As part of our 2021 Thanksgiving-time vacation, we spent 7 nights wandering around Italy and then took a short flight over to Helsinki, Finland. I know it seems like an odd combination, and it kind of was weather-wise (Italy in November is pretty mild!), but James always finds great deals on flights if we’re open to traveling some strange routes. Not that Finland is strange, it’s actually quite lovely! We enjoyed this part of the trip as well, even if we only had 2 nights and only one full day to explore.
Day 1: Travel to Finland
We woke up the morning of our flight to intense fog in Milan! Our flight from Milan Malpensa (MXP) to Helsinki was still showing on time, so we got ready to go and hoped for the best!
Arrival in Helsinki
It was a bit cloudy on the descent into Helsinki but we were expecting to have cooler and more “wintry” weather here than in Italy.
The airport was super nice and had lovely Christmas decorations.
The Hotel Indigo Helsinki Boulevard was on a really nice street and very walk-able to everything.
Dinner in Helsinki
After checking in and getting freshened up, we headed out in the cold night for some dinner.
There was a restaurant a few blocks away that had really good reviews and had traditional Finnish food, so we knew we had to try it out.
The restaurant was cozy and warm, and had a pretty large menu!
We started out with some local Finnish beers, and this amazing Finnish salmon soup with dill and potatoes and a side of brown bread and butter, which was perfect for the cold evening (it dipped down into the mid 20’s Fahrenheit!). This was so good we made it ourselves when we got home (was almost as good)!
After our soup, we ordered entrees. James got a reindeer steak with two different kinds of potatoes and a red-wine lingonberry sauce (top), and I got filets of Baltic herring on top of mashed potatoes (bottom). Both dishes were delicious!
A statement of truth on the way out of the restaurant…
The walk back to our hotel was very pretty, and we couldn’t wait to explore Helsinki the next day!
We finished the night off with a nightcap in the hotel bar, because we had some drink credits to use. It was a nice little bar/restaurant with a very cozy feel.
Day 2: Exploring Helsinki
The next morning, we woke up in the mid-morning and the sun was still pretty low in the sky. It also must have been pretty cold because there was frost on the outside of our window!
There was a Nespresso machine in our room so I made myself a cup of espresso as we relaxed in the room. The mugs were so cute, and the room had some fun wallpaper!
Helsinki City Center
After we got ready, we went out into the cold (still only in the low 30’s F during the day!) and made our way down toward the Helsinki Christmas market.
James loved the city trams! The ad on the side of the tram made me laugh, “We make ad, you buy food?”
The sun was still pretty low even around 11am or so, and it never really got high in the sky at all, so the city was constantly bathed in beautiful soft lighting all day.
There were a lot of really pretty buildings, and it felt like a combination between Amsterdam, Germany, and Iceland.
There were also a lot of new buildings mixed in with older buildings.
Helsinki Christmas Market
A few minutes later we arrived at the Christmas market! Normally the Christmas market takes place in Senate Square, but in 2021 that square was being renovated so it was relocated to the Market Square. As of the writing of this post, the 2022 Christmas Market is scheduled to be back in Senate Square.
This was a cute location close to the water.
We crossed the street and entered the market. There were 2 different sections, one for food and another for shopping. We wandered through the shopping area first to see what we might want to buy for Christmas gifts.
We took a lap and picked out a couple of booths we would revisit later.
We passed buy a blacksmith making some metal goods.
There ended up being some food stalls on this side as well, so we ended up with a few snacks. We got a couple of traditional Karelian pies, which are savory rye based pastries stuffed with various ingredients. We got a few different varieties: one stuffed with mashed potato, one stuffed with rice, and a meat-filled one. They were good but were not served hot so it was a little disappointing. The rice one was a little plain but the potato and meat ones had a really nice flavor.
I also had to get myself a nice hot mug of Glogi, which is Finnish mulled wine, similar to German Gluhwein and Swedish Glogg, also served at their respective Christmas markets.
It also came in a commemorative mug you could either return to get a deposit back or keep as a souvenir. Most Christmas markets have something like this, and most of the time I choose to keep the mug as a fun gift for myself.
This was shortly after noon, and the highest the sun would get!
Yes, it was cold.
Ferry to Suomenlinna
After walking through the Christmas market and shopping a bit, we decided to take a short ferry ride over to the island of Suomenlinna where there is a fortress, a few restaurants, and a brewery.
The ferry ride was about 25 minutes and it was nice to sit inside in the warmth for a bit!
We arrived at Suomenlinna Sveaborg and made our way first to the brewery for a cold one.
The fortress building was really cool and the architecture was very interesting.
