Helsinki: A Nordic Capital Full of Discoveries

Esplanade in the heart of Helsinki, Finland
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Our planet is home to over 250 countries, yet so many of us are self confined to visit so few of them.  A travel adventure can mean many things. One aspect is to push the geographical boundaries of our personal world and continue to discover new destinations. I have been to Finland before, but it had been 20 years and it was time to go back to this capital city in Scandinavia.  

The daily SAS Scandinavian A330 non-stop flight from LAX to Stockholm is a smooth gateway to all the Nordic countries, including Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki.  Stockholm's main airport is a breeze with pleasant people all around, enticing food and beverage outlets and a warm feeling, even down to the wooden floors in the main terminal.  There is some walking involved, but it's great people watching and the mood is generally festive. This makes is an ideal connecting airport for this region, and for those of us on the West Coast, with no US East Coast hassles.  

On board, I took SAS Business going with 1-2-1 seating and very good service and food. On the return I took SAS Plus which is their Premium Economy offering. This was good value for greater space, service and seating than economy.

I spent four days in Helsinki, which was just right.  I found out that all taxis must take credit cards and the cab drivers prefer them to cash.  This makes it easy when coming in from the airport. There is a train into the city, but I decided to forgo it for a quicker arrival at my downtown hotel.

My home there was the 4-Star Hotel Haven, which is part of the nine Hotel Kamp Collection. I had a very nice king-beddeed room overlooking the harbor.  The Haven is very comfortable and well located.  Other hotels in this group include the more fanciful and lively Lilia Roberts and the Deluxe Leading Hotel, which is The Hotel Kamp.  This hotel is probably the best 5-Star hotel in the city. Executive rooms and above have executive lounge access which is well worth the price.  Our preferred partner amenities for our clients at Hotel Kamp provide guests even more value.        

My days in Helsinki were for exploring the notable Design District, the downtown area and some of the parks. It was still on the cool side in early April, so indoor venues were preferred.  The famous city market was just across the street from my hotel and a must-see stop.  Seafood of all shapes and sizes were for sale, but all kinds of meats and produce were as well.  Many items were cooked and could be enjoyed on the spot.

I am pleased that Helsinki is still distinctive in its designs and local shops. A shop window of a mouse playing a piano and a shoe cobbler with his repair tool in the window are typical.  Yes, there are a few world designer shops, but for the most part you really feel you are in someplace different. The general architecture is European, but elements of more Russian and contemporary design are also present.

A highlight one day was the trip to Suomenlinna fortress, which has a colorful history. It is huge. Six islands over a period of many years were constructed into a massive fort to protect Helsinki.  In the 1700's up to 7,000 workers were used to build it.  This was around the time that Finland was part of Sweden.  Later on the Russians occupied the fort for over 100 years until 1917, when they abandoned the entire complex after the Russian Revolution.  Today a 30-minute ferry ride takes you there for a trip back in time.         

It was much bigger than I expected, and you can still walk and hike along the multiple forts, cannon stations and former barracks of the fortress.  There is very good signage and it is a very popular area for hikers, for picnics and for just exploring the well-preserved structures. i would suggest about 4 hours there.  The ferries run back and forth to the main Helsinki harbor about once an hour.  There is no need for advance reservations.  One note: tickets come from automated machines only, so allow time to figure them out.

Of course, there is much more to Finland than just Helsinki. Going north you are headed for the Arctic Circle and Lapland.  Train service is good and there are local flights. Also both Viking and Silja Lines have large scale daily overnight ferries to Stockholm from the main Helsinki Harbor.  A 3 hour train trip the other direction will end in stunning St. Petersburg, Russia. Helsinki and Finland can be welcome additions to many well designed trips of this region.  Let TravelStore show you the way with our experience and expert planning.

Hilton Smith