As you likely know, we adore travel, both discovering new destinations and revisiting places we’ve been before with a new angle. On our world trip we visited both Helsinki and Zurich, but only for a few hours each and in very cold weather. So, last week we were thrilled to be invited to return to Europe to explore each destination in more depth and in warmer weather with the Stopover program offered by Finnair, Finland’s flagship and largest airline and one of the oldest carriers in continuous operation around the world. The Stopover program was an easy way to get out and see Finland while en route to Switzerland. The idea is, if you’re routing to a destination in Europe via Finnair, why not take a few extra days to explore Helsinki at no extra cost? We loved taking advantage of similar opportunities during our world trip, and look back fondly on our stopovers in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Portugal. Our visits to these countries were brief, but we were glad we got the small tastes that we did! We were always surprised with how many new experiences we could fit in on a short layover.
Coming off of trip with friends in DC and NYC, we took off for Finland from JFK airport. We were grateful that Finnair was able to upgrade us to business class, and from the beautiful OneWorld Alliance lounge at JFK to the comfiest seats that fully reclined it made the non-stop flight to Europe easy and enjoyable, arriving early in Helsinki refreshed and ready to explore.
Helsinki was enjoying unseasonably warm days during our visit with gorgeous blue skies and temps in the 80s, and the sunshine made this charming coastal town scattered over 300+ islands sparkle. We arrived mid-morning and checked into Helsinki’s newest hotel, Hotel St. George, which overlooks City Park and was celebrating it’s grand opening that evening. Hotel St. George has serious design credentials, from their elegant take on Nordic minimalism in the bedrooms (I loved the pale blush paint and subtle use of caning on the closets) to the whimsical wallpaper in their lounge and massive hanging sculpture by Ai Wei Wei in the lobby. The hotel was centrally located for all our activities and we were able to walk almost everywhere. Freshly showered and ready to explore, we set out to meet up our guide from Visit Finland, who had arranged an incredible itinerary for our 36 hour layover in Helsinki. Our first stop was the insanely delicious Putte’s Bar and Pizza just two blocks north of our hotel. You could smell the sauce and dough down the street and we got to know others in our group over margarita pizzas and local craft brews.
The afternoon was spent exploring the town, taking in the sunshine, stopping back through Senate Square to admire the stunning Helsinki Cathedral that had served as the backdrop for the city’s Christmas market when we visited 6 months prior, stopping for coffee before and continuing on through the pop up market along Market Square. Helsinki is known for their saunas and sea pools, which jut out into the sea and are (remarkably) open tear round. Take a ride on the ferris wheel near Market Square to for a bird’s eye view of the town and Allas Sea Pool, which looks incredible in winter. One of the most charming discoveries of the trip was Cafe Regatta, who’s nautical kitsch decor reminded me of the Ramp Bar and Grill a favorite spot near Kennebunkport, Maine. Cafe Regatta had been discovered and popularized by a Korean travel show and when we arrived I was surprised to see the line out the door! We didn’t mind chatting in the sunshine while waiting for their epic cinnamon roll buns called korvapuusti. That night we only had to walk across the square to reach Werner, the impossibly chic restaurant with an open kitchen and refreshing grapefruit spritzers. Despite spending three hours at dinner, it was still light as we walked home at 10 pm. I love the long summer days and hear that the sun doesn’t set at all in the northernmost parts of Finland!
Needless to say, we slept extremely well that night, popping awake at 7 and venturing downstairs for breakfast. The St. George Bakery occupies the ground floor of the hotel and has a charming French-meets-Finnish decor, getting our caffeine fix before heading to the Marimekko factory for a tour of their production facilities and design and print shops. I loved seeing the printing machines in action, producing meters of Marimekko’s signature prints every minute.
From Marimekko we set off for the airport to continue on to our the next destination: Zurich, Switzerland!
This post is sponsored by Finnair and Visit Finland, however all opinions are my own.