Was this the capital of Finland or a portal into Dante’s 9th Circle of Icy Hell?
Surveying the frozen landscape, covered in snow, and the grey, godless sky, I couldn’t be entirely sure. It’d been a full 24 hours, and not a single ray of sunlight had managed to make it’s way through the dense air.
Now 24 hours might not seem like much, but when you’ve flown 10 hours away from a country that was just beginning to show signs of spring, to one where winter seems eternal, it can feel like a lifetime. We’d already been a bit doubtful about our choice of vacation spot (the cold and all that), and Helsinki wasn’t helping matters much. The blankness of our surroundings was making me feel as heavy as a 10 foot snowbank, and there was no end in sight. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but the never-ending march of clouds, punctuated by the occasional flurry of snow.
Surely there had to be something in the city to justify the expensive hotel rooms, $40 hostel dorm beds and pricey restaurants? We were determined to find out, so we braved the cold, the snow, and the darkness, and took a nighttime stroll around the city centre, in search of an answer.
As we trudged through the wet slush and snow, our optimism began to wane. There were a few interesting buildings, built in the art nouveau and neoclassical style. Slick lounges and restaurants, with stylishly expensive menus appeared. The lights of a coffee shop, glowed out into the night, like a beacon calling people into it’s warmth.
But was there anything truly tourist worthy in the city?
It seemed that all hope was lost, until we rounded a corner, and were confronted with the Helsinki Cathedral. Completed in 1852, and built in the neoclassical style, it’s white walls and domed green rooftops seemed to suddenly brighten the darkness of the night sky.
The Cathedral is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions, with 350,000 visitors descending upon it, every year. (Small wonder, given that there is not much else in the city as obvious).
From the top of the Cathedral’s steps, Senate Square and the city’s centre was laid out before us, in all it’s glory.
And…it was unfortunately, still small and still grey.
It wasn’t all bad though. Finnish people are friendly, helpful and polite, there is some fantastic architecture, and the food is fresh (though the coffee is undrinkable). And the Finns did invent Angry Birds after all.
Perhaps it’s better in the summertime?
Other Tourist-Worthy Helsinki Churches
Also known as the Church of the Rock, the interior walls of the Temppeliaukio Church are hewn entirely out of solid rock. It was opened in 1969, and designed by architect brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainene.
The Church has excellent acoustics created by the rough, unworked quality of the rock surfaces, and is often used as a concert venue.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit the Temppeliaukio Church because of timing constraints, but it’s more popular a tourist attraction than the Helsinki Cathedral, with half a million visitors every year.
Designed by Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev and completed in 1868 after his death, the Uspenski Cathedral is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe. With golden cupolas and a redbrick facade, the church is one of the most obvious symbols of Russia’s influence on Finnish history.
Have you ever taken a wintertime holiday? Did the weather affect your visit?