If you have been following along with my travels for a while, then you may remember that I visited Helsinki for the first time back in February 2016. I got to stay at the Helsinki Secret Residence and live like a local for one week. Even though it was in the middle of winter and snow was falling faster than I had ever seen, it was such an incredible week and I developed a deep love for the Finnish capital. I spent the week enjoying the country’s sauna culture, eating my way around the city, and seeing the most famous sights. When I left at the end of that week, I vowed to return and explore even more of the city one day.
Recently, during a Scandinavian cruise with Royal Caribbean, I got that chance to revisit Helsinki, as it was one of our ports of call. It was our last port of call after a whirlwind few days in Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, and Tallinn, and it was also our shortest stop on the itinerary (we only had about 6 hours in Helsinki). However, we made the absolute most of our time there and I was thrilled to be back in this cool Nordic city.
Helsinki had much less snow this time, since we visited in August, but the city had the same unique charm that made me fall in love with it in the first place. Here’s what to see in Helsinki in 1 day as a wheelchair user –
Before going on the cruise, I contacted Happy Guide Helsinki and arranged a tour with them. We wanted to go on a proper tour instead of just wandering around on our own so that we could make the most of our short time there. When I was in Helsinki last winter, I toured with Happy Guide Helsinki in a wheelchair accessible van with a lift, but this time we decided to test out Helsinki’s public transportation instead. Helsinki is known for having remarkably accessible transportation, and while I got to try it out a little bit last time I was in the city, I mostly depended on the many accessible taxis. This time, we rode the buses and trains, which allowed us to see how the locals get around. Arranging this tour with Happy Guide Helsinki was super easy and they were extremely professional.
As soon as Sylvia (my friend who runs the accessible travel blog Spin the Globe), my mom, and I got off the ship at about 7:30am, we noticed that it was a bit chilly. We were fortunate to have great weather for most of our cruise and the weather in Helsinki wasn’t too bad, but it did look a little rainy. There was a souvenir shop at the port and I quickly bought a beanie to wear for the day.
We soon saw our guides from Happy Guide Helsinki, Karri and Emil, and we were ready to begin our tour. There was a bus stop at the cruise port, so we hopped on the bus and headed downtown. The bus had a fold-out ramp and there was enough space for Sylvia’s scooter and my wheelchair to park.
Prior to going on this tour, I told Happy Guide Helsinki that I wanted to see things that I didn’t get to see last time. They worked to make the perfect itinerary, which showed me a whole new side of Helsinki. It was really like being in a new city because almost everything on the tour was new to me.
What We Saw During Our 6 Hours in Helsinki
Kamppi Chapel of Silence
While this may not be Helsinki’s most popular church or chapel (the Rock Church probably is), it is the most unique in my opinion. The Kamppi Chapel is located in Narinkkatori square and is a place to relax and unwind within the bustling city. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, is welcomed to come enjoy the silence at the fully wheelchair accessible Kamppi Chapel.
The chapel is quite new to Helsinki, having just opened in 2012, but it is very popular. Luckily, on the day that we visited there were only a few other people inside. The interior is minimalist and calming, but the exterior is something to see also. It is rounded and stands more than 37 feet high. From a bit of a distance, it looks like a giant wooden bowl sitting there. With such a unique design, the chapel has won several design awards, including the International Architecture Awards.
After some peaceful moments at the Chapel of Silence, we took a short stroll over to Töölönlahti Bay. This bay is near the center of the city and our guide, Karri, said that it’s one of his favorite places in Helsinki. I could easily see why.
Around the bay, there was a park and a walking trail that went around the bay. The trail is paved and about 1.5 miles long. If you have children, there’s also a playground. Töölönlahti Bay would be the perfect place to enjoy a nice day in Helsinki, but if you want to venture further, some popular attractions are nearby, including Finlandia Hall and the National Museum of Finland.
Helsinki is boasting with creativity and if you want to take some of that creativity back home with you, there’s no better place to grab a souvenir or five than in the Design District. Shops are all over the center of the city, making up this “district”. You’ll find everything from the über-popular Marimekko to jewelry stores to privately owned boutique shops.
