Porvoo Christmas markets: the perfect daytrip from Helsinki

Picturesque and steeped in history, Porvoo is the perfect day trip from Helsinki. During Christmas markets are held in the cobbled snow-dusted streets.

Porvoo is Finland’s second oldest city and one of six medieval towns in the country. It’s not only steeped in history and very picturesque but its also full of cosy cafes, cellar bars and enticing gift shops. My favourites are Petris Chocolate Room and Cellar Cafe and Wine Bar which serves 5 different types of glogi and two types of hot toddy- perfect to warm up on a winters day. Only an hour bus ride from Helsinki, visiting Porvoo is one of the most popular day trips from the capital.

Porvoo is especially enchanting during the festive season, when the town is light up with Christmas lights and markets, selling hand-crafted goods, warm glogi and delicious treats. Snow settles on the buildings and cobbled streets of the old town, and the red houses lining the river make for a peaceful place to wander. It’s not surprising that the street Välikatu, has been touted as one of the 20 most beautiful streets in the world.

Tip: A local bus will cost around 20€ for a return ticket, while booking ahead with Onnibus can be as little as 3€ return and they offer many trips on weekends. In the warmer months (May-Sep) you can also take a traditional cruise from Helsinki’s Market Place to Porvoo for 39€ return.

The Best Places for Book Lovers in Helsinki

Finland lays claim to the highest literacy rates world-wide. So it’s not surprising that Helsinki is a paradise for book lovers. Here’s 7 of my favourite places to visit when I want to get lost amidst pages of adventure.

Finland lays claim to being the nation with highest literacy rates in the world, so it’s no surprise that a love of books and libraries are an integral part of the country. As well as beautiful libraries, Helsinki is also home to many charming antique and international bookstores.

Here are 7 places in Helsinki that will spark the imagination of book lovers the world over

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1. Oodi: Helsinki Central Library

The newest edition to Helsinki’s libraries, Oodi opened on Independence Day in December 2018. The state-of-the-art library was a centenary gift to the citizens of Finland from the government.

The building itself is unique and eye-catching, featuring a top level completely enclosed in glass. Not only does the library house an extensive literary collection but it also serves as a recreational melting pot. There are spaces for children to play, virtual reality gaming rooms, music recording studios, crafting and sewing areas and high tech media stations.

The result is a relaxing and stimulating meeting place, with indoor plants and amazing views to boot.

Location: Kansalaistori square

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8am-10pm, Sat-Sun 10am-8pm

More info here

2. The National Library

Located directly across from the Helsinki Cathedral, the National library is a truly amazing and humbling experience for any book-lover.

Shelves are stacked high with every type of book imaginable and the views from window-ined reading nooks are enchanting.

Location: Unioninkatu 36

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, except Wednesday 9am-8pm. Closed on weekends.

More info

3. The Kallio library

Housed in a huge old redbrick building at the top of Porthaninkatu, this three story library has sweeping staircases and huge widows looking out over Bear Park.

Location: Viides linja 11

Opening hours: Mon-Thur 8am-8pm, Fri 8am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 12-6pm

More Info

4. Arkadia International Bookshop

This place is not only a fantastic international bookstore but a place for scientific talks, philosophical discussions, board games and generally relaxing in a cosy atmosphere.

Location: Nervanderinkatu 11

Opening hours: Tue-Fri 12-7pm, Sat 12-6pm, Sun-Mon closed

More Info

5. Hagelstam Antiques

This antique bookstore has shelf upon shelf overflowing with old and rare books, maps and prints. While most are in Finnish, it still feels like a treasure trove of hidden, long lost literally gems.

Location: Fredrikinkatu 35

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-4pm, Sun closed

More Info

 

 

6. Nide Bookstore

Just next door to Hagelstam Antiques you’ll find this charming bookstore. Full of bright modern books (and classics) that I couldn’t help but touch and flick through. I wanted to buy most of the store and could spend days here. The perfect spot to find a gift for a friend or a new read.

Location: Fredrikinkatu 35

Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun closed

More Info

 

7. Sivukirjasto

There’s something about having a glass of wine amidst old books that soothes my soul. Even if most of the book-lined shelves contain Finnish titles. The drinks are also well priced for Helsinki standards.

