A Helsinki Style Weekend
Arriving in the airport, you can see all the things that make Finland known in the world – Marimekko Shop, The Mumins, Fiskers and the design from Alvar Aalto.
As soon as we arrived, we checked for the best options to get to the city in the tourist information office. They showed us the Helsinki card, which we could use for all the transportation in Helsinki (including the train from the airport) and some of the most popular museums and attractions. We got it and made our way to our special accommodation for the weekend.
After we arrived to the central Station in Helsinki, we took tram number 4 to Katajanokka, an island situated on the eastern part of the city. This island is famous because on it is the Helsinki Orthodox Cathedral, the ferry terminal and the former district prison.
Being the official county prison until year 2002 and renovated to be used as a hotel in 2007, the Katajanokka Hotel is ready to give you the best experience ever, although it may look scary with the non-conventional architecture. The rooms are very comfortable and cozy, although the walls may display a lot of secrets from the previous guests, they still make you feel at home.
On the first day of our stay we got the tour through the prison. The first prison was built in 1749 with only 5 rooms and a vestibule. In 1837, the building got renovated and a chapel was built, making it the second oldest church in the city. The architecture of the prison was renovated in 1888 into red-brick buildings with a floor plan in the shape of a cross also known as “Philadelphia Style”. During the Second World War, the prison got damaged, killing one of the guards and injuring the Finnish writer Hella Wuolijoki, who had been convicted of treason.
Although the prison was only a remand center, offenders from the south of Finland were sent here to wait for their trial. Sami, the tour guide, told us he met a guy that had been imprisoned there for total of 6 years (going in and out).
As part of the tour we also visited the isolation cell and the chapel, as creepy as it may sound, you can get married at the chapel and have private dinners in the isolation cell.
The building of the prison itself can’t be changed since it is part of the city’s heritage, which makes the whole experience even nicer. Of course, the rooms got extra windows and today, a single room is the size of two cells.
Helsinki = Design and Architecture
One of our main goals of coming to Helsinki was to experience its unique design. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ittala and the Mumins, but my boyfriend showed me Alvar Aalto, one of the most known Finnish architects in Europe. Helsinki is so much into design that they created a map of the design district. The Design Museum is where you can see the first pieces of Marimekko, Fiskars and Ittala. The whole area is filled with designer shops showcasing everything from clothes to furniture, my favourite was Ivana Helsinki. Here you can spend a whole day going between beautiful coffee places and amazing shops.
One of my favourite things to visit was the Alvar Aalto house. The architect lived here almost all his life and made it also his “experiment“ house. This is not included in the Helsinki card but you do get a discount. Alvar Aalto didn’t want to “expose“ his house so he designed in a way that one can’t look in from outside, making it extra protected from the curious neighbours haha.
The whole city is beautiful and has stunning aesthetics, from the store signs to the street signs, everything has its own identity.
One thing you can’t miss is to try Finnish chocolate, although is not very famous, I consider it one of the best in Europe. My favourite is the Goodio chocolate, chai and wild berry chocolates and for baking and cooking, the Fazer cocoa powder. Fazer has a shop with a beautiful sign outside, here you can have a hot chocolate while you enjoy their delicious treats.
Helsinki is an amazing city and I am sure you will enjoy it fully, there are so many things to do, from theatre and opera, to great spectacles and restaurants.
I hope this inspires you to visit this fabulous city of northern Europe!