Pohjoisesplanandi and discovered it was housed in the Jugendsali. This former bank hall, dating from 1906 and designed by Lars Sonck, and is one of the few jugenstil (Art Nouveau) interiors open to the public in Finland. A beautiful place to rest and enjoy a coffee. 

Our first evening activity was to ‘bag’ another Hard Rock Café, our 31st.

As always we checked out the recommendations on the internet for the best bars/best beer in Helsinki. Reviewing the suggestions, and rejecting many [such as wine bars] we came up with a list of six bars/pubs serving good quality beer in Helsinki: this equated to two-a-day for each of our three days in Helsinki. Today’s two were chosen on proximity to each other and our location at the end of the day’s walking.

First we have Black Door which we would highly recommend for the quality of the beer.

Then Oluthuone Angleterre with a good selection of UK and Finnish craft beers.

On the walk back to our hotel we found Pikkulintu which was not mentioned on our internet search, but which should be included and we would highly recommend.

PS Hei is the Finnish for hello.

Route Map:


Video of the day:


Selfie of the day:


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