A Teens guide to a night bike tour in Helsinki – White Night Ride Review
By Joe – 17yrs
Finally. Exhausted, but satisfied, we now found ourselves in the square we wanted to be.
It had only taken us a good half hour to find it, of course, and our aching legs from walking all day didn’t help the mood, but we were happy nonetheless. It had been an exciting day already, having come from the UK to Finland to meet my long-time girlfriend.
It was my first ever trip without my parents, on my first ever flight (which scared the diddly doo out of me) and upon arriving at our hotel in the beautiful city of Helsinki (actually you can see our review of the beautiful GLO Art Hotel here) we had headed straight back out, being pressed for time to explore and find reasonably priced food (unfortunately we were in Finland so ‘reasonably priced food’ wasn’t really on the menu).
Only spending one night in Helsinki meant that my brother and I were undoubtedly eager to see as much of the city as we possibly could, tired or not. Which made our next stop all the more exciting.
The Helsinki White Night Tour
We strolled through the quiet streets and found ourselves in a modern square called Narinkkatori, surrounded on all sides by huge glass fronts. And awaiting us on the far side of the square was our guide, with two lime green bicycles at her side. Yes, bicycles. We were going on a 4-hour bike tour of the city! We were both excited, but if I’m honest I was a little worried, given the length of the tour after the length of the day I had already gone through.
Nevertheless, after introductions and pleasantries, we hopped on our bicycles, testing our legs on the fixed two-speed bikes around the square. I wasn’t so keen on the brakes, so our lovely tour guide kindly offered up her own bike which had a more traditional squeeze brake compared to the peddle backwards system. With our bikes set with water, and our legs warmed, we set off towards the Baana.
The Baana is one of the coolest features of Helsinki in my eyes. Our guide pulled us over to explain that the once service railway (used to transport goods from the Harbour to the central railway) had been paved over and turned into what was essentially the autobahn of cycle paths. Carved into the ground below street level, free of traffic – cyclists streamed in either directions at leisurely paces and at breakneck speeds. It was slightly alarming yet oddly refreshing how much it felt like you were cruising on a highway on these. You genuinely felt like you were a part of your own little road system known to few drivers. Aside from being extremely fun to cycle of course.
We took this cutaway highway right to the west harbour, making the distance in seemingly no time at all. Despite the long day, once we were properly on our way, the tour felt like a breeze. It honestly was the most relaxing part of my day, which sounds odd considering a few hours beforehand I was flying on a luxury Finnair craft, but its true.
Our wonderful guide was giving us interesting facts on all that we saw as we cycled and was generally a joy to chat to. Knowing quite a bit about Finland, I found it extremely enjoyable to talk to someone who lived and breathed Finnish air about Helsinki.
Stopping where something required decent explaining was always one of my favourite parts. We were learning history, architecture, culture – and we were immersed in it. From boats to Saunas to hotels and islands, there is such an assorted variety along the waterfront of Helsinki. My favourite location on the waterfront was looking out on Suomenlinna, a fortress island which is more of a home than a fortress these days, home to mostly artists. Ferries ran back and forth between the fort and the coast, but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to make the trip over, though I would have lived to have visited.
We cycled our way around the perimeter of the waterfront, taking in the unexpectedly breathtaking views and mismatched architecture. Honestly I wish I’d had so much more time in Helsinki, it really does have a unique atmosphere surrounding the city. Finnish people are not like your average Europeans. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t feel the need to make unnecessary conversation – they speak when they feel something needs to be said. It creates an atmosphere of a very quiet city.
You visit Helsinki and you feel like you are still looking for a city. Of course it was height of holiday season for the Fins, so many were away from the city themselves. And Helsinki is one of the world’s smallest cities, so it’s never going to feel overwhelming. But even so, we were visiting during peak tourist season – and it’s one of the most pleasant and calm city atmospheres I’ve experienced. The streets are quiet, there’s very little traffic – and the traffic that is there will wait for pedestrians and cyclists quite patiently and happily. The city was so peaceful and it felt like everything just meshed together like a set of neatly woven cogs. There wasn’t the manic panic of London or the sprawling spaces of Berlin. It was quieter, prettier and calmer than most European cities I’d ever been to.
Along the tour we stopped to climb the small hill in the picturesque park of Kaivopuisto. We got a beautiful view of the Baltic sea from up here, and learned that on midsummers day, there wouldn’t be a patch of green on the hill as it was a favourite spot for people all across Helsinki to come picnic together. It kind of makes you wish you had more of these kind of traditions back home, though Finnish people get a rep for being closed off and silent, I’ve come to realise they are some of the most polite and happy lot of folk I’ve ever met, they just have odd ways of expressing themselves.
Next we travelled through the stunning market square of Kauppatori (which has a large Russian Orthodox Church sticking out of the skyline to overlook the bay) and past the Russian-separated peninsula of Katajanokka (which when inhabited by Russians had a canal dug to separate the peninsula from the mainland).
Following this we cycled along the small bridge to Tervasaari, where we sat on a small jetty and enjoyed a break with some drinks, chocolate and I tried my first ever bite of Salmiakki (this kind of salty black liquorice which is something so bizarre you can’t explain, you just have to try. Or don’t. In fact I can’t say I would recommend it). Our guide provided all of this along with our tour, and we sat and chatted as we overlooked the water. She was easy-going and a great conversation maker. We felt comfortable and were having fun, we barely noticed the distance we had cycled.
Sharply up some hills we cycled to the trendy hipster district of Kallio, where we were informed was the cheapest place to purchase alcohol, this area of the city was far busier and far more dense. The night wanderers all wearing trendy clothing, hats and thoroughly fitting the hipster vibe. The place felt more alive than anywhere else we had been, and it was also here that we learned finish people absolutely love karaoke! These people never cease to surprise you. Sure enough, as we cycled the streets and observed, faint singing from most likely drunk men and women could be heard all around.
It was such a change from the quiet peaceful Helsinki we had spent the past 2 hours cycling through. From here we continued the circuit to the modern Finlandia hall which we reached through a gorgeous park cycle path lit from above by stunning lamps. The square was massive and completely deserted given the time. Impressive modern buildings stood around us and we got to have a look at the main news building in Helsinki. I loved the fact that it was made out of glass, as if to represent how transparent the media was here, and from what we learned from our guide, it seems to be quite so. I was too busy enjoying myself thoroughly to bring myself to stop and take photographs, which was a shame because Helsinki really is a picturesque city, Before looping back to our starting path eventually. Time had flown by, but really we’d been cycling in excess of 3 hours. A crazy thought given how much I had done today and yet, it all felt so easy. Time went by in a snap and I was enjoying every last second.
Our guide made the tour fun, exciting, interesting and well worth the time. We saw more of Helsinki than we ever would have on our own in that time, and we suddenly felt like experts on the city. I mean did you know there’s a ferris wheel that has a Sauna carriage? You can rent it for 250 Euros an hour by the dock. We passed around 6 large Sauna houses, but this was perhaps the most absurd one. The invaluable local knowledge of our guide really made it all worthwhile. Even beyond our tour, we used a little tip our absolutely fantastic guide gave us and found our way to a building called the Torni Hotel, where you can take the lift up to the sky bar, for one of the best views of the city – and at 11:45 at the rooftop of a famous finnish hotel, the night gradually began to descend finally. Even at the end of the summer season, it really was a white night.
Helsinki was thoroughly beautiful, and having the helping hand of Happy Guide Helsinki only made exploring it all the more fun.