So, Helsinki is a really small city with not a lot to do, to be quite honest. But it was actually the perfect place to end my trip because it was less running around and more relaxing. Smaller cities will do that to you, I guess. But my favorite thing about Helsinki was taking a ferry out off the coast to visit Suomenlinna, a giant sea fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was built by Sweden in 1748 when Helsinki was still Swedish. It’s Swedish name was Sveaborg (pronounced seh-vay-eh-bore-ay). It was just a quick ferry ride from Helsinki early in the morning through a handful of other tiny islands to get there.
It’s ownership was then passed onto Russia and then back to Finland finally when they declared their independence from Russia in 1917. Sweden put a mass amount of resources into it and it was incredibly fortified. It wasn’t until the Crimean War in 1856 that Suomenlinna really sustained any damage from an attack (they were attacked in that war for 46 hours straight, that’s understandable).
It was decided in the 1960′s that they’d make Suomenlinna a live-able place and today around 900 people live on the island. It’s hard to believe people actually live there. They opened a school, a medical center, and a few other things to make it inhabitable.
I visited the museum first, which included a very informational video and a lot of artifacts from Suomenlinna’s past lives and then I walked around the island for around two hours. It was very, very cool. Probably the coolest thing in Helsinki.
The building where the museum is.
Inside some of the fortresses.
Parks where built for inhabitants.
The glass blowing plant that is on the island.
Vesikko Submarine: Built for Germany in 1933.
The dry shipyard where ships were built for wars when the island was still in use and I believe ships are still built and repaired there today.
One of the handful of apartment buildings on the island.
This was worth the early wake-up and ferry ride over. If you’re ever in Helsinki, make sure you make it over to Suomenlinna.
I’d been a fan girl of hosteling since I went to Amsterdam for the first time in 2007 with my friend Emily while we were studying abroad. We stayed at the Flying Pig hostel in the Red Light District and although Amsterdam is amazing on it’s own, the hostel added that much more to the experience. I was able to convince my cousin back in 2011 to stay in a hostel when we went to Seattle for the weekend too. Again, it was great.
So when I was aiming to do things as cheaply as possible in Scandinavia, I headed straight to the hostels section of my Scandinavia Lonely Planet book and started to look. I made two bad decisions two good decisions. Here’s what they were so can make them and avoid them:
Woodah Hostel and Yoga (Copenhagen): Located in the hip and trendy Vesterbro district, I thought the concept of this hostel sounded awesome. Yoga classes at a hostel?! But it turned out to just be one yoga class at 8am if at least 3 people signed up, which they never did, because it was at 8am, probably. The breakfast served everyone morning was fresh and delicious (fresh baked muffins, yogurt with granola and preserves, meats and cheeses). The downside to this hostel was that it was small. There were two toilets, three showers (though they did provide hair dryers, which was nice), and very limited security. You had to enter a code on the door to get into the sleeping quarters but that was pretty much it. And reception went home at 10pm so you needed to get a key if you were getting in after that. The beds were also really uncomfortable. I’d give this hostel 2 out of 5 stars.
Anker Hostel (Oslo): This was located about a five minute walk up a main-ish rode from the Centralstation. The walk was crowded for the most part. The rooms were pretty basic – though every room had it’s own bathroom, which was a big plus – though the showers were super odd, at least to me, but I got used to them. I was happy that reception was always there – probably because this hostel was way bigger – and the room doors actually closed and had locks – score! The breakfast wasn’t included, so I didn’t eat it and therefore can’t give my opinion on it. The people at reception were friendly and awesome. The only downside was that there were no lockers in the rooms. There were lockers in a locked room in the lobby but you had to pay extra for them. So I kept all of my valuables with me and always made sure to put the bag with my laundry on top of all my clean shit. I’d give this hotel 3 out of 5 stars.
City Backpackers Hostel (Stockholm): After coming from two let down hostels, this was a pretty big relief. It had an awesome lobby, lots of computers, security codes on the doors that changed daily, lots of common areas to congregate, a big kitchen, private showers and bathrooms (though not located inside the rooms), and they gave free pasta to whoever wanted it to cook in aforementioned kitchen (after walking 12+ miles for two days straight, I decided making pasta and not having to walk again sounded great). The rooms were small and basic, but they had lockers and security codes and beds so it was great. Breakfast was extra so I didn’t partake but coffee and tea was always free. I met lots of cool people here and I had a great time. 4.5 or 5 out of 5 stars.
Rivoli Hotel Jardin (Helsinki): During my first night at the Anker Hostel, I’d decided I’d had it with hostels, so I switched what seemed to be a superrrrr basic hostel in Helsinki to a hotel that I found a great price on through the Ireland Hotel.com. It was located a block from the Esplanade (basically a long green grassy area with super fancy shops and restaurants along it) and about 5 blocks from the Centralstation. The breakfast was included and it was great. They offered free tea and coffee and cookies all the time. I was so happy I booked this as my last stop. The soaps in the bathroom were lingonberry – I took many. 5 out of 5 stars.
I think I may have outgrown hostels unless I book a private room – but for that price, usually, you can get a hotel room, so it doesn’t make that much of a difference. So big thumbs up to City Backpackers Hostel in Stockholm. Leave the rest behind.
(Photos, clockwise: Woodah, City Backpackers, Rivoli Hotel Jardin, and CPB)
I went a little crazy with trip prep shopping today. I went to Homegoods, Origins, and the Flying Tiger (the Danish version of Muji). Is that not the best journal for travel musings (on the right) ever? I also bought a bag from eBags which came on Friday and I’m making packing lists like a crazy person.
I booked all of my hostels tonight, so all that’s left is booking my travel from Copenhagen to Oslo, Oslo to Stockholm, and Stockholm to Helsinki. I was told I should take a train whenever possible because it’s so beautiful and I’m sure it is but a 9 hour train from Copenhagen to Oslo for $254 as opposed to an hour flight for $54 is just no comparison. I know going through airport security is a pain in the ass, but hey, at least I’ll get more stamps in my passport, right?
The train from Oslo to Stockholm is only four hours and $30 or something, so that’s fine. Then there’s the ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki which is about $150 and takes like, 9 hours as well. Or a half hour flight for $50.
So, as beautiful as the countryside might be, I might fly between two of the four cities. I’ve been collecting lots of links for things to do and packing lists for when you don’t want to pack on the light side. I’ll leave those here incase any of you are going to wander soon.
If you have any packing tips or must-do’s for Copenhagen, Olso, Stockholm, Helsinki, or Tallinn. Let me know!
It’s for-real happening. I’m the worst at booking flights because I’m so non-committal and hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars at one time (WHAT IF I NEED IT LATER?!). But I know the price of these flights will only go up if I wait (I booked this for about $700) so here goes nothing!
Do you think I can wait a little while to book my trains/buses/boats around the region? (I’m going from Copenhagen -> Oslo -> Stockholm ->Helsinki.) And if you have any must-see tips for these cities, let me know!