It’s the midsummer weekend here in Finland. For those of you not in the know, midsummer is kind of a big deal in Finland, almost comparable to Christmas. Friday and Saturday on the week that holds the 21st of June are almost sacred. The whole country basically shuts down to celebrate. Which means that it’s a very bad time to play tourist around these parts, unless of course you happen to know a Finn with a cabin by some water in which case this is the perfect time to play tourist and get the Finnish summer experience, complete with all kinds of blood sucking insects. I, myself, am not particularly fond of that part of the Finnish summer experience. Although hanging around Helsinki during midsummer does have its own kind of post-apocalyptic charm.
But other times that are not the Midsummer weekend are FABULOUS for playing tourist around Helsinki. And partly to convince everyone reading this to vote for Helsinki in 2017, I thought I’d list some of my favorite things to do in Helsinki. When it’s not the Midsummer weekend.
The Helsinki zoo apparently holds some utterly unique species of animal but it is also one of the northernmost outdoor zoos. It is one of the islands that surround the Helsinki coastline accessible by bridge or boat. Basically the island has walking paths crisscrossing through it with animal cages in between and rabbits and peacocks wandering freely through the place. It’s a good idea to bring a lunch too. The island does have a restaurant but the food is expensive and by my last recall not stellar, so pretty much the same as anywhere else.
The ancient fortress island of Helsinki has an active community living there to this day. Well worth visiting just to explore the ruins and sit on top of the canons still mounted there. As a teenager we used to picnic on the Kustaanmiekka (Gustav’s Sword) strait and play chicken with the cruise ships passing through there. It’s a very narrow and shallow strait but all the cruise ships docking in Helsinki pass through there. As they do this, water rises several meters on the rocks before the actual fort. Needless to say, this is actually kind of dangerous and stupid as the rocks become very slippery and the water is cold, even in the summer. I absolutely do not recommend doing this. But it’s still kind of fun. Much more I would recommend watching the cruise ships pass by from the fort. It’s still a sight even if you don’t risk your well-being to see it.
Coffee at Café Esplanad
The Esplanadi park is a Helsinki staple. The sea at one end, a swanky theater with restaurant attached at the other, it’s basically a promenade lined with seating and grass and trees. It is surrounded on both sides with beautiful old Helsinki architecture that house various types of stores, cafes and pubs. One of these is Café Esplanad. It is a tiny cafe known best for its delicious wares. You can get a piece of delicious meringue the size of a child’s head or a cinnamon swirl just as large. Build yourself a fresh salad, have some coffee or choose from the fairly large selection of teas. By far my favorite cafe in the entire world that I’ve visited.
The amusement park in the middle of Helsinki. Located on the top of a fairly tall hillock, the vista available from the top of the Ferris wheel is amazing. You can see the whole of Helsinki from up there. It’s a fun place to visit even if you don’t go on any of the rides. But if you do, be sure to take a ride on the wooden roller coaster. It is by far the most popular ride in the park, nearing its seventh decade in age. It smells of tar and sun and thousands of happy hours.
Attached to the amusement park is the local aquarium. My partner and I went there for our first date nearly ten years ago so naturally I think it’s magically romantic but also superbly interesting. These days they have not only octopuses but also a mantis shrimp on the premises. Which means that of course I own a yearly pass to the place. Come to think of it, I think I’d like to go there sometime this next week.
Brunch at Fazer
Fazer is the biggest of Finnish chocolate makers as well as a purveyor of baked goods. They have a cafe in the middle of Helsinki that hosts a lunch on weekdays but much better, a brunch on the weekends. Baked goods with all kinds of toppings, porridge and other warm things, cakes, fruits, crepes in the Finnish style with jam and whipped cream. It is one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning, topped off with a movie.
So vote for a Helsinki Worldcon and have a great excuse to do all this and more in the most wonderful city on Earth.