Waking up early and catching a taxi to the Prague airport felt surreal: my 3 days and 2 nights in Prague had flown by like a flash! I had managed to stay busy the whole time, walking, shopping, drinking, admiring everything that the city had to offer. I bought the cheapo flights (yay for saving $$$) on FinnAir, so I had a 24 hour layover in Helsinki ahead of me. I packed the majority of my things in my checked bag and loaded up my backpack with some essentials for the 24 hours. On a super limited time schedule, I was determined to see as much of the city as possible!
Let’s get real – Helsinki is far too large of a city to visit in 24 hours! Throughout my European adventures, I had a tendency to avoid the countries of Northern Europe for practical reasons; they are just too darn expensive! Therefore, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland (a layover doesn’t count!), and Denmark are still on my bucket list of places to go.
Once out of the airport, I took a bus to the main train and metro station in Helsinki. From there, I took a metro tram four stops to get close to the hostel I found. The Academia Hostel was actually in a university dormitory, only open in the summer, and the most affordable place to stay in Helsinki. After dropping off a few things into my room from my backpack, I set out to explore Helsinki by foot with a map. My first stop was the Rock Church, Temppeliaukio, close to my hostel and a top tourist attraction. Walking up to the church, I wasn’t really all that impressed. It simply looks like a mound in a square with some large rocks. The church was literally excavated from the large rock which exists here. The church has been featured in many architectural publications and is well known as a exceptional example of modern religious space.
I was lucky enough to stop by the church just as a wedding procession was leaving. A large group of tourists congregated outside while the wedding party exited, and eagerly awaited their turn to enter the church. I entered the church along with many other tourists and admired the unique design. My favorite aspect was the light shafts that allowed lots of light down between the rock and the copper dome ceiling.
After visiting the church, I started walking towards downtown Helsinki. Along the way, I noticed a guy with a Duke T-shirt on stopping and taking photos of everything I was taking photos of, so I decided to introduce myself and we decided to be tourists together for the day. Chris was wrapping up his junior semester abroad with a long layover similar to mine in Helsinki, and we both were on a mission to see as much of the city as we could.
We made our way though many important, stately buildings in downtown Helsinki until we found the Senate Square with its huge white towering cathedral. Considered to be one of the symbols of Helsinki, visible to those arriving by sea, and another top tourist attraction, the colossal white cathedral did not fail to impress. Standing in front of the church and it’s huge staircase made me feel tiny! After admiring the cathedral from the outside, my new friend and I headed down to the market square on the waterfront.