Weekend in Helsinki
Here is the truth: I was 40 tier points away from Silver status on British Airways. Silver Status gets you Fast Track Security access and lounge access. I couldn’t not book a flight to put me over the edge. Plus, I haven’t really gone anywhere for fun in ages. Not since Karen & Bob were here in August and I met them in Paris. I have been trying to be very good about debt lately and managing it down and down and down. Only $16,000 USD in MBA loans left, my friends! (That number was once $120,000 USD, so really, this is progress.) Understandably, spending has been at a minimum. But just 40 tier points to Silver…I wanted it. I wanted it bad. And Helsinki and Athens are the two best flights from London to get you — me — those 40 points. So I decided to do some Helsinki sightseeing and planned out a quick weekend in Helsinki!
I’m going to write about my hotel booking experience and hotel stay in another post. In the interim, here are some of my top tips for a weekend in Helsinki:
Get your bearings by taking the free walking tour of Helsinki that departs from the steps in front of the Cathedral every day at 11 am. This is a compact Helsinki sightseeing tour — about two hours — but it’s really a perfect introduction to your weekend in Helsinki. During the tour, you’ll visit Uspenski Cathedral, the House of the Estates, the National Library of Finland , the University of Helsinki, Holy Trinity Church, Helsinki Harbour, Market square, and Senate square. Note that I recommend you tip your guide at the end of the tour. Note the same organization also offers Architecture and Design walking tours of Helsinki!
Thanks to the magic of Twitter and my Internet friend Hermano Primero, I was able to book a last minute table at one of Helsinki’s best restaurants, Ora (previously called Chef & Sommelier). It couldn’t have been lovelier. The staff were sweet, funny and above all, lovingly informative when it came time to explain each dish that was set down in front of me. Chef Sasu Laukkonen himself personally presented many of the visually compelling dishes. But as he reminded me, it’s not about how it looks! The restaurant has its own farm so they know where everything comes from. And while I didn’t see it, Sasu explained that there’s a Big Green Egg out back that they use for smoking. Definitely make a reservation here far in advance if you are planning a Helsinki weekend. Contact Ora.
Helsinki Sightseeing: Do a Visit Helsinki Design Walk
I am a lover of all things Scandinavian design so I did one of the self-guided walks of Helsinki’s design district. (I did Classics are Forever.) It probably took me about two hours with stops at the shops along the way. It was a great way to see the city over the weekend and all in all, it’s not a long walk. It’s the shopping stops that make it long!
Shop at Marimekko and Iittala in Helsinki
No visit to Helsinki is complete without visits to these two temples of Finnish design. All the money I saved on my weekend hotel stay (more about that in another post) got spent at Marimekko. I managed to restrain myself at Ittala, although I did want to buy all the Klaus Haapaniemi. (Hi Klaus!) If you don’t know Klaus’ work, drop into an Iitala or check out his shop on Redchurch Street in London’s Shoreditch. Tell him I say hi!
I had some time to kill after lunch on Saturday afternoon, and the ever-handy Foursquare sent me to this Finnish brewery, right by the waterfront. Who said Helsinki was expensive? I tried two different IPAs for 3.20 euros and mooched off the free wifi. (I find myself relying more and more on Foursquare when I travel. It seems to be the only service besides TripAdvisor that works pretty much everywhere.)
Are you sensing a theme here? I love Finnish design! All the Scandinavian chairs are mine! I spent about an hour in this compact temple to Finnish design and restrained myself from buying everything in the gift shop. Proudly, I did not steal the beautiful water glasses in the shop. Even though I wanted to.
For a change of pace and for some more traditional Helsinki sightseeing, I went on a tour of the former home of the Finnish military leader, Gustaf Mannerheim. And while it wasn’t the most compelling tour I’ve ever been on, it was a pretty house and a nice change from all the Scandinavian chairs I had been staring at the day before. If you are into history, this one is for you. It focuses a lot on what happened to Helsinki and Finland in general during World War II.
I needed lunch down by the waterfront in Helsinki and both TripAdvisor and Foursquare sent me here. It’s a quaint little space popular with tourists, but I enjoyed my salmon and potatoes and was able to use the wifi from the steak restaurant next door, so it worked for me as a relaxing weekend lunch.
My friend John took me out to Ravintola Savel on Saturday evening where we drank a lot of Finnish beer. It was funny because after having dinner at Chef & Sommelier the night before and learning about Malmgard Brewery, I was able to introduce John to Malmgard beers and John has lived in Helsinki for 14 years!
So I think you’re getting it…during my weekend in Helsinki, I drank a lot of beer, wanted to buy everything, and looked at a lot of chairs. I also squeeze in a little Helsinki sightseeing too. I had a good time and really enjoyed my quick Helsinki weekend. So will you! Go now, my US and UK friends, while the Euro is in your favor!
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