Helsinki is an easy city to like, especially when you arrive on a sunny May evening like we did with bright blue skies and locals enjoying beers on terraces. It’s a compact, walkable city that feels close to nature—there are plenty of parks, and it’s surrounded on three sides by the sea with over 300 islands just a short ferry hop away. It’s a low pressure destination—there aren’t any “must-see” sights but there’s plenty to occupy your time including unusual churches, vibrant market halls, and an island fortress. Our favourite thing to do (surprise, surprise) was explore Helsinki’s surprisingly excellent food and cafe scene.
The Finns love their coffee and have one of the highest consumptions in the world. In Helsinki we discovered a vibrant and rapidly growing independent cafe scene serving quality coffee from local roasteries. Chains don’t dominate here—it took us four days of walking around before we came across our first Starbucks. Instead we found many wonderful cafes, each with a unique style. Espressos and cappuccinos are widely available but the trend is for filter coffee—AeroPress was served in all the serious coffee shops which made Simon happy as he loves its smooth rich flavour.
We flew from London to Rome and it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. It’s difficult to resist the lure of incredibly low prices on budget airlines but somehow we always forget how unpleasant it is: the long drive to the inconveniently located Stansted airport; the hassle of security; removing liquids, laptops and shoes; endless queues and waits in crowded hallways to board the plane, and then the cramped flight itself.
Our biggest surprise in Finland was how vegetarian friendly it is. Traditional Finnish dishes are fish and meat heavy (they even eat reindeer in Lapland!) but there’s a growing organic food scene and many Finns are vegetarian. We ate lots of delicious food and even experienced one of the best meals of our lives.