Its day 13 on our Nordic Adventure and we are on our 2nd day in Helsinki. On this day we had enjoyed a sweet pastries by the seaside, made a few tourist stops, including the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress; caught up with some friends and strolled through the parks and ended the day with some much missed Italian food. Sounds pretty perfect doesn’t it!
This morning we were meant to grab some quick pastries on our way the Free Walking Tour that left from the Helsinki Cathedral. However, with a difficult toddler we reconsidered this idea and went to have a seaside breakfast at the Cafe Regatta. This cafe was on my to-do list for the night before but we were too exhausted to walk there.
Cafe Regatta is country style cafe located on the water in the city park, Sibeliuksen Puisto (Sibelius Park), in Töölö . It is open from 8 am until 9pm, so if your visited the Sibelius monument, this is the perfect place to stop in for some warm cinnamon buns or grill a sausages by the fire. This adorable cafe is set in a 115 year-old red cottage, which has an eclectic vintage interior. It is just so delightful and homely and is the perfect place to enjoy some hot coffee and homemade pastries. To drink they serve filtered coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot juice (not sure what that is). To eat they have a section of cakes and pastries and savoury goods, including cinnamon buns, blueberry pie, croissants, broccoli pastry, Carelian pastry, quiche, salmon on bread. They also offer some vegan, gluten free and raw food options.
For breakfast we shared the blueberry pie, broccoli pastry and cinnamon bun, with a side of coffee and tea. Everything was as delicious as it looks and very fresh. I can’t decide what I liked the most out of all these things. So I recommend trying as much as you can, since the prices are pretty reasonable.
After breakfast we didn’t have to walk very far to see our first tourist attraction. The Sibelius Monument is located with the Sibeliuksen Puisto. I wish we had visited the night before because its a very popular tourist stop. The monument is called Passio Musicae and was made in 1967 by female Finnish artist, Eila Hiltunen. It was dedicated to the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius and was created for a competition organised by the Sibelius Society. It consists of over 600 hollowed out steel pipes, which were welded together to appear like a cluster of organ pipes. The piece on the side was also made by the artist and features Sibelius’s face.
Next we caught a tram to the Senate Square to see the Helsinki Cathedral (Hesingin Tuomiokirkko). This gorgeous Evangelical Lutheran cathedral is one of the most iconic sites in Helsinki. It was built between 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Just like nearly every other cathedral I tried to see on this trip, this one was also closed. I have no idea why since it was a Monday morning. At least the outside was a gorgeous site to see. You can see some of the interior pictures here.
Just around the corner from the cathedral is one of the most famous markets in Finland, Market Square. This open-air market has been a trading site for hundreds of years. Today you can buy traditional souvenirs, coffee, fresh and cooked foods. If you are wanted to visit the Suomenlina Sea Fortress you can buy your tickets here, as it leaves from this port. It only costs 5 euro for a return adult ticket and last for 12 hours. It only takes about 15-20min to get across to the island, so you can make a spontaneous trip if need be.
Adjacent to the Market Square is the Old Market Hall. This the oldest market hall in Finland and was built 1888-1889. Prior to this, groceries were sold outside. However, with the new awareness of food hygiene and a need for organisation, market halls began to be built. Originally this hall had 120 stalls and 6 shops in the central gallery, which sold meat, eggs, butter, cheese and garden produce. However after WWI, Finland suffered four decades of scarcity, famine and rationing. Although this ended in post-war Finland, the market halls didn’t get a revitalised until Finland joined the EU in 1995. This meant that the forbid products, like unpasteurised cheese from France and cold cuts from Italy and Spain, could now be sold. Today, this Market Hall sells a variety of imported products, as well as many Finnish delicacies. As I was walking through I was blown away by all that delicious salmon and the variety of reindeer specialities. I had originally planned to have lunch here since its very inexpensive.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Suomenlinna is an mid-18th century sea fortress, built on a cluster of islands, just off the coast of Helesinki. It was built when Finland was under Swedish rule, to project the again a Russian explansion. In 1991 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site and is an iconic tourist attraction . Today, it has several musuems, restaurants, cafes and over 800 residents. It is free to wander the grounds if you want to learn a bit of Finnish history or have a picnic on the beach. There is a small fee catch the ferry or water bus, visit musuems or take a guided walking tour. We didn’t visit any musuems or do a tour today, as we only had a couple of hours. We did have the tourist map, which does point out all the important sites, which have some text panels for historical context. Also check out out the children’s map, which gives more information the cafes and restaurants, playgrond etc. You can also see a Virtual 360 map of the island which gives more information on its history.
Suomenlina consists of six islands, however only a few of them are available to visit all year around. The entry port is on the largest island of Iso Mustasaari, which is where we started our visit. If your hungry when you arrive I recommend Viaporin Deli & Cafe, which we visited at the end our visit (see below). You can find it here at the entry.
When you enter the main route into Iso Mustasaari you will first come across some old ornamented wooden houses. This is the Russian trading block, which was owned by the Russian garrison traders. They sold goods and services for the miliary and civilian residents and also held food incase of a siege. These houses were privately owned and built during the first stage of construction, in the late 18th century. They were originally located near the church, but had to be demolished or moved. These houses are special because they are unlike the other homes in the fortress or in Finland. They feature four-column verandas, high entrance steps, stone base and ornamental eaves and window frames. They are reminiscent of Russian folk architechture. This block consisted of shops, storerooms, a bakery, an inn, and a liquor store. The owners and their families resided in the yard outhouses and the attics. Today only six building survive and they are occupied by cafes, a shop, a photographer’s studio, a kindergarten and a cobber’s workshop.
