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Heading to Helsinki, my perception was that the city was fairly large. Perhaps it’s due to my relative familiarity with Finland as a whole compared to other places I hadn’t yet traveled to, including knowing about Finnish stars of sports such as hockey & F1, some familiarity with Finnish technology such as Nokia and Rovio (makers of Angry Birds), or the general reputation of its citizens for being nice, highly-educated people, but I had built up Helsinki to something bigger in my mind.
In reality, Helsinki is actually a fairly small place, or at least it feels that way. While around 600,000 people live in the city itself and 1.4 million in the metro area, I assume the population is very spread out, as it felt more like a town half that size. The city center seems much smaller than I had expected. It’s perhaps two miles across, and considering there is plenty of parkland inside this space, it’s hardly packed.
This isn’t a complaint, mind you; I enjoyed my time in Helsinki. The city center was fun to explore, though it’s easy to cover most of it in just a couple of days.
I had purchased a 24 hour pass upon arriving in Helsinki the previous afternoon, so it was still good for most of the day. I took a quick subway ride from near where I was staying at the Holiday Inn Helsinki – West Ruoholahti to Hakaniemen station.
Right outside the station is one of Helsinki’s most famous food markets, Hakaniemi. Hakaniemi Market Hall is a crowded, multi-floored market selling everything from food & drink to arts, crafts, and clothing.
Outside, there are more market stalls.
As I usually do in street markets, I explored the full market before getting any food. With so many options, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to miss out on something great by being full.
After wandering around the first floor, I went up to the second floor. Up here was mostly clothing, though there was a restaurant/bar in the center.
I had an open-faced salmon sandwich. The market was filled with lots of salmon & seafood options, which is not surprising for a city that is on the sea like Helsinki.
Making my way back downstairs, I wanted more food. I had seen a crowded soup spot called Soppakeittio Tapaste oy that looked promising. I found an open seat and had their bouillabaisse, which was packed with seafood. There were also bread baskets for everyone to share at the communal seating, and the bread was perfect for dipping in the broth.
By this point I was fairly full, but I had seen a few bakeries in the corner of Hakaniemi, so I couldn’t leave without at least trying something. What had caught my eye was a twisted cinnamon pastry, which I would learn is called “korvapuusti”, Finnish for “slapped ears”. They’re a cousin of the cinnamon bun, though thankfully not covered in overly-sweet goo.
Belly full, I then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the center of Helsinki, walking along the water, through a few parks, and past the cultural centers of the city.
There is a fair amount of concrete brutalist architecture in Helsinki thanks to the unfortunate coincidence of post-World War II rebuilding + expansion and what I believe to be the worst architectural trend in history. However, there are some real gems as well, both as old buildings and new construction. Helsinki central train station is especially impressive, with its large statues & art nouveau & art deco elements.
Helsinki also has great public wifi everywhere and lots of bike lanes.
After a couple of hours of wandering around, I then noticed the clouds were building, so I ducked into a craft beer bar just before it started to rain, opting to end my outdoor adventures for the day.
The next morning I took the subway back into the city center (on the 2nd 24 hour ticket I had bought the day before, it was great to be able to minimize that expense in this way), then walked over to Helsinki’s Market Square.
Market Square has an array of vendors, from outdoor market stalls, to vendors selling fish right off a boat, to an indoor market.
I headed for Vanha kauppahalli, or Old Market Hall.
Old Market Hall is a smaller food market than Hakaniemi, but it’s less crowded and more spacious between the stalls, with two rows of small, high-quality shops.
I couldn’t resist more salmon. These were rolls of smoked salmon with just a bit of cream cheese. Delicious.
Then I had a smoked salmon pasty.
Then for dessert, some carrot cake from one of the many bakeries in Vanha kauppahalli. It didn’t contain any smoked salmon, but it was tasty nonetheless.
After eating at the food market, I then got on the ferry to Fortress of Suomenlinna. My experience there merits its own post, so we’ll leave that for now. When I got back to the mainland, I spent the rest of the afternoon, which was the last one of my trip before beginning my journey home, visiting more of Helsinki’s craft beer bars.
Helsinki’s city center may not be big, but it’s nice to wander around, especially if you’re hungry, thanks to having some great food markets.
Read more posts from my trip to Northern Europe:
A trip through Northern Europe & the Baltics – Introduction
American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco SFO review
American Airlines First Class Airbus A321T San Francisco SFO to New York JFK review
A quick layover in New York City from JFK airport
American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK review
American Airlines Business Class Boeing 767-300 New York JFK to Manchester MAN review
Holiday Inn Express Glasgow City Centre Riverside review
Upperdeck Airport Lounge Glasgow GLA review
Aspire Lounge London Heathrow LHR Terminal 5 review
Hotel Skt. Petri Copenhagen, Denmark review
Copenhagen, Denmark – Museums on a rainy day
Copenhagen, Denmark – Nyhavn, Christiania & more
Craft beer in Copenhagen, Denmark – The Mikkeller bars
Aviator Airport Lounge – Copenhagen CPH review
Norwegian Air Economy Class Boeing 737-800 Copenhagen CPH to Riga RIX review
Radi Un Draugi Hotel Riga, Latvia review
Riga, Latvia – Exploring the Old Town
Riga, Latvia – Museums & a tough 20th century
Riga, Latvia – Street markets & food
Craft beer in Riga, Latvia
Lux Express Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia review
Hotel Bern Tallinn, Estonia review
Tallinn, Estonia – Exploring the views of the Old Town
Tallinn, Estonia – Exploring Patarei Prison
Craft beer in Tallinn, Estonia
Eckero Finlandia ferry Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland review
Holiday Inn Helsinki – West Ruoholahti review
Helsinki, Finland – Exploring the food markets & city centre
Helsinki, Finland – Exploring the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress
Craft beer in Helsinki, Finland
Finnair Lounge Helsinki HEL non-Schengen review
Finnair Business Class Airbus A321 Helsinki HEL to London Heathrow LHR review
American Airlines Flagship Lounge London Heathrow LHR review
American Airlines First Class Boeing 777-200 London Heathrow LHR to Dallas-Fort Worth DFW review
American Express Centurion Lounge Dallas-Fort Worth DFW review
American Airlines First Class Boeing A321S Dallas-Fort Worth DFW to San Francisco SFO review