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

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

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 ››

What to buy in Helsinki – groceries

One of my favourite grocery stores in Helsinki is S-Market in Bulevardi in Helsinki downtown (the actual address seems to be Hietalahdenranta 7, but it is situated in the end of Bulevardi next to sea). Surely one reason it to be my favourite is that I live nearby. But it is pretty good supermarket – not too big but big enough to have pretty good selection. I also appreciate that Hietalahti Market Hall (Hietalahden Kauppahalli in Finnish) is next to S-Market Bulevardi – very handy to visit both. Another very good supermarket here in Helsinki downtown is at Stockmann Department store -1 floor. You can read more shopping in downtown from this post – Stockmann mentioned there!

What to buy from Finnish Supermarket? Of course if you are hungry buy whatever you wish to eat. In Finland people speak pretty well English so just ask from somebody when you are not sure about what different items are. I collected here some Finnish specialities I think everyone visiting in Finland should buy and taste. First I want to introduce Karjalanpiirakka. It is Finnish snack – pie made of rice and rye flower. If you are hungry, just buy some of those and something to drink. Karjalanpiirakkas are normally found next to breads, you should buy those ones baked in store (they look like the ones in picture above).

At bread section you also find Finnish healthy speciality rye bread (ruisleipä). When tasting that, you should also buy at least some butter since rye braid just alone is maybe a disappointment. I LOVE rye bread and it eat every day – normally with some butter, cheese and cucumber (and with that I drink Coca-Cola but surely my drink is not Finnish (or healthy) at all:-) Cheese we cut here in Finland with “juustohöylä”, picture found of that above with other things mentioned in this section – this juustohöylä-tool is also found from S-Market Bulevardi. It is very handy when wanting to cut very thin slices of cheese. But back to rye bread – there are variety of different rye breads – pick whatever label as long as they are really rye! You can find also “rye bread chips” called “Ruissipsi”. If you need more snacks I recommend tasting Finnish yoghurt with some mysli. A+ yoghurt in the picture is my favourite!

And of course you have to hear about Finnish sweets as well. I recommend you to buy Finnish ginger bread (piparkakku in Finnish) – very delicious. These are very tasty just alone. But if you wish, you can also buy some brie cheese and put slice of that on top of ginger bread. In that case you need to buy also some red wine since those belong absolutely together. Luckily there is Alko next to S-Market. Alko offers wide selection of wines. In Finland wines (and hard alcohol) are only sold in Alkos – those you can’t find anywhere else.

I truly believe we have best candies in the world here in Finland. We have such a wide variety of different candies – you have to visit candy section in S-Mark.  The absolute buy is chocolate by Fazer – there are basic chocolate and also different flavours. Also I warmly recommend you to taste some black liquorice. That is absolute favourite for many Finns but I know it can taste a bit strange for foreigners. I think that is a great homecoming gift from Finland. There are also a lot more delicious candy – like TV Mix in picture. After tasting variety of candies you should try some Finnish Xylitol chewing gum – it is very good for your teeth (also found from candy section).

Anna

 

Best Helsinki Christmas Market – Tuomaan Markkinat

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Anne wrote some weeks ago about Christmas Bazaars here in Helsinki. I think the best bazaar is Tuomaan Markkinat, which is situated in Senaatintori (along the Aleksanterinkatu). It is very beautiful place – Helsinki Cathedral is just next as well as Helsinki University and other old picturesque buildings. At Tuomaan Markkinat I recommend to stroll around and admire all different handicrafts, Christmas foods and Finnish specialities. Many of them are very reasonably priced so you can also buy great gifts for Christmas. If you have kids, they should try carousel. And when feeling cold, try some warm drinks!

Tuomaan Markkinat will be open until 22nd of December so there are still some days left. This time I bought some woolen stockings – very warm and useful for those cold winter days we are still waiting for.

Merry Christmas for everyone!

