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Take a Break: Finland Stopover

Most of us want to arrive at our final destination as quickly as possible. However, if you happen to be flying halfway around the world to get to your “home” for a long holiday – in this particular case, to the UK, Europe or even Canada and America, you may as well look at a couple of add-ons or detours so you can see some new places. Rebecca Bisset sees if Finland is the perfect option.

Helsinki Cathedral
Visit the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral that towers over the city

One option well worth considering is Finland. The new Finnair Airbus 350 flies direct from Singapore to Helsinki, and from there you can do plenty. Head to Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, to see the northern lights that are visible nearly all year round. Sleep in ice rooms, get drawn by husky sleighs across vast white fields and – if you really want – leap into icy lakes. Saunas (“sow-naas” as the Finns say it) are popular and it’s the norm to plunge yourself intermittently into cold water during a steamy session. Even I stepped slowly into the grey sea off Helsinki, when the air temperature was two degrees Celsius. The shock disappears quite quickly after a couple of beers (which are also drunk in the saunas!).

City

Design District in Helsinki
Take a stroll along the streets of the Design District

If you don’t want to take another flight, you can stay in or around Helsinki. Aside from the city itself, there are a few interesting towns and rural spots to keep you busy for at least a few days. In the winter, Helsinki is a little grey, but there are plenty of excellent restaurants, designer shops and innovative museums such as the City Museum. The Design District is fairly expensive for designer clothes and accessories, but there are some interesting and unique items. Everywhere is pretty easy to get to and there’s public transport if you don’t want to walk. Most people seem to speak excellent English. It looks like it would be delightful in summer.

Bikes in Central Helsinki
Hop on a bike to explore Central Helsinki

We stayed at the brand new Hotel Indigo Helsinki, which was lovely – very central, with fantastic beds. I’d forgotten the comfort of European beds! The good thing about a cold country is that they know how to heat the rooms well, but it also means it’s quite misleading when you’re getting dressed. It’s only when you step outside that you realise how cold it is – so, take layers, and add and remove them as required. I did go to Uniqlo before I left Singapore to acquire some extra-warm leggings and thermal tops, so I was nice and toasty.

Wine & Dine

Food is a really important part of the culture and social life of Finland. We had a fantastic lunch at the relatively new restaurant Vinkkeli, in the heart of Helsinki’s Kaartinkaupunki district. Our meals were served with a light nonalcoholic drink made from fir trees – similar to wine but even more drinkable, if that’s possible. Many of the dishes have creamy sauces, and there are also rich soups with the yummiest of breads. You’ll need to walk quite a bit to burn off some of the calories!

Dish at Vinkkeli restaurant in Helsinki
Drop by Vinkkeli for their delicious soups, breads and mains

Elsewhere, Trilby & Chadwick is a secret speakeasy bar based on the days of prohibition, and Juuri is a cosy restaurant. Then there are delicatessens, like the one in the Stockmann building, where you can buy smoked fish, a huge variety of cheeses, breads and so on. The Old Market Hall right on the sea has more cheeses, fish and savouries plus places to sit and eat.

Flights

Tickets are around three-quarters of the price of a direct flight to London. The Finnair flight from Singapore arrives at 6am or so.

Fact File

Online resources:

Official travel sites:
visithelsinki.fi/en | visitfinland.com

Hotel Indigo: helsinki-boulevard. hotelindigo.com

Haikko Manor: haikko.fi/en

Nature walks and stays: seikkailulaakso.com

Restaurant Vinkkeli: ravintolavinkkeli.fi

Restaurant Juuri: juuri.fi/en

Cruises from Helsinki: tallinksilja.com

Helsinki City Museum: helsinginkaupunginmuseo.fi/en/

 

2017 is the centenary of Finland’s independence after centuries of colonisation by Russia and Sweden; over 1,700 concerts, festivals and sporting events will be held across the country.

For more ideas on stopover packages in Finland, and to book flights, see finnair.com.

 

This is an extract from an article that first appeared in the February 2017 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

Check out more amazing destinations at our Travel section.

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