David and I have finally gotten around to adding Sweden and Finland to our Nordic Adventure List – all we have left is Iceland! And we are working on that one, fingers crossed we’ll be able to visit before the end of the year.
When we were planning on our visit to Sweden and Finland, we decided to plan our trip a bit differently than our visit to Norway due to time constraints and our ability to get Fraggle into our (his) preferred kennel. So we thought the best course of action would be flying directly into Stockholm and then on to Helsinki – which was the best decision we made. Flying direct took the strain of driving out of the equation and allowed both David and I the ability to really relax – not to mention enjoy the local libations without consequence :).
So let’s first start with Stockholm. There were loads of similarities between Oslo and Stockholm, which make sense – right? But we were interested in finding out where the similarities began and ended – so off we went to explore…
The city center of Stockholm is fairly compact and all the points of interests we were interested in were in fairly close proximity, so we decided to stick to the public transport system – and like Olso, the best way to go is with the Stockholm Card. Besides giving you access to all the public transportation you’ll need, it gives you access to museums and other attractions, either freely or at a discounted rate. So definitely a must have.
Nordiska Museet: Beautiful building, with some interesting collections. Here you’ll find where Norway and Sweden share a common past and then split off into their own different cultures. It’s not a particularly large museum, but definately packed full of interesting collections representing the history of the Swedish culture.
Historiska Museet (skip): I actually preferred the Nordiska museum over Historiska, mainly because of the types of collections and the story the Nordiska museum was trying to tell. Again, not a very large museum, certainly you could both in a day if you hurry – but I’d recommend picking Nordiska and taking a bit longer to soak up the history and story of Sweden.
Vasamuseet (highly recommend): Definitely the highlight of our visit, I cannot recommend Vasamuseet enough. The ship is absolutely breath-taking, the craftsmanship and not to mention the all the work that was put in surround the ship – providing information and context. What was really great, is that the museum is split into different levels, so you have the opportunity to see the ship from various angles and heights – so you really get a sense of how large and grandiose the ship is. Quick hint, the place gets packed fast! If you can make it there first thing in the morning all the better, as people tend to follow the line of the museums, and Vasamuseet is at the end – so if you make it your first stop you might avoid all the crowds.
Skansen: The worlds first open air museum (opened in 1891) , which gives you the sense of walking back in time. The park gives you glimpses of Swedish life through various times in history, you’ll for sure want to reserve an entire day to walk around the park and take in all the different periods. I especially liked how the park was sectioned off into different times and interlaced along the way was an open air zoo – so you got a chance to check out some of the local wildlife, like moose, deer, bears, etc. But don’t worry, all the animals are behind glass or in pins :).
In total, we spent about 5 days in Stockholm, it gave us an opportunity to get a feel for the place and also take a stroll around the city center. By the 2nd day, both David and I had our barrings and had no problem catching public transportation to and from our hotel – which happened to be a former prison (but surprisingly it was really, really nice) – check out Trip Advisor for some recommendations, apparently prison hotels are very popular in the Nordics.
On to Finland…
Of the two, Helsinki was by far our favorite. We found the compact town easy to get around, the people friendly and more than happy to provide you with information and best of all – we had no problem enjoying the local fare! Generally when we travel, we always have 1-2 days of adjustment… outside of going to South America (Chile) where we had zero problems. We’ve always struggled a bit, but now we can add Finland to that list! Even when I mistakenly ordered the spicy soup for lunch on our first day, I was very pleasantly surprised and David a little jealous at the marvelous rich taste.
So for Helsinki we decided to approach sightseeing a little differently, because the places we wanted to visit were outside the city center we decided to sign up for the Helsinki Sightseeing Bus Tour. I know it’s a very touristy thing to do, but it allowed us to check out all those sights that were just a little out of our way and also get our barrings, in case we wanted to venture out on our own a little later (which we did) — plus it was free with the Helsinki Card! Just like Oslo and Stockholm, get one – it will save you loads of money, time and to be honest hassle down the line. So again, a must have.
Market Square: Unavoidable, it’s at the heart of the harbor and where you’ll be able to find some of the cheesiest tourist tat. So recommend a quick sweep by to check out the different stalls and whats on offer, but definitely make sure you check out the Market Hall. Besides offering a reasonable lunch, you can check out the local cuisine and everyday food items. Good for browsing and getting a sense of the culture.
Uspenski Cathedral (recommended): If you are into cathedrals, which I am, you’ll want to check out Uspenski. Besides being a beautiful building there are some beautiful paintings, murals, statues, arch ways and craftsmanship inside the cathedral.
Senate Square: Again, another unavoidable sight. The tour bus takes you by and, depending on where you stay, chances are you’ll walk by it enough to get your fill of the square and the surrounding buildings. But nevertheless, definitely worthy of a picture or two.
Helsinki Central Station: Now depending on how you come in, chances are you are going to go through the station at one time or another. But make it a point of going outside and checking out the lantern-holding statues. These have been pictured time and time again and have, in a way, become a Helsinki sight.
Temppeliauko Church (skip): As I mentioned above, I love a beautiful church. I love the way I feel when I go into a church that has been built with devotion and in reverence, but unfortunately I didn’t get that feeling with the Temppeliauko Church. It’s known for being built on the side of a rock and for having a beautiful ceiling made of copper – which it did. I just didn’t feel that connection. But of course each to their own – there were some folks there saying it was a very moving and inspirational space.
Sibelius Monument: Very interesting and odd statue combo – first you have the “wind chime” tree and then you have the composer. The tree was beautiful and you have the chance to walk around it and feel the metal in its various textures. But then you have the statue of the composer, Jean Sibelius, which was just a bit odd for my taste. Perhaps just a bit too abstract?
Suomenlinna Island Fortress (recommended): Make sure you set an entire day aside to enjoy the island completely. Your day will start with a ferry ride over to the island, where you’ll enter through one of the side gates and then pretty much have the run of the place. Make sure you stop in the museum shop to pick up a map and a guide book if you can. The island itself is full of little cubby holes and interesting pathways – some very scary. But all in all made for an interesting day out and an opportunity to play Dora the Explorer!
As with Stockholm, we were only in Helsinki for 5 days but it gave us more than enough time to explore the sights we wanted to explore and savor a bit of the Finnish culture. We definitely enjoyed ourselves and hope to return one day. As a side note, I’d recommend visiting a Lappi inspired museum, store or restaurant – very, very interesting. We learned about the Lappi (Sami) culture in Norway and continued to see reference to it all through our trips.
And as I mentioned before, check out Trip Advisor… I’ve added a few more reviews!
Selected pictures from our trips to Stockholm & Helsinki: