So usually when I fly to Estonia, the flight options include a layover in Helsinki since there are no direct flights to Tallinn. On my last trip I finally figured why not take advantage of this and explore this Nordic neighbors backyard?!
I landed in Helsinki with an 8 hour layover and an appetite to explore. It was a fairly small but efficient airport and it was really easy to take the half hour bus ride into the city center. I went with the Finn Air bus, which is kind of the equivalent to the US Bolt bus. Comfy chairs, outlets and wifi for a little over 6€. You can't go wrong!
I got into the city center around 7:30am so it was still pretty quiet. Aside from a few work commuters, it kind of felt like I had parts of the city to myself, which was pretty cool. Also the city isn't that big so you can walk most of it comfortably in a few hours. Here are a few of my favorite sites:
The bus lets you off at a giant bus and rail station, which is fairly central to the town. Knowing that the cathedral was a must see for me, I decided to head that way first. I really love catching photos of churches and monuments before they're swamped with tourists. The cathedral was really beautiful but closed, so I didn't get to see the inside. Still worth taking a look though.
Next I made my way over to the market square, which is a popular outdoor market where people go to shop for fresh local produce and souvenirs, enjoy breakfast near the sea or book boat tours of Helsinki. When I got there most vendors were just setting up and it was really nice to sit by the water with a coffee and take in the bustle of tourists starting to fill up the market place.
Knowing that the only two other things I really wanted to see were all the way on the other side of the city, I started to make my way across. Now I know I said the city was walk-able, but I did not say you wouldn't get a workout in the process! Let's just say it was a hot long walk with a heavy backpack and I'm really glad I wore comfy shoes! There are a lot of great apartments and scenic streets along the way though so it's definitely not a boring walk.
Temppeliaukio kirkko... Or more simply put, The Rock Church:
This is probably the coolest and most popular piece of architecture in the whole city. It was built in the late 1960’s by architect brother duo Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and the structure is literally built in solid stone with a glass rooftop that allows light to pour in everywhere. Talk about shining down on you! It felt pretty magical and spiritual in there. Take a seat, reflect, pray or just admire the beautiful art that this piece of architecture is. Definitely a must see.
Linnanmäki Amusement Park!
So I thought it would be fun to see what a Baltic amusement park would be like, so I made the trek mostly uphill to this tucked away adolescent paradise. Thinking the whole time, "This better be worth it!" My plan was to ride the Ferris wheel and get some amazing aerial shots of Helsinki then be on my way; but when I finally got there I learned that access to the park was about 40€ for the day and 80€ for a single ride! 80€! Yeah... No thanks. I'll be shooting from the ground today!
Luckily walking through the park was free, so I decided on that and still ended up having a ton of fun! I watched other people ride, took pictures and stumbled on some of the best street food I've ever had that far out east. They’re all about hot dogs there, and I had a pulled pork “dog” that knocked my socks off! I capped it all with a great ice cream cone which was hard to avoid because they literally sold it everywhere you turned, and decided it would keep me busy on the way back to the bus.
I took the scenic route back, which actually ended up being almost a straight shot from the amusement park along the rail line and through two really pretty lakes. Overall I thought the people were nice, and the sites were fun. I highly recommend taking the trip, but skip the overnight here and do it in a day.