Unfortunately the brewery was closed in preparation for a private evening event (bummer!) but we saw a cafe on the island that looked on Google maps like it sold beer so we went over there.
The island had these old cobblestone streets, and some small houses (not sure if they were currently occupied).
We walked up a little dirt road and found the cafe.
It was a cute cozy little place, and relatively empty. We ordered up at the counter. They had some beers from the brewery we were supposed to go to, so we had to try those!
While we were sitting there, the group next to us had ordered some pizzas and it smelled so good so we decided to get our own and split it! It was very good, and definitely hit the spot.
We went back toward the ferry and had some time to kill before the next one, so we stopped in another cafe for some more drinks.
They had a gigantic cookie that we couldn’t resist, and a really good porter from the brewery that paired perfectly.
When it was getting close to the time the ferry was supposed to arrive, we headed out toward the docks.
The ferry docked, unloaded, and then we went aboard.
We got another nice view out of the windows as it was getting dark outside, only about 4pm!
More Helsinki Christmas Market
When we got back to the main part of Helsinki, we went back through the Christmas market for some more shopping.
It was so beautiful all lit up, and definitely got me in the Christmas spirit!
I just had to get another cup of Glogi (not in a nice mug this time) as we stood around and enjoyed the lights. We also took some nice Christmas card pictures in front of this tree (even though we ended up forgetting to send out Christmas cards later…)
After we shopped around some more, we made our way back toward the hotel so we could relax a bit and warm up some before dinner. We were getting pretty cold out there!
We passed by Senate Square, where the Christmas market is usually held, and it was indeed under construction. Although, there was a small temporary pavilion where people were gathering. This was the start of a Christmas parade I believe.
Helsinki “Christmas Street”, Aleksanterinkatu
We ended up walking down the Helsinki “Christmas Street”, normally just known as the Aleksanterinkatu shopping street, that is traditionally all lit up for Christmas starting at the end of November all the way until Christmas. We actually witnessed the first lighting of the season!
We passed by Stockmann, which is a famous Finnish department store. It definitely gave me NYC Macy’s vibes, especially looking at the Christmas windows, which Macy’s also does every Christmas season.
It was a really pretty area to walk around for Christmas feels.
Apologies for the blurry picture, it was tough taking pictures in the dark while moving within the crowd.
We warmed up at our hotel for a bit before heading back out for dinner.
The hotel had this really nice Caramel tea that was perfect for warming up!
Heading back out in the cold, we walked a few blocks to dinner at a restaurant with great reviews.
Yes, you read that correctly. We went for dumplings! Helsinki, being a modern city, has a lot of different types of international food options. We decided that dumplings would be a great comfort food dinner that we desperately needed after a long day wandering around in the cold!
The restaurant, Hills Dumplings, is a modern dumpling restaurant with a nice cocktail menu as well. I ended up getting “Panic! At The Miso” partly because of the name (I love the band Panic! At The Disco), but also because it sounded like a really interesting drink.
The little Instagram logo next to it was referring to the fact that this drink is Insta-famous, so of course I had to take an Insta-worthy photo for my ‘gram! (you’re probably thinking “Okay, Millennial”)
We ordered our meals: we got some dumplings (8 per order) and some pork filled bao buns. For James’ dumpling dish, he got pork filled pan-fried dumplings, and I got steamed fish dumplings in a yellow curry sauce. Everything was amazingly delicious! All dishes were a la carte, so we could have ordered more (and wanted to) but we were stuffed!
We passed this fun sign on the way back to the hotel, and it was tempting but we were tired and had to get up early for our flight home in the morning.
Departing Finland/Heading Home
The next morning we woke up way before the crack of the-crack-of-dawn because we had an early morning flight out to head back home.
Our hotel had these handmade magnets, so we bought one to add to our fridge magnet collection! We love adding new ones for each new place we travel to, and we especially loved that these were handmade locally!
We got to the airport and eventually onto our flight over to Amsterdam (AMS) to connect to our flight back to the states. As we took off we were witnesses to a beautiful sunrise!
We were both pleasantly surprised at how much we liked Helsinki, Finland! It was too bad we didn’t have more time there. This was more of a stop-over at the end of our trip to Northern Italy, so we only had 2 nights, and really that only made for 1 full day of exploring the city.
The city was beautiful, clean, and full of great restaurants with delicious food. I also loved the charm of Christmas-time in Helsinki, and it definitely made for a special experience being able to go to their Christmas market and get some special gifts for family.
We definitely want to return back to Helsinki and other parts of Finland in the future. I’d love to venture up north to Lapland next time and maybe even catch the Northern Lights! If/when we do, we will be sure to post about it!