Helsinki, Winter Wonderland
Our first day in Helsinki
13th December 2022
After a great night’s sleep (for most of us), I got up to do a bit of a reconnaissance of Helsinki to plan our snowball fight, snowmen build, and find the Christmas Market location later.
In -7°C, I donned my running tights and pair of bamboo leggings, a base pair of Steigen sport socks and a thin woollen pair, a merino wool thin layer, Kathmandu fleece and a Gortex Kathmandu jacket on top, and a headband to cover my ears and a pair of thin gloves. I had no idea when I walked out the door whether I’d get further than the corner, I’ve never run in this kind of weather! I was pleasantly surprised and was toasty warm the whole time!
We purchased a Holafly Esim so I could use Google Maps while I was out and that was an absolute saviour! I highly recommend it! We have bought a 60 day sim which will give us unlimited data throughout Europe. Winning!
Once we had all eaten, we layered up and headed out for the day. I had heard before that you should never underestimate the amount of time it takes to get ready and based on how long it took us today, it is a true statement!
There was trauma about wearing so many layers, the scratchy clothes and tags (sensory overload) and being “so hot” in the apartment with all the layers, so much so that there was an “I don’t need my jacket on”…until we opened the door to go outside. Taj was metres from the door before there was an urgent, “I’m cold” followed by the jacket being put on.
We walked a similar way to what I had done earlier in the day. The first stop was snow to throw snowballs. The snow was so powdery that making snowballs or building a snowman was not an option! We ran around and had some fun, all the same.
The next stop was the Train Station, to visit the Information Centre, which we thought was in there. We discovered that it was no longer there and in fact now located nearby Senate Square, where the outdoor Christmas Market is located and we knew we’d be there later so we just continued walking, admiring the snow and lights and taking in the surroundings. We stopped for lunch and defrosted before moving on for further exploration.
We wandered up the Esplanadi stopping at every mound of snow for the boys (and us) to jump on and climb. The kids were having an absolute ball, as were we. It started snowing while we were standing around and it all of a sudden became significantly more cold. We put this down to being nearer to the water and with a bit of an increase in wind, it was cold. I looked at the weather app on my phone to discover that it said it ‘feels like -16C’, any wonder our faces felt like they were going to fall off!
We kept moving as we were all getting cold and we knew our next stop was coffee and hot chocolates. We passed by quickly, the stunning Russian designed Orthodox cathedral, Uspenskin Katedraali. It would have been nice to have a good look around, but it was so cold, windy and snowing like mad, we kept going. As we turned the corner to go to our coffee stop, we were hit with a blast of ice! We slipped and slid our way into Johan and Nystrom – Kanavaranta for an inhouse brewed coffee and hot chocolates for the boys. The cafe was located right on the river, it was stunning. Of course the added Christmas decorations make it all quite special.
Our final destination for the day was looming, the Helsinki Christmas Market, which is the oldest outdoor Christmas Market in Helsinki. By now the snow was blowing in every direction and it was REALLY cold on our faces! Eyelashes were freezing, our faces were being wind burnt. We escaped into the Tourist Info Centre for a bit and then into another shop. The shopkeeper got talking to us and informed us that there were weather alerts for the snow storm that were predicted and people were encouraged to stay indoors.
Despite this, we layered up, put our heads down and ventured into the market. Geoff and I desperately wanted to enjoy wandering the stalls but the boys just wanted to play in the snow…they won, partly because they were having so much fun in the snow and partly because the weather was so ordinary it was hard to actually enjoy the market (we also knew we’d be back again another day during our stay)! We found more snow mounds and then the snow covered staircase up to the Helsingin Tuomiokirkko (a 19th century religious monument) from Senate Square. They had the best time and ended up sliding down the stairs from the top to the bottom on their bums, laughing hysterically the entire way. We managed to squeeze in our first Gluhwein in a cosy corner of the market while the boys ate gingerbread biscuits, before braving the snow storm on our way home.
It was truly a fabulous day exploring Helsinki city!
A day in the snow, in Helsinki
Our original plan was to get up and go to Porvoo but jetlag had other ideas and due to spending some time awake through the night, we all slept in and we ‘missed the boat’ on getting organised for a full day out. It’s almost like it was meant to be though because we had the most fabulous day in Helsinki!
We took our time getting ready, enjoyed breakfast in the apartment, watching snow fall out the window from the dining table – it was pretty spectacular! Once we were ready to face the world, we layered up and headed out. We had a short walk to visit Temppeliaukio Church, otherwise known as the ‘Rock Church’; it is a popular tourist sight and an active Lutheran church.
