Midsummer in Helsinki – what to do?

Today 23.6.2017 we have midsummer celebration here in Finland. This midsummer celebration is called Juhannus in Finnish. It will last all weekend and target is to enjoy summer and sun shining through the night. Since I am supposed to tell you what locals do during Juhannus I do it right in the beginning: almost all locals (I would say more than 70 % of Helsinkians but this is just wild guess) will travel out of Helsinki. We Finns believe right place to celebrate Juhannus is in summer cottage. Helsinki will be very empty and very different from normal during this weekend. So, this time I will tell you what tourists can do during Juhannus if in Helsinki. These things are of course also things what those few Helsinkians might do if in Helsinki during Juhannus weekend. And then – I am also traveling outside Helsinki this afternoon but I did some running first in the morning. There in Kauppatori (the big market square just opposite the President Castle) I saw former Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen. So after all, some very essential Helsinkians are spending their Juhannus here!

Right picture above you see something very essential of Juhannus – kokko in Finnish, bonfire in English. It is burned in the Friday evening. This kokko I took picture is situated next to Cafe Ursula. The address is Ehrenströmintie 3, that is by the see in Southern Helsinki, maybe 2 kilometers south from Railways station. Very nice walk from downtown – many parks. Kokko will be burned 9.30 pm and Cafe Ursula will be open during Juhannus weekend – so it is a great place to find some Juhannus feeling! Another great place to sense traditional Juhannus feeling is Seurasaari. There will be bonfire and old Finnish celebration traditions today from 4 pm until late night. Tickets there are 23 euros (kids under 12 years are free). Seurasaari doesn’t really have an address since it is small island. Google so you’ll see where it is. It is like 5 kilometers from downtown Helsinki. You can take bus number 24 to travel there.

Probably most “Helsinkian” thing to do in Helsinki today and tomorrow is to go to this dancing event – Juhannustanssit in Finnish. It is not disco dancing but more like fox, twist, Finnish disco and some new Finnish hits as well. My guess is (never been but sounds fun!) that there are lots of 25-50 years old downtown people who go there every year. This happening is organized by We love Helsinki -collective and it is situated in Kallio district at Kuudes linja and Kaiku (address Kaikukatu 4). Juhannustanssit is happening both Friday and Saturday from 9 pm until 4 am. Even you absolutely can’t dance I still recommend it!

And what about Saturday and Sunday? Most shops will be closed and town continues to be very empty. My recommendation is to visit Allas Sea Pool (picture below but very bad quality – in reality it looks a lot better!) which is combined restaurant and outside pool. You find there also saunas and it will be open during Juhannus. Great views of Helsinki when swimming in (warm) pool – I highly recommend that!

Anna

Interesting Museum in Helsinki – National Museum of Finland

Interested in knowing some more about Finnish history? Want to see some amazing frescos and interesting romantic style building? Wanting to buy some Finnish souvenirs? Rainy day and you don’t know what to do with kids? Answer for all these questions is: visit Finnish National Museum! This wonderful museum is located in centre of Helsinki, it is less than 1 kilometre from Railway Station. Address is Mannerheimintie 34. Trams 4, 7A, 7B and 10 goes past the museum if you don’t feel like walking. There are good English texts all over museum so it is understandable even not understanding Finnish! Building itself is really amazing. First thing to notice when entering from main doors are the bullet holes. They are also part of Finnish history since they were made during Finnish Civil War in 1918.

After bullet holes you see the amazing ceiling frescos by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. They present Kalevala theme (Kalevala is the Finnish national epic). Frescos were first made for Paris World Fair in 1900. These frescos you can see without paying entrance fee. In one fresco you can see many snakes disturbing the farmer when trying to start farming in rocky soil. I think that fresco presents Finnish history pretty well – it hasn’t been easy to start life here in north. But then – look how beautiful Finland is nowadays and how awesome city Helsinki is! But back to history – I have to mention that there is a pretty new prehistory section right in the first floor – very interesting to see how life started when first people arrived to Finland 10 000 years ago.

Of course there a many other exhibitions as well – you can learn a lot about Finnish history about the time Finland was part of Sweden and Russia. Right now (until 14.1.2018) there is also pretty interesting exhibition called The Public and the Hidden Finland presenting photos taken during Finnish 100 year old independency.

I promised also something for kids for rainy days. Answer for this is Vintti in the top floor. For my eyes there is nothing THAT special but all kids seem to love it! You can play with old shop, weave a mat, build a “log house” etc… many things kids love to play with!

