Postcards from Finland

Postcards from Finland

Day 1 – Manchester to Helsinki

I hadn’t flown in over 22 years and I hadn’t been abroad in over 15 years, so when I reconnected with a friend who had moved to Finland, I decided I just had to make the effort. I faced my fear and flew from Manchester to Helsinki. Although a train journey across Europe would have been amazing, I just didn’t have the time it would entail.

A view out of a plane between Manchester and Helsinki.
Flying Finnair, Manchester to Helsinki.

The flight went well apart from a little turbulence on the approach to Helsinki. I even had an empty seat next to me!

By the time I’d got through customs and baggage reclaim, my friend Gra was just getting off his train so it was perfect timing. It didn’t feel like it had been 20 years since we’d last seen each other!

A quick train ride into the city and a short walk later, we were at our hotel for the night – Scandic Simonkentta. One unique feature of the room was a circular window between the bedroom and the bathroom – mostly frosted but not completely!

A view of a round window and a mirror in a hotel bathroom in Helsinki.
A frosted window in the bathroom at Scandic Simonkentta hotel in Helsinki.

The weather was glorious and a sign to come for the rest of the week. Helsinki is wonderful, but my visit there was really just a stopover at each end of my trip, so sadly I didn’t do or see as much as I would have liked to. On the plus side, it means I need to book another trip!

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral.
Boats in Helsinki Harbour
Boats in the harbour.

We saw some of the sights, such as the cathedral and the harbour, and I got to have my very first (but not last) gluten-free hamburger from McDonald’s! It may not be Michelin star cuisine, but it’s just not something you can get in the UK. Finland is an excellent place for anyone with dietary issues. Gluten-free meals are often marked on menus, as are meals which are vegetarian, vegan and lactose-free.

Day 2 – Helsinki to Kannus

We only had a few short hours before our long train journey, so we decided to have a look around the shops. Unfortunately, Helsinki is in no rush on a Saturday morning and many shops weren’t open until a leisurely 10 or 11am! Of course, we gravitated towards a bookshop, though I baulked at the prices. At nearly 15 euro (nearly £13) for a paperback I wanted, I decided I’d get it when I was back home. It made me grateful that the price of books (both new and used) is far more accessible in the UK.

Our train journey from Helsinki to Kannus (in the Central Ostrobothnia region of Finland) was just over four and a half hours long. Thankfully, trains in Finland are far more comfortable, cleaner and reliable than those in the UK. For journeys such as these, seats are pre-booked at the same time as booking your ticket, meaning everyone has a seat (unlike the often overcrowded trains of the UK). The announcements were made in Finnish, Swedish (Finland’s two official languages) and English, though I didn’t have to worry too much with a friend who speaks fluent Finnish!

A Busytown character on the side of a train in Finland.
An unexpected view of Huckle Cat from Richard Scarry’s Busytown books on the side of a train in the middle of Finland!

Day 3 – A Lazy Day!

A river running through Finland.
Niskankoski rapids on the river Lestijoki near Kannus, Finland.

After two days of travelling, I didn’t want to do too much. Following a lazy morning, we took a short drive to Niskankoski to see the rapids on the river Lestijoki before getting some shopping from the local supermarket (Finland is good for free-from food!). I also made a new friend…

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
My new friend (Gra’s dog)!

Day 4 – Kokkola/Karleby

The old wooden town in Kokkola.
Neristan (Kokkola’s “Old Wooden Town”).

We spent the morning wandering around Neristan (Kokkola’s “Old Wooden Town” – one of Finland’s most extensively preserved historical areas of wooden houses), as well as Kokkola’s shopping district. The afternoon was spent exploring some of Kokkola’s beautiful coastline and we even found a whole beach to ourselves!

A peaceful beach with rocks and sand.
A beach to ourselves at Valkohieta, Kokkola, Finland.

Day 5 – Ohtakari (and my birthday!)

