Some cruise ports are known for the picturesque photo ops they offer as the ship pulls into harbor. For Northern Europe cruise itineraries, that port would be Helsinki, Finland. Cruise ships enter and exit Helsinki navigating the archipelago and dock at the commercial port. From there it’s about a 15-minute taxi or shuttle ride to the heart of the city, Kauppatori Market Square.
Market Square is the heart of Helsinki. The market has been in operation since the 18th century, and features lots of fresh fish, (herring is a local delicacy), some of which is sold directly from small boats. There are fruit and vegetables, numerous handicraft stalls offering souvenirs and even furs, and many outdoor cozy cafés that are terrific places for a quick coffee and some people watching. Almost next door is the Market Hall (Kauppahalli), a unique place with small wooden booths selling everything from unusual food such as reindeer and bear to chocolate and snacks.
This waterfront is also the take-off point for boat tours that range from hour-long samplers of Helsinki's waterways to full-day outings. The canal route travels along Helsinki's most beautiful shorelines passing beautiful islands and attractions such as the historic Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, Korkeasaari Zoo, the ice breaker fleet and Degerö Canal.
A ferry departs from Market Square that takes guests directly to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. Tickets can be purchased from an automatic ticketing system in the pier. Originally the fortress was used to guard the entrance to Helsinki harbor. Today it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Within the fortress there are six museums, an open-air theatre, exhibitions and shops selling quality handicrafts. The island itself is home to 850 residents and has a selection of restaurants, charming cafés, and its own brewery with a beer garden.
Tip: Consider picking up some lunch and snacks at the Marketplace before boarding the ferry, as there are many beautiful spots on the island to picnic.
Back on the mainland, there are several beautiful neo-classical buildings situated around Senate Square. Dominating the Square is Helsinki Cathedral (1852), with its five green cupolas, white Corinthian columns and figurines posing on its roof. On the eastern side of the Square is the Council of State building, the former Imperial Senate of 1822, and in the centre of the Square stands a statue of Tsar Alexander II (1894). Also worth a visit is the Rock Church (Temppeliaukio Kirkko). Built in 1969, the underground Rock Church is built inside of a massive block of natural granite in the middle of an ordinary residential square.
Helsinki is a favorite port for cruise lines, it offers a spectacularly situated harbor and offers visitors plenty to see and do. Needless to say, a stop in Helsinki will be an especially enjoyable part of your Baltic cruise.