Final thing I want to mention is the museum shop. You can buy good quality and quite stylish Finnish souvenirs there. Recommend to visit that as well. For visiting museum shop you don’t need to pay admission fee (so the final tip – if you don’t want to pay entrance fee or you are very busy, you get taste of the museum just admiring the ceiling frescos and visiting the museum shop).

Anna

Direct flight to Helsinki from Singapore or Hong Kong

Finnair flies daily from Singapore and Hong Kong to Helsinki and it has become a convenient flight to get to Europe. These direct flights take 11,5 hours from Singapore to Helsinki and 10,5 hours from Hong Kong to Helsinki.

The flights offer a nice experience to Finland. The new A350s are comfy to travel and the night flight helps you to get to the new time zone. If you fancy the most pleasant travel option, book yourself to business class. You’ll have a full flat bed, a curated selection of wines and food and a wi-fi!

Finns are proud of their design heritage and the nice thing at Finnair flights is that Iittala products and Marimekko prints are part of the experience. For a homesick Finn – or any design enthusiast – it’s just nice to travel in pretty environment.

As a last tip. Check the ceiling of the plane and maybe you catch some virtual northern lights too.

 

What to do at Helsinki-Vantaa airport

Many people know Helsinki-Vantaa airport through their transferring flights to Europe. In case you are not planning to stay couple of days in Helsinki, there are some nice options to spend your transfer time also at the airport.

If you need some sleep, pop into one of the go sleep tubes at gate 31. Take your ear plugs and pillow with you. Tubes are free from 6am to 10pm. Other times you pay an hourly rate.

Helsinki-Vantaa airport is not too bad for a quick shopping either.

  • Moomin shop, get some Moomin stuff from terminal 2, around gates 26-27: Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Book Swap, how nice is this! Finished the paperback over flight? Bring it here, recycle and choose another one for the connecting flight. Terminal 2, gate 31 – Kainuu lounge (open for everyone 24h)
  • Marimekko, get some famous prints to your home at terminal 2, gate 27, Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Iittala store, Finns like their tableware and glass items. Grab some classics at terminal 2, gate 28, Sun-Fri 5-23 and Sat 5-19.30
  • Alepa, this small every day grocery shop can be accessed through the arrival hall. Check what to buy in grocery stores and grab some Finnish goodies with you. Terminal 2, arrivals hall 2B. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

And the last but not least – Sauna

Every Finnish home and apartment building has its own, so why not the airport.
Situated between gates 36 and 37. It’s a unisex sauna and everyone whears a towel. It’s free for business class customers and other customers pay 48 euros. You can pay at the lounge reception or book in advance through Finnair’s website.

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Helsinki-Vantaa airport

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Time to have a nap.

 

 

First of May in Helsinki: best ways to celebrate May Day (vappu in Finnish)

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Best carneval time in Helsinki (and in Finland) is around first of May. Celebration starts already some days before – you can see groups of students wearing haulers. However, the real “vappu” and big celebration starts early evening of 30th of April. At 6 pm thousands of people want to see when statue Havis Amanda (situated between Kauppatori and Park Esplanad) will receive her “graduation cap”. After that as well as before there will be thousands of people in down town Helsinki celebrating. Most people wear their “graduation caps” (but only after 6 pm), drink sparkling wine and buy some air balloons. Overall feeling is positive and springish (even it would not be warm and sunny at all) and bars are very crowded. Recommend to be somewhere near Havis Amanda around 6 pm and after that visit at least Senaatintori and arounds. After these “must dos” you can have fun evening in bars – but it will be very crowded everywhere. However – don’t party too late since best part of May Day celebrations happens first of May.

First of May it is best to be in Ullanlinna (Ullis) and Kaivopuisto (Kaivari) already 9 am (doesn’t matter even you are not looking your best and smelling a bit of sparkling wine) since there will be choir singing and May Day celebration “officially” begins. All the day long there will be thousands and thousands of people having picnics and wondering around. You should have your own picnic snacks with you as well as some sparkling wine since there is not restaurants – idea is to have those with you. Everyone just spends the day meeting friends and having fun. Students were haulers, almost everyone have their “graduation hats” (but you can come without – no problem) and children have their balloons – what a perfect day! Remember to wear warm cloths since Kaivopuisto is next to sea – there can be very cold. See you in Kaivari on Monday!