Nearby is the Suomenlinna Church, built in 1852. It was originally a Russian Orthodox garrison church, but it was converted to a Lutheran church in the 1920s and the stylistic Byzantine-Russian features were removed. It also contains a lighthouse in its tower, which has been adding air and sea travel since te 1920s. It is also popular site for church weddings. The Church Park was designed in the 1850s and has been extended over the years to a more open Baroque style garden.
From there we passed through the Cromwell, playground, Manège of the Miltary Museum and large Suomenlinna Centre/museum, which had some nice snacks.
To get to the island of Susisaari, we needed to cross the Susisaaren Silta bridge (1982). We then made our way to the Great Courtyard. It was originaly built in 1750s, and is the middle of three courtyards inside the ring of bastions on this island. We first came apon the Bastion Höpken, which is the oldest part of the fortress. It was built in 1750 and is connected to the Commendant’s house. This house originally had 16 apartments. You can freely walk though this stone structure, but there wasn’t much information about it. Just outside in the middle of the Great Courtyard is the tomb of the Swedish military office, Augustin Ehrensvärd, who designed the fortress. Although he passed in 1783, the tomb wasn’t completed until 1807, which was 6 months before it was surrended by the Russians. hence the neo-classical style of the tomb.
Just nearby is the Dry Dock, which was built in 1747 by the Swedish for their Finnish squadron. The ships were built and stored in this dock. Under the Russian rule these dock fell into disrepair and was further damaged like most of the fortress in the Crimean war. However, in the 1920s and 1930s the Finnish forces built aircraft and stored submarines in the dockyard. Today you can view the Dry Docks from the observation deck, however there are plans to renovated it and add a new restaurant and a museum.
As we continued south down the island of Susisaari we came across Piper Park. This is the most important park on Suomenlinna. It was constructed under Commandant Petter Bernhard Piper under the Swedish rule. It was to have trimmed hedges, fruit trees, flowers, a summer-house and a pond. In the early 19th century there were also vegetable gardens. However, since the 1840s the whole area became a public park.
Lastly we visited the island of Kustaanmiekk, which is the most southern part of Suomenlinna. It’s name means ‘Gustav’s Sword’, after the Swedish Crown Price. It was the first part to be fortifed in 1748, but the earthworks and guns were added under the Russian rule. For me this was the most scenic part of Suomenlinna and if wasn’t so windy and cold would of been a great place for a swim and a picnic. There was a nice pizza restaurant, Pizzeria Nikolai, which was open, when we visited. But we decided to save ourselves for a cafe at the entry docks, so back we walked…
By the time we got to Viaporin Deli & Cafe, I was starving. It is located at the entry dock on
Iso Mustasaari, This casual little eatery has lunch specials and quite a few other options, including salad bar, pizza, sandwiches , wraps and hot beverages. Marco had a slice of pizza with chicken, carmelised onions and cherry tomatoes. Octavia and I shared this delicious Salmon and Leek Fetticini (lactose free!), with pickled red onion and shaved parmesan. I was pretty impressed with this pasta, it was really well made and so delicious. I assume the creamy sauce was made with oatmilk, but it was hard to tell.
After our visit to Suomenlinna, we made our way back into Helsinki to meet up with some friends. On our way we passed through the beautiful Esplanade Park. It is lined perfectly manicured hedges and green grass and has a few of beautiful fountains and statues. It a popular place for people to pass time and see popular community events. From there we made our way to Stockman shopping centre and I explored the amazing Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (bookstore), while we waited.
After we found our friends they took us for a walk in one of their favourite parks, Kaivopuisto. This is one of the oldest and most popular parks in Helsinki. Its quite expansive and very scenic. There are so many ducks that were interesting to watch and fun for O to chase. The only thing we found was that they poop all over the grass, so you may want to clean your shoes if you get too close. There are so beautiful views of the coast line and the nearby islands between Helsinki and Suomenlinna.
After we parted ways we were eager to get something to eat before going back to the apartment. There wasn’t alot open on a Monday night and it was already getting pretty late. We found the Italian restaurant Italo in Forum shopping mall. The resturant had beautiful decor, a kids play area and a pretty impressive adult and kids menu that was reasonabily priced.
Marco and I ordered the Risotti Allo Stracotto di Maile (grilled pork cheeks, beef broth and pesto) and Pizza Sette (king prawn tailes, garlic, chili, bacon, red onion and rocket). For Octavia, the server recommend the kids pizza with the toppings of bolognese sauce and cheese. Everything tasted fantasic and was an rivalled some of my best memories of Italian food. The pizza was nice and thin, but not soggly with great fresh ingredients. The risotto was also cooked perfect and the pork cheeks were exactly what we hoped for. I don’t know about Octavia’s pizza because she gobbled that all down and didn’t want to share.
Well thats it for our last day in Helsinki. Tomorrow we catch the boat from Helsinki to Tallin, Estonia. This was one of my favourite stops, so I can’t wait to share it with you!