To Helsinki, Finland and Back

A big thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the Viking Homelands! Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. As always, all opinions are our own.

Helsinki, Finland

We began the day greeted by a rainbow as we enjoyed breakfast on our stateroom balcony while the ship pulled into port of Helsinki, Finland.

With Somewhere Over the Rainbow popping into our heads, we prepared for our trek into the Emerald, no wait, they call this the White City of the North, confident in the belief that there would be no wicked witch encounters awaiting.

The rainbow proved to be a good omen, since the skies cleared just in time for us to head into the city from the docks.

This Church Rocks!

The rock church in Helsinki, Finland

Our first stop was the unique Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church), which is carved into a block of underground granite and covered by a domed copper roof.

The rock church in Helsinki, Finland

The rock church in Helsinki, Finland

The idea for the church was first proposed in 1939, but the project wasn’t finished until 1969.

The end result was something that definitely came from an imagination out of this world, and it looks to be tornado proof too.

Leaving the temple we came across a more normal landmark with a quick drive by of the Olympic Stadium.

The arena was originally built for the 1940 Olympics, but those games were cancelled due to World War II, so the field became the site of the 1952 Olympics.

The Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, Finland

Music as Art

Our detour from the whimsical didn’t last long though, since our next stop looked as if it could have been right out of Oz.

The Jean Sibelius monument in Helsinki, Finland

The Sibelius Monument, with its conglomeration of six hundred pipes reminiscent of an organ, is dedicated to Finland’s most famous composer Jean Sibelius.

The Jean Sibelius monument in Helsinki, Finland

Oddly, he didn’t play organ, but the twenty-four ton sculpture has been embraced by Fins as a fitting tribute to the man who became a national hero when his music helped to inspire Finland’s fight for freedom from Russia.

The Jean Sibelius monument in Helsinki, Finland

Senate Square

The green domed Cathedral of Helsinki, Finland

We spent the rest of the day exploring the center of the city on foot, beginning at the massive Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. As we walked toward its gleaming white with gold topped emerald domes, it certainly made us feel as if we might have wandered into the land of Munchkins and flying monkeys.

The stunning church is flanked by matching mirror images of the University of Helsinki and the Government Palace buildings. These form the outline of Senate Square, surrounding a statue of Czar Alexander II.

Statue of Russian Czar Alexander ll in front of Helsinki Cathedral in Finland

The Finnish National Theater in Helsinki, Finland
The Finnish National Theater

The Russian ruler, who became known in Finland as The Good Czar, is credited with building Helsinki into the grand city that it is today after Russia took control in the early eighteen hundreds.

No word on whether he arrived by balloon or ever hid behind a curtain.

The train station in Helsinki, Finland

What has to be the Most Surprisingly Elegant Burger King on the Planet

Working our way out from the square, we were stopped in our tracks by the Helsinki Central railway station.

It’s no wonder that this was chosen as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations by the BBC.

The most surprizingly elegant Burger King on the planet!

The impressive exterior concealed a curious secret we never expected, a Burger King.

Not that strange you say?

It is to find a fast food joint with such elegance and style.

A huge fresco designed by Eero Järnefelt dominates the wall above the counter.

The most surprizingly elegant Burger King on the planet!

The entire restaurant project was done in cooperation with the National Board of Antiquities, taking special care to protect the artwork from kitchen grease and fumes with powerful air conditioning.

The most surprizingly elegant Burger King on the planet!

The idea was to preserve as much as possible from the original historic building, including no structural changes and incorporating some of the original furniture into the décor.

The magnificent golden-domed Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland

Like Dorothy and friends drawn to the wizard we returned to Senate Square, but noticed a magnificent golden domed structure perched on a hill across a small bridge.

We followed the road, sans yellow bricks, and discovered that it was the Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral.

Built a hundred years ago, this is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe.

The red bricks, taken from the Bomarsund Fortress after it was destroyed in the Crimean War, provide a striking contrast to the thirteen green and gold onion domes representing Christ and the twelve apostles.

Now we were really starting to think that they should have nicknamed this the emerald…­ and gold, city.

Finnish Street Food!

Below the cathedral on the edge of the harbor we found a big open air market set up in the very aptly named Market Square.

Summer outdoor market in Helsinki, Finland

Since we arrived in the short summer season, fruits and vegetables were the big attraction and the vendors were happy to offer free samples.

We snacked on fresh cherries, strawberries, and peas while strolling through the rows of stands.

Clothing and trinkets were popular too, but food tents seemed to be the big favorites of tourists and locals alike.

The choices ran the gamut of traditional Norse country comfort foods, such as reindeer steaks and sausages, moose (which they are known as elk in these parts), and a wide variety of seafood.

Stirring up muikku vendace, whole fried fish, in an outdoor market in Helsinki, Finland

One curiousity we spied at several booths was a local specialty called muikku, fried whole small fish.

Acting as adventurous as always, we ordered a plate, along with some salmon soup, before bothering to ask exactly what sort of fish they were.

Luckily they were a delicious little fresh water variety known as vendace, a cousin of the salmon, but basically a sardine.

Pan fried and served with garlic sauce, they are considered a summer-time delicacy in Finland, eaten basically like French fries.

Muikku vendace, whole fried fish, and salmon soup in an outdoor market in Helsinki, Finland

With the afternoon slipping away our brains told us that it was time to make our way back to the ship, but our hearts didn’t want to go, so we had to summon our courage to bring ourselves to walk back.

Along the way we comforted ourselves by deciding that we wouldn’t want to stay here forever, but Helsinki certainly challenged the notion that there’s no place like home.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our adventures in Finland!

A big thanks to Viking Ocean Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the Viking Homelands! Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Norway. As always, all opinions are our own.


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11 thoughts on “To Helsinki, Finland and Back”

  1. I just finished my first Viking cruise to China and had a fantastic time. Can see myself getting into the idea of a floating hotel which quite surprised me! Never been to Helsinki, but you certainly packed a lot into your visit. The copper ceiling in the Rock Church was pretty amazing.

  2. You did the same cruise as we just did! The Viking Homelands itinerary 🙂 Great cruise… But in Helsinki we didn’t like those little fried fish, eaten as a crispy snack (which we tried) — too fishy tasting. The food back on the “Viking Star” ship was better :-).

    1. We tried them at a couple of places (they were happy to give samples) and the taste varied. Some were quite fishy, but others were mild and delicious. Agree that the food on board was wonderful as well.

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