In 2017, I took a day trip to visit Helsinki, Finland while on vacation in Tallinn, Estonia. Even though it was April, the temperature was below freezing. Even still, I had a wonderful day exploring the city including stops at the Suomenlinna sea fortress, Temppeliaukio Church, and Market Square.
I took Viking Ferry lines from Tallinn to Helsinki on the high speed ferry which made the crossing in about two and a half hours. Once on board, I ate a breakfast buffet of deli meats, eggs, sausage, fruit and pastries. It was 7:00 in the morning so I decided to pass on the disco club and casino although both looked to be quite popular. Instead, I opted to find a quiet corner to take a quick nap before my busy day. Before I knew it, they announced our arrival in Helsinki. I queued up with the rest of the passengers and disembarked.
When I first arrived, I immediately boarded a small ferry to
Suomenlinna– a sea fortress built by the Kingdom of Sweden to defend the city. The island was a working military base until 1973. Today, the fortress has over 900 full time residents and it is Helsinki’s most popular tourist destination.
I spent the better part of my morning wandering around the islands.
Suomenlinna is in fact made up of 4 islands. The “blue route” is about one mile long and begins at the ferry dock. It takes you past all the major sights- the church, the King’s Gate, and the artillery bay. However, if you wander off the trail you will find artist galleries, and two of the less-visited islands.
Back in Helsinki, I went to find the Market Square with the iconic Lutheran cathedral. Have you ever seen a Lutheran cathedral before? I’ve seen dozens, maybe hundreds of catholic cathedrals. But as a born-and-baptized Lutheran, this was an exciting first for me.
The Market Square, and most of Helsinki really, was very empty. I was visiting on Good Friday which is a public holiday in Finland. The museums were all closed and the weather didn’t make for a very inviting atmosphere. I missed Tallinn, which felt lively and welcoming and where my hostel’s common room always had someone to chat with. This was the only time on my solo trip that I felt lonely. Luckily, the gift shops were open and I did a bit of retail therapy; I bought my family’s souvenirs to cheer me up.
At this point, my toes were numb. I found a cute coffee shop- Johan and Nystrom– in the Katajanokka neighborhood and ordered a cortado to pep me up. I wish I knew what this pastry was called because it was absolutely delicious. It tasted pretty similar to korvapuusti (Finnish cinnamon rolls). I overheard a lot of English in this cafe. There was a table of students next to me working on a project. In the corner, an American was discussing website development.
After a little bit of time inside, I was ready to embrace the cold again. There was still one site left on my list and my return ferry didn’t depart until 4:30. I set off to find the Temppeliaukio Church (rock cathedral). Built in 1969, two brothers and architects built this church directly into solid rock. Inside, the main room is circular with high ceilings, exposed rock walls, and skylights.
Remember how I said it was Good Friday? Well, I was incredibly lucky because the church choir was practicing for the service and I was able to listen to them preform. I couldn’t understand any of the songs (they were in Finnish of course) but the experience was incredible. The acoustics of this church are phenomenal! I listened to the choir for nearly an hour before heading back to the ferry.
On my ride back to Tallinn I splurged and upgraded myself to first class. For an extra twenty euros, I received free WiFi and access to an exclusive lounge that had a cold buffet, assorted drinks, and most importantly LOTS of comfortable seating.
As I snacked and drank my way back to Tallinn, I thought about my solo trip. It takes someone a self-starter to really embrace solo travel. There’s nobody there to encourage you to get out of bed, to try something new, to take your photo- you have to do that all yourself. You have to be fearless.