A MasterChef type outdoor cooking competition was taking place in Narinkkatori square just outside Helsinki’s Kamppi shopping centre so we decided to join lots of other inquisitive people and take a look at what was happening. The event was hosted by Lidl and was the national finals of their Grillimaisteri barbecue competition.
It was interesting watching the competitors preparing mouthwatering dishes against the clock. Then, one by one, they carried them up to the stage to be tasted and reviewed by the judging panel. In between cooking heats we were entertained by live music and amongst the acts performing, a children’s heavy metal band called Hevisaurus proved very popular.
In addition to live music and cookery competitions, queues formed for complimentary freshly cooked sausages and fruit juice which were very tasty. The warm, sunny weather was perfect for the event and after spending some time there we decided to take a walk over in the eastern part of the city.
We stayed near the sea in Herttoniemi one summer and often enjoyed strolling along the shoreline, so to walk off our sausages we decided to go there.
Getting there was very simple, we took the metro to Herttoniemi and after crossing the main road we headed straight down towards the waterfront (approximately 20 minutes walk). Our stroll took us past modern apartments with huge glass balconies, perfect for soaking up the idyllic views across the narrow sea channel. A little further we passed some moorings along an inlet and there we found a Swedish theatre boat before reaching the sea.
Many homes lie secluded in the trees and several have their own moorings. How lovely it must be to go out on your boat to collect your grocery shopping instead of using the bus or car.
A bend in the path and a few more minutes walking led us to the beach which was crowded on such a warm, sunny day. I dipped my toes in the sea and it felt lovely and warm. The beach is equipped with changing rooms and showers and there’s also an ice cream kiosk and beach cafe nearby. In the distance there is a swimming platform and beyond, the sea narrows into a channel between the mainland and adjacent islands.
Our stroll continued to Herttoniemi Manor which was built in 1803. The gardens surrounding the manor are designed in a French / English style with linear tree lined avenues. In the grounds you will also find a farmstead museum which comprises a collection of buildings brought there from the surrounding region. Unfortunately the museum was closed on our visit as it is only open on Sundays in summertime and once a month in winter.
We continued our walk along the shoreline before heading inland slightly to Itäkeskus from where we returned to the city centre by metro. This is a very pleasant walk with several wooden benches along the way to sit and relax and soak up the lovely Finnish scenery.
Just north of the centre of Helsinki and at the terminus of the No. 6 and 8 trams lies the Arabia district where we found much of interest to occupy us for several hours. Starting off by the tram terminus is the Iittala and Arabia design centre and outlet store where we were able to browse the latest ranges from these iconic Finnish glass and ceramic manufacturers in room layouts and on table settings. The Arabia factory was founded in 1873 and at one time was the largest porcelain factory in Europe.
The store has had a complete makeover since our last visit and its new, minimalist style is easy on the eye. My all time favourite is the Alvar Aalto vase and, of course, who could resist the delightful Moomin cartoon range of tableware. At the far corner there is a sleek kitchen layout where we were even able to help ourselves to complimentary cups of coffee, served in designer mugs.
Leaving the outlet store we took the lift to the 9th floor to take a look inside the Design Museum. This museum displays the products of the Arabia ceramics factory and Iittala glassworks from 1873 to the present day. Products are displayed in a timeline indicating the years when specific items were manufactured and it was interesting to view how designs have evolved over time. Entrance to the museum is free and further details can be found here.
The group is now owned by Fiskars, manufacturers of household and garden products and probably most recognised for their orange handled scissors which have been produced since 1967 and are most likely to be present in nearly everyone’s kitchen drawers.
Just along the corridor from the outlet store you will find a cafe to the left and slightly further on next to the attractive Pentik store is the Fiskars pavilion which is open to the public during working hours.
On display here are some of the company’s iconic home and garden products that have been fashioned into art installations. It was fascinating to view mundane household items such as scissors, axes and plates in such inspirational ways.
Leaving the building, a flight of steps leads down towards the sea where we enjoyed a stroll along the tranquil waterfront towards the old town rapids. Modern, tastefully designed apartments with huge glass balconies overlook the waterside park and bay enabling residents to live in a calm, natural environment yet only a short tram ride away from the city centre.
Reaching the old town rapids on the Vantaa river we crossed the bridge to the Museum of Technology which occupies the site of the old waterworks and is spread over several buildings. The museum documents the history of technology and industry in Finland from the late 19th century to the present day. We began our tour in the main building, the History of Innovation section which shows the history of metals, building materials, communications and computer technology. Here we found telephone devices from more than 100 years ago, the first generation of computers and domestic appliances through the ages.
