Europe, Finland, Travel

Best Spots To Check Out In Helsinki If You Can Only Choose 11!


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Helsinki is a lovely city with enough attractions to keep you busy for weeks. With such a buffet of choices, how do you pick the best out of all? Taste Helsinki, See Helsinki, Experience Helsinki and Feel Helsinki – these are the four categories to filter out the best spots I have personally experienced. The following are the very best spots from MyHelsinki List. Read about what I was in Helsinki for here.

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The Best Spots – Feel Helsinki

There’s no better way to feel Helsinki than being in it and traveling around like a local. Public transportation allows you to see people from all walks of life and you see the diversity very clearly at the Central Railway Station. The good thing about the transportation in Helsinki is that they can be accessed with the same Travel Card or Helsinki Card. The travel card is also good for the public Suomenlinna ferry which gets you to Soumenlinna fortress. There are four main options and they are rail, metro, bus and tram. The rail gets you to and fro the airport, basically to outer Helsinki and beyond. Metro and buses function similarly and have different routes so it depends on where you want to go. Taking the tram is a good way to experience the heart of Helsinki because they have specific routes which run through the city and it’s a fun way to see the sights. The Journey Planner is a good way to find out how to travel from point A to point B in Helsinki.

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Another fantastic way to travel will be to cycle! Firstly you save time walking to the transportation stop or station, the waiting time and then walking time again to your destination after alighting. On a bike, you get to experience the great vibes on the streets, people-watch and be a part of the happenings – stuff that you may not get to see whilst you are underground on the metro. It gets you to your destination faster, especially if you are moving around the city center. Furthermore, there are bike lanes on most roads to ease your route accessibility. You can choose to rent a bicycle or join one of the bike-sharing schemes available around the city. We are blessed with the pretty Pelago Bikes provided by MyHelsinkiResidence and we took full advantage of it!

 

Bike sharing was launched in 2016 and you see tourists and locals using them often

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The Best Spots – See Helsinki

  • Market Square is one of Helsinki’s most famous markets for some street food and other products such as souvenirs and handicrafts. Drop by early in the day because they close by evening time (at least in autumn). The Ferry Terminal is also here if you are heading to nearby islands such as Suomenlinna.
  • Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (18th century fortress) is a Unesco World Heritage Site and I highly recommend to visit this. You can easily spend a few hours to a day here knowing about the history of Finland the gorgeous walking paths. ‘Open prison’ runs here and inmates work on this island which is frequented by tourists all year round. There is also the Suomenlinna church in which its tower serves as a lighthouse for air and sea traffic. The island can be reached by public ferries at the Market Square and runs throughout the year.

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Cafe Silo on Suomenlinna (right picture)

  • Temppeliaukio Rock Church is literally built into a rock and it is just a splendid creation in the heart of Helsinki. The normal entrance fee is EUR 3. The tickets can be bought inside the church with most credit cards and cash. The tickets can also be bought from the cafe during June, July and August. Some of the souvenir shops in the area also sell the tickets. With an advance ticket from the cafe or somewhere else you don’t have to queue in the ordinary ticket line and thus will have a quicker access to the church.

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  • Amos Rex is one of the newest addition of art venues in Helsinki that has been recently gaining popularity internationally. We visited teamLab’s exhibit and were mind-blown by the creative works featured there.

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  • Kaivopuisto Park is one of my favourite areas to cycle to catch the sunset. There is a point of interest, also the highest point of the park which is the old Ursa observatory. From there, you have the option of looking out into the beautifully clear autumn-y skies for a small fee. Being one of Helsinki’s oldest and most well-loved parks, it is simply a must-go to see and experience Helsinki like a local. Or you can simply go just to have your lunch by the cafes and restaurants whilst people-watching.

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The Best Spots – Taste Helsinki

  • Helsinki Distilling Co produces one of the best gin and spirits in Finland or maybe the world. Sign up for their open tours every Friday and Saturday which gives you a detailed introduction to their distilling process and production. You can’t leave without going for the tasting session after!