Location: Fleminginkatu 5

Opening hours: Mon-Thur 2pm-2am, Fri-Sun 12-2am

More Info

 

5 unique off-the-beaten-track cafes in Helsinki

If you saw my post yesterday about quitting coffee, you’ll know that Finland holds the bragging rights to the nation that drinks the most coffee! So it’s not surprising that in Finland’s capital you’ll find a huge range of cafes, which (luckily for me) also offer many other delicious drinks and snacks aside from coffee. If you want to branch out a little from the mainstream downtown cafes then try one of my favourite 5 cafes below. All are located in neighbourhoods surrounding the city center, but also far enough away to feel like you’ve stumbled into a hidden haven. Oh, each cafe also has ridiculously cool decor & vibes.

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1. Regatta: a nautical themed cafe open 365 days a year

This place is an institution and it’s not hard to see why. With an incredibly cute (but tiny) interior, complete with all sorts of vintage nautical decor, outdoor seating with post-card worthy water views, and an open fire where you can cook sausages, this place has it all. They have delicious (and very well priced) sweet and savoury snacks and a great range of hot drinks including coffee, several types of hot chocolate, warm juice and glogi. But possibly the thing I love most about this cafe is that it’s open every day of the year. This is particularly noteworthy in Helsinki where many cafes open late on weekends and often not at all on Sundays.

Hours: 8am-9pm daily

Location: Merikannontie 8

 

 

 

2. Relove: cakes, coffee & second hand shopping

This is one of my favourite cafes in Helsinki, not only because they serve beautiful cakes and one whole wall is dedicated to plants, but also because most of the space is a second-hand store. The racks are divided into slots for people to sell their no longer wanted clothes and shoes, and you can often find great bargains. A section of the store is also dedicated to beautiful homewares and body products.

Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm

Location: Sandelsinkatu 6

 

 

 

3. Bon Temps: French vibes in Meilahti

This cafe is the perfect place to relax with a hot drink and freshly baked pulla, amidst good music and chic decor. As well as their delicious home-made pastries, there’s also hot and cold daily lunches (with vegetarian options) for around 10€.

Hours:  Mon-Fri 8am-7pm, Sat 9am-4.30pm

Location: Mannerheimintie 132

 

 

 

4. Roots: environmentally friendly food & decor

This vegan cafe does a perfect sized, delicious and healthy breakfast set and also serves pretty cakes, smoothies and hot drinks. But it’s the upcycled decor that I love most about the place. There’s also a yoga studio attached to the cafe.

Hours: Mon-Fri 8am-9pm, Sat 9am-7pm, Sun 10am-7pm

Location: Vaasankatu 14

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5. Helsinki Coffee roasters (Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo): the best coffee in a creative setting

If you’re looking for excellent coffee with inspiring upcycled decor you can’t go past this place. Love, love, love!

Hours: Mon-Fri 7.30am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm

Location: Päijänteentie 29

 

 

 

The 5 Best Places for Hot Chocolate in Downtown Helsinki

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There’s nothing like a hot drink to warm you up in winter

Winters in Helsinki are magical- white snowy landscapes, frozen seas, skiing, skating, Christmas trees, cosy interiors and delicious hot chocolate!

However before the snow arrives, October and November can be quite dreary and a little depressing. Drizzly rain, grey clouds and ever darkening days seem to be in endless supply.

I’ve found one of the best ways to ward of the gloomy November feeling has been to take some indulgent time to myself, snuggled in a cosy cafe with a good book and delicious hot drink. If that sounds like your kind of scene then this post is for you!

Here are five of the best places to get a hot chocolate in downtown Helsinki

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Winter in Helsinki

1. Ihana Kahvia Baari

Ihana in Finnish means lovely or wonderful, and this place definitely lives up to it’s name! Located in the Kluuvi area of town, this cafe provides a cosy vintage atmosphere, a huge variety of music nights and the most delicious thick Italian hot chocolate.

They also have a few other variations- white hot chocolate, original and chili hot chocolate. Then there’s their range of mouth watering cakes, savoury treats, wine, beer and glogi in winter. By far my number one spot in central Helsinki to brighten up a gloomy November day!

