Day 1 in Helsinki

Trip Start Sep 09, 2013
Trip End Nov 08, 2013

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Where I stayed
Scandic Paasi Helsinki
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Finland  , Southern Finland,
Saturday, October 26, 2013

I've been very lucky recently in that my job has allowed me to visit places I have never considered on my "Top 10 places to go". Helsinki definitely falls into that category. I've always fancied Scandanavia (which for the pedantic amongst us technically doesn't include Finland but run with me here) but Finland was behind Norway, Sweden and Denmark in the running. The beauty of unpredictability eh?

So as it happened I found myself travelling down from Jyvaskyla to Helsinki one Friday evening on the train for a 48 hour whirlwind tour of the Finnish capital. I don't want to say too much about the journey but our train companies could do with taking a leaf out of the nationalized Finnish system. Free WiFi for EVERYONE, trains bang on time, friendly staff, electronic ticketing and the ability to cope with comfortably sub-zero temperatures are just some of the delights of the system.

Helsinki itself seems pretty typical of European capitals. It is cosmopolitan, vibrant and full of things to do. It is staggeringly clean due to the Finnish obsession with recycling and the people are accommodating and friendly too. 

The main reason for Helsinki's location was its strategic and trade value as a port throughout the Middle Ages and through into more modern times. It is naturally quite defensible and its no surprise that the Swedish defended it keenly, whilst their enemies saw it as a vital capture whenever warfare was rife.

The main port nowadays has ferries departing primarily to Tallinn, St. Petersburg and Stockholm (though there are others) whilst the tram will take you pretty much everywhere you need to go. On that note, buy a Helsinki Card - not only does it give you unlimited public transport but it also gets you discounts all over the place and a free Panoramic Tour which is 29€ on its own!!

Day 1 was spent exploring a few museums and places of interest - the weather was foul and I decided to put off the trip to Suomenlinna (the Sea Fortress) till it had improved (see tomorrow's entry for how well that went!). Its an interesting city and I'd heartily recommend getting around on the tram, above ground allows you to see so much more of the place

Things I did 
Panorama Bus Tour - B
As mentioned, this is free a Helsinki Card but 29€ on its own. I can't say its worth 29€ but if you've already bought the card then it is well worth the investment. It is your typical "City Tour" which takes in all the main tourist attractions such as the expansive Senate Square, impressive Lutheran Cathedral and er....less impressive Sibelius Monument. Its an interesting couple of hours and you get a stop off at the Sibelius Monument too. The audio is recorded and in a variety of languages so you can settle yourself in and relax for a few hours or so.

Helsinki City Museum ( - A-
I really enjoyed this free little museum near to the Senate Square. There is only enough to keep you entertained for 30-45 minutes but the exhibitions about the people and places of the town are intriguing and well presented. Plus it was dry and the people very friendly indeed!
National Museum of Finland ( - A
On a significantly smaller scale than the British Museum but composed of a similar wealth of information. Tracing Finland's history (and the history of the local area) all the way back to the Stone and Iron Ages this museum kept me entertained for 3-4 hours. It is well put together, the displays are excellently explained and presented and you got a real sense of the care and attention to detail that the curators have put in. I would thoroughly recommend spending at least half a day here.
Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall ( - A-
A spontaneous decision, and a very pleasant surprise. Although (a) the entrance is tucked away round the back and feels more than a bit dodgy (b) its single sex on alternating days (c) bathing shorts are nowhere to be found, this is an absolute gem. Wood-fired saunas, relaxing Roman-style old baths and even table service if you want a beer or coffee between swims/saunas. The oldest baths in the city and definitely something everyone should try.
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