Anna

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Russian Restaurant in Helsinki: Bystro

There are many great Russian restaurants in Helsinki. I truly recommend to visit at least some of them while here if you are not paying visit to Saint Petersburg right before or after Helsinki. Maybe my favourite Russian is very traditional, pretty price and authentic Saslik at Neitsytpolku 12. However, this time I write about my first visit to lovely Russian restaurant called Bystro which is situated near Kauppatori in the heart of Helsinki. Food is great, prices are reasonable (Saslik is pretty expensive) and atmosphere casual.  Address for Bystro is Eteläranta 16.

I was spending night with my friends, so we started with sparkling wine. Some of us took pickled cucumber and honey as a first course, some ready chosen “starter plate” with different Russian specialities. Both were delicious! I absolutely wanted to have blinis as my main course. In Bystro you get certain amount of roe, sour cream (smetana) and onion and with those you can eat as many blinis as you want. Blinis are totally “fresh” and so tasteful. I think blinis are absolute must have for everyone visiting Bystro. You can always have them as a beginning, if you have something else in mind as main course. Since it was Easter time, I chose pasha for dessert. It was modern and tasty (right picture below).

Bystro is not very fancy – you can basically wear whatever you want. You can have black lovely dress but as well jeans and nice shirt – customer are locals as well as tourists and from all ages. I recommend to make reservation in advance – restaurant is often fully booked.

When you step out from Bystro you see right away very lovey scenery shown below. If you want to continue having Russian night, I recommend Bar Mockba in Eerikinkatu.

Anna

Helsinki City Bikes and new bike stations in 2017

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After a long wait we finally got ourselves a new city bike system a year ago in May! Helsinki used to have an old city bike system  but it was closed in 2010 due to constant vandalism. In other words, the bikes got lost and broken all the time since there was no system to track down who actually was using the bike and where. Similar to shopping charts, you could just borrow the bikes from the bicycle stand with some coins.

Fortunately a year ago, the new and much improved Helsinki City Bike system started and a lot had changed in 6-7 years. The bikes were no longer green – greens seems to be reserved for trams in Helsinki public transport. Today the bikes are yellow and much stronger with little baskets in the front. The height of the saddle is easily adjustable and the bikes have automatic lights, too.

I used the city bikes the entire season last year (from May to the end of October) and last year I cycled about 90 kilometers. That’s not a huge amount of kilometers but considering that I was away for the entire July and all of my trips have been less than 30 minutes long (most of them under 1 kilometer, too) I think the bikes are my favorite and most used public transport method for the summer They served me extremely well in the city center where using other means of public transportation isn’t convenient. Biking saved up a bit of time and got me to work in less than 10 minutes – a walk that would normally take me about 15 minutes (but in the morning every minute matters…). For longer rides I still used my own bike but all my adhoc trips seemd to be all done by city bikes.

Helsinki public transport has pretty good instructions on how to register and use the bikes on their site but here they are in a nutshell:

 

Register: Choose the most convenient time for usage: 1 day (5 €), 1 week (10 €) or the entire season (25 €) which ends on 31 October. For the registration you need your credit card details.

Collect: After registration you will receive a cyclist ID and a pin code that you need for collecting the bike. All the bike stands are marked in Helsinki public transport’s map. There are also other services such as Kaupunkifillarit.fi that use open source data to show the availability of the bikes on each bike station.

Ride and Return: First 30 minutes is for free and after that you need to pay extra for each beginning 30 minutes. 5 hours is the maximum time you’re allowed to use a bike at a time (after that you’ll get a 80 € fine) so I would recommend returning the bike every now and then and picking up a new one if you want to save up some money.

Since the city bikes have been a huge success last summer, City of Helsinki decided to expand the bike network  much further from the city center, all the way to Lauttasaari, Etelä-Haaga and Käpylä. Starting from May 2 until October 31, there will be 140 bike stations and 1400 bikes available this summer, which sounds good to me!

 

 

 

Trip to Helsinki Bothanic Garden in Kaisaniemi

 

It seems to take quite a long time for spring to arrive to Helsinki this year  – even though the sun is shining, the temperature seems to be just a few degrees above zero. But since it was Easter just this week and to me Easter is a definite sign of spring, we decided to get a kick start for the season and visit Kaisaniemi Bothanic Garden.