Cost: at 4.50€ for a huge cup of any of their hot chocolates

Opening Hours:  variable, but generally 10.00-19.00 Mon-Sat and Sundays take your luck

More Info: here

2. Cafe Neuhaus

This specialty chocolate shop definitely delivers the goods in terms of chocolates and hot drinks. Unfortunately the atmosphere is a little lacking. The price is also relatively high but worth it as the hot chocolate is velvety thick, delicious and served in a huge bucket cup.

If chai latte is more your type of hot drink they have a bargain deal for a croissant and chai for 4.50€.

Cost: 5.50€ for a bucket size

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10.00-19.00, Sat-Sun 10.00-18.00

More Info: here

3. Paulig Kulma

This cafe has a modern, cosy, fun vibe, especially with the swinging chairs upstairs! There are two types of hot chocolate, a regular one and a vegan raw chocolate option. They also have a tempting selection of sweet snack and serve a great, mainly vegetarian brunch on weekends.

Cost: 4.20€ regular or 4.90€ raw option

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 7.30-20.00, Sat 9.00-20.00, Sun 10.00-20.00

More Info: here

4. Kappeli

Housed in one of my favourite buildings in Helsinki, visiting this cafe is a magical experience- there are huge chandeliers, floor to ceiling windows and even turreted corner seats. The cafe is especially inviting on a gloomy evening, when the windows are lit up in creamy peach tones.

While the hot chocolate itself is nothing special, the fact that it’s served in a tall elegant glass, amidst such a charming atmosphere more than compensates. It was also the cheapest hot chocolate I found in Helsinki.

Cost: 3.80€

Opening Hours: 10.00 – midnight daily

More Info: here

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5. Cafe Engel

This rather fancy cafe is somewhat of an institution in Helsinki. Their hot chocolate is delicious and just sweet enough without being overpowering.

But the main draw-card is the view of senate square and the Helsinki Cathedral. If you get a seat by the window the unparalleled view is worth the hefty cost of their drinks.

Cost: 5.90€ with whipped cream

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 8:00-21:00, Sat 9:00-21:00, Sun 10:00-19:00

More Info: here

What is your favourite place for hot chocolate in Helsinki?

 

Five reasons to visit Finland

By far the most common question I get asked when I meet people these days is “why Finland?”  For me, Finland represented something completely foreign and unknown, at the extreme opposite end of the world from my home town. So beside the unique medical research opportunities available in Helsinki, the challenge of stepping outside my comfort zone into the ‘scary unknown’ was the main reason I chose to move here.

A year later the county was voted as #1 place to live in the world and I’m not at all surprised. Finland has a lot going for it- immense natural beauty, enviable equality, excellent infrastructure, job opportunities and a great standard of living. But if you’re more interested in a passing visit then permanent relocation there’s still a bunch of reasons to put Finland at the top of your bucket list. Here’s five.

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1. The Architecture in Helsinki is truly amazing

Those boys weren’t lying (non-Aussies see this). A year and a half later and I still can’t get over the shear beauty and ornate details of the buildings of Finland’s capital. There’s a huge range of beautiful colors, shapes and styles, with many buildings sporting turrets, painted details or other decorative flair. Helsinki is quite a compact city, so exploring on foot is ideal in the warmer months. In winter, the extensive tram network makes for a great way to explore slightly further afield.

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2. Finnish Traditions are quirky and unique (as are the people)

The Finnish personality type is quite an acquired taste and while it can be hard to meet new people in a land full of introverts, I’ve also enjoyed the personal space and general acceptance Finnish people emanate. Then there is sisu. An innate characteristic of all Finns, best described as suffering on in silence no matter what, or as Wikipedia generously puts it “stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness”.

And the traditions. From their love affair with saunas (and the subsequent ice swims/snow frolics), to mid-summer (Juhannus) bonfires and midnight sun, Vappu celebrations- where everyone barbecues and drinks in the city park whilst wearing white school caps (even the statue of Havis Amanda is ceremoniously adorned with one) and crazy coloured overalls, to the dark rye dessert of Mämmi and dressing up as witches at Easter, Finland has some damn fun traditions!