Karri and Emil wanted to take us inside a store and they chose one called Taiga Colors, as it’s so unique. Taiga Colors is owned by a kind lady named Jutta, who greeted us and showed off her designs. She sells different products (pillowcases, wallets, bags, etc) with various Helsinki-inspired designs on them. Some are aviation themed, which I absolutely loved for obvious reasons, but the most unique designs are actually not done by Jutta… they are painted by a Finnish bear named Juuso. Yes, you read that correctly.
Juuso lives in Finland and does abstract paintings for fun. The masterpieces are then printed on various items, which are available for purchase at Taiga Colors. If you’re looking for a fun and unique gift that you definitely can’t get anywhere else in the world, then this is the place to shop.
Helsinki has several markets and when I was in Helsinki last year I visited the Old Market Hall, which is an indoor market. However, since it was a lot warmer this time, we visited the outdoor market at Market Square. This market had many booths selling everything from typical souvenirs to authentic Finnish foods.
There were reindeer burgers, fruits, desserts and more available, but the first thing that I got talked into trying (I give into peer pressure easily) was fried vendace. Vendace is a small whitefish that can be found predominantly in Northern Europe. It still had the eyes on it and I ate the whole thing. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as awful as I thought it’d be.
Now that I had tried the fried vendace, I was up for trying anything. So naturally, reindeer was the next item to sample. Karri bought us a reindeer sausage from a food cart and it was grilled and served with mustard. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, but it was delicious.
Sylvia, my mom, and I all agreed that it was better than anything we expected. Now that we had a nice snack to hold us over until lunch, we bought a couple souvenirs and made our way to the next attraction.
Several cathedrals and churches in Helsinki are worth visiting, but the most recognizable one is definitely Helsinki Cathedral. This large white cathedral is considered one of the top things to do in Helsinki and you can view its impressive exterior from Senate Square. The last time that I was in Helsinki I only got to view the exterior, as the accessible entrance was flooded. However, this time I was determined to see the inside as well and Happy Guide Helsinki made it possible.
The wheelchair accessible entrance to Helsinki Cathedral is at Kirkkokatu 18. We went into the cathedral’s crypt, and then got in an elevator to make our way up to the main area of the cathedral. The elevator was pretty small and could only fit one wheelchair at a time, but it worked so I was happy.
The inside of Helsinki Cathedral was not quite as impressive as other churches in Helsinki (Rock Church in particular), but it is worth seeing if you can. I was thrilled to finally be able to go inside the city’s most notable landmark.
Restaurant Löyly with Finnish Friends
Now that we had seen the city’s sights and tried some new Finnish foods at the market, it was time to head back toward the cruise ship. We hopped on the tram, which was accessible just like the bus earlier, and rode toward Restaurant Löyly.
This restaurant was located within a five minute walk (or roll) to the cruise port, so it was the ideal place to grab lunch before getting back on the ship and I’d highly recommend it. Restaurant Löyly had delicious food. I got salmon soup and it was one of the best soups I’ve ever had (and I’m a soup fanatic).
What made this lunch exceptionally great however, was the fact that my friends Sanna and Elisabeth met us. Sanna is in a wheelchair and runs the travel blog Palmuasema. It’s completely in Finnish, but this is why Google Translate is handy. Trust me, you want to read about Sanna’s epic adventures. She recently returned from a trip around-the-world! And Elisabeth works at the tourism board for Helsinki. She helped arrange my visit in 2016. I met both Sanna and Elisabeth during my last visit to Helsinki, and we’ve stayed in touch on Facebook ever since, but it was fantastic to see them again in person.
I may have only had about 6 hours in Helsinki, but that was plenty of time for me to fall back in love with the city and discover new attractions and areas worth seeing. Happy Guide Helsinki showed me that there’s always something new to see, no matter how many times you’ve been to a particular place, and I am already looking forward to my next trip to the stunning city of Helsinki.
*Thank you to Happy Guide Helsinki for showing us around! While this tour was complimentary, all opinions are authentic and my own.