Why I’m Excited to Visit Helsinki, Finland in the Middle of Winter in a Wheelchair

Helsinki Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Tim Benedict Pou via Flickr.
Helsinki Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Tim Benedict Pou via Flickr.

At the end of this month (January 31st to be exact), I’ll be headed to Helsinki, Finland and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a destination that I never really imagined visiting to be completely honest, especially in the middle of winter with subzero temperatures, but I am extremely anxious to roll around this beautiful city. You may be wondering how/why I chose this destination, so let me tell you that before we delve into what all I’ll be doing while there.

A few months ago, I applied online to be a part of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence. This residence is sponsored by Visit Helsinki and Visit Finland (among several others) and it allows travel bloggers and influencers the opportunity to live like a local in Helsinki for one week. Lodging, transportation, and more is provided for the influencer and one companion. When I filled out the form, I was hopeful that I’d be chosen, but I tried not to get my hopes up too high just in case. Here’s a video all about the #HelsinkiSecret Residence –

 

 

Well, fast forward a couple months and I received an email letting me know that I was chosen for the February residence. They choose different influencers for every month in 2016, so I’ll be one of the February bloggers, along with Bon Traveler, JOELIX, and I Am Aileen. As the title of the #HelsinkiSecret Residence suggests, I’ll be uncovering the secrets of Helsinki and how wheelchair accessible the city is. I was happy to find out while reading my Lonely Planet Finland book that Lonely Planet said Finland is one of the most wheelchair friendly countries in the world. That put my mind at ease a bit, but I still want to show you exactly how accessible it really is.

I know, I know… You’re probably wondering why in the world I would want to visit Helsinki, Finland when the average temperature is about 1° Fahrenheit right now. There are SO MANY reasons. Let me tell you a few reasons now why I’m insanely excited to freeze my butt off and what all I’ll be doing in Helsinki this February.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Museums

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

National Museum of Finland. Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr.

 

There are quite a lot of museums in Helsinki and whenever I visit a city, I love to at least go to 2 or 3 different ones. This gives me a chance to learn about the history of the city or country and view some cool artifacts. One museum in Helsinki that I am particularly interested in visiting is the National Museum of Finland. This museum gives the history of Finland from the Stone Age to present day. Since I don’t really know anything about Finnish history at this point, hopefully I’ll be able to learn a lot during my visit.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Churches and cathedrals

 

Helsinki in winter. Photo courtesy of Ville Hyvönen via Flickr.

Helsinki in winter. Photo courtesy of Ville Hyvönen via Flickr.

 

From what I’ve researched online about Helsinki, the city is home to some seriously gorgeous cathedrals and churches. Any time that I’m in Europe, I am simply in awe of the beauty of cathedrals. Some that are on my must-see list include Helsinki Cathedral (probably the most popular as it’s located in the central Senate Square), Uspenskin Cathedral, and Rock Church. No, they don’t play rock ‘n roll music at the Rock Church. The walls of the church are made of real rocks. Some have even said that it’s an “architectural masterpiece”.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Fortress of Suomenlinna

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Suomenlinna. Photo courtesy of Mikko Luntiala via Flickr.

 

This is ranked the #1 attraction in all of Helsinki on TripAdvisor, so of course I have to visit it. Suomenlinna was built as a maritime fortress in the 1700s and has since been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Suomenlinna sits just a 15 minute ferry ride away from Helsinki and the photo opportunities should be endless!

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Markets and shopping

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Market Hall. Photo courtesy of La Citta Vita via Flickr.

 

Of course, I’ll have to buy some souvenirs for family and friends back home while I’m in Helsinki… and a bit for myself too. Stockmann’s is the city’s premium department store, so a shopping trip there will be in order. I’d also love to visit some of Helsinki’s markets, including Old Market Hall and Hakaniemi Market. At the markets, you can try traditional Finnish foods and buy plenty of souvenirs from local vendors.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Good food

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Reindeer. Photo courtesy of Lelou via Flickr.

