At the end of this month (January 31st to be exact), I’ll be headed to Helsinki, Finland and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a destination that I never really imagined visiting to be completely honest, especially in the middle of winter with subzero temperatures, but I am extremely anxious to roll around this beautiful city. You may be wondering how/why I chose this destination, so let me tell you that before we delve into what all I’ll be doing while there.
A few months ago, I applied online to be a part of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence. This residence is sponsored by Visit Helsinki and Visit Finland (among several others) and it allows travel bloggers and influencers the opportunity to live like a local in Helsinki for one week. Lodging, transportation, and more is provided for the influencer and one companion. When I filled out the form, I was hopeful that I’d be chosen, but I tried not to get my hopes up too high just in case. Here’s a video all about the #HelsinkiSecret Residence –
Well, fast forward a couple months and I received an email letting me know that I was chosen for the February residence. They choose different influencers for every month in 2016, so I’ll be one of the February bloggers, along with Bon Traveler, JOELIX, and I Am Aileen. As the title of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence suggests, I’ll be uncovering the secrets of Helsinki and how wheelchair accessible the city is. I was happy to find out while reading my Lonely Planet Finland book that Lonely Planet said Finland is one of the most wheelchair friendly countries in the world. That put my mind at ease a bit, but I still want to show you exactly how accessible it really is.
I know, I know… You’re probably wondering why in the world I would want to visit Helsinki, Finland when the average temperature is about 1° Fahrenheit right now. There are SO MANY reasons. Let me tell you a few reasons now why I’m insanely excited to freeze my butt off and what all I’ll be doing in Helsinki this February.
There are quite a lot of museums in Helsinki and whenever I visit a city, I love to at least go to 2 or 3 different ones. This gives me a chance to learn about the history of the city or country and view some cool artifacts. One museum in Helsinki that I am particularly interested in visiting is the National Museum of Finland. This museum gives the history of Finland from the Stone Age to present day. Since I don’t really know anything about Finnish history at this point, hopefully I’ll be able to learn a lot during my visit.
Churches and cathedrals
From what I’ve researched online about Helsinki, the city is home to some seriously gorgeous cathedrals and churches. Any time that I’m in Europe, I am simply in awe of the beauty of cathedrals. Some that are on my must-see list include Helsinki Cathedral (probably the most popular as it’s located in the central Senate Square), Uspenskin Cathedral, and Rock Church. No, they don’t play rock ‘n roll music at the Rock Church. The walls of the church are made of real rocks. Some have even said that it’s an “architectural masterpiece”.
Fortress of Suomenlinna
This is ranked the #1 attraction in all of Helsinki on TripAdvisor, so of course I have to visit it. Suomenlinna was built as a maritime fortress in the 1700s and has since been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Suomenlinna sits just a 15 minute ferry ride away from Helsinki and the photo opportunities should be endless!
Markets and shopping
Of course, I’ll have to buy some souvenirs for family and friends back home while I’m in Helsinki… and a bit for myself too. Stockmann’s is the city’s premium department store, so a shopping trip there will be in order. I’d also love to visit some of Helsinki’s markets, including Old Market Hall and Hakaniemi Market. At the markets, you can try traditional Finnish foods and buy plenty of souvenirs from local vendors.
I’ll admit, I’m a pretty adventurous eater. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you probably already knew that since I chowed down on some fermented shark in Iceland a few months ago. Well, while in Helsinki, I really want to try reindeer for the first time (sorry vegans!). Aside from trying Rudolph, there seems to be many exceptional dining options in the city. One restaurant that I’m really excited to eat at is OLO. It’s one of the most highly ranked restaurants in Helsinki and even has a 20 course dinner. Yum!
Finland is a cold country, so of course ice hockey is extremely popular. I recently discovered that HIFK, the Helsinki area’s oldest ice hockey team, has a game while we’re going to be there. Since ice hockey isn’t really something that we have here in Georgia (or maybe I’m just not aware of it?), I think that going to a game would be uniquely awesome. I don’t have tickets yet, but hopefully I can make this happen.
A possible day trip
Helsinki is a short distance from many popular cities, including Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and more. I’m considering doing a short day trip to either Porvoo, Finland or Tallinn, Estonia. Porvoo is a small medieval town in southern Finland, that was home to the famous poet Johan Runeberg. I’ll even be in Finland on Runeberg Day, so visiting Porvoo on this day could make for a unique and cool experience. Tallinn on the other hand is in a different country, which means I’d get to visit Estonia for the first time. Tallinn is arguably the most popular day trip from Helsinki and for good reason. Tallinn’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are also wheelchair accessible driving tours in Tallinn, which would make it easy to get around. Let me know if you think I should visit Porvoo or Tallinn…
Where I’m staying
The #HelsinkiSecret Residence is hooking us up with fantastic accommodations at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments. I’ve only looked over the website, but it looks spectacular and seems to be much more than just your average hotel. Centrally located, these rooms are actually more like apartments. They come with a kitchen, furnished terrace and more to make guests feel like they are living in Helsinki.
The most popular thing to do in all of Finland is visit the sauna. There are many public saunas around Helsinki and most hotels have their own as well. I’ve never been in a sauna, but it seems like my kind of place because I love heat. And it would be especially nice after being in the subzero temperatures outside. I’ve tried to find wheelchair accessible saunas online, but I haven’t really been able to find anything. Hopefully when we’re in Helsinki, it’ll be easier to find or maybe our hotel will even have one. I’m not sure, but if it’s meant to happen it will happen I guess. I’m open for anything!
As you can see, Helsinki offers many activities and things to do in the winter. While I’m not sure which of the above things we’ll definitely end up doing, they’re all possibilities. I didn’t want to plan a full day-by-day itinerary for this trip because I may get to Helsinki and discover another attraction that looks even better. It’s always good to go with an idea of what you’d like to do, but leave room for changes and improvements.
If you’d like to follow along during my trip, I’ll be posting on my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. I will also be using the hashtag #HelsinkiSecret across all of my social media channels. And of course, I’ll have in-depth accessibility reviews of Helsinki here on the blog after my return. For now, I’m off to research more about Helsinki and keep getting excited about my upcoming Finnish adventure! I can’t wait! 🙂
Do you have any recommendations for me while I’m in Helsinki??