Earlier this month I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Finland in partnership with Finnair, and have been so excited to share with you guys every detail of this incredible trip…
The nordic countries have been high on my list to visit for years. Most of my ancestry comes from Northern Europe, and yet I’ve never traveled there. So when Finnair invited me to attend the premiere of their East and West Side Story film in Helsinki and take a little press tour of the country, I was sooo definitely in!
I have quickly though that I feel really lucky to be able to have these kinds of opportunities, and have such a supportive partner who had to pick up a lot of slack while I was gone, but knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
The Helsinki Airport and Finnair collaborated on a short film called East and West Side Story, and they invited over 100 journalists, photographers and content creators from all over the world that live in cities with direct flights to Helsinki to come and celebrate the premiere with them. We all flew into Helsinki and spent a couple days touring and attending the premiere, and then the group of 7 of us from the US took a quick flight to Turku and explored there for a few days guided by a local from the city. I didn’t know anyone else going (another situation where my extrovert-ing came in handy), but ended up really enjoying everyone’s company and was completely entranced by this beautiful country, their culture and rich history.
Flying Finnair. Finnair recently opened up their direct flight routes from SFO to HEL and it sure is heavenly. I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll have to fly business class to the other side of the world again, and I felt so spoiled. Honestly, just flying economy without kids is a full on spa day for me, but this was a whole other level. Marimekko kits, slippers, down blankets, and pillows. Delicious cocktails I need to recreate like the double blueberry (blueberry juice + blueberry liquor). On the flight back I discovered the Ingmar Bergman film collection, and then spent the rest of the flight completely devouring his work. Have you seen any of his films? I think I need to do a whole post about them. They’re intense, brilliant, and beautiful.
The food was probably the best airline food I’ve had. Fresh bread, creamy pasta and omg the pine ice cream. This was breakfast. Dreamy, right? The craziest part, guys: the seats lay all the way down, which just blew my mind. The flight was 10-11 hours and I slept half of the time each way (whaattt?!). This made my jet lag way more manageable when I got there, as we had a packed schedule from day one. Again, I felt super spoiled. Thank you, Finnair!
I was really impressed with the Helsinki airport too. Modern, clean, complimentary stroller rentals for families with young children (why on earth do we not have that in US airports?), and full on saunas in the Finnair lounge! They also had all the best Marimekko and Moomin souvenirs right in the airport.
Helsinki is the capital of Finland. Turku, where we visited on the second half of our trip, used to be the capital during Swedish rule. But during Russian rule Turku felt too Swedish, so the Russians built Helsinki to be the new capital closer to Russia, and modeled after St Petersburg. I’ve never been to St Petersburg, but Helsinki definitely had a very Eastern European feel about it. Also all the pink buildings and streets were beautiful to wander through.
We stayed at the St George hotel, the newest hotel in Helsinki in an old historic building right in the heart of the city. The details of the modern Scandinavian design was all over the interior. Thoughtful and practical, and the prettiest color palettes. Each morning I ate at the hotel restaurant, which was delicious and omg the fresh butter and fish everywhere we went in Finland.
I went on a design tour in Helsinki on the second day. We visited Arabia and Ittala factory. Both are famous Finnish brands of pottery and glass and have been around for decades. It was a really inspiring place to see.
Sauna Culture + Loyly. Sauna culture is huge in Finland, so visiting a Finnish sauna was a must-do on our trip. Helsinki even has one in the airport! We went to a few, but the sauna at Loyly was the first and most modern.
A bit about sauna culture: Most hotels private homes have saunas in them. Apartment buildings will have one in the building and occupants can schedule their weekly sauna time. It’s an every day occurrence for most. They go with their family and friends, for the simple happy state of being clean and warm. Saunas can flush toxins, and the heat from the sauna relaxes the body’s muscles, improves circulation and stimulates the release of endorphins for that truly wonderful ‘after sauna glow’. Before public health care, almost all Finnish mothers gave birth in saunas.
There are public saunas as well, and the one we went to at Loyly was one of the very nicest. Private saunas are nude, but public ones often if they’re co-ed will require a bathing suit. After a lovely meal at the restaurant, you can heat up for a while in the smoke or regular sauna (I think I stayed maybe 10 minutes), and then because Loyly is built right on the harbor, you just dip right into the Baltic sea to cool off. Then you sit, have a beer, chat a bit with Finnish dudes, and repeat.
