While Helsinki and Finland are lovely, with friendly people and charming historical sights, truthfully, it was my least favorite city/country duo that we visited. It was not because of the people, how we were treated, or even Helsinki itself, but compared to London, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Edinburgh, all of Norway, etc…, Helsinki felt just a bit… mundane.
(Also, I’m just going to say off the bat – I know that my fashion choices were terrible during this period of my life and it’s super embarrassing. 🥴🤦🏻♀️)
I really wish we had visited Helsinki before the others, because I know that I would’ve appreciated it more (I also know I would appreciate it far more now). It’s a beautiful, charming, peaceful, welcoming city, and it had many wonderful and interesting sights. We had a couple of fun moments, like the street-performing juggler who, much to my surprise, included me in his act, and coming upon a sign made completely out of recycled trash that spelled out “Helsinki” on the side of a building.
We began our visit of the city the way we did often, on the HoHo. Sadly, it proved to be the most uninteresting HoHo ride ever, and I’ve taken many. It was incredibly dull and felt like it took forever. It was eventually dubbed “the most boring HoHo ride of the trip” by the entire family. We took the Yellow Line, and it was one hour of suffering. First, it was a double decker HoHo with an open top, and we sat on top. It was a very sunny day and got rather uncomfortable. Second, it was as sloooooow as molasses. We never got off the HoHo due to having little desire to examine the sights up close, since we could easily get a full appreciation of them from atop the bus. Most HoHos will stop for just a few minutes, basically enough time for people to disembark and for others to board. Usually, there aren’t that many people (this was NOT the case in NYC… New York City: Controlled Chaos.). This was the case in Helsinki, and there definitely did not appear to be enough people to justify the long wait time we were forced to endure. Third and last, frankly, the sights were uninteresting. It was just one grey building after another, which usually turned out to be some university or museum. Apparently, many of the buildings were selected because they were created by famous architects and designers we had never heard of.
Some of the stops included Senate Square, Café Ursula, Kaivopuisto Park, Market Square (a massive market full of individual stalls selling everything from clothing to “culinary delights”), Helsinki Art Museum and Central Railway Station, Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church), Sibelius Monument, the Swedish Theatre, Museum of Finnish Architecture, National Opera, Botanic Garden, and the Ateneum Art Museum. You can find a map with all the stops on https://city-sightseeing.com/en/40/helsinki/40/hop-on-hop-off-helsinki.
Once it was over, we declined to continue with the Purple Line and instead walked around. My stepdad embarked on his reoccurring quest of locating the local police department, while my mother, brother, and I headed towards a grocery store (titillating, I know). However, there was a genuine purpose, as my brother and I both needed to grab a Redbull to add to our collection (we had been collecting Redbulls in each country’s language), plus we wanted Finnish candy. To be honest, the supermarket was one of the most interesting parts of the visit and was a unique experience. It’s not every day you get to visit a foreign supermarket. It was very yellow and industrial feeling, but mostly it felt like any ole regular grocery store at home in the States. Since both Finnish and Swedish are the official languages of Finland, the aisle signs were in both languages, along with English, the country’s third most popular language.
After securing the precious Redbull, it was off to meet up with my stepfather, and onto more sightseeing. We came upon Helsinki Cathedral, a huge church perched high upon a massive hill in the center of Helsinki. It’s a gorgeous building, pure white with beautiful blue domes. It reminded me significantly of the churches in St. Petersburg, Russia (fun fact, which I found out later, is that the domes were modeled after two famous Russian churches, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Kazan Cathedral, both in St. Petersburg. That explains it! St. Petersburg, Russia: Palaces and Vodka – Part 1. and St. Petersburg, Russia: Palaces and Vodka – Part 2.).
The cathedral is the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the Diocese of Helsinki, and is in Senate Square, in the Kruununhaka neighborhood. It was built in the Neoclassical design as a tribute to the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, who at the time, also happened to be the Grand Duke of Finland, hence why it was modeled after two famous Russian cathedrals. When it was first built, it was known as St. Nichola’s Church, but after the independence of Finland from Russia in 1917, the name was changed. They first broke ground on the cathedral in 1830, finally completing it in 1852. It seats 1,300 people.
Helsinki Cathedral is open 7 days a week from 9am to 6pm and is by far one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist destinations. It boasted half a million visitors in 2018 and is regularly used for worship services and weddings. The direct address is Unioninkatu 29, 00170 Helsinki, Finland.
We also came upon numerous intriguing statues, including the Statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg and Three Smiths Statue. The Statue of Johan Ludvig Runeberg is in Esplanadi Park. Runeberg lived from 1804 to 1877 and was a Finnish-Swedish author, national poet, and priest. He’s depicted to be around 55 years of age, dressed in a priest’s coat, and positioned as if he is about to give a speech. At the base is a young woman dressed in a bearskin, apparently meant to symbolize the “Maiden of Finland”, which is the “national personification of Finland”. She is holding a laurel wreath and an iron inscription with three verses from the Finnish National Anthem, but in Runeberg’s native language of Swedish (ironic). The statue was unveiled in May 1885, eight years after Runeberg died. A second statue of Runeberg was also unveiled in his hometown of Porvoo the same month.
The second statue, Three Smiths Statue, is errmm, unique. It’s quite realistic, physiologically speaking, comprising of three fully naked and well-sculpted men hammering away on an anvil. It was unveiled in 1932 and is the work of Felix Nylund. Funny enough, the three smiths are standing so close together that realistically, they would smash each other on the head with the hammer instead of the anvil. Nylund used wrestlers from a sports club called Jyry as his models, but it’s also said that mason Paavo Koskinen and a police officer named Sundström posed as the body models. The Master smith’s face was modeled after poet Arvid Mörne, while the smith’s face who is holding the hammer upwards was modeled after Nylund’s own face and the smith who is holding his hammer downward has the face of sculptor Aku Nuutinen.
It’s a popular statue in Helsinki, mainly as a well-known meeting place even in the wintertime, since the underground heating system meant to keep the streets clear from ice and snow heats up the statue as well, keeping it clear of the wintery elements. Helsinki citizens also routinely dress up the three statues, such as putting Santa Claus hats on them during the holiday season. They also put surgical masks on them in the spring of 2020, as tribute to the fantastic Covid-19 pandemic, as well as placing an effigy of the Coronavirus on the anvil so that it appeared that the smiths were hammering out the virus.
Overall, I view Helsinki like I view vanilla pudding – good, but nothing special. I know there are people who will disagree, and that’s totally fine! I am NOT saying that Helsinki is bad. The people were wonderful, kind, and warm, and it’s a very clean, well-kept city. It was just a bit… bland… for me, personally. However, I can’t help but wonder how I would feel about the city now. Who knows, Finland is one of the best places to view the Northern Lights and that is something firmly on my bucket list, so I might just be back one day!