(Travel Filter) Helsinki plus where?
June 13, 2018 6:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm fulfilling a long-time dream of visiting Helsinki at the end of August. Flying from New York; the trip will be a week. Help me decide on a route without being overambitious. Details inside.

I have just seven nights. I want to focus on Helsinki and see a bit outside the city, but also include Tallinn (and Stockholm?) if reasonable. Here are my flight options, all of which will cost within about $100 of each other. (I've compared - I'm using a travel credit with SAS so I don't have so tons of options.)

1) Helsinki (7 nights) & Talinn (day trip only) = NYC --> HEL --> NYC
2) Helsinki (.. nights) & Talinn (.. nights) = NYC --> HEL, TLL --> NYC
3) Stockholm (.. nights) & Helsinki (.. nights) & Talinn (1 night) = NYC --> ARN, TLL --> NYC
4) Stockholm (.. nights) & Helsinki (.. nights) = NYC --> ARN, HEL --> NYC

Me: late 30's, cis het female, and traveling solo. Big draws for me are museums, design, history, saunas, bike rides, and hiking.

I'm leaning toward #2 so I can be relaxed and get to venture outside the cities to explore. The only reason I hesitate is thinking Stockholm is relatively close, it would be silly to skip it. But it would involve another flight. Help talk me down.
posted by MCMLXXXIV to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Stockholm is close, but unless there's something very specific there you want to see I don't know that it's worth it if you can fulfill your interests in Finland and maybe spend that travel time on getting out into the countryside instead. August can be extremely weird in Sweden touristically, because half the country is on holiday elsewhere or out in the country, and that's probably true in Finland also but that's all the more reason to stick to one place.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:46 PM on June 13, 2018

I’m baaaasically you (except late 20s and bi [prob not relevant]) and did a variation of #2 recently. It was one of the best solo trips I’ve ever done. I actually stopped in Riga too, but Tallinn and Helsinki were by far my favorite stops.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:02 PM on June 13, 2018

Consider getting from Stockholm to Helsinki (or vice versa) by boat. The archipelago is beautiful and there overnight trips so you don’t lose too much time on land. Both Viking and Silja run regular trips.
posted by scrute at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Helsinki + Tallinn is very doable by ferry. I think you can even do there and back in a day. Not as sure about adding Stockholm, just because it’s farther.

You probably know this already, but with your interests I think Helsinki will be a lot of fun for you! Central Park is great for walks (maybe hikes is putting it a bit far) and there are other parks around; I think there is a design district on the eastern side of town; there are a bunch of museums, some largish, some small and quirky.

I haven’t spent as much time in Tallinn, just a couple days, but their walled old city is predictably charming.
posted by eirias at 7:31 PM on June 13, 2018

Talinn is really nice. And cheaper than Stockholm, and you can get a lot out of it in a few days, it's not huge.

I don't know about the other ferries, but the Stockholm->Talinn overnight ferry is a trip. It's a floating duty-free store with what had to be Hungary's Eurovision B-Team performing assorted numbers in large, sparkly hats. It was an experience.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:11 PM on June 13, 2018

I think your instinct towards #2 is good: I did a Nordics / Baltics trip in 2012, and loved Tallinn. You should go to the Seaplane Harbour and the Memorial for the Departed: you get to go inside a submarine in the former, and the latter's yard is lush and green in the summer. Seconding that the old city is charming.

To my surprise, I just didn't like Stockholm as much as I thought I would.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:16 PM on June 13, 2018

Tallinn will be a great idea! Go to the Museum of Occupations if it's reopened, but you will enjoy the city either way, and Helskini is compact enough that you can see quite a bit even in a short time. I was more meh on Stockholm and would say Copenhagen if you're going to fly anywhere. Depending on timing investigate possible Singing Revolution memorial events.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:03 PM on June 13, 2018

Have you considered St Petersburg in Russia? You can go there for for a day trip by boat and without needing a visa I believe. Plenty of time for the Hermitage.
posted by Middlemarch at 11:09 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, St Petersburg is what I was coming here to suggest. You need to be part of a "guided tour" to get visa free entry by ferry. It's an extra €25 for the guided tour, but obviously the ferry line wants to make it as easy as possible for you to be eligible.

And it's a magnificent city: more populous than every country in the region except Sweden, with masses of beautiful stucco palaces and museums centred around the bay and so much going on.

Anyway, I don't know it at all well (I stopped there overnight on my way from Helsinki to Moscow one time), but it was breathtakingly beautiful, and looking at the tours listed on the website above makes me think I should go back.

On the other hand, the pace of life is slightly different to Finland, so it may not be coherent with the rest of your visit in that way. Traffic is worse and the streets are dilapidated and dusty, but there's also plenty of nice relaxed cafes and restaurants to go to between tour stops.

posted by ambrosen at 11:51 PM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tallinn is an easy day trip from Helsinki - you will have time to walk around the old walled city and take in the views, maybe go to the excellent and offbeat Estonian History Museum, it's a short walk from the ferry terminal. If you are at all prone to motion sickness I recommend getting the big ferry boat over the catamaran even if it takes more time, I felt unpleasantly nauseous on the catamaran but the regular ferry was fine and it was more fun to be on such a huge boat. If you want to visit more attractions outside the centre I would stay overnight.

St Petersburg is a fantastic city - I spent a few days there and went to the Hermitage and took a riverboat tour. But it was full of many tour groups being bussed around on a schedule from place to place - if that doesn't sound like your idea of fun, I would skip it and go back on your own schedule, or try and find a more laid-back tour group you could join instead of the ferry company one and still meet the visa-free requirements.

Other suggestions: if you like cycling, you could take a trip to the Aland Islands (about five hours by ferry from Turku), where you can cycle around a lovely archipelago and admire the sea and the wooden houses. Turku is also a fun city to visit, especially the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum, which is an archaelogical dig site below and a contemporary art museum above.
posted by penguinliz at 3:03 AM on June 14, 2018

Tallinn and Riga are not so far apart either. Riga is lovely and worth a couple of days. Otherwise I would go to St. Petersburg as suggested by others. It's well worthwhile- beautiful, the Hermitage is extraordinary and there's much to see and do.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 3:23 AM on June 14, 2018

Go north. Rovaniemi is awesome!
posted by kaszeta at 7:35 AM on June 14, 2018

A vote for Tallinn. We visited both Tallinn (via ferry) and St Petersburg (via train) on two night-long trips from Helsinki and two days was nowhere near enough time for St Petersburg (which is SO FANTASTIC) but was perfect for Tallinn. Tallinn is also so much easier to get adjusted to because Estonians tend to speak pretty great English, whereas almost no one we spoke to in St Petersburg spoke much English - St Petersburg overall took a LOT of effort. And you totally could do Tallinn as just a day trip if you wanted.

We also visited Stockholm and while we totally loved it, both it and Helsinki are worth a good long stay at, so I wouldn't try to cram it in this trip. The ferry between the two takes a whole night.

Nearby to Helsinki for a nice day trip is Porvoo, which is one of the medieval towns of Finland. It's really cute and worth a visit if you're looking to do something outside of Helsinki.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2018

I finally booked the flight into Helsinki and out of Tallinn. I'll save Stockholm for another time and focus now on Finland and Estonia, and maybe with an excursion to St. Petersburg or Riga. Thank you for the tips!
posted by MCMLXXXIV at 7:35 AM on June 16, 2018

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