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  • Ultima is the place to go to for an authentic Finnish flavour. It is founded by two of Finland’s top chefs, Henri Alén and Tommi Tuominen, who wanted to test how effectively a circular economy can work in a restaurant in an Arctic country. They combine top Finnish food tech and most importantly, their ability to prepare delicious food sustainably to produce a flavour explosion in your mouth. We love how more than 90% of the ingredients are directly sourced from local farms within Finland and the menu we tasted was just simply sensational!

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Top notch chefs Henri Alén and Tommi Tuominen were both in the kitchen!

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  • Green Hippo Cafe is one of the hippest joints serving all-day brunch on Sunday. It’s not just a brunch cafe, but one with very healthy selections. There is an outdoor and indoor seating area and is super instagram-worthy! Personally, I have not tried the non-brunch menu. But with such fantastic brunch, I bet it is equally as delicious.

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  • Hoku is a Hawaiian-Japanese restaurant located in Kamppi centre which is in the heart of Helsinki. If you are looking for something Asian or a fusion of East and West, this is the best spot to go to. And on the top of my list is Salmon Teriyaki with rice – best tasting Teriyaki dish ever! Here’s a tip top for this restaurant: go for any of the mains in the menu during lunch and they will be EUR10 cheaper than it is for dinner. You are welcome.

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The Best Spots – Experience Helsinki

There can never be a better place to experience the naked Finnish sauna culture other than the capital Helsinki itself! Read about my post on being naked in Finland.

  • Allas Sea Pool is a good place to relax around the harbour area, they have both the heated pool and the open-sea pool. There is also another shallow pool for dipping which is mainly for children. The saunas, both single gendered and mix gendered are on-site and included with the entrance fee. There is also an outdoor gym for a good work-out whenever you want. The main catch here is the heated swimming pools with the views of the harbour, perfect for sunset!

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  • Löyly has a different concept from Allas Sea Pool though they are both Finnish saunas. There is a lovely restaurant on site which serves a nice menu. Great place to watch the sunset or to have a drink after the sauna session. The attraction here is the platform leading out to the Baltic sea which you can jump in for a cool dip after your sauna session. As a whole, the design of Löyly is unique and is in the Worlds 100 Greatest Places-List by Time Magazine. My best advice is to book in advance because it gets crowded towards evening and they restrict the amount of people inside at any point of time. Personally, I waited an hour just to get in!

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Do you dare to take the dip of faith into the icy water?

The top part of the photo with 2 stairs is where you take the Baltic dip! (Photo credit: Joel Pallaskorpi, My Helsinki)

Did I miss out any spots that you think should be included? Come share your thoughts!

Europe, Finland, Travel

A Naked Asian In Finland – Taking Things Beyond Finnish Sauna


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One of the most notable Finnish tradition is the sauna experience. It is the norm to have one in every household, almost mandatory. Finnish people hop in the sauna before work, after work and whenever; like a ritual. Typically, you are seated butt to butt next to someone else (usually of the same gender and in a completely non-sexual way) and do not utter a single word throughout the sauna session. I think it makes sense that this is a large part of their culture due to the long cold winters, especially in the Finnish Lapland. I had the opportunity to experience different saunas throughout Finland and I found them addictive to a point (something about the intense sweating and the deep cleansing of my pores) where I wanted to go almost every other day. Luckily for me, most accommodations in Finland including the glass igloos in Lapland have saunas (both private and public).

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Photo credit: Julia Kivelä, Visit Finland

Going naked in the sauna (my experiences)

Being naked in the sauna feels different from going skinny dipping or walking in the wild since everyone around you are naked and in close proximity. There are some saunas in Helsinki (Allas Sea Pool and Löyly) which require all to wear a swimsuit if you enter the mixed gender room, otherwise strip away! Being with a group of other naked people, it felt almost primitive and ‘back to the beginning’ – we are created by God and born without clothes anyway. Everyone has a different heat tolerance level, making it difficult to determine how often to pour the water over the hot stones to steam up the sauna. I have came across where someone threw water onto the stones every 30 seconds, making the heat unbearable and I had to end my session prematurely.