Over in the Hydro Power Plant building we were able to learn how electricity was generated by hydro power a hundred years ago and discovered that it is still produced here today. The Steam Plant, located next door was built in 1931 and was used as a reserve power plant, producing electricity for the use of the water treatment plant if the hydropower plant could not operate due to low water levels in the river.
If you are interested in visiting this museum further details can be found on its website here. The museum offers free admission each Thursday but the Power Plant is only open during the summer months and closes earlier at 5.00 p.m.
It was then time for some lunch so we called into the Koskenranta restaurant which occupies an idyllic spot on the banks of the old town rapids very close to the Museum of Technology. On a sunny day it’s a lovely place to sit out on the terrace enjoying their buffet lunch and at under €10 it’s very good value. We tucked into creamy salmon soup with rye bread followed by lamb meat balls, salad, coffee and biscuits.
Needing to walk off the excesses of our lunch we decided to take the Pornaistenniemi nature trail which is located just across the bridge from the cafe. A wooden sign indicates the start of the trail which begins along a gravel path then just after crossing a small wooden bridge continues onto a newly laid boardwalk of a good width. This has replaced the very narrow two plank wide one which was starting to disintegrate.
Arriving on Lammasaari island we could see small summer cottages tucked away in the trees and at the far side of the island a small jetty with views towards Herttoniemi. A narrow, winding gravel path leads to the Lammasaari birdwatching tower and from the top there are far reaching views across the reed beds to Vikki. We then slowly returned to ground level and retraced our steps back along the boardwalk towards the tram stop to take us back into Helsinki after a fun filled day in the Arabia district of the city.
We often visit Estonia’s capital Tallinn whilst we are staying in Helsinki as it makes for a pleasant day out or overnight stay. Several ferry companies ply the route taking between 90 minutes on the fast ferry to two and a half hours on the larger, more comfortable car ferries.
This summer we spotted an offer on Viking XPRS leaving Helsinki at 8.00 p.m. including an overnight stay on board and then returning the next evening allowing a full day to explore Tallinn for little more than the price of a standard return ticket. The outbound boat was full of Estonian under 11 football teams returning from a day of matches in Helsinki but they were very well behaved and seemed to have more interest buying chocolate and crisps in the shop rather than watching the evening entertainment. We settled down near the stage and listened to the house band ‘No Mercy’ who were of a good standard and watched people enjoying a whirl around the dance floor. Surprisingly, when the boat docked in Tallinn at 10.30 p.m. almost everyone disembarked but the band kept playing for another hour and we had the lounge almost to ourselves, there appeared to be as many crew around as overnight passengers.
We found our cabin which we knew would be small but was even tinier than we had expected, in fact the bathroom was almost as large as the sleeping area. However, it wasn’t a problem, our beds were narrow but comfortable and we had a good night’s sleep as the boat was in its moorings. We were slightly later leaving than the designated 6.45 a.m. time for vacating our cabin and had to rush as the chambermaid was knocking on our door. Breakfast was available on board until 7.30 a.m. but at the excessive cost of €10 for dubious quality we decided to go ashore where we found a pleasant cafe for early morning warm croissants and cappuccinos which brought us back to life.
It was a dull morning with occasional spots of rain but we continued with our original plan to visit areas of Tallinn beyond the historic old town. The first place on our list was Kadriorg Palace and park just outside the city centre. We started off to walk but as the route appeared to be along a boring main road we changed our minds and bought two travel cards at a cost of €2 each and loaded day tickets on to them costing an additional €3 each. This enabled us to catch a No.3 tram to Kadriorg allowing us to rest a short time before exploring the park and its buildings.
Kadriorg Palace was constructed in 1725 for Catherine I of Russia by Peter the Great. The palace now forms part of the Estonian Art Museum displaying overseas art from the 16th to 20th centuries. The museum is closed each Monday (the day of our visit) so we were unable to take a look inside.
Located just behind Kadriorg Palace lies the Presidential Palace constructed in 1938. During Estonia’s first period of independence between 1918 and 1940 the Head of State was based at Kadriorg Palace but it was felt that a purpose built palace was needed. The Presidential Palace is closed to visitors but it’s interesting to take a walk in the grounds and watch the Changing of the Guard.
Leaving the palace we boarded a tram back into the city centre where we stopped off for our mid morning cups of coffee before taking a bus to the Cultural Kilometre. Starting from just north of the old town this footpath passes through a stretch of post-Soviet post-industrial Tallinn.
