Most ships sailing to Helsinki will dock close to the commercial area, which is not close to any of the attractions. However, when a cruise ship is in port, the hop-on, hop off bus makes a special stop at the ship, so it is a good option forgetting to most of the main sites of the city, with great drop off points. Once in the city centre, it is easy to find the craft and food market, high-end shopping and great places for a nice coffee or a bite to eat.
The craft market was a great place to wander, see local artisans at work and meet some of the friendliest people who wanted to share information about their work.
If you are lucky, there will be performances in the park across the street from the market. We were entertained by live jazz music and various street performers.
A special hint, sometimes it is hard to find public washrooms. While the train station’s architecture is beautiful, skip the washrooms (they were dirty and you still had to pay). Instead, the City Hall, which is near the market, has free washrooms and they were clean.
Here are some links to my previous posts about Helsinki.
The Helsinki Market is on a wharf near the City Hall and steps away from a central park and shopping district. What is nice about this market is the local artisans and food. When you first step into the market, there are a number of fruit and vegetable stands — very similar to the farmer’s markets around Toronto. The fruit looked — and tasted — amazing!
Next are the craft stalls. Many of them were filled with hand-knitted hats, mittens, scarves and sweaters, with the artisans sitting at the stalls knitting new items.
There were other types of designs as well, from hand-dyed woven clothing to wood-carved toys. It was a delightful way to spend an afternoon watching people and talking to some of the designers.
Of course, what is a trip to the market without food! There were several stalls that served some traditional — and not so traditional — Finnish food. I have to say, I really enjoy the smoked reindeer meat balls!
Helsinki was never a place I thought I’d be drawn to go. It has long winters and I really do not know a lot about it. A friend of mine is now living there and told me I’d like Helsinki and I do have to say, he was right. Also, it is a very laid-back city, so a nice stop before we head to Russia.
It was also had to get really good information about what to expect at the port. Not that I did not find out where we would be docked – that was easy! But not sure of what services might be available to us. Like how close is it to “town” from the dock and will there be any transportation? One of the things that most cruise ships do is push their own shore excursions. While I understand this, it would be nice to have a little information for independent travelers. [Note: On the first cruise I took on the RCI Brilliance of the Seas, the person who managed the ship’s preferred port shopping services told people who were going into Athens on their own that he was going and would help independent travelers get into the city centre – and introduce them to some of the shops that he works with. While I did not go on this, I do remember the shops he mentioned because one of them is my favorite place for Greek clothing.]
Anyway, back to Helsinki…
When I got off the ship, there was a port-sponsored shuttle bus and 2 Hop-On, Hop-Off bus companies. Also, had I known, it was a very short walk to a tram that is part of the local transit system that goes into town (I did not find that out until returning to the ship, so there is something to remember). Instead, I teamed up with a couple from Pennsylvania and we opted for one of the “HOHOs” and were soon whisked into town. We did get a nice overview of the city, going past major “hot spots” and taking lots of pictures.
Then, we settled on getting off at the Train Station (that was supposed to be a real highlight) and walking around a bit. Well, while the train station was ok and had some interesting architectural details, I expected something more. It was described as “a favourite building in town, with an unusual, dark monumental design with giant Egyptian figures out front that have inspired set designers — including those who created Gotham for the first “Batman” movie.” I think we were on the wrong side and it was time to respond to the “call of nature”. Of course the WCs were on the opposite side of the building from where we entered – then there was the dollar Euro needed to enter what was not the posh-est of WCs (I’d HATE to see what they would look like without the dollar charged!). Now, though, we were on the opposite side of the building, so when we walked out, we could see why this was a really cool building!
In fact, there is a lot of interesting architecture all around Helsinki. Senate Square is another place where people meet – and has a beautiful cathedral. The church was “busy” most of the day with weddings, so I did not go inside, but I loved taking pictures of this building.
From Senate Square, we walked to Market Square, which is right next to the harbour.
This is a great place for fresh fruits and veggies as well as handicrafts of all kinds. We spend a lot of time talking to the craftspeople and learning about how they made their different types of crafts. One of the artisans had a familiar accent. I finally asked her where she was from – and how she made her way to Finland. We learned that she was form Santa Barbara, California and she fell in love with someone from Finland – and now she was creating one-of-a-kind felted scarves and other accessories. Another woman was selling hand-dyed and woven clothes. I bought a turquoise scarf from her – the colour is amazing.
There were also several food vendors. One of them stopped us and offered a taste of smoked fish and smoked reindeer meatballs – and we decided to try a meal. I got the meatballs with was served with roasted potatoes and veggies – and it was more food than I could eat for only 8 Euro! My friend got a plate of Finish “paella” (never thought I’d see that). She said it was good, but could have been spicier. I think I’ll stick with paella in Spain!
Across the street from Market Square was a nice park. We kept hearing music and found out there was a Big Band competition going on. The day was warming up and it was nice to spend some time in the park and listen to different bands – and just do some people watching.
I also saw a puppeteer and watched him as he entertained the crowd – and tried to interact with some of the children.
The street along this park has a collection of very high-end shops. It is truly a shopper’s dream. Fortunately for me, I’m not really a shopper, so I was not tempted. I just liked being out, walking the streets and seeing the sights. I also enjoyed the weather – by the afternoon, it was sunny and warm. Soon – too soon – it was time to head back to the ship.
My feet were tired and I knew the next few days would be very “walk-heavy”, so I decided to try out the thalassophy pool – a nice, relaxing pool similar to a hot tub – but larger with spaces to “lounge”. It was a nice way to end the day, especially since we were losing an hour to adjust the clocks to Russian time. I tried to sleep but I was excited and nervous about our next stop: St. Petersburg, Russia.