3. The Nature is beautiful and ever so peaceful

Forests, lakes, islands, large rocky outcrops, immense peace and quite. Finland has the best of all these things and the Finns really know how to make the most of nature, particularly during the month-long summer holiday of July when the country practically shuts down and everyone escapes to their summer cottages.

4. Lapland: Finland’s far north

Finland’s beautiful northern region is an amazing experience during both the cold winter months and summer- when a single day lasts for two months! For some ideas on what to do in Lapland check out this post.

5. Christmas is magical

Rovaniemi in southern Lapland is touted as the home of Santa- and there’s definitely a strong spirit of Christmas cheer and festive experiences to be enjoyed in the town- especially the reindeer parks and Santa Claus Village. In Helsinki and other cities around the country, Christmas markets, twinkling lights and decorations make December feel bright and alive, despite the darkness and cold.

If you want to hear more about why you should visit Finland then keep an eye on my blog over the next 4 months, as I share a post every Friday post about my experiences and tips for exploring Finland!

Three very different European Christmas Market experiences 🎄

Maybe it’s because I grew up in a land of summer Christmases spent at the beach, with endless seafood and fresh cherries, or maybe it’s because I watched too many romanticized American movies as a kid. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a snowy, white winter Christmas with all the Northern Hemisphere traditions. So as Helsinki experiences it’s first snow of the season and the temperatures plummet into negative degrees, I decided to get excited about winter by putting together some photos from two Christmas markets I visited last year and two I’m excited to visit this year. I hope you enjoy and get some ideas about where you could go for some European Christmas cheer!

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Helsinki: Senate Square and surrounds

The annual Helsinki Christmas Markets, often referred to as the St. Thomas Market, is held at the famous Senate Square from the first weekend in December up to the Friday before Christmas. With the majestic all white Helsinki Cathedral standing tall above the square and a beautiful old carousel in the middle of the market, this is one elegant affair, with 100 well-organised stalls and many places to sit and drink. As well as delicious sweet and savoury food there are also many Finnish craft and design stores. A little further down Aleksanterinkatu, outside the famous department building Stockmann, there’s also a small cluster of Christmas stalls during the festive season, with many cheery lights, spruce trees, roasted chestnuts and hot Glögi on offer.

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Dates and Opening Hours:  1-22 December, Mon-Fri 11am – 8pm, Sat-Sun 10am – 7pm

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Elegant, majestic.

Must try: Smoked reindeer meat and hot Glögi- the Finnish version of mulled wine, served with raisins and slithered almonds in the cup.

Prices: On the expensive end, as Helsinki is in general. A hot mug of Glögi is around 5€.

Further Details:  For the Helsinki market and here for more information about Christmas markets and other festive events around Finland

Tallinn: Raekoja Plats

Tallinn is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and around Christmas time the enchantment of the old town is at it’s highest. Since 1441 the old Town Hall Square has been home to a magical Christmas Market and it’s said that the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first Christmas Tree here, although others claim that neighboring Riga holds this title. Either way, the Tallinn market is full of old world charm.

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Dates and Opening Hours:  16th November – 7th January: Open every day 10am – 8pm with hot Christmas drinks till 11pm. There’s also a Christmas program every Friday from 5pm – 7pm and on Sundays from 12 noon – 2pm. 

Location: Map link here

Vibe: Like stepping into a Medieval Fairy Tale

Must try: There’s plenty of delicious smoked and spiced nuts and very strong mulled wine! I found the food in Tallinn to be slightly heavier and heartier than that of Helsinki, with many hot pastries on offer. The handicrafts include a lot of amber and wood carvings as well as many hand knitted goods.

Prices: much cheaper than Finland but still more expensive than normal Estonian non-touristy prices. You can get strongly alcoholic mulled wine for around 3€.

Further Details:  see here.

Germany

As most of my trip will be after Christmas and the German markets tend to finish a little earlier than most, I will only have time to squeeze in two markets- but as one of them in Nuremberg I am confident that I’ll get my fair dose of German festive flare!

