Layover Tourism - A Winter Evening in Helsinki, Finland
Updated: Aug 28
Ever had that feeling that you needed a vacation from a vacation? Well, that was what we felt after a nearly two week trip filled with visiting relatives and friends, and living out of our suitcases. So to restore that feeling of a vacation, my brilliant Mr. Fly came up with a fun idea for our 2019 winter layover visit - An evening in Helsinki! But what can one possibly do in the long dark evenings of a frigid Capital on the shores of Baltic Sea, on a Sunday?! I was in for a pleasant surprise. Getting to Helsinki from the Vantaa airport is a fairly simple ride aboard the local commuter train (Line I or P) that takes you to the Helsinki Central Station. We stepped out of the station, expecting closing shops and citizens retired in their homes. Yet there it was, hello Helsinki! We could instantly feel the Christmas magic in the air with its pixie lit streets. And of course, knowing yours-truly Mrs. Fly excited to go shopping, our first stop on the itinerary was a visit to Forum Mall across the road! Although lined with more commonly known brands such as H&M and Mango, this mall is a great place to explore some of Finland’s most loved ones too. I highly recommend snagging a cute coin purse from the Moomin shop! With the cute coin purse by my side and handsome husband holding my excited hand, it was time to hit the jackpot with food! In the mall itself is KIPPO - a local vegan joint, this little food stall is positively plant obsessed and delicious! Our hot plate that day was a sandwich called Johnny Cashew. Made of cashew cheese sauce (yep!), avocado, red bell pepper, pickle and basil, this is one treat that still has my mouth watering 2 months later! Next up was the much heard about Fazer Cafe. Personally, I felt this is one of those places you visit just for a check mark, given the omnipresence of Fazer chocolates in Finland.
With our bags and bellies full we then decide to soak in a few moments of peace at the Kamppi Chapel. A mere 4 min walk from the mall this chapel is the epitome of silence. Adorned with a beautiful wooden interior, it’s no surprise that this chapel won the International Architecture Awards in 2010. Sitting in its well respected silence, I could swear that I could hear the air wizz around me! A refreshing change for every person considering our modern and busy lifestyles. If you love adoring unique architectural designs I would also recommend a visit to the nearby Temppeliaukion Rock Church - A 12 min walk away. We decided to skip this one having been to a rock church on our recent trip to Budapest. But should you have an experience from a visit to the Temppeliaukion Rock Church you that would want to share with us, do leave a comment about it. Nonetheless, surrounding the chapel is a fascinating urban flow of tiles that invite you to climb up and down in frolic. Take a few pictures, pretend a micro-hike and wonder what inspired it! Oh and speaking of which, Finland believes in the right and freedom to public spots - so you are allowed to access most places. In other words, if you come across a towering rock on your walks, feel free to scale it as long as you do it safely and responsibly.
Next up was a walk to the harbour front where awaited a surprise for me. The walk had me starry eyed with the endless streams of overhanging pixie lights. It was in these moments that we realized how lucky we were to drop in on this city in the dark, when the lights and glimmer were in full bloom. On our way to the harbour we approached a street that left us feeling as if we had walked into a Christmas magic movie. At the centre of it stood a huge Christmas tree decorated with magnificent ornaments and surrounded by reindeer statues brought to life with beautiful lighting. Snuggled around this magical set up were people sipping on a Finnish version of mulled wine called Glogi. While you may feel that you are familiar with the taste of mulled wine, I assure you that a sip of this Finnish drink on a cold November night will take you on a hot, spicy and exotic adventure. Sipping on a glass of Glogi each we approached the Helsinki Christmas market lined with vendors selling traditional Christmas goodies. With a quick stroll through the market it was now time for the much awaited surprise. My darling husband had booked us a stay at Hotel Boat Issosari! What this meant was that we were spending a romantic night in the deep dark waters of the Baltic sea snuggled in a cozy cabin. But wait, it wasn’t over yet.
After quickly freshening up we headed towards the next phase of this surprise and what would soon be the most relaxing moment of the day, Loyly Spa! In the World Capital of Spas where every building seems to house one, this urban oasis occupying a stretch of beautiful Helsinki waterfront is a must have experience while in Helsinki. For a mere cost of 19 Euros per person, you and your partner can enjoy a relaxing thermal treatment ranging from cozying up next to a fireplace while you sip on a glass of wine, sweating out in a hot stone room to taking a plunge in the Baltic sea! I highly recommend reserving a spot for yourself in advance as this place is usually very busy even in the peak of winter! Nearing the end of our stay at Helsinki we headed to our last stop before we called it a day - a restaurant located a 5 minute walk away from Hotel Boat Issosari. Ravintola Laava is a funky restaurant/lounge with a class of its own. With various dining rooms and different themes to choose from, we decided to sit in the Hidden Grotto. Designed to look like a mysterious cave in the Usva forest, the stalactites, hazy pond and artistic forest decor of this room created a unique atmosphere for us to get lost in. The menu had few vegetarian options to choose from but we would highly recommend their Pumpkin Risotto. Made from roasted pumpkin in a new Italian risotto, a touch of white chocolate and fried pistachios, this was definitely an amazing treat to end our day on. A special shout out to the chef who very sweetly so made a special dish for us, on the house, with a combination of local spices, sweet corn and a blend of cheeses; an absolute gastronomical experience!
In the hours that we had spent in the Finnish capital, as we retired to our boat cabin facing the silent pitch darkness of the Baltic underwater across its circular window, we had forgotten that this was simply a layover between flights back home. An early morning wakey wakey and we headed back to Vantaa to conclude our 1 day trip to Helsinki and what I would remember as one of the best birthdays ever! Important Note: Just in case you happen to wander over to one of the lounges at the Vantaa airport, don’t underestimate their hot chocolate and their Oreo dunked in fresh milk. That’s the magic of freshness delivered in some simple pleasures of life - the Finnish way!