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?
aww i’m sorry to hear that Helsinki didn’t quite measure up 🙁 the LAST thing I would want to do right now is immerse myself in a deeper winter after the ridiculousness we’ve had to put up with in Chicago this year. The angry birds perfume ad is hilarious!
Seriously! I can’t believe how crazy North American winter has been this year. We had it really mild here in Seoul, so it was definitely hard to go to the cold. I was actually hoping for some kind of Angry Birds museum or theme park or something, but no luck :p
One day, I really hope to make it to Scandinavia. It’s been on my travel bucket list for a long time! Thanks for the post.
I hope you make it there one day soon. I am torn about whether winter or summer is better there. Of course, in winter there is the (slim) chance of seeing the aurora and partaking in winter sports like dogsledding, but it was just so grey. We ended up kind of depressed. I could totally see how summer there would be amazing though…lots of atmospheric cafes and nature to explore!
We’ve already conversed about my Stockholm trip, but yes – the weather did affect my trip. I suppose it could be because of my lack of preparation, but the borrowed, ill-fitting winter boots have ruined my right leg/heel. I actually have to get an x-ray/ultrasound next week… Other trips in the winter though have been fine. I do not mind the cold, but I do mind the grey. Why are sunny, winter days so rare?
Oh no! I hope everything is okay with your leg. For sure, preparation for the cold was important, but it was surprisingly warm in the Arctic Circle. Up to +5 in February. Not good. I totally agree with you about the grey though. Cold and sun I can handle, but grey, yuck. And unfortunately, we only had about 3 days of sun during the entire trip. 🙁