A Weekend in Helsinki

Last weekend, I had the awesome opportunity to take a bit of a break from the Croatian heat and I headed up to Helsinki for a Stopover Experience with Finnair. Finnair’s free Stopover Program allows passengers to fly through Helsinki with the option of spending up to five days in Finland at no additional cost on either end of their journeys. You can also arrange your accommodations and activities directly through their website, making it convenient and easy to book!

I was pleasantly surprised by the positive experience I had flying Finnair. If I’m being entirely honest—and I usually am—I have very low expectations for flights nowadays. I’ve just accumulated so many horror stories and they seem to be getting progressively worse the more I travel. This is especially true as relates to airlines. Take airplane food, for example, which is so notoriously bad that it had become a moniker for describing a bad meal. Even more so as a vegetarian I have been served some really appalling things (including one “meal” that consisted of unseasoned soggy vegetables and a lump of plain white rice). That said, Finnair went above and beyond. My dinner on the way there included a medley of vegetables with a jasmine rice and some sort of curry lentils and my breakfast on the way back was a hash brown with some eggs and yogurt. Finnair has a great variety of in-flight accommodations to make your trip run smoothly!

Once I’d arrived in Helsinki, I settled into my hotel room and got ready for a busy weekend…


Day 1

After a late night arrival on my red eye flight from Split, I slept in a bit and was thankful we had a late start the first day. I walked down into the lobby of our hotel, Lilla Roberts, and began to meet the team.

Our hotel was centrally located, so we walked to lunch a few blocks away at the Savoy Restaurant terrace. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Helsinki and in addition to a gorgeous view over the city, the food there was incredible. We had a three course meal prepared with complimentary wine pairings. I opted, of course, for the vegetarian meal and was not disappointed with: a cep mushroom millefuele with a broad bean sauce and a glass of pinot nero; zucchini stuffed with a goat cheese mousse and a glass of crisp Riesling; and a rose financier with kefir crème anglaise and raspberries and a glass of chilled Tokaj dessert wine. The ambiance was elevated and the food was refined, yet didn’t feel stuffy like fancy restaurants so often do. I would learn over the course of the weekend that this is particular to Finland—even the “fanciest” places have a laid back and welcoming air to them.

After lunch, we were met by a guide for a walking tour. Our tour took us through the various different fashion and lifestyle brands famous in Helsinki, from the Old Market Hall with local vendors selling foodstuffs and souvenirs, to Kamp Galleria, which has a dedicated floor inside its beautiful glass atrium for Finnish designers. And of course, we stopped by Marimekko, arguably the most well known Finnish design brand, with its bold patterns and mod silhouettes.

We had a quick stop by Huvilakatu, aptly named “the prettiest street in Helsinki.” Myself and a few others snapped some photos there, then it was off to grab our wristbands for the Flow Festival the following day (more on this later). A few of us then stayed with the Finnair team to grab a drink at the rooftop Bar Cón nearby.

After quickly dropping off a few things at the hotel, I was really looking forward to dinner at YesYesYes, which is a bustling bar and restaurant where the food just happens to be vegetarian. We ate everything family style and the food and wine just kept coming. I was in a blissful food coma by the time dessert rolled around. Some of the dishes included halloumi fries, strawberry hummus, a strawberry risotto, and coconut ice cream with fresh strawberries (the meal was very strawberry-centric and I was into it).

Not only was the food yummy, the vibe was adorable, like an upscale diner. It combined several of my favorite things, including vegetarian cuisine, pink decor, and free flowing wine!


Day 2

I was determined to get a shot of the cathedral without a ton of people and with the best lighting, so despite the late night prior I dragged myself out bed bright and early to get there around 6am. It took about an hour of fiddling around with composition, lighting, my tripod, and my self-timer, but I was eventually happy with the shots. I walked around to explore a bit and shoot some more photos for about an hour, then I went back to the hotel and napped until the group was set to meet at noon.