If you’re in the Portland area they have a Loyly there as well- go check it out!
Amos Rex. Everything was close to the hotel, including one of the most impressive modern art museums I’d ever been to, Amos Rex. If you’re in Helsinki you absolutely must go here. All of the exhibitions are experiential and thoughtful, and the architecture is brilliant as well. See more about the exhibits here.
Another thing I loved about Helsinki was how walkable everything was. I had a couple hours to wander around on the last day and could easily explore much of the city. My favorite part was the harbor area where there was a local market everyday full of most varieties of berries than I ever knew existed, and the design district where you can find cute boutiques and Finnish candy stores. I’m obsessed with the design of these Salmiak Finnish candy (although my taste buds can’t quite handle the salty licorice flavor yet).
East and West Side Story. As I first mentioned, the main event was the premiere of the short film made by Finnair and Helsinki airport called East and West Side Story.
We dressed in our fancy cocktail outfits and loaded up in cars to the event at the airport, not quite sure what to expect. We were greeted by a red carpet and crowds of Finnish socialites and actors. It was a bit surreal! We sipped some sparkling wine, and then headed on airport shuttles to a huge hanger where the film was being screened.
The venue was incredible. What an amazing idea to have a premiere party in an airplane hanger. I’m quite sure any future premieres will be disappointing after this one. We mingled chatted, and then watched the premiere of the film. I really enjoyed it and at 13 minutes long, wished I could have seen more of the captivating story about this chance encounter. You can watch the whole thing here, I think you’ll really like it too. After, there was a party at a local club they had rented out. We finished the evening ordering some late night pizza close to the hotel.
Turku. The next morning we hopped on a small plane for a quick flight to Turku. I had heard a lot of amazing things about this city, so I was really excited to check it out. In 2011 it was voted the culture capital of Europe. It’s filled with cobblestone streets, and old historic buildings along the beautiful Aura canal. It felt very European, full of incredible food and a young crowd.
One of the main highlights of Turku, and their biggest tourist attraction is Turku Castle. It’s Finland’s oldest castle, built during Swedish rule 700 years ago. When it was first built, the Archipelago waters were much higher, and the castle was built on an island right off the shore from the central part of the city. As the waters started receding, the castle’s grounds gained more and more land until it eventually connected to the shore and the rest of the city. It’s a beautifully historic building.
We toured around to learn about it’s history, and we even played dress up. Originally they had planned on this area being for children, but then had to add adult costumes because it was such a hit for adults as well. It didn’t take me much convincing to join in!
We had some amazing food while we were in Turku. On the first day we visited a brand new seafood restaurant called Bassi in a beautifully restored historic building (pictured here). Another evening we dined at Smor, a beautiful Swedish. I highly recommend both. One afternoon we went beer tasting at a The Koulu Brewery which used to be an all girls school. I loved seeing how they transformed it while leaving behind little important details.
Another morning we has a little tasting tour in the over 120-year old indoor Turku Market Hall, the second oldest food market in Finland. We sampled some local fish delicacies by
Herkkunuotta, and an amazingly delicious cake by Mbakery, voted the Best Bakery in Finland in 2015.
It was sunny out so we rented boats as well and drove them on the Aura river. It was really fun and a great way to city the center of the city.
On the last day we did my very favorite thing of the whole trip. We drove about 30 minutes outside of the city of Turku to the Herrankukkaro sauna. It’s an incredibly unique place. A traditional fishing village on the Archipelago waters that connect to the Baltic sea separating Finland from Sweden. It houses the largest underground smoke sauna in the world. You can only reserve the sauna for a group of 7 or more and it includes a hour or so session in the smoke sauna, and a traditional finnish dinner of several kinds of fish, root vegetables, potatoes, and meatballs.
The sauna is situated right on the water. When you sweat it out sufficiently inside, you can jump right into the Archipelago waters and swim to the shore. It felt incredible. There are also tubs of different temperatures on the pier you can sit in and cool off as well.
Visiting this special sauna in the country on the last night of our trip only solidified my desire to spend more time in this fascinating, and beautiful country of Finland. And having a home with a sauna on the Archipelago waters sounds like the most wonderful thing in the world.
Thanks to Finnair for hosting me on such an incredible whirlwind trip of Finland. We’ll be back! All images are my own except the plane breakfast and myself jumping image by Kit Graham, The horizontal Helsinki image, and the horizontal sunset image by Andrew Glatt. Two Chicago friends from the trip.