Though the goal of my time in Finland was to eat my way around the archipelago region and explore the outdoors with Visit Finland, I knew I couldn’t come to the country and skip out on the capital city.
Since this was going to be Sam’s first time in Europe, we decided to arrive a few days early in order to do some sightseeing around Helsinki, meet up with a friend of mine, and even take a side trip to a neighbouring country! But until I get around to telling you about all of that, here are some of my first impressions of Helsinki:
Life is lived outdoors
On my first day out in the city I turned to Sam in wonder, “It’s Thursday, how are people not at work?” It was about 11 in the morning and it seemed like all around us locals (and a few out of towners) were going about the day as though it were a weekend.
Friends were chatting at outdoor cafes, couples were cycling around on vintage bicycles, and families were enjoying picnics at Esplanadi Park while a brass ensemble played live music. Didn’t anyone have to be at work?
After speaking to a few locals I discovered that Finns get a lot of holidays, and of course, many like to take their holidays during the height of summer when the weather is at its very best and the sun shines its longest.
Helsinki knows a thing or two about design
While in Helsinki I got to meet up with one of my Canadian friends who is currently studying in Finland, and together we went on an extensive walking tour of the design district.
I already knew about the design company Marimekko (they specializes in flower prints and graphic patterns), however, there is a whole world of Finnish design outside that household name. There were shops specializing in glass, ceramics, furniture, fabrics, all by established and upcoming Finnish designers.
If I had to sum up Finnish design, I would go with clean, edgy and fun.
You will eat like royalty at Market Square
I love browsing markets so this little spot was a pleasant surprise. Located right by the harbour, Market Square was the perfect place to get a taste of Finnish cooking, and it became my go-to restaurant for multiple meals a day, including my very first taste of reindeer meatballs. (You could have told me they were beef and fooled me.) However, it was the mouthwatering salmon dish that kept me coming back for more.
My usual order included a hearty portion of grilled salmon cooked in lemon, butter and black pepper. This came with a generous side of marinated Parisienne potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and green beans, all covered in a creamy garlic sauce. Yum! At 9 Euros a plate, I found it to be a bargain.
If you’re going to visit Market Square for dinner, just be sure you go with enough time to order your meal and eat it too. The market closes at 6pm, but most vendors start closing up well before then.
The midnight sun really does shine
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in Lapland in the summertime when the sun never dips below the horizon. Even though Helsinki is in the southern part of the country, we still got extended daylight hours. The sun was always up by the time I woke up at 6 in the morning, and of course, it was still shining by the time I went to bed at 10 in the evening. It was a strange feeling to never see the sky go dark.
Smoked salmon and rye bread are a daily dietary staple
Whether it was for breakfast or for a mid-afternoon snack, there was always smoked salmon and rye bread around. I couldn’t have asked for a healthier of tastier treat.
Helsinki is a very tranquil capital city
Helsinki may be the calmest capital city I have ever set foot in. Coming from Southeast Asia, I knew I would be shocked by the cleanliness and orderliness of Finland, but I wasn’t quite expecting to find such a peaceful setting in a capital city. There were times when I was walking downtown and I would make a turn only to discover I had the whole street to myself.
I was also surprised by traffic – as in there wasn’t any. While in cities like Saigon you have to throw yourself into traffic and hope that motorcycles swerve around you, in Helsinki there were hardly any vehicles, and those which we did encounter at intersections usually gave us pedestrians the right of way. Thank you!
Have you been to Helsinki? What were your first impressions?