Friday, October 12, 2012

Three Perfect Days in Helsinki Finland + Crowne Plaza Helsinki Review

United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine (best in-flight magazine I've read) has a feature called Three Perfect Days that gives travel advice for three days in a given city.  It provides valuable insights and is a fun read, but they haven't covered Helsinki, so allow me to fill the void.  
Hakasalmenpuisto Park, Helsinki
I don't know anyone in Finland and did very limited research, but was still able to have a great time and see everything I wanted to see.  My first stop in Helsinki was the tourist desk at the airport (ground level, terminal 2) to buy a Helsinki Card.  This card is a tourist's dream, it provides free public transit, maps, sightseeing ideas, and discounted or free admission to every museum in town (I've had great experiences with this idea in Lisbon, Vienna, Budapest, and Copenhagen too).  It also helps me see more when I travel, if the museum is free, why not drop in, even if only for a few minutes.  The lowered inhibitions might be the best value; the excellent map is a close second.
Cool Designs in Helsinki
From the airport, I took the Finnair City Bus to my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Helsinki.  I used points to pay for the room and confirmed with the hotel that my Platinum status would be honored when paying with points (not a guarantee with Priority Club).  I was upgraded to a club floor and got free internet for my stay.  The club floor room was a decent size and I was able to spread out and relax; good bathroom too (never a sure thing in older EU hotels).  The club lounge had cold cuts for breakfast (it's a Scandinavian thing) and light snacks in the evening.  The fridge was stocked with water, Coke, and a few beers, available any time.  All around it's a nice lounge (and not spending on breakfast really stretches a travel budget).  I was the only tourist in the lounge and stood out a lot, but I had a vacation mindset and didn't care.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Helsinki Executive King Room
Crowne Plaza Helsinki Hotel
Helsinki is the World Design Capital for 2012.  This is a rotating title to promote local outstanding design; there were various displays around town and at the airport promoting Finnish design.  The award may be temporary, but design is a strong part of the culture.  There are many stunning buildings and art pieces around town and two museums dedicated to design.  It's something best experienced.
Cool Helsinki Building #1
Helsinki Is Very Relaxing
Cool Helsinki Building #2 of Many
Helsinki is a small and walkable city, but they have a terrific tram system, so you don't have to walk very far. Most sights and museums are close to a tram stop.  The Culture Tram is a sight on its own.  Each week, a different cultural display or activity is featured.  There have been opera singers, sting quartets, and a boring thing about media coverage of the poor in Africa (what I saw).
Helsinki Culture Tram - Different Theme Each Week
Helsinki City Streets
After waking up early on my first morning in Helsinki (remember to close the curtains), I headed over to the Suomenlinna sea fortress.  A ferry goes from the top of the harbor to the fortress two or three times an hour and it is covered under public transit, so no need for an extra ticket.  Suomenlinna was built as a harbor defense for Helsinki and was the primary military base in the area.  It did not do well in the Crimean War, but is wonderful to visit now.  There are many museums, tours, and things to see and climb on (all free with the Helsinki Card).  I spent over five hours exploring the islands.  By far my favorite stop on my vacation.
Suomenlinna From The Sea
Suomenlinna Fortifications
Suomenlinna Earth Works
Russia Guns from the 1880's at Suomenlinna
Suomenlinna Gunner's View of Sea Lanes
Finland's Partner in the Continuation War
Suomenlinna Military Museum
WWII Finnish Submarine
Finnish Naval Building on Suomenlinna
It was raining on my second day, so I took a free bus tour (thank you Helsinki Card). It did a decent job of showing the city, explaining the history, and finding some sights that are difficult to locate on the tram system.  It ended by the central square in town and I hit the pavement to see a few more museums. The Bank of Finland museum was fun, in a nerdy finance way.  The Military Museum of Finland was an interesting continuation of what I learned about on Suomenlinna too.  The modern art museum has a great building and a full size police car that an artist knitted together, but the rest was a little too out there for my tastes.
Main Church in Town, Boring on the Inside
Knitted Police Car at Helsinki Modern Art Museum
Helsinki Train Station, Cool Outside, Drab Inside
Cool Bench Celebrating Helsinki's 200th Birthday
Statue to a Composer
Bank of Finland, Damage From WWII Soviet Bombing
I spent my third day relaxing before my flight. I woke up early (not intentionally) and took the ferry out to Suomenlinna and back just to enjoy the water.  I headed back to the hotel, but took a detour and wandered around the lake and park next to the hotel, very tranquil.  I arrived at the Helsinki Airport early so I could discuss customer experience management with their CEM manager.  Then I hit the lounge, did some duty free shopping, and hopped a flight to Munich.  I wouldn't say I had three perfect days in Helsinki, but it was close.

Russian Orthodox Churches Are Interesting
Fun Tapas Bar

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