Helsinki: Europe’s new cool
With a stopover in Singapore, travelling to Europe just became a whole lot more fun and relaxing. Roderick Eime tests Finnair’s new Airbus A350 en route to Helsinki.
Established as a proper city in the mid-16th Century, Helsinki has plenty of history to go around and like so many Scandinavian cities, museums, restaurants and shopping districts abound with their own particular flavour.
Helsinki likes to ride on its ‘City of Design’ status, a meritorious label attached to it by UNESCO, no less.
”The admittance to the City of Design Network fortifies Helsinki’s status among the design cities of the world”, said the proud Mayor Jussi Pajunen.
So what does that mean? “Functional design, unique gastronomy, maritime appeal and friendly locals” according to their website. All of which I can attest.
Our patient hosts from the city showed us the new and very funky shops like those of TRE, Minna Parikka and 2OR+ where designers really lash out. We sampled several of the city’s progressive and contemporary eateries that really demonstrate this ‘unique gastronomy’. Because we had to, okay.
A super lunch was had at delightfully retro Vinkkeli and dinner was at compact and cosy Kuurna, each making great use of local and seasonal foods you don’t see elsewhere. Think smoked reindeer, ligonberries and root vegies. There’s just so much choice in Helsinki and Finns love to eat out.
What’s Finnish for ‘tipple’?
Finns also don’t mind a drink and there are plenty of fun places to quench a thirst. We explored a quirky speakeasy called Trillby & Chadwick, modelled around prohibition drinking holes from the early 20th Century and named after the famous private detective firm who once inhabited the place. Yes, Finland had prohibition from 1919 to 1932. There’s even a slit in the front door, no photos allowed and when you’re done, you exit at the rear. Cool as.
And if you are looking for an authentic Finnish souvenir, I’m told they make the best gin in the world. It’s called Napue.
Helsinki is also characterised by its maritime landscape with some 130 kilometres of shoreline. The sea is all around and offers visitors a vast range of experiences, such as the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the stunning archipelago, which can be admired aboard relaxing cruises. New islands have been opened to the public in recent years, including the idyllic islands of Lonna and Vallisaari where visitors can enjoy a combination of unspoilt nature and historical fortifications.
All steamed up
Now you can’t leave Finland without experiencing a sauna. (Pronounced SOW-na in Finland) and there are plenty. If your hotel doesn’t have one, there is a very popular urban public sauna right on the waterfront at Hernesaarenranta. Called Löyly, it’s billed as an urban oasis where you can relax after your sauna and dip in the sea with a light meal and liquid refreshments. http://www.loylyhelsinki.fi
Our group enjoyed comfortable and modern digs at Hotel Indigo Boulevard, IHG’s upscale boutique brand, located right in the heart of the design quarter and on one of the city’s most historic, well-located streets, Bulevardi. Each of the 120 guest rooms are decorated with unique murals designed by local artists. http://helsinki-boulevard.hotelindigo.com/en
Arriving in Helsinki just seemed to be a whole lot more stress free compared to the other European airports I’ve experienced. Whether it was just my good timing or the Finns special way of making things seamless, I couldn’t tell. But either way, it was an arrival and departure experience I wish I had more often.
The modern airport at Helsinki Vantaa (HEL) isn’t physically huge, especially compared to somewhere like Dubai or Bangkok, yet this hub offers 8,509 relevant transfer connections between 130 destinations (at time of writing), ranking HEL the 12th most important in the listing of European airports, according to Airports Council International (ACI). (www.aci-europe.org )
Finnair flies to and from Helsinki and Singapore daily ( AY081/82 ) - as well as many other Asian destinations. The flight time is about 12 hours in the new Airbus A350-900. Don’t go all that way just to transfer. Even if you have just 24 hours, it’s worth getting into town and exploring as much as you can.
Transport to/from Helsinki Airport
Buses and coaches serve the Helsinki city centre and metropolitan. Stops are located at both terminals.
The train station is at the arrivals floor, between terminals 1 and 2.
Taxis are available in front of both terminals.
For comprehensive travel and visitor information for Helsinki: www.visithelsinki.fi
Words and images: Roderick Eime (1 to 5)
Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au
1. Singapore's Super Trees
2. Finnair lounge at Helsinki
3. Produce seller at Helsinki Old Market Mall
4, Our hosts at Vinkkeli
5. Sparkling creation at Minna Parikka
6. Finnair Economy Comfort (supplied)