We all gathered into the bus and were off to brunch at B-Smokery, a BBQ joint in Helsinki’s Teurastamo area that “smokes almost everything.” I was more than a little nervous about what I might be served as a vegetarian option but I was so blown away by this meal. Food came out family style, with heaping sides of cole slaw, sweet potatoes, and salad, followed soon after by piles of glazed meats. The waiter then walked over with a special portion for me: mushroom caps and BBQ seitan. It may not sound appealing at first glance, and most of my experiences trying seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat gluten) were nothing to write home about, but whatever they did here was next level! It was so well-seasoned and flavorful, cut into meat-like chunks but without the unappealing charred taste that could have overwhelmed its taste—even the meat-eaters at the table tried it and loved it!

The big event of the weekend that seemed to have drawn every Finn to the capital was Flow Festival, a big music festival. From the moment I arrived, all of Helsinki was buzzing with excitement for the Flow Festival. In fact, when the customs officer at the airport was grilling me with questions, even he seemed to visibly relax when I told him I was in the city for the festival. “Oh!” he exclaimed in understanding, “Enjoy the festival!” My driver from the airport then excitedly showed me his wristband, announcing that he’d be attending all three days. It was the talk of the town and everyone I met seemed to be sporting their fabric wristbands in preparation.
I hadn’t thought much of it beforehand since I didn’t know most of the bands on the lineup, but now I, too, was getting pumped to be a part of it. And it wound up being so much fun! The food was delicious and I was so happy to see the plethora of vegetarian and vegan options; there were great cocktails and drinks being served in reusable cups; and even the many Finnish bands and DJs I’d never heard of were so fun to bop around to! Plus, the Finnair team really made us feel like a part of their Finland crew. Then towards the end of the night, I got to see Tame Impala which was great!


Day 3

Our third and final day was blissfully laid back after some of the whirlwind of the preceding days. We started our morning with a yoga session led by one of our hosts, Kriselda. Then, after a delicious lunch of a hearty salad, it was time to try the Finnish obsession with the sauna. I headed into a few different types of saunas and to be honest I couldn't really handle them. Even the “coldest” sauna made my head spin. But, I did also try something completely insane (in my opinion). The thing to do—all the Finns were doing it—is to go into the sauna for 15 minutes, then run and jump into the freezing ocean for a swim, then back into the sauna to warm back up. It’s the so-called Finnish hangover cure. It’s wild. And I’m wild for actually doing it. But I decided long ago and have buckled down on the philosophy for this trip that the more you’re afraid of something, the more you should just go for it. So often there isn’t much to lose and our fears stop us from doing things that can be incredible. So, whether it’s solo travel or jumping into a frozen ocean with a bunch of Finns, you might as well just go for it!

We then had time back at the hotel to freshen up before we took a ferry to Lonna, which is a restaurant on its own island in the harbor. Helsinki is actually an archipelago made up of 330 islands and many of those islands have various sites to see. Lunch was, unsurprisingly, delicious. The Finns impressed me time and again with their fresh and health conscious cuisine and just writing this article has made me hungry craving more.

Our final activity was a sunset sail on a historic boat around the harbor. It was such a lovely ending to such a fun weekend with Finnair in Helsinki. Though it had been raining all morning, it cleared up just in time for our boat outing and remained a glorious sunset. We docked at the marina and said our goodbyes, and just like that, all too soon, the weekend came to an end…

Overall, I was so impressed with my weekend in Helsinki! The city was beautiful, the people were all so friendly, and I didn’t have a single bad bite of food. Though I’d be a little nervous to be there in the winter—I’m not sure I’m hardy enough—I found the summer to be the perfect time to see some of the best of what Finland has to offer. I would highly recommend Helsinki for your next destination or, en route to your next final destination, with the Finnair Stopover Program!

A huge thank you to the Finnair team for coordinating such a fun press trip weekend! I can’t wait for my next chance to head back to Finland!