For my 45th birthday, my husband whisked me off to Gatwick, sans enfants, walked me blindfolded (not literally) through to the gate where, to my delight, I saw we were about to board a plane set for Helsinki, Finland. Amazing! What a fabulous birthday surprise. I never would have thought I’d visit Helsinki but now that I have, I totally recommend it. It’s perfect for a long weekend with enough to see and do but not SO much that you leave feeling you didn’t do enough. And we did a lot! We went at the end of November, so it was cold and beautifully Christmassy.

Here are my observations, musings and top tips:

  • Sit next to a Finnish person on the plane – very informative! Thank you lovely Finnish lady, hope you enjoyed your trip back home.
  • There is no equivalent word in Finnish for ‘please’. Gives a little insight into their culture and social outlook.
  • The Wallpaper weekend guide to Helsinki is perfect. But you will need a better map which you can get at the main tourist office in the city center.
  • All the children we saw wore snowsuits. All of them (apart from the tourists).
  • Kiasma is the most fascinating museum of contemporary art I’ve ever been to. Simply a must. Good cafe too.
  • Everything seemed to run on time and very smoothly. We took a ferry out to Suomenlinna Island. Wonderful. Felt like a mini Nordic adventure.
  • Easy to find your way around, and suss things out. Helps that all signage is in English. Oh and everyone speaks English fluently. You will feel like a complete idiot because of that, at times I felt like a ‘stupid’ American tourist. But, as I say, makes it easy to find your way around, shop and order meals.
  • We stayed in Helsinki’s Design District – I recommend. Gorgeous shops, good eateries and, of course, there is the Design Museum.
  • Everything is very stylish. Good eye candy for designers!
  • The trams made us feel nostalgic for Prague.
  • Get the Helsinki card. Great value for money, ensures you do and see everything you want and the tourist bus is fun, comprehensive and incredibly informative with commentary on the Finnish way of life, their history and influential Finns. Hats off to my husband for his secret weekend get-away planning skills with a little help from Louise of Travel counsellors!
  • Coffee and cake at the famous Ekberg Cafe is an experience not to be missed. And you’ll always remember that time you spent €8 on one piece of cake!
  • Another must see is their flagship Littala shop. Stunning. Scandinavian tableware and interior design. Get ready to splurge!
  • In fact, prepare yourself for dropping a healthy amount of cash while you’re there. It ain’t cheap but it was just us two, no kids which made it affordable and a special occasion to treat ourselves. After all, it was my birthday – and a proper middle aged birthday too! After 15 years of responsible parenthood, we felt it was OK. Just this once!
  • If you do take kids, don’t worry, it’s very kid friendly, lots to do and see. Maybe think of investing in a few child snowsuits and upping your budget!
  • There is no need for the niceties of customer service. People are very matter-of-fact which, after some initial adjustment, that seems to work just fine.

Culturally, it reminded me of both Vienna and Prague. Vienna because of the affluent atmosphere, and Prague because of the history, the cobbled streets and the bohemian feel to the Design District. I loved it. Go if you can.

Helsinki airport Finland

Helsinki markets

Helsinki trams

Helsinki government

Helsinki design district

Helsinki Littala

Helsinki Silent Church

Helsinki Glo Hotel

Moomins

Helsinki Christmas

elsinki Island of Suommelina

elsinki Island of Suommelina

Helsinki Ferry

Kiasma Helsinki

Helsinki Ekberg

National museum Helsinki

Ateneum

Helsinki Museum

Helsinki Rock Church

Helsinki Subway

Bar Loose

Helsinki shops

Helsinki Christmas

Helsinki Design Museum

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Meghan Peterson Fenn is the author of Bringing Up Brits, co-author of Inspiring Global Entrepreneurs, co-founder and Director of Design and Web at Shake It Up Creative. And, she is an award winning expat blogger and mother of three.