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The hot stones in the sauna (Photo credit: Elina Sirparanta, Visit Finland)

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Photo credit: Eetu Ahanen, My Helsinki

My Löyly experience was one of the best sauna experiences especially jumping into the icy Baltic Sea right after sauna. It was a dip to cool down after the intense steam session, any time spent longer in the water felt like my hands and toes were freezing up.

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The top part of the photo with 2 stairs is where you take the Baltic dip! (Photo credit: Joel Pallaskorpi, My Helsinki)

Going naked in the nature and skinny dipping

Taking that aspect of nudity in Finland, I took a step further to experience being away from my own clothes. It is a huge taboo in Asia and whoever is naked in public would most likely end up at the police station for an act of indecency. In Singapore, it is a crime to be naked even in your private homes so long as your nakedness becomes visible to the public. Skinny dipping in Lake Menesjärvi was an idea that came to mind so as to try how it feels like being naked in the wild. I felt more comfortable after my naked sauna experiences. It felt liberating and surprisingly fun. Despite getting some curious onlookers, it was probably due to seeing an Asian rather than a Finn without clothes.

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Going in the lake with only the fishes in there – no other humans

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Here, it reminded me of the episodes of Man vs Wild series. I should have joined Bear Grylls on his adventure!

I am not a nudist by any means, neither do I walk around naked in the eyes of the public but this was truly an invigorating experience if you dare to give it a try. Would love to hear about your experiences! Have any of you tried going back to the beginning sans clothing?

Europe, Finland, Travel

Where To Go In Lapland? A Finnish Lapland Road Trip Itinerary


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Road trips in Lapland are almost unheard of compared to popular ones like on the Highway 1 in California, South Island of New Zealand or Icefields Parkway in Alberta. My experience has been absolutely perfect to the point where I thought: “why is no one else doing it?” Other than the five other cars we saw on the Lappish roads, I have only seen hordes of Chinese tourists on large tour buses – and that’s it!

Which Season is Best?

For a road trip, I recommend to do it outside of the winter period, which runs from November to April unless you have experience driving with icy road conditions.  Instead, do it in autumn because of the ‘ruska‘ scene which is truly therapeutic. To top it off, autumn is the best season to see the northern lights in comparison to winter because of the increase in geomagnetic activities during autumn and spring equinox. Alternatively, doing it in summer will bring you the midnight sun for plenty of outdoor activities but the downside is that there will not be an opportunity to see the northern lights. This itinerary is autumn-focused and authentically from my own experience.

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Northern lights caught right above us in Saariselka @ Northern Lights Village

The Route

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The road trip started in Rovaniemi going clockwise, clocking in 678km on google maps without any detours. Eventually, we finished the trip with 823km clocked and that includes detours and side trips along the way.

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Flights

Finnair and Norwegian are your safest bet because they have plenty of flights if you are connecting from other countries via Helsinki. So if you miss one, they should be able to put you on the next flight to Rovaniemi. For such flights within Finland, I recommend to book 3-6 months out to capture some good deals, at least from my own experience.

Car Rental

We went with Europcar for a 9-day rental with the smallest automatic car available at EUR245, and ended up with hybrid Toyota Yaris, which was a very fuel-efficient car for a couple and luggages! It was a relatively new car with about 17,000 km on the mileage meter. Cost of gasoline ranges from EUR 1.56 – 1.61 per litre for grade 95. We ended up spending a total of EUR 67.43 for 823km mileage clocked. An impressive fuel consumption of almost 20km/litre!

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Day 1: Rovaniemi

Fly or take the train into Rovaniemi. Collect the car at the airport and this will be the start and end point of your road trip. Drive up north to Levi and enjoy the ‘ruska’ sights along the way. Be mindful of reindeer crossing because they are often seen crossing, albeit slowly, the roads in Lapland.

Spend the next 2 nights at Levi Iglut (recommended) or other accommodations in Levi.

