Finland is the first Northern-Europe country I got to visit, and the perfect nordic organisation hit me on arrival. It was around 4:30 a.m. and the first Finnair shuttle to the city was supposed to leave at 5:00. We were the only passengers, so it was almost like a private shuttle just for us, but it left the airport exactly at 5:00 a.m. And there was even WiFi in the bus!
The airport in Helsinki is around 30 minutes drive from the city centre and its cost can be quite different - from 6,50 euros/per person by the Finnair shuttle, through the around 30 euros Uber drive or between 40 to 70 euros by taxi.
So, it all started great - the shuttle was comfortable, the room was ready for an early check-in at 6:00 a.m. and after a quick nap we put some comfy shoes and hit the city. Or at least, the city centre. The list of the must-visit places in Helsinki is actually not that big as I thought it would be for a capital (at least in the winter). But all of them deserve attention! And they are conveniently located mostly in two areas of the city - the South neighbourhood of Kruununha and the West neighbourhood of Töölö.
Starting from its Pearl, the first place for us to visit was the Helsinki Cathedral. A gorgeous classic, that you'd never guess is a religious, building. From the inside it is as clean and beautiful as it is from the outside (it is an Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral - more than 70% of Finland's population belongs to the Lutheran Church). It is located on the Senate Square and was built between the 1830-1852 and was known as St. Nicolas Church (after Tzar Nicolas I of Russia) until Finland's independence from Russia in 1917.
Just in front of the Cathedral is the monument of the Russian Tzar Alexander II "The Libertador" - erected in 1894 to commemorate his initiation of several reforms, that increased Finland's autonomy from Russia. Therefore he was knows by finnish people as the "Good Tzar".
Very close to the Senate Square is the Uspenski Cathedral - allegedly the biggest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. It is specially beautiful when snowing with its dome partially covered in white.
Heading straight South from the Senate Square, just at the sea shore is the Market Square. The market hall itself is also very close (opens Monday to Saturday from 8 - 18h, closes on Sunday). It serves its customers from 1889 and you can find there almost everything - from fruits and vegetables, to cheese, meat, fish, and even spices. It is a nice place for a light quick lunch, too.
Another beautiful church in the area is the St. John. It is located around a 10 minutes walk from the market hall. Unfortunately, it was closed when we got there, but the building itself is a masterpiece that deserves even a quick close look.
After walking around in a cold winter day, there is nothing better (at least for me) than a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. The best place to do so in the area of Kruununha is just between the Market Square and the Esplanadi Park, called Kappeli. It looks like a mixture of a small palace and a glass hothouse. It has three halls - a fancy restaurant (the traditional salmon soup is a must to try!), a snack bar where you can have a light meal or a snack, and a romantically-dimmed bar with heavy chandeliers.
Another great place for drinks in Helsinki is A21. It really reminded me of one of my most favourite bars in Bulgaria, that we used to call "the cocktails' Kingdom". Don't miss the Sex in the Forest cocktail!
For the shopping lovers there are many great stores in the area around Market Square, Aleksanterinkatu str. (check out the store of Minna Parikka - a super cool finnish shoe brand) and of course the Stockmann department store.