 

I’ll admit, I’m a pretty adventurous eater. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you probably already knew that since I chowed down on some fermented shark in Iceland a few months ago. Well, while in Helsinki, I really want to try reindeer for the first time (sorry vegans!). Aside from trying Rudolph, there seems to be many exceptional dining options in the city. One restaurant that I’m really excited to eat at is OLO. It’s one of the most highly ranked restaurants in Helsinki and even has a 20 course dinner. Yum!

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Ice hockey

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Photo courtesy of ristok via Flickr.

 

Finland is a cold country, so of course ice hockey is extremely popular. I recently discovered that HIFK, the Helsinki area’s oldest ice hockey team, has a game while we’re going to be there. Since ice hockey isn’t really something that we have here in Georgia (or maybe I’m just not aware of it?), I think that going to a game would be uniquely awesome. I don’t have tickets yet, but hopefully I can make this happen.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

A possible day trip

 

Tallinn, Estonia. Photo courtesy of Adrián Pérez via Flickr.

Tallinn, Estonia. Photo courtesy of Adrián Pérez via Flickr.

 

Helsinki is a short distance from many popular cities, including Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and more. I’m considering doing a short day trip to either Porvoo, Finland or Tallinn, Estonia. Porvoo is a small medieval town in southern Finland, that was home to the famous poet Johan Runeberg. I’ll even be in Finland on Runeberg Day, so visiting Porvoo on this day could make for a unique and cool experience. Tallinn on the other hand is in a different country, which means I’d get to visit Estonia for the first time. Tallinn is arguably the most popular day trip from Helsinki and for good reason. Tallinn’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are also wheelchair accessible driving tours in Tallinn, which would make it easy to get around. Let me know if you think I should visit Porvoo or Tallinn…

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Where I’m staying

 

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Furnished terrace at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments

 

The #HelsinkiSecret Residence is hooking us up with fantastic accommodations at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments. I’ve only looked over the website, but it looks spectacular and seems to be much more than just your average hotel. Centrally located, these rooms are actually more like apartments. They come with a kitchen, furnished terrace and more to make guests feel like they are living in Helsinki.

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

Sauna

 

Sauna. Photo courtesy of Hotel Arthur via Flickr.

Sauna. Photo courtesy of Hotel Arthur via Flickr.

 

The most popular thing to do in all of Finland is visit the sauna. There are many public saunas around Helsinki and most hotels have their own as well. I’ve never been in a sauna, but it seems like my kind of place because I love heat. And it would be especially nice after being in the subzero temperatures outside. I’ve tried to find wheelchair accessible saunas online, but I haven’t really been able to find anything. Hopefully when we’re in Helsinki, it’ll be easier to find or maybe our hotel will even have one. I’m not sure, but if it’s meant to happen it will happen I guess. I’m open for anything!

helsinki finland wheelchair accessible winter

As you can see, Helsinki offers many activities and things to do in the winter. While I’m not sure which of the above things we’ll definitely end up doing, they’re all possibilities. I didn’t want to plan a full day-by-day itinerary for this trip because I may get to Helsinki and discover another attraction that looks even better. It’s always good to go with an idea of what you’d like to do, but leave room for changes and improvements.

If you’d like to follow along during my trip, I’ll be posting on my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. I will also be using the hashtag #HelsinkiSecret across all of my social media channels. And of course, I’ll have in-depth accessibility reviews of Helsinki here on the blog after my return. For now, I’m off to research more about Helsinki and keep getting excited about my upcoming Finnish adventure! I can’t wait! :)

 

Do you have any recommendations for me while I’m in Helsinki??

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22 Comments

  • Jeevan says:

    All the best with your upcoming Helsinki trip, Cory! I just come across your blog and was impressed by the way you lead the life as a travel blogger and addict :) I am also a blogger and affected by muscular dystrophy (limb girdle) and love traveling, and coming across a blogger with same interest and mind-set inspiring me. Hope to be connected and sharing

  • Hi there, liked your post. I have to say I think ice hockey and the sauna would be the two frist things on my list. I like sports and I like to relax, thus shopping wouldn’t be my first thing. I would also love to look around at some museums. That is also fun and interesting. Thanks for sharing this post.

