Me and my long-suffering other half spent our 11th anniversary (which I hilariously referred to as “Manniversary” on Twitter) in the very beautiful Helsinki.
Perhaps a little odd, given its location and the fact that it’s October.
But we’d visited there years ago and enjoyed a local wedding – and our time there – hugely. So we felt it was time we paid another visit and this time, avoid such a hectic social schedule.
Rather than take you on a blow by blow of what we did, here are the reasons I feel you should get yourself on a flight to Helsinki pronto:
- The people: I didn’t encounter a single person who wasn’t unfailingly friendly. Perhaps I’m just used to the misery of London commuters and shocking service in the capital’s shops and restaurants, but the smiles and friendly greetings in Helsinki warmed my heart. From passport control on arrival to each waitress in every restaurant.
- People speak English: I don’t normally flag this as an advantage, as I think it’s key that visitors to any location learn a few words to be able to get by. I’ve studied French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Greek and Danish to varying levels (and varying levels of success) but I’ve managed to make myself understood wherever I’ve gone. However, I was thoroughly beaten by Finnish. Finnish beats German in its love of the compound word. And it beats Spanish in terms of speed. I wouldn’t call it impenetrable, as that’s insulting to Finns. I got as far as “Kiitos” (thank you) and that was that. The locals (I met) speak great English. So save the money and don’t buy a Finnish language course.
- It’s a compact city: We walked everywhere, apart from to and from the airport. And that was a quick and comfortable bus ride of 30mins. At just over €6, it highlighted what a rip-off the Heathrow Express is. Harrumph. It’s also very easy to navigate.
- It’s a beautiful city: There’s a gorgeous mix of 17th Century to 21st Century architecture, you’re never far from water and design is held in high esteem. It’s also a tidy city – I saw hardly any litter or graffiti. You can walk safe in the knowledge that nobody is going to try to sell you any tat as you’re walking down the street. I don’t recall seeing anyone selling anything on the street, unlike the assault on the senses (and wallet) you experience in say Rome, or Paris. It’s a genuinely relaxing experience.
- There’s tons to do: We took it very easy and only made a couple of pit-stops. The Museum of Contemporary Art is worth a look, as is the Design Museum. Both very lovely in their own way. Though I possibly spent more time in saunas than museums. If you go to Helsinki, you have to have a sauna. And make sure you get up to speed on local sauna etiquette before making a fool of yourself. As I said to someone on Twitter the other day, it’s the best stress-buster I know. And there’s nothing like a bit of public nudity to break down social barriers – it’s the great leveller.
- There seems to be little crime: At least to this outsider. It comes across as a very safe place to be. I didn’t see a single police officer or police car. Actually, there were very few people in uniforms of any description, something I tend to prefer. In the sauna I used, there were no lockers, just individual clothes hooks. Valuables were left lying on the bench. On the street, bikes were left unlocked. Yes, I’m sure there’s a ton of crime that I didn’t spot in my 48 hours of Baltic bliss, but really… I’d put hard cash on any bet that people feel safer in Helsinki.
Did I mention how friendly people are?!
On the flip side, food can be expensive, so make sure you check out the menu before going into a restaurant. A couple I saw really rivalled London prices. I shouldn’t need to point out that it was bloody freezing while we were there. But everywhere indoors is heated. Think ahead and dress for the weather, then it’s not a problem. Last time we visited, it was the height of summer and while lovely and sunny, I was eaten alive by the mosquitoes. I can’t really think of anything else on the flip side…
I will definitely go back, probably in the summer, so that I can spend more time on the water. And maybe even in the water – last time, I managed to squeeze in a dip in the Baltic.
It’s as cold as you imagine.