There's one important thing to remember about Helsinki while planning for a trip: it's expensive. However, there is a lot to see and do.
All photos by the author
Some reports indicate Helsinki is the most costly city in the world, and by my accounting, they are right. A dinner for two at a modest Italian restaurant without tablecloths was 100 euros for 2 pastas and 3 glasses of wine. The exchange rate is $1.33 to one euro, which means the dinner was roughly $133 (including a 10% tip). The waiter explained that the tax on alcohol is 24% and on food 14%.
Another example of Helsinki’s supersized prices is its transportation. Just getting into a taxi is 6.5 euros during the day and 9 euros during the evening. This doesn’t include going anywhere.
The port of Helsinki
Maybe inflated prices is one of the reasons so many cruise ships dock in the harbor. Not only is the port accessible, but ship passengers avoid pesky cab fares and aren’t required to eat in the city.
For example, Viking’s Stockholm to Bergen and back cruise docks at Helsinki for a day and offers multiple shore excursions to its passengers.
However, Helsinki has a lot to offer visitors who can afford it. The Kiasma Museum is heralded by TripAdvisor members as outstanding, innovative, and definitely worthwhile.
A visitor to the Kiasma Museum in Helsinki sitting on a Marimekko bean bag in the lobby. Marimekko is a dress and fabric company from Finland that exports worldwide.
For those who prefer something more traditional, there is the Athenaeum Museum featuring Finnish art and special exhibits.
The Wounded Angel by Hugo Simberg, a Finnish citizen. He completed this painting in 1903 and was awarded a state prize for it in 1904. In 2007, a Finnish poll voted the painting the most loved at the Athenaeum.
The National Museum is a different kettle of fish. It is a step back in time and absolutely not to be missed, in my opinion. The museum is a chronological history of Finnish life from pre-historic times to the present. The exhibits are varied and informative plus often charming. There is something for everyone.
The National Museum of Finland was under construction 1905 to 1910. It opened to the public in 1916.
There are many more attractions in Helsinki, many of them monuments; for example, a tribute to Sibelius, the composer (below). There is also Suomenlinna, a fort, which Sweden constructed in 1748 as protection against Russian expansion to the area. It is a UNESCO Heritage site.
The Jean Sibelius Memorial in Helsinki
We first stayed at the Kamp Hotel. It is known as the most expensive hotel in Helsinki. Therefore, one would think it is the best.
While the Kamp is centrally located and pleasant, the service is not what I would expect for a high-end establishment. It took 2 hours to get our safe working. And while the staff assumed we didn’t know how to work it, in the end the safe only needed a battery. The experience was exasperating. There were other minor service issues, too.
In a sentence, it was not good value for the money.
The Radisson Blu Plaza
When we re-entered Helsinki as second time, we tried the Radisson Blu Plaza in the central city. This, too, has a high rating. The lounge, which comes with a higher level room, was very nice. Our bedroom, however, was not as shown in the photos on the internet. It had no workspace at all and absolutely no place to lay out our luggage.
I would advise to be prepared to change rooms if the one you are assigned isn’t what was photographed for the advertisement.
The Hilton Strand
Though we didn’t stay at it, the taxi driver told us Hilton Strand is the best in the city. However, it is on the water, and, therefore, a short distance from city center (about half a mile) whereas the hotels above are more centrally located.
We have stayed in Hiltons abroad previously and like them. He may be right.
There is a lot to see in Helsinki that is not within easy walking distance from city central. Taking a bus tour would solve this problem.
Getting to and from the airport
Taxis are expensive. It is worth considering other options including public transportation or the Finn Air Bus if you don’t have too much luggage.