It had been snowing all morning and by the time we got to Temppeliaukio, it was absolutely pouring snow! The church is located in the centre of a circle of buildings and it was completely covered in thick, powdery snow. We walked up to the top, around the top and played in the snow. We were completely in awe and mesmerised by the falling snow; it was like nothing any of us had seen before, it was magical.
After a long time on the roof, we ventured down to go into the church for a look. It was peaceful and a very impressive structure.
For lunch we stopped into Levain Bakery, known for its pastries, we knew what we were having for dessert! So much so, that we ordered dessert to eat in, with hot chocolates and coffee, and bought a loaf of bread to take home for cheese sandwiches! Levain didn’t disappoint! The snow falling out the window next to us added to the experience.
On the walk home, I got the urge to go for a run. I do love a new experience and I had never run in falling snow, nor in snow so thick that in some parts of our walk home, we were literally knee deep in snow. Once we got home, I changed into my running gear and went on another reconnaissance run to the ferry terminal to see whether we could walk there or whether we’d need to get a taxi, on Thursday morning.
I soon discovered that running in snow is as difficult as running in snow and therefore decided that we would taxi to the terminal to save the stress and complaining! I enjoyed the run, took in more sights in Helsinki, gathered some more perspective on the city and loved the experience of running in the snow – so much fun!
After we had our lunch, which consisted of Lavain rye bread (Finland is known for its rye bread), we set off for the Helsinki Christmas Market again. The snow was still falling and we took an alternate route so we could see a bit more of the city. We walked through beautifully lit streets and parks, some lights were Christmas specific, others were just to lighten the dark winter streets.
December 13th is St Lucia Day in Finland, so there were additional festivities at the Market and the entire area was buzzing. In Scandinavian countries, each town elects its own St. Lucia (St Lucy). The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia, and it is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year. After two years of not celebrating this special day in Finland, Helsinki put on quite the show this evening, and many people were there to celebrate.
We ate local pastries and delicious Finlandia pizza, drank glogi and bought new woollen beanies to keep our heads warm! The boys found numerous mounds of snow to climb up and slide down. We walked home along the same route that we first took to Senate Square. It was incredible the difference between the levels of snow from 24 hours prior! We had a lot of fun falling into the snow and making snow angels. It was a fabulous evening!
A visit from Helsinki to Porvoo
We walked to Kampii long distance bus station, which is underground at the shopping centre in Kampii, just up the road from where we were staying. The sun was out and the weather app told us it was -10 degrees! We found the bus station and were told we could buy our tickets on board the bus – so simple! We were the only ones to get on at the station, however, we did pick others up along the way. The bus we were on took the scenic route and it sure was scenic! Snow is so beautiful wherever it is, it seems!
Just an hour away from Helsinki, lies this magnificent little Old Town, called Porvoo. It is known for the picturesque Porvoo River and Shore Houses that line the riverside. As we drove in, we immediately knew we would love this place. The quaint little streets, colourful houses and cobble stoned roads; what’s not to love!
We wandered from the bus stop down to the river, then alongside the river towards the old bridge. We stopped to take many photos, it was truly a sight to see. The sun had just come up and it was about 10am and -12 degrees by this stage; it was bright and crisp! We managed a couple of minutes without gloves on at any one time to take photos, before our hands began to ache with the cold. Sometimes we genuinely couldn’t feel our hands or fingers, but it was worth it for a good photo!
We stopped for snow mound fun and more stairs with snow thick enough to make a slide. We all had a go and it was a blast!
We walked through thick snow to the top of Castle Hill where we wandered through the remarkable forests. Snow covered forests, with sun glistening through the trees, it is what dreams are made of!
For lunch we ate at Tuorilan Kotileipomo (Traditional Finnish Bakery), where we enjoyed a well-priced meal consisting of ham and cheese rolls, coffee and pastries for dessert. It was a gorgeous little café and a great spot to stop out of the cold.
We walked through the cathedral grounds and had a quick look inside, however, there was a school group practising in their choir so we didn’t stay long. We continued to meander through the quaint streets, looking in the quaint shops. We were all in love with Porvoo. It was peaceful, friendly and a very easy place to be.
It began snowing on the way home and it was nice walking from the bus station to the apartment with snow falling on us, just one last time before we head off to Tallinn, the next day.
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