Saturday, June 21, 2014

New in Helsinki

There are a couple of novelties in Finland's capital this summer. The most visible is undoubtedly the 40m high Finnair Sky Wheel at the Southern harbor. After a year and a half under renovations, the old market hall has reopened its doors just a few days ago with old and new shops. The little island next to Suomenlinna, Lonna is finally open to the public. AmazingFinland went to all of them and is writing about them. Are they worth a visit?

The Finnair Sky Wheel

On June 8th, the line was pretty long as the ride was for free for all the owners of a Finnair card. But as 6 people fit in a gondola, the way to the wheel only took 35 minutes. The gondola has air conditioning which is very convenient during a hot day. The seats, well benches, are comfortable. The radio is playing some Finnish music which is really nice. The Wheel moves quite slowly and smoothly. The basket almost doesn't move. Well, it should be tried by a windy day. On the bottom of the window, some stickers remind the rules: do not swing the gondola, do not throw anything by the extremely small fanlight, do not lean outside (wonder how it's possible), do not try to open the doors (also wonder how that's possible from the inside). On the ceiling there is a red "emergency" button in case something happens. The ride duration was less than the 15 minutes during "normal" days but the gondola made 3 rounds in about 10 minutes which was enough to admire the landscape.

View from the Sky Wheel when you are at the top

Let's talk about the view which is the reason why you might (or not) spend 12€. The view is very interesting once you reach the top. The visibility is basically up to the church of Kallio (north), a bit further than Suomenlinna (south) and the water tower of Herttoniemi (east). It is funny to see the market square from above. People look like ants. The cathedral seems to dominate even more the other buildings. Let's be honest: the wheel is not high enough to really enjoy a view "over" the city. The view is kind of clogged by the numerous roofs, especially over Katajanokka. It is quite disappointing, particularly if you have already taken pictures from the upper deck of the Viking Line ferry that goes daily to Stockholm and that is moored 200m from the Wheel.

6 people can fit in a basket

The blue windows are maybe good as giant sunglasses but they kind of reduce dramatically the details appreciation. They are too dark. The journalist of the Helsingin Sanomat went for a ride on the press day when it was very cloudy and wrote that the visibility was very limited. Last but not least: it is a nightmare for taking pictures. The blue on the photos is very dark and it requires a lot of work with a photo software to reduce it (Editor's note: the pictures posted have not been edited. They come straight from the iPhone. Only the copyright was added).

What is really appreciable is the little park with grass and trees surrounded by a lovely café and an ice cream bar. The smell of wood is still quite strong and if you close your eyes, you feel like being in a forest. There is also a little garden where some herbs are growing. It is the only "green" spot at the harbor.

Is it worth a visit? Let's say that it is a "once in a lifetime experience" but certainly not something that is worth several visits. In my point of view, the 12€ tickets are too expensive for what you get. But if you are in Helsinki in summer and have a Finnair plus card, you'll pay "only" 9€.

Quality of the view: 3/5
Worth a visit: 2/5
Take a look at the article about towers in Finland: Finland from above (Part 1): Panoramic towers

The old market hall

Old market hall freshly renovated

The old market hall at the southern harbor is one of Helsinki's main landmarks that every visitor has to visit. Closed for over a year for needed renovations, the 126 years old market has reopened its doors on June 9th with old and new shops. The market is very light with its huge windows and its high ceiling. The place hasn't lost its character. Some of the shop curtains are still down as not all the vendors have yet moved back.

The traditional fish and Lapland food stalls are still present as well as the Turkish kebab that has an unique reindeer kebab. All the vegetables stands are offering some organic items. New in the market: Alko and Robert's coffee. The state alcoholic beverage strore is for the first time in the market hall. The café was already open in Hietalahti market when the shops moved from the old market hall. If hungry, the restaurant Story in the middle of the hall is serving lunch, snacks, cakes and dinner. In summer time this market is packed with tourists and it is not easy to walk in the two narrow corridors. Locals prefer to shop at Hakaniemi market hall which counts much more shops. Also prices at the old market hall higher than the average.

Worth a visit: 4/5
Opening hours:
Mon-Sat 8:00-18:00


Approaching Lonna 

Lonna was one of the mysterious islands between the market square and Suomenlinna where everybody was wondering what was the purpose of the red brick buildings. In the 1880s it was used by the Russian Navy to store mines. Then during the 1920s it was used as a base for clearing mines. And finally in the post-war period ships were demagnetized. Now the mystery is solved! Since mid-May, the army has left and the island is open to the public. It is a new recreational area with a little café and a restaurant. The terrace is pretty nice on the top of a little hill and not too windy. Unfortunately, half of the buildings are still under renovation (until 2015) and the island looks like a big construction site. Nevertheless, the shore facing Helsinki city is one of the best spots in the capital to admire the sunset. It is also a rocky area where people like to chill out. As the island was for long time free of humans, many birds are nesting. Be aware of the parents protecting the eggs and babies! The birds can be very aggressive.

Old military shakes

With JT-Lines, it takes only 15 minutes to reach the island from the market square. The water bus runs once an hour in summer time and stops at the island on the way to Suomenlinna. Please note that the way back is much longer. The boat will make two stops in Suomenlinna before heading back to the market square. The whole trip takes about 45 minutes! Unfortunately the city boat doesn't stop there. A JT-Lines return ticket costs 7€. Tip: if you want to save some money, buy a single ticket at 4.50€. Once on Suomenlinna, take the city ferry back to the market square.

Is it worth a visit? It is a good alternative to Suomenlinna that is crowded in summer time. It is a perfect place for a picnic, spotting birds and relaxing. The island is still unknown by many people and it is very quiet. For how long? Let's be honest: the island is worth a visit but if you are not visiting Suomenlinna, it is an expensive trip and there is not much to do and see (the island is pretty small).

Website of Lonna (only in Finnish)

Worth a visit: 3/5

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