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http://www.departful.com

Berlin

Initially I didn’t realise this… but there are many, many Christmas Markets in Berlin. This website lists four of the most popular ones. As I only have a few days in Berlin I’ll likely only check out the one in Schlossplatz in the old town Köpenick area of Berlin. Located amidst cobbled streets, a Baroque palace and the town hall, with traditional food, drink and gifts, the atmosphere is sure to be just what I’m after.

Dates and Opening Hours:  14 – 16 December, Friday 2pm – 9pm, Saturday 12pm – 9pm, Sunday 12pm – 8pm.

Location: Map Link here

Nuremberg

This is meant to be the mother-load of all Christmas Markets and I just can’t wait!!!

Dates and Opening Hours:  30th November – 24th December. Daily 10am  – 9pm, except Christmas Eve when the market closes early at 2pm.

Location: Map Link Here

Further Details: Here

If you want to hear more about the German markets then keep an eye out in late December when I post photos and info about my Nuremberg and Berlin visits 🙂

Why I’m obsessed with Tiny Houses

The concept of “simple living” means a range of things to different people. To me, it encompasses removing excessive and uninspiring ‘stuff’, people, habits, work and attitudes from my life, so that I have energy, time and income to focus on what’s really important and inspiring to me. While this is an ever-evolving, ongoing process in my life, one version that sticks with me is escaping the 9-5 routine to live in a cabin in a rugged, wild setting, with a lack of mod-cons and connectivity to the “real” world. A place where you need to do things yourself the long way- gather wood and light a fire, make meals from scratch, brew endless cups of tea and be immersed in nature, with space and time to focus on creative pursuits.

 

 

Various literary, musical and DIY inspirations have helped shape this ideal for me. From Tolstoy’s semi-autobiographical character of Levin in Anna Karenina, to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (possibly the original tiny house how-to guide!) and Justin Vernon’s (genius behind Bon Iver) winter seclusion in a Wisconsin cabin to write his incredible debut album, there are plenty of inspiring classical references to tiny, simple living.

 

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More recently, people around the world have been turning to Tiny Houses not only to live more simply but also as a means of escaping debt, becoming more ecologically responsible and to enable more frequent and affordable travel. My favourite inspiration for this is Bryce Langston’s YouTube channel- Living Big in a Tiny House. Absolutely amazing.

Recently I was crazy excited to hear that as part of Helsinki’s annual Design Week, the Finnish non-for profit environmental organisation Dodo was putting on a Tiny House Fair and Workshop. Yesterday I eagerly headed along to the first day of event to get more of a feel for tiny houses and ideas about this way of life. Below I share some photos from the four very different tiny houses we visited.

 

 

 

House 1: The Studio in the Garden by Yksiö Puutarhassa 

This 50sqm house was the first designed and built by Olli Enne, who has gone on to build and sell several more houses of a similar design. The house is split over two levels, with the bathroom and an open-plan kitchen and living area downstairs and then a large bedroom with French balcony upstairs. The mezzanine floor created with slatted wood not only allows heat and airflow through the house but also provides an interesting aesthetic and different sensation under foot. Find out more here.

 

 

 

 

 

House 2:  Kotonen prototype in Espoo

I think this was my favourite home, mainly as it was more along the lines of the modern tiny house on wheels design. While not designed to be moved frequently, I love the fact that the home can be transported to a remote location, with the wilderness right on your doorstep. This was the first traditional ‘tiny house’ that I’d been inside and I was amazed as how spacious it felt and the beautiful style of the interior. Definitely solidified the feeling that living in this type of house is for me! For more info check out this Facebook page.

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House 3: SATO StudioKoti (Studio Houses)

This newly build apartment is a “new generation of housing in response to the changed demand for housing in the Helsinki metropolitan area”. The complex includes small 15sqm studio apartments and communal living spaces. It was built in Vantaa late last year after the other capital regions of Espoo and Helsinki declined to approve the plans. The demographic of residents of the apartments range from 18-69 years with half the residents in their twenties. While rent is quite cheap at 500€ a month, the residents were selected based on their desire for community living. Find out more here.