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Premium Igloo at Levin Iglut, with a clear view of the valley

Day 2: Levi

You can consider going on a day hike and/or horse-riding if the weather permits. There are a few supermarket outlets nearby in the main town of Levi if you are looking to get some groceries. During September, the sky becomes completely dark after 11pm and this is your best chance to go aurora hunting. If you are staying at Levin Iglut, you have the luxury of turning off your igloo’s lights and simply lay back, and enjoy the beautiful lights just above your heads! It is located on high ground and has an unobstructed view of the valley.

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The northern lights danced across the skies, and we watched it from the comfort of our temperature controlled igloo

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Try their 3-course dinner at Restaurant Aurora Sky for a great feel of Finnish cuisine

Day 3 and 4: Inari

Continue up north towards Inari. You can choose to go by route 955 which is a semi-dirt road or you can choose to head backwards to Kittila and instead, take the highway E75. Although a slightly  bumpy ride, we passed by some beautiful farmhouses and residences, which were located quite a fair distance from each other, making it a pretty scenic drive. Choose to stay near a lake to get double auroras; both on the water and the actual one in the sky. Lake Menesjärvi is a good choice and it is close to Lemmenjoki National Park. Visit Ravadas Falls via a river boat trip and finish it with a hike to a nearby cabin. The boat trip was a good scenic experience, at some point it felt like a scene from National Geographic. Feel free to pick the berries in Lapland, namely blueberries and lingonberry. Lingonberry is native to boreal forest and Arctic tundra throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Eurasia to North America. Located further inside the national park, there is a reindeer farm run by a Sami family. It is a great way to explore learn more about the Sami history and culture.

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Ravadas Falls 

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Free berries for all!

In Inari city centre, check out Sajos which is a Sami cultural and administrative centre, Siida the Sami Museum and Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church if you have time for a hike.

Spend 2 nights at Hotel Korpikartano (recommended) or other accommodations in Inari.

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Lake Menesjärvi right next to Hotel Korpikartano

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Enjoy in the comfortable home-like lounge of Hotel Korpikartano

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Day 5 and 6: Saariselka

Drive down south via the E75 and head to Saariselka. It is a resort village that springs into life when winter comes, another good place to learn about the Sami culture due to it being located far north in Lapland. There is a good husky safari called Extreme Huskies and you should definitely check it out if you are looking for some fun with the dogs. Check out the gold mining town at Tankavaara and watching the northern lights by the lake at Nellim (very close to the old Russian border).

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Husky sledding (autumn version) with Extreme Huskies

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Spend 2 nights at Northern Lights Village or other accommodations in Saariselka. I highly recommend Northern Lights Village because of their expertise in the winter experience such as husky sledding and northern lights hunting. The famous Kakslauttanen igloos and resort are located nearby too.

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On a clear night in Saariseka, the lights were dancing for a good 2-3 hours!

Day 7 and 8: Rovaniemi

Continue south back to Rovaniemi, it is about a 2-3 hrs scenic drive. I recommend to spend about a minimum of 2 full days here, with your time divided between Rovaniemi city centre and Santa Claus village. There are plenty to do in Santa Claus village, be sure to visit both the Husky and Reindeer park. If you are looking for activities, Bearhill Husky is a good place to check out their kernel tour in autumn and Beyond Artic runs photography tours (not just northern lights). Don’t leave without meeting Santa Claus and crossing the Artic Circle line!

Santa can be found inside this building!

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Husky Park at Santa Claus Village

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Take a walk and feed Santa Claus’s reindeer!

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Join the kernel tour with Bearhill Husky, you get plenty of chances to play with the dogs

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In the city centre, check out ArtikumKorundi and Pilke for the history and artsy aspects of Rovaniemi and Lapland. There are also nice restaurants in the city centre, check out Pure Burger, Pure Pizza and Torikeidas (kebab) as recommended by my Finnish friend.

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Spend 2 nights at Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle or other accommodations in Santa Claus Village or Rovaniemi. Airbnbs are plentiful in Rovaniemi.

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Santa Igloos’s Artic Circle

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Northern Lights experience outside Santa’s Igloo Artic Circle

Road trip in Lapland is not just a wonderful experience, it is a magical one. Feel free to share your ideas or alternatives to the itinerary!