Anna

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Best Christmas Lunch in Helsinki – Restaurant Sipuli

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If you visit Helsinki during December, you should taste some Finnish Christmas specialities. This is also very local thing to do – I have already had two Christmas lunches and I’ll have at least one more before Christmas. This time I’ll tell you of my Christmas lunch in this special restaurant “Ravintola Sipuli”. Restaurant is situated between President Castle and Uspenski Cathedral (Russian Orthodox church here in Helsinki), the address is Kanavaranta 7. Building is brick-walled warehouse and absolute speciality is the glass ceiling since you can see Uspenski Cathedral throughout. It is great view as you can see from picture below.

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And what about Finnish Christmas food specialities – in Sipuli there is buffet with many different fish – herring, salmon, fish roe as well as meat and many desserts (some of the latter ones not so traditionally Finnish like macarones) as well as selection of cheese. Place is hugely popular during Christmas time so you should book in advance. However, you can also just pop by and ask for a table. If there is only small company, waitress probably finds you a table. This Ravintola Sipuli is also great place to visit other times than December – it is very good restaurant – not cheap but as said, the view is exceptional and food is very tasty. I think Christmas buffet was 59 euros.

Hopefully I have time tomorrow to write few words about Tuomaan Markkinat, which Anne already mentioned in her writing about Christmas Bazaars here in Helsinki. I visited Tuomaan Markkinat today and it is really worth visiting!

Anna

 

 

Enjoy Christmas Lights of Helsinki – Christmas in Helsinki Part II

 

As you know, Helsinki is very up in north. That means city is pretty dark during Christmas time. Snow brings some light – but we need of course also some decorations. This year we have very pretty light decorations in Park Esplanad (Esplanadin puisto in Finnish, situated between Etelä- and Pohjoisesplanadi). Above and below pictures are taken there. There is also one picture of Restaurant Kappeli which is lovely old building in Park Esplanad. After admiring Esplanad lights, I recommend to pay a visit for Kappeli and enjoy some glögi, warm drink with some Christmas spices. Anne wrote about mulled wine (meaning glögi) some weeks ago.

After Park Esplanad you have to check our official Christmas Street Aleksanterinkatu which is just a block away. By the way, for British readers it is nice to know that Senaatintori is by the Aleksanterinkatu. And this Senaatintori and lovely Tuomiokirkko (Church) you saw when watching x factor UK this year since Saara Aalto, the Finnish Finalist in show this year, visited Senaatintori in the clip filmed in Finland shown a week ago in British tv.

In the beginning of Aleksanterinkatu (exact address is Aleksanterinkatu 52, the window being in the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Keskuskatu) you can find “Christmas window” of department store Stockmann (read more about Stockmann and shopping in down town Helsinki here). This year Stockmann Christmas window is winter wonderland – a top for all kids but also absolute “must see” for everyone else.

For other Christmas activities you should read what Anne wrote some weeks ago,

Anna

 

 

 

First Snow in Helsinki

This week we have enjoyed first snow here in Helsinki. There isn’t (yet) too much snow but enough to have this great feeling of coming winter. I feel like Christmas is coming – almost singing “White Christmas”… You can’t yet go to cross-country skiing nor ice skating but those hobbies will be available in near future.

These pictures are mainly taken from Esplanadi (next to Stockmann, Esplanadi is a park between Etelä-Esplanadi and Pohjois-Esplanadi) and Ruttopuisto which I’ve written many times before. By the way, for those who are in to Pokemons, Ruttopuisto is still perfect place for Pokémon hunting and now it is snowish Pokémon hunting!

As you can see, we still have some autumn colours around – snow came some weeks before we normally have our city wearing white so autumn is still around. For those who are planning trip to Helsinki in near future I need to tell that it is possible we’ll still lose snow before Christmas. It is interesting to see what kind of winter we’ll have this time.

Last picture you can see Helsinki Cathedral from a bit different angle than often in pictures. You can also see Bank of Finland on right.

Enjoy winter and snow. And remember to wear enough clothes – it is cold out there.

Anna

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