Thursday, 10 October 2019

Luxury in 24 Hours: Helsinki, Finland.

It's been a long time since I did a quick weekend trip somewhere, and with a few months of no travel over the summer months, it was time to jump back on a plane and go for a quick weekend break! I really wanted a relaxed city that wasn't too far from London, and one that was safe for a solo female traveller.

I found return flights to Helsinki with Finnair for just £100, so booked it and tweeted asking for tips. That's when Aftab replied and said "I want to come to Helsinki!". We've been friends for years and have been wanting to go somewhere together for ages but haven't found a time where we were both free, so my solo trip became a joint endeavour and turned out to be the most fun weekend I've had in aaaaages!

We had just one night in Helsinki, but luckily because the city is fairly compact we were able to do and see everything we wanted, and still have time to relax. It was a weekend of rejuvenation and relaxation, and I honestly can't recommend Helsinki enough for a short weekend break. So, let me tell you exactly what we got up to :)

Day 1

Our flight was an early 7:30am from Heathrow on Saturday morning, arriving in Helsinki at 12:30 in the afternoon. We got to our hotel around 2ish, and after checking-in and having a quick freshen up, we headed out to explore! As we were only there one night, we stayed at the Radisson Blu Aleksanteri. It was clean, contemporary, and in a very central location which made walking everywhere a breeze. It was also very well priced so we decided to treat ourselves and have a room each! 

We walked from the hotel over to the Moomin Cafe for a sugar hit and a dose of cuteness. I used to loveeee the Moomin's when I was younger so was SO excited to go to the cafe! It was adorable and we treated ourselves to hot chocolate and a red velvet cupcake (complete with Moomin biscuits). I may have also got a raisin cookie as an 'emergency' snack for if I got hangry later in the day haha. 

After the Moomin Cafe we wandered along to the Market Square by the Harbour, and we spotted an interesting looking building further down. It looked slightly like the sauna we were booked to go to the following day, so I got super excited and we were taking photos of it because it looked super cool. Then I Googled it and it turned out it was just a random restaurant and the sauna was half an hour away hahaha. Aftab and I were doubled over laughing because we'd literally spent ages taking photos of it!

After that debacle we walked to the Orthodox Cathedral, Uspenski Cathedral, and had a quick peek inside where there was a wedding going on, so we decided to check out the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral. All of the architecture in Helsinki was just beautiful. I didn't really known what to expect from the city, but it surpassed my expectations so much.

We were pretty tired by this point as we'd had such an early start, so we decided to go back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and then get changed and head out for dinner and drinks! We started with a sunset drink at the rooftop bar at Hotel Torni, and then headed back towards the Cathedral for dinner at Savotta.

Savotta is kind of a touristy place, but soooo many people recommended it to me so I figured we should try it out. They serve local Finnish food, so I had Reindeer steak for my main course, and a wild blueberry mousse for dessert as Finland is famous for its berries. Sadly I didn't get any successful photos of the food as the lighting wasn't the best, so you'll just have to picture how delicious it all was!

After dinner we decided we needed more drinks, so we went to Kappeli for prosecco, and then I did my very best Moose impression (ya know, seeing as we were in Finland and all). We stumbled out of the bar and through the gardens, and struggled to walk through the park as we were doubled over from laughter the whole time! Eventually we made it to our next stop, Grotesk Bar. We had some great Amaretto Sours here, and it was THE BEST people watching place!! If you go you should probably reserve a table in advance though - we struggled to get a seat because every table was reserved.

A few drinks down we figured we should probably quit while we're ahead, so we headed back to the hotel for a reasonable night of sleep!

Day 2

We awoke bright and early and enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the hotel, before heading to the Chapel of Silence, also known as Kamppi Chapel. You're not allowed to speak inside the chapel, which gives this beautifully serene atmosphere that just calms you and allows you a few moments of complete peace and quiet. Aftab and I both lit a couple of candles, and then headed out to see the wool market just outside the church.

The wool market was great as we got to see some sheep (it's the simple things) and see some Finnish ladies spinning wool. One of them told us how she takes her spindle into the hills with her when she walks her dogs and Aftab and I practically melted at the dreamy mental image of walking in the Finnish hills with a load of dogs!

After the market we then decided to walk over to the famous Karl Fazer cafe for a hot chocolate and cinnamon bun. Finland is famous for cinnamon buns, and although it's home to many bakeries that specialise in them, we chose to experience a cinnamon bun and iconic brand all in one go instead. The Karl Fazer brand is one of the most famous Finnish confectionery brands, with the cafe itself being a rare example of Art Deco architecture and design in Finland. The cinnamon bun was the perfect sugar hit to keep us going, and oh my goodness the hot chocolate was just what we needed to warm ourselves up!

Finally, our re-fuelling our bodies, it was time for our Finnish sauna experience. We researched a bit before we left London, and figured that the Loyly sauna would be the best for us as it was one of the only unisex saunas in Helsinki (and also one of the few where you could wear bathers).

We booked our lockers in advance on the website (you have to choose a 2-hour time slot), and jumped in an Uber after Karl Fazer. The sauna doesn't open until 1pm on Sundays, and we got there slightly early so had a little wander around the waterfront restaurant that is adjoined with the sauna. Despite the drizzle it was beautiful, with views over to the main city area from the restaurant's outside terrace.

You can read about our sauna experience in my full review, but it was incredible and I highly recommend it! At Loyly there is both a normal sauna and a smoke sauna, as well as steps down into the Baltic Sea so you can swim inbetween each sauna session. Aftab and I both dipped our toes into the water to test it out, and then I wildly decided to just go for it and had a little swim! It was absolutely freezing but such a great experience and I'm glad we did it.

Photo courtesy of the lovely Aftab
We spent around an hour or so in the sauna, then got showered and changed and warmed up with a glass of bubbles in the restaurant next door. After warming up it was time to jump in another Uber to visit our final stop on our Helsinki tour...

The Temppeliaukion Church, also known as the Rock Church, is a Lutheran church that opened in 1969 and is built directly into the solid rock. The architects, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, are brothers, and won a competition to build the church! It was absolutely beautiful and although busy with tourists, well worth a look and a moment of quiet reflection.

Our time in Helsinki had come to an end, so after the church we headed back to our hotel to collect our bags, and then walked over to the train station to get the train to Helsinki airport.

We had the most incredible weekend in Helsinki and absolutely fell in love with the city. It was the perfect weekend break with a mix of culture, food, and local experiences. I'm now desperate to go back and explore Finland's countryside!

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