Today’s trip was a drive up to Ohtakari to see the Pilot’s House, harbour and coastline. Parts of the beaches were off-limits due to birds nesting, but we still had a good time exploring.

Beside the sea at Ohtakari.
Beside the sea at Ohtakari, Finland.

Day 6 – Tankar Island

Another wonderful day out! This time we took a 1.5 hour boat trip to Tankar, an island situated in the outer archipelago in the south of the Bay of Bothnia. I would love to return and spend the night there.

A lighthouse and other wooden buildings on the island of Tankar, Finland.
Tankar Island, Finland.

Day 7 – Kalajoki

A quieter day today as I was quite tired, but we did spend some time in Kalajoki. It’s very much a tourist area, so there’s plenty to see and do there.

A sign showing the name Kalajoki.
Kalajoki, Finland.

Day 8 – Train Journey from Kannus to Helsinki

Time to say goodbye to Gra and catch the long-distance train back down to Helsinki… on my own! I’d upgraded to Ekstra class for my return journey, so I was in a quiet carriage, a single comfortable seat and had access to free tea, coffee and water.

I checked into Holiday Inn Helsinki City Centre which is right next to the train station. I couldn’t hear the trains from my room but I could hear loud music late into the evening. I did a little shopping (mainly chocolates and liquorice for gifts) and, of course, found a lovely little stationery shop (shout out to Papershop – I could have bought so much more!).

A window of Papershop - a stationery shop in Helsinki.
Papershop – A stationery shop in Helsinki.

Day 9 – Helsinki to Manchester

Helsinki Airport is a breeze compared to Manchester Airport. Everything is so automated and efficient, cleaner and newer. I think it also had a better selection of shops. I picked up a couple of last-minute presents (including a keychain and enamel pins for myself) from Finspiration and waited for my flight home.

My flight home wasn’t quite as nice as my flight to Finland, however. I seemed to be surrounded by toddlers… One sat in front of me, one sat to the side of me and one sat behind me. They each took turns in screaming (one started just before take-off – understandable!) and the one behind me spent a lot of the flight hitting or kicking my seat and armrest. It’s safe to say I was glad to disembark for more than one reason!

My lovely friend Kim and her daughter kindly picked me up from the airport and drove me home. I was greeted by thunderstorms and wished I was back in Finland!


More Finland posts to come! Is there anywhere you’d like to know more about?


  1. Kelly says:

    What a lovely way to spend your birthday! I’ve been watching for a blog entry about your trip since seeing your Instagram posts. I would enjoy being somewhere with so many good food choices for vegans. And I love the Richard Scarry cat on the train!

    I’m looking forward to seeing more!

    p.s. I mailed you a letter earlier in the week.

  2. Kris P says:

    Beautiful countryside! I’d forgotten you were traveling there until I saw the title of your post. I think I may have remarked that my maternal grandparents immigrated to the US from Finland. My mother taught me to speak only a tiny amount of Finnish (mostly curses!) and I know very little about the country except that I was apparently named after Kristinestad. I’d love to get to Scandinavia some day (my father’s parents came from Sweden) but I can’t say my husband it very interested in making the trek.

    • Nikki says:

      I can say “Hello” and “Thank you” but that’s about as far as my Finnish goes so far! I would definitely recommend a trip there, I’m already itching to go again!

  3. Ginnie Hart says:

    It was years ago when I was in Helsinki, Nikki, while on a cruise of the Baltics. I don’t remember much but when I saw the Cathedral, I instantly recognized it. I wish I had been blogging back then, so that I could go back to be reminded of exactly what I saw and where. Good for you to have this post for going down your own Memory Lane years from now!

  4. Wow! What an adventure, out of the blue, Nikki! Or into the blue from appearances. This poses so many questions. It’s not a destination I’ve given any thought to, though I have considered Sweden. Expense tends to be a big consideration. How did your friend end up living and working there, and how did you reconnect? And when are you going back? It looks stunning.

  5. Wow, Finland looks like such a stunning place. I’ve never considered holiday North before but it seems like I may have been missing out. Glad you had a good trip, Nikki, what a fab way to celebrate your birthday.

