I just returned from an unbelievable week in Helsinki, Finland and I’ve been reminiscing about what all I did while there. As you may already know, I went to Helsinki as part of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence, where I explored the city for one week and discovered what Helsinki’s secrets are. It turns out that there are sooo many things that make Helsinki the fantastic city that it is.
On my first day there, I went on a wheelchair accessible city driving tour with Happy Guide Helsinki, and it was the perfect introduction to the city. Our guide, Dani, was energetic and friendly, and the van that we used had a wheelchair lift in the back so it was easy to load and unload at select stops on the tour.
We saw all of the main sights and this tour gave us a chance to sort of figure out the layout of the city before embarking out on our own for the remainder of the week. I would highly suggest doing a tour with Happy Guide Helsinki at the beginning of your time in Helsinki, but really any time would be great for this sightseeing tour. Here are some of my favorite things that we saw during the 4 hour city driving tour –
After picking us up from Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, where we stayed while in the city, Happy Guide Helsinki immediately took us to the Helsinki Cathedral. This is probably the most notable icon in the city and it’s photo is on pretty much every postcard that you can find, and no wonder! I had seen tons of pictures of the cathedral before going to Helsinki, but nothing could prepare me for the beauty of actually seeing it in person.
The cathedral is located in Helsinki’s Senate Square at the top of a large set of stairs, but don’t worry. There is a wheelchair accessible entrance in the back. Unfortunately, a water pipe broke right before my visit, which made the accessible entrance not so accessible. It really didn’t bother me though because the cathedral is so impressive from the outside, especially with a fresh dusting of snow. The accessible entrance should be fixed by now though, so if you go inside please let me know how it is.
The next stop on our tour was one of the most unique churches that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a LOT around Europe. It’s called Temppeliaukio, but the easier way to identify it if you’re an English speaker is by calling it Rock Church. Unlike Helsinki Cathedral, the Rock Church is not quite as stunning from the outside (although it’s still pretty cool), but the inside will blow you away. The entrance is on street level, making it completely accessible for wheelchair users.
Completed in 1969, the church was excavated directly into solid rock so the walls surrounding the church are actual rock. The church is covered by a beautiful dome, which is lined with copper, and is supported by concrete beams. I was in awe for about 20 minutes while rolling around the inside and trying to take it all in. This is a Helsinki attraction that you simply have to visit! Also, here’s a little fun fact – you can have a wedding, baptism, or funeral inside the Rock Church for free. Talk about a great backdrop!
Are you getting tired of visiting churches and cathedrals yet?? I sure wasn’t because Helsinki has so many beautiful ones to admire! In fact, visiting cathedrals might be my favorite thing to do in Europe because we just don’t have very many that are that gorgeous here in the U.S. The last cathedral on our city tour was Uspenski Cathedral. To be honest, I hadn’t even seen this one when doing all of my research online before going to Helsinki, but wow… I sure am glad that we visited it.
Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe and it’s red brick facade shows that it is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian impact on Finnish history. Since it was built in 1868 and is very old, wheelchair users can enjoy the cathedral’s beauty from the outside, but getting inside isn’t an easy task. There are a lot of stairs inside the church, but trust me, you need to at least drive by and see Uspenski from the outside. I would even argue that it’s exterior is prettier than all the other Helsinki churches.
Old Market Hall
Helsinki has some great shopping opportunities, but this might be the most authentic way to shop like a local. The Old Market Hall is an indoor market, where local vendors sell fruits, vegetables, meats, and more. There are also some small cafes inside where you can grab a coffee and some pastries.
Old Market Hall is wheelchair accessible and the aisles are pretty wide, making it easy to roll up and down the aisles. During our tour with Happy Guide Helsinki we stopped here and spent about 45 minutes inside. We started by checking out all of the different items for sale (and I even bought some reindeer jerky) and then we sat down at a cafe for a mid-tour snack. I had a cappuccino and a Runeberg tart. Johan Runeberg is the national poet of Finland and during January and February every year, the delicious Runeberg tart comes out in celebration of Runeberg Day on February 5th. I was lucky to be visiting Helsinki while this treat was available because it quickly became one of my favorite desserts ever. I had quite a few Runeberg tarts while in Helsinki and the best one came from the Old Market Hall. All of the pastries were fresh and this was such a fun stop.
If you’ve studied Finnish history at all or you’re a fan of classical music, then you’ve probably heard of Jean Sibelius. He’s a world famous composer from Finland and the statue that is devoted to him is one of Helsinki’s most popular landmarks. Sibelius’ most widely known composition is the song “Finlandia”, which became a symbol of Finnish nationalism.
The Sibelius Monument resembles organ pipes and is made of welded steel. It’s made of over 600 pipes and weighs more than 24 tons!! Needless to say, it’s huge and is quite a feat to look at. There will be swarms of tourists at this monument almost any time of the year, but you simply must check it out while you’re in the city.
My city tour with Happy Guide Helsinki was the perfect introduction to the city, as I’m sure you can tell, and it allowed me to experience the most popular sights in just a few hours. Of course, the five places that I mentioned above weren’t the only things that we saw on this tour… they were just some of my favorites. What I loved about the tour was that it didn’t feel rushed at all, even though it was only four hours long. The guide allowed us to take our time admiring everything that the city offers, while telling us about the rich history of Finland. If you are looking for the ideal wheelchair accessible tour of Helsinki, look no further than Happy Guide Helsinki.
*I was a guest of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence. While this tour was complimentary, all opinions are authentic and my own. The tour really was just that fun!