Our walk started at a former power station known as the Creative Hub which is now an arts venue. The building has retained its distinctive large chimney and is usually open to the public but was closed when we visited as an event was taking place related to the start of Estonia’s rotating presidency of the EU. The path then starts off along the water’s edge but veers inland after a short distance. We thought the signposting was vague and at times we were unsure which way to go but I think we were still able to locate most points of interest.
The route passed the former Patarei prison, a nineteenth century fortress that became a prison in 1920 and after being abandoned in 2004 opened as a museum. We had hoped to take a look inside but the entire site was cordoned off which was a disappointment. Continuing, we passed more abandoned buildings from the Soviet era that had been left to ruin.
Moving on further around the bay we came to the Estonian Maritime Museum at the Seaplane harbour. This museum is open daily and is located inside the historical Seaplane hangar which at one time held 21 seaplanes. Now it is home to over 200 exhibits including the Lembit submarine built in 1937. Numerous boats are on display outdoors including Europe’s oldest steam powered icebreaker Suur Töll which was built in Germany in 1914. Further details can be found on the museum’s website here.
After an enjoyable time spent viewing the historic ships we rejoined the Cultural Kilometre route to view the delightful old wooden houses in the Kalamaja district. This used to be Tallinn’s main fishing harbour and the surrounding neighbourhood of pastel painted homes remains. It was very tranquil strolling along these tree lined streets admiring the collection of well preserved houses of various shapes and sizes.
Our stroll along the Cultural Kilometre ended at Tööstuse Street but we still had more places to explore. Walking back towards the centre we arrived at Telliskivi Creative City, a hipster hub that sprang up in several old industrial buildings close to the railway station. It’s home to locally made crafts, small boutiques, pop up shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Old locomotives and shipping containers have been transformed into cafes and bars helping to make the creative city a vibrant part of town. It was certainly buzzing with activity on our visit and we were unable to get a table at one of the restaurants and had to go elsewhere.
Before returning to the old town we found time to take a look inside the new market hall located just behind Balti Jaam railway station. Known as Turg, it’s built in a contemporary style with lots of natural light and seems to sell everything from fruit and vegetables to antiques, gifts and clothes.
Before returning to Helsinki on the early evening crossing we walked through the cobbled squares of the quaint old town reminding ourselves of how beautiful it really is. We were pleased though to have spent the day beyond the old city walls exploring some parts of Tallinn that were new to us. Back at the ferry terminal we returned our travel cards and obtained a refund of €2 on each card making our day’s travelling good value. The return ferry had similar entertainment to the previous evening and was of a reasonable standard but overall we preferred the Eckerö Line ferry company that we had travelled on previously for comfort and service.
On previous visits to Tallinn we have explored the historic centre and for more details on the old town you can read my previous post here.
Dominating Senate Square is Helsinki Cathedral, built in the neo-classical style this landmark building was completed in 1852 and its tall green dome can be seen from many parts of the city. Senate Square was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1852 and the cathedral was his masterpiece, majestically dominating the surrounding buildings. The large flight of steps leading up to the cathedral act as seating when performances are taking place in the square below. I’ve visited the cathedral before so if you would like to read about the interior you can do so in my previous post here.
To the left of the cathedral stands the University of Helsinki and just beyond it is the National Library of Finland. Being a lover of books it was only fitting that we should take a look inside this building.
The library is both the oldest and largest library in Finland and is responsible for the collection and preservation of Finland’s printed national heritage. Anyone is welcome to visit the library and it is unnecessary to hold a library card. Bags and coats must be left for safe keeping in the ornate wooden lockers near the door and there is no charge for this service.
The library is divided into two principal buildings, its large halls all being connected to each other. Leaving the foyer we stepped into the splendid Cuppola Hall, connected to two ornate side rooms, the North Hall and the South Hall which are both now used as reading rooms. The columns are coated with stucco marble and each hall has its own colour scheme. I just loved the exquisite painted ceilings which are from 1881. The three halls form a unique suite of rooms in Finnish architectural history, an academic temple devoted to research and science.
Connected to these rooms is the annex called the Rotunda which was built between 1902 and 1906 and designed by architect Gustaf Nyström. The Rotunda has six floors and its semi circular extension is surrounded by curved bookcases. Creating natural light, the glass roof is made of iron and its pillars are ornately decorated with reliefs.
From the top (6th) floor of the Rotunda we could see all the way down to the ground floor level. The bookcases have intricately engraved numbering on the ends to enable readers to find their required books and the hall is furnished with some delightful antique chairs.
Interestingly, the bulk of the collection is stored in an underground bunker drilled into solid rock below the library. The library collections, the largest in Finland include a total of some three million books and periodicals. We very much enjoyed our visit here, so if you might be in Helsinki and have an opportunity to visit, do take a look for yourselves, the library’s website can be found here.