 

 

 

House 4: Luomukoti trailer-home by Tony Goldt

This amazing almond-shaped mobile home, designed and built by Tony Goldt is a ‘breathable’ organic home made predominantly of natural materials. While the exterior is comprised of several layers of heat-treated pine and ensheathed in spruce, the inside is insulated with hemp fiber. The interior is yet to be completed, but will be sparsely furnished, encompassing the Japanese minimalist concept of space. Tony plans to travel around Finland in his new home during the warmer months and then down to Spain when it gets colder. This is such a unique project – I was so excited to have the opportunity to see the home and look inside!

Tony explaining various aspects of the build

 

 

 

Some final thoughts…

Of course tiny living isn’t for everyone, I’m not even sure if it’s for me yet. But I love exploring these ideas and learning about new ways to live and options available to me. I particularly love the idea of building a tiny house myself, from predominantly recycled, natural material and running it off grid.

Now I’m off to the second day of the Tiny House Fair workshop, where one of the sessions involves virtually designing your own place! I hope this post has inspired some new thoughts and ideas for you about tiny living- I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

 

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Finnish Island life: a few days spent on Vänö

In the Turku Archipelago, a group of over 20,000 islands scattered off the south-west corner of Finland, you’ll find Vänö, a tiny island where life slows down and nature is paramount. Reached by a one hour ferry from the harbour town of Kasnäs, the island is the perfect escape to the simple pleasures of life.

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The island’s regular population of 12 swells to several hundred visitors during the summer months when day visitors drop into the island for swimming and hiking and owners of summer cottages come to stay for weeks.

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Like many Finnish cottage experiences, the traditional cottage we stayed in was all about getting back to basics and appreciating nature. With no running water, only an outdoor long drop loo and a shower by the sea (with sauna of course), the best way to wash each day was by a swim in the Baltic sea. Sunning yourself on one of the many flats rocks afterwards is the preferred way of drying off.

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The island is small enough to explore on foot but bikes are a welcome way of getting to the only sandy beach in summer. There’s a nature reserve with a clearly marked path and signs along the way to point out areas of interest. There’s also a peaceful chapel, built by a Rotary volunteer project in the 1970s near 17th century ruins, although the original chapel may have been built on the island as early as the 12th century.

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During summer there’s also a small shop by the harbour, with essential food supplies, a little cafe and even one beer tap. There’s also a tiny thrift shop, complete with a rack of second hand clothes, and of course there’s a place for recycling, in true Finnish environmentally friendly style.

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Practicalities

Getting There: A bus from Helsinki or Turku to Kasnas takes around 2 or 3.5 hours, respectively and in peak summer the fare was €25 and €35 pp. From there, it’s a free 1 hour ferry trip to the island.

Getting Around: Walking or bike

Cost: For our basic AirBnB cottage with no running water, outdoor toilet and communal shower we paid €200 for 3 nights. While I think this is quite expensive for what was provided, the experience of staying on such a small island in a traditional setting was well worth the fee. Food on the island is relatively expensive but saves the hassle of bringing much of your own from Turku or Helsinki as the shop in Kasnas is also sparse. Sauna rental is €16 an hour and one free session is included in the AirBnB.

Best time to go: Summer is definitely the best time to visit as the shop is open and the sea is inviting

Length of stay: We stayed for 3 nights and this was the perfect amount of time. However if you stay longer, the free ferries will take you to other islands for day trips.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the little island of Vänö- I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.

 

A weekend in Turku

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Founded in the 13th century, Turku is the oldest city in Finland and in 1640 was home to Finland’s first university, The Royal Academy of Turku (now the University of Helsinki). While the large student population lends a youthful vibe to the city, most students are on summer holidays in the warmer months when the city really comes alive. The best place to take in Turku’s relaxed atmosphere is along the banks of the Aura river, where trendy cafes and restaurants abound. If you do happen to get to Turku, here are some things I’d recommend doing over a weekend.

 

Friday Night: Dinner by the Aura river

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With the Turku Cathedral in the background and a refreshing evening breeze, dinner by the Aura river is the perfect way to spend your first night in Turku. Some popular options include Pinella– the oldest restaurant in Turku, Smor, and the extremely popular Kaskis (be sure to book a table). For more of a budget dinner, there are market stalls all along the main river area during summer weekends with a range of savoury and sweet options.