  6. Shelley says:

    That’s an impressive way to celebrate traveling again and your birthday! You captured beautiful photos to remember the trip. I admire your bravery to take the trip on your own. Thanks for sharing the adventures with us!

  7. Happy belated birthday, and it looks like you had a marvelous week in Finland. I haven’t flown in a while, but I can certainly remember a couple of times with children behind me kicking the seat. Yes, one is really glad to get up and get off.

  8. tomthebackroadstraveller says:

    …I doubt if I will have an opportunity to visit Finland. Thanks for taking me along on your journey.

  9. Bama says:

    This sounds like a really nice trip to celebrate your birthday. And oh the weather looks so perfect! It’s nice that on this trip you got to see not only Helsinki but also the nature, and made a new furry friend! I’m looking forward to more posts on Finland as it is a country I’ve never been.

  10. Yvonne (@Fiction_Books) says:

    What fun to reconnect with an old friend after so many years, it looks and sounds as though you had an amazing time!

    I’m not quite sure about the strategic placing of that bathroom window though!

    We had a friend who married a Finnish girl who was working in London. They decided to move to Finland, but only stayed there for a matter of months, as our friend couldn’t get over how dark and depressing everywhere was (including Helsinki). His wife agreed that she much preferred London, so they live back here now.

    After seeing your lovely pictures, I can’t quite correlate two such different versions of the same place. I can’t wait to see more of the places you visited! 🙂

    • Nikki says:

      Ah, a visit in winter would be slightly different! It was light through the night during my say (although a tiny bit darker at night down in Helsinki), but it does get quite dark and very cold in the winter (and it’s a long winter there!).

  11. What a fantastic trip you had. Glad you had the pleasure of celebrating your birthday there. I’ve never been to Finland but visited Norway years ago. That surely is a beautiful part of the world. Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. Have a wonderful week.

  12. Alan Rolfe says:

    Oh wow! It all looks amazing. It is such a shame that our trains are such a shambles now. Most seem to be owned by the state railways from other countries but are just seen as a money-making opportunity to improve the trains of that particular country.

  13. Belleek says:

    It’s lovely going back to blogs by old blog friends and this one in particular of your time in Finland. What an exciting experience. I salute your courage in travelling alone!

  14. Snow says:

    Happy birthday! I love Papershop, but that’s pretty much the only place I’ve visited from your post! Well, Kalajoki, too. Happy to hear all went well and even the weather played nicely ☺️

  15. Sharon says:

    Well done on your solo travel. I have just been to Dubrovnik in Croatia, first time abraod in a while too, though I did fly with friends who were more experienced than I,was glad they were there! Finland looks beautiful and how lovely to spend your birthday there. X

  16. Tanja says:

    Beautiful Finnish countryside. I only visited Helsinki but maybe some day I visit more places. I was impressed by security at Helsinki airport , no need to take out liquids or cosmetics

  17. autumnrainbow says:

    Blue summer in Helsinki, a short sight and its blue is as blue as the tropics. Thank you for your trip and photos, a glimpse of so far north from where I am. Happy belated birthday to you!

  18. Jo says:

    What a fabulous trip, and you managed to fit plenty in. A great way to celebrate your birthday too. That bathroom window is a bit weird though.

  19. Marty says:

    What a fabulous trip. I admire you for not flying in the past 22 years — you haven’t missed anything! Everything looks really beautiful, especially the harbor. That does seem like a lot of money for a paperback!

  20. Karalee says:

    It sounds like you had a wonderful time in Finland, and I loved seeing all your photos! That’s amazing you got to spend your birthday in Ohtakari!
    Also, I rarely buy new books in Denmark because the price is so expensive! Usually, the starting price for a paperback is around 150 DKK or £17!

  21. Sue says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate your birthday! Finland looks great, I’ve visited Sweden and Denmark, but never made it further. Looking forward to future posts if you return! I’m

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