  • Alouise says:

    I went to Helsinki for a couple of days in the fall and loved it. Suomenlinna is really cool, lots of great photos, and down by the harbour there was an open air market as well, which was fun to check out. Hopefully you’ll get some nice views of the aurora borealis as well since you’ll be in Helsinki for a while.

    • Cory Lee says:

      Awesome! I’m excited to check out Suomenlinna. It looks beautiful from all the photos I’ve seen. Great to hear that it was equally impressive in person. :)

  • Wow! What a wonderful programme, I’m so jealous! :) I’m sure you will have a great time living in Helsinki like a local! Enjoy!

  • Natalie says:

    I lived in Finland for a summer, and it was such a nice experience. The nature is beautiful, and it was fun to explore my heritage (I’m part Finnish). I’m sure you will love the sauna, especially in the winter! Also, Pulla for breakfast is the best :)

    • Cory Lee says:

      So, I just looked up Pulla and YUM!! I’m a sucker for sweets and bread, so I’m sure that I’ll love it. Thanks for the recommendation! :)

  • Amélie says:

    Lucky! I applied for the Helsinki Secret Residence too but wasn’t picked. Next time! Have a blast, I can’t wait to read about your adventures!

  • Christopher says:

    This is a very informative article. I also want to give you credit for creating a blog that address’ wheelchair access when travelling. Brilliant. Looking forward to more posts!!!

  • Carol Colborn says:

    We were in Helsinki summer of 2014 and we savored all of what you are saying. Helsinki is such a wonderful place to enjoy. But we went to a St. Petersburg day trip instead of Talinn. We should have done Talinn, too!

  • Brianna says:

    Cory, I’m definitely excited to see how you experience Helsinki. After visiting Copenhagen I’m eager to explore more of Scandinavia!

  • Have a great time in Helsinki – what a fabulous experience you’re going to have. The blogger residence sounds like great fun, and what a cool way to explore. Suomenlinna would be first on my list.

  • So excited for you! I hope you’ll have a blast! Keep on inspiring and changing how people look at life! Xx

  • Veronika says:

    Hi Cory! Have fun in Helsinki, this trip totally sounds interesting. I hope you will enjoy some snowy weather – and yes, sauna is definitely a great idea!

  • Valerie says:

    Burr!! It will be so cold, but at least you have a ton of great options to split up your time indoors and out. I love to hear that Finland is so wheelchair friendly! I will have to check out your post about eating fermented shark in Iceland as we will be going there in March :)

  • Hanna says:

    I love Finland! However, I prefer north, the Lapland. But still, sauna is great everywhere! :)

  • I think you’ll find Suomenlinna to be quite challenging! The paths there are mostly cobblestone or gravel, and a lot of them are narrow and steep. Access to many of the more interesting parts, such as the tunnels and the hidden chambers, need to be climbed into. That said, there are plenty of museums and galleries there too. Porvoo will provide the same challenges, at least in the charming Old Town section which is the part you’d want to visit: lots of hills and narrow streets, almost all of them cobbled.

    Also, be aware that the older trams do not have wheelchair access. All the new ones do, but the trams that predominantly operate on the 4, and 10 routes don’t. The other trams are a mixed bag, with some new and some old. All the buses have excellent wheelchair access.

  • Duke Stewart says:

    Wow Cory, I’m almost more excited for your trip than you are but that’s highly doubtful. If I were to go, I’d definitely go for some reindeer bbq or however they prepare it after a nice sauna session. Btw, you’re always welcome to hang out here in NC and go to a Hurricanes game. I’ve been trying to look into that ever since moving here a couple of months ago.

    Anyway, I love reading your stories and just wanted to stop by and say hello. Thanks for giving me another place that I must visit! Take care and all the best during your trip.

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