 

Saturday: explore the old buildings of Turku

Spend the morning wandering the streets of the old town and river area. Highlights include the central market with local produce and flowers, the temporary weekend food and handicraft market along the river and classy shops and outdoor clothes market in the Old Great Square. During the last weekend of June there is also a traditional medieval market in the Great Square.

 

 

Some of the more beautiful old buildings to explore include the Turku City Library by the river, the Turku Art Museum perched on a hill overlooking the city and of course the 700 year old Turku Cathedral, Turun Tuomiokirkko.

 

 

 

 

From the Cathedral it’s a 10 minute stroll to the 200 year old handicraft cottage museum of Luostarinmaki, which miraculously escaped the fire of 1827 that ravaged Turku. Here you can explore a collection of old small wooden houses, including 30 artisans workshops, such as a silversmith, painting and weaving studio, a printing press and post office. The houses are set amidst tiny lanes and grassy courtyards, full of flowers and garden beds. Entrance is €7 for adults and the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm.

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Sunday: wander along the Aura & visit Turku’s castle

Turku’s most famous attraction is the castle, Turun Linna, which was founded in 1280 at the mouth of the Aura river. It’s a 45min walk each direction along the river from the Turku Cathedral, so if this is a little much in the summer sun, there are public bikes for rent for €5/day that make for a much faster trip. The fee is paid by credit card directly on the bike and there are numerous spots to pick up and drop off the bikes.

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Public bikes for hire in Turku

 

Entrance to the castle is €10 for adults, €5 for kids and is well worth the fee, as you are able to explore much of the castle and learn fascinating details of the history of the building and surrounding area from the museum and displays. The castle is open 10am- 6pm daily through the summer months of July and August and everyday excluding Monday from September to May.

 

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After working up an appetite exploring the castle, it’s the perfect time to indulge in the Finnish weekend tradition of brunssi brunch! We loved Tiirikkala, a contemporary Nordic-style cafe, located on the river bank near the library. There’s plenty of outdoor seating at the front of the cafe, beautiful decor inside and a wonderful rooftop-terrace. The cafe has various meat, fish and vegetarian brunch menus, all including tea/coffee and desert for €19 pp.

 

 

If you still have energy in the afternoon then wander along the river in the opposite direction of the castle to Padolla– a perfectly picturesque cafe with hammocks, chair swings and stand up paddle boards for hire. The cafe is 3km from the Cathedral and along the way you’ll pass the ruins of the bishop’s palace and Koroinen Cross which marks the site where the pope decreed the bishopric of Finland should move to in 1229.

 

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The Koroinen Cross

 

 

Practicalities

Getting There: Turku is easily accessible by bus or train from Helsinki. The journey takes around 2 hours and will cost roughly €10 for a bus ticket with Onni Bus. The bus station in Turku is a 15 minute walk from the main tourist area by the river.

Getting Around: Once you arrive in Turku it’s easy to get around by walking or renting one of the public bikes, which cost €5 a day (discounted for longer stays).

Cost: Our AirBnB was located near the bus station and a 25min walk from the river. At €130 for 3 nights, the place was cosy and clean. Food and drink is expensive in Finland but there are many cheaper options like the river’side markets.

Best time to go: Summer!

Length of stay: There’s plenty to keep you busy over a weekend and many sites further afield if you have more time to spend around the greater area.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Finland’s oldest city, I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.

Top 10 Things To Do In Helsinki’s Kallio District

On the northern side of Helsinki, Kallio is one of the edgier districts of Finland’s capital. Less than one kilometer from the city center, Kallio, which means ‘the rock’ in Finnish, was originally a working-class district and home to many factory workers.

It’s since undergone a degree of gentrification and the lively social scene and relatively cheap rent make the area an attractive home for students, new immigrants, artists and other creatives. There’s a definite bohemian feel to the district and no shortage of cosy cafes, trendy restaurants, lively bars, vintage shops and parks to enjoy.