Strolling across Senate Square we turned left onto Snellmaninkatu to visit the museum of the Bank of Finland. This museum is open daily except Monday and has free admittance, more details can be found on its website here. Being interested in economics we found the galleries very informative.
The museum is divided into three sections. The main theme focuses on the operation of the Bank of Finland and the European system of central banks and their monetary policy. The history section details the history of cash and monetary developments in Finnish society. The third gallery focuses on banknotes and displays the developments in banknote design since the early 19th century.
On the opposite side of the road to the Museum of the Bank of Finland lies the majestic House of the Estates. This building was constructed in 1891 and is currently used for occasional government meetings as well as being the location for official coalition talks after general elections. From there we walked the short distance to the market square passing Helsinki City Museum on the far corner of Senate Square. This museum depicts city life through the years and offers a fascinating insight into how the capital has evolved. We then took a tram back to the Kamppi district to return to our accommodation after an interesting tour of Senate Square.
With Finland celebrating its centenary this year and the country being a firm favourite of ours, it seemed only natural that we should make a return visit this summer. On arriving into Helsinki airport late the previous evening, we spent our first day enjoying a walk around the market square which is always a beautiful sight. The square is the beating heart of the city bustling with activity. The small orange and white canvas roofed stalls sell fresh berries, flowers, vegetables and gifts and are always crowded with tourists, many from cruise ships looking for the perfect souvenir to remind them of their visit to Helsinki. The market square is also the starting point for boat trips and a regular ferry to Suomenlinna island, a UNESCO World Heritage site, just a short 12 minute journey away.
Strolling across the footbridge we were interested to view the Allas Sea Pools which were nearing completion when we visited last summer. Allas is located in a prime position at the side of the harbour next to the Ferris Wheel, affording stunning views of the harbour and the market square (kauppatori). Wide, wooden steps lead up to the terrace and these have been cleverly designed to act as seats as well as a staircase with large bean bags to relax on.
Tickets are not required for access to the terrace areas but are needed to use the pools and saunas. Allas boasts three pools located on a floating basin on top of the sea. The Big Pool is filled with heated tap water and is a very comfortable 27 degrees Celsius all year round. The Sea Pool is filled with sea water pumped from further out to sea where the currents are cleaner and then filtered. The temperature of this pool is the same as the sea with warm water in summer and ice swimming during the winter months for the brave or should I say foolhardy! The third pool is primarily for children and their parents and this is also heated to 27 degrees Celsius.
The complex also has three luxury saunas taking between 15 and 20 people at one time. We climbed to the uppermost terrace from where we had splendid views of the pools and the harbour setting. Here we found a rooftop bar with lots of wooden deck chairs to soak up the sunshine whilst sipping cool drinks. On the lower level there is also a restaurant and cafe. The site is spacious and can accommodate up to 2,700 customers, we were very impressed and will definitely be returning again during our stay.
Continuing our walk along the waterfront we admired some beautiful buildings from the Art Nouveau / Jugend style and boats moored in the harbour opposite. Slightly further on, we followed a path along a causeway to Terversaari island. This causeway was constructed in 1939 when it was used as a storage area for tar awaiting exporting. After the final industrial units were removed in 1970 the island was opened to the public and in the mid 1990’s it was enlarged by means of land reclamation and transformed in to a park like setting.
Hedges of wild roses line the path and were awash with colour as the flowers were in full bloom. Small boats were bobbing in the water on the causeway moorings and views back to the mainland were stunning.
Starting our walk around the island we passed a traditional Finnish carpet washing pier ‘mattolaituri’ where people bring their rugs and carpets and wash them in the sea. They are then left to dry in the sunshine on the wooden racks to be collected later. These washing piers are a common sight along the Helsinki and Espoo waterfront.
From the island there are some good views of the Finnish ice breaking fleet in their summer home of Katajanokka. These ships work hard at keeping the ports free from ice during the winter months and are now celebrating Finland’s centenary with a large banner. Further round we could see Korkeasaari island which is home to the Helsinki Zoo.
We also passed a dog park which even has its own designated swimming beach for dogs, a children’s playground and an outdoor theatre where regular summer performances take place.
The island also features a traditional Finnish style restaurant ‘Savu’ which is located in the last remaining storehouse. The restaurant specialises in smoke curing and is located in a beautiful setting. After completing a circuit of the island we continued to Hakaniemi from where we caught a tram to the Kamppi bus station to return to our accommodation in Espoo.
In this, my second series of blog posts on southern Finland, my plan is to mainly visit places that I have not previously written about. If you are interested to read about my month long stay last summer you can find a link to it here.