The Bothanic Garden is a part of Finnish museum of natural history, Luomus of which I wrote about some time ago when thinking about what to do with kids on a rainy afternoon in Helsinki. Bothanic Garden is situated in Kaisaniemi so it’s a short walk or two tram stops from central railway station. Like most museums, it’s closed on Mondays but exceptionally they kept their doors open for Easter also on Monday. Tickets for adults cost 9 € for evergreen glasshouses but if you are a proud owner of a Museum Card you can access the garden for free. However, outside gardens are free to everyone all year round.

I haven’t really visited that many bothanic gardens outside of Helsinki so I can’t really compare much to other gardens – and to most people the plants in the garden are probably very common outside of Finland. However, I think it’s an excellent way for a quick getaway from a cold winter’s day and it gives you the opportunity to learn more about exotic plants. Some of them are also very popular houseplants in Finland (for example snake plants and saintpaulias).

One of the bothanic gardens attractions is their Waterlily Room’s  Santa Cruz waterlily which, according to the museum, has survived the bombings of World War II. They don’t usually survive our dark winter so the new plants rise again after March.

During the summer this is a nice area just to walk around the outside gardens or have a cup of coffee at next door cafe Viola. At least I added this to my to do -list for next summer!

-Marjo

The best views in Helsinki, part II

Last May I wrote about best views in Helsinki. Place for those views were Hotelli Torni’s Ateljee Bar. Now we have a new place here in Helsinki which is a bit upper – and still in the downtown. Place is called Sky Room of Hotel Clarion. It is in 16th floor – but definitely “the Sky Bar of Helsinki”. You see, Helsinki isn’t town of skyscrapers and there are great views from Sky Room!

Hotelli Torni is situated in Kamppi district – just something like 300 meters from Stockmann. New Skybar is a bit farer way – it is situated in Jätkäsaari – maybe 1.5 kilometres from Stockmann. Anyway it is so close I recommend a walk there one evening or afternoon when in Helsinki (and if you feel tired, just take tram 9 towards Länsisatama, tram stops just outside Clarion Hotel). When arriving to Clarion Hotel, go inside and take elevator up. Sky Room offers drinks and wine – also some snacks but it is not place for dinner. Sky Room opens 3 pm and kids are welcome until 6 pm.

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Looking from Sky Room Helsinki looks almost metropolis – you see Helsinki downtown but also Espoo (which is town next to Helsinki) and lots of sea (hotel is situated next to sea). You also see motorways – the scenery is different than Torni. In Torni you see all great downtown buildings from close compared to broader view of Sky Room. Actually – you should do both: start from hotel Torni Ateljee Bar and then take 15 minutes walk to Clarion along Lönnrotinkatu (see lovely Ruttopuisto on the way as well as Hietalahdentori.) This way you have seen all what is even close to Sky Bar here in Helsinki! If I remember right cheapest wine was something like 8 euros per glass – well worth of scenery.

Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of Hotel Clarion outside but since it is like talles building in Helsinki downtown it is pretty easy to recognize:-)

Anna

Read also: Best views in Helsinki part 1 ››

Breakfast in Helsinki – Cargo coffee and vegetarian food

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For the past year I’ve walked by Cargo coffee every week but haven’t had the chance or a perfect time to actually visit the café. It’s been on our to-do list for a while but sometimes things that are too close (only a couple of blocks from our home) get forgotten. Today, however, we decided to actually do something about it and went for a Saturday morning breakfast at Cargo.

Cargo Coffee is situated just between Kamppi and Ruoholahti at Ruoholahdenranta. It’s built from sea containers and has a bit of an industrial look and feel from the outside combined with Scandinavian design inside. Tram no 9 stops right in front of the café (stop called Länsilinkki) but you will get quite close by also with tram no 6 or tram no 8. You could also continue a late breakfast at Cargo by walking next door to Clarion Hotel’s Sky Room for a drink or two to enjoy the view (opens at 3 PM on Saturdays).

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It came as a nice surprise that Cargo only serves vegetarian breakfast and food and there’s also vegan options on the menu. I decided to have a breakfast plate with yogurt, homemade granola and berry compote, hummus, salad avocado, bread and cheese, served with juice and coffee. The rest of the crew choose some vegan pancakes and hot chocolate and a parmigiano omelette. All were very happy with their choices. The omelette was excellent. And the pancakes with fruits &  got a convincing two thumbs up from a junior carnivore.

The breakfast is served from 7.30 to 11 on weekdays and from 10 to 3 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week Cargo also serves vegetarian lunch and in the evenings there’s a separate dinner menu. The open terrace upstairs draws quite a crowd in the summer afternoons and evenings. They do serve wine, after all.

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