Here are 10 of the best thing to do in Kallio

 

Kallio Pink Building frosted with snow
One of the beautiful buildings in Kallio on a winter’s day

 

 

 

1. Visit Kallio Church

By far the most iconic building in Kallio is the beautiful church perched atop Siltasaarenkatu. As this is one of the bigger hills of Helsinki the church is visible in all directions and always lets me know which way is home! Built between 1908-1912 by Lars Sonck the church is a sunning example of Art Noveau and National Romanticism. There’s also a nice cafe at the base of the church bearing Sonck’s name and frequently there are classical music concerts in the church.

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2. Enjoy Bear Park (Karhupuisto) and it’s Activities

A stone’s throw from the church, this park is at the heart of Kallio. In summer and spring it’s a perfect place to relax and soak up the sunshine. There are many events in the park, such as clothing markets, food festivals like restaurant day when anyone can sell food they cook and at Christmas time you can buy perfect little Christmas trees from the park.

 

3. Indulge in Brunch!

Brunch is an institution in Helsinki and there are are no shortage of cafes serving up delicious weekend brunches in Kallio. Check out this post for my favourite 10 brunch spots in Kallio. Just be aware that brunch is mainly a Saturday activity and many cafes don’t open on Sundays.

Brunch in Kallio
For 10 of the best brunch spots in Kallio see this post

4. Browse Vintage Stores

Kallio is full of second hand shops and vintage stores filled with hidden treasures. My favourite is Frida Marina on the corner of Castreninkatu and Kaarlenkatu. This store includes a selection of gorgeous vintage dresses, a more modern flea market section and a selection of unique gift-wares.

5. Fall in Love with the Library

I absolutely love books and old, beautiful buildings- so of course I’m very enchanted by the Kallio library – the perfect combination of the two. The library is open every day through spring (opening hours here). For a unique read by a Finnish author, I recommend The City of Woven Streets by Emmi Itäranta. She wrote the fantasy novel simultaneously in Finnish and English!

 

6. Stroll Down to Hakaniemi Market

A quick five minute walk down the hill from the Kallio Church is the famous Hakaniemi Market Hall. Built in 1914, the original market hall is currently closed as it’s undergoing renovations. While lacking the charm of the old hall, the new modern hall has a range of inviting cafes serving local dishes and a large selection of fresh organic produce, meat and fish. There’s also traditional Finnish gifts, homewares and flowers on offer.

The market hall is open every day except Sunday and during the warmer months there is also an outdoor market in the square next to the hall.

The outdoor Hakaniemi market in summer
The outdoor Hakaniemi market in summer

7. Go Ice skating

Brahe sports field (Brahenkenttä) is a soccer pitch in summer and an ice rink in winter! Compared to all other rinks I’ve tried in Helsinki, this rink is huge and costs only a few euro to use for the day. It’s also less crowded than other rinks and there are change rooms, skate rental and a kiosk.

 

8. Visit Linnanmäki

Whether you’re a big kid yourself or have kids to entertain, this amusement park will provide hours of fun.  It’s the oldest and most popular amusement park in Finland and has over 40 rides, including a wooden roller coaster built in 1951.

Owned by the Children’s Day Foundation, the amusement park raises funds for Finnish child welfare work, with the 2018 donation goal set at 4.5 million euros! The park is open daily in the warmer months and closes down for winter in October, which is marked by an amazing light show at the end of the season.

Linnanmäki covered in snow
Linnanmäki

9. Make Pottery with Finnish Wild Clay

Eva, the owner of Udumbara Helsinki runs regular workshops at her studio in the heart of Kallio on Kaarlenkatu. It’s an amazingly fun, hands on experience to use Finnish ‘wild clay’ to make your own pot plants or tea cups. Eva also makes beautiful bowls, wine coolers and tea pots which can be purchased at her studio and various boutiques around Helsinki.

Free form pots
Free form pots
Handmade Terracotta Pot
The end result

 

 

10. Have a Sauna

One of the most popular Finnish past-times is to relax in a steaming sauna. There are over three million saunas in Finland- pretty impressive for a country of only 5 million people! There are several public saunas in Kallio, including Kotiharjun Sauna and Sauna Arla.

Kallio Sauna
One of the famous Kallio saunas