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Where To Stay In Helsinki: The Radisson Blu Royal

radisson blu royal bed

My criteria for choosing hotels usually depends on the kind of trip I’m taking and on my destination. In a scorching hot city like Bangkok I always make sure to book a hotel with a pool so that I can cool off after a day of sightseeing. If I’m by the beach, I look for a place close to restaurants and shops, I don’t like resorts that feel secluded but require a long drive to the center of town or simply a coffee shop. When I go on a city break, I try to stay in a hotel that’s right in the heart of the action and has comfortable rooms to relax in after hours of exploring. Throw in a filling breakfast to energize me for the day, fast WiFi to research things to do, a nearby coffee shop and some restaurants, and I’m completely satisfied.Radisson Blu Royal HelsinkiNot only did the Radisson Blu Royal in Helsinki tick all these boxes, but it exceeded my expectation. Fast WiFi? Make that a lightning fast internet connection. A filling breakfast? Make that a breakfast buffet with so many yummy things to eat that I had a hard time stop eating. Nearby restaurants? More than I could possibly try, because it was located smack dab in the center of the vibrant Kamppi shopping district with lots of cafes and restaurants. And with an excellent martini bar onsite, I didn’t even need to leave the hotel if I didn’t want to, which is especially great in the winter. How often have I sat in a sad hotel bar, neglected by both staff and guests. Not at this hotel though: here, the bar was buzzing with people on a Friday night when a DJ who played chilled tunes did not only attract hotel guests but also the after work crowd of some nearby offices. And my verdict of the self-proclaimed ‘best martinis in Helsinki’? They might be right. (Since I didn’t try any other martinis in Helsinki I don’t think that I’m qualified to judge this but the one I had at the Grill It! bar was fabulous). Radisson Blu Royal HelsinkiI was impressed by how effortless the Radisson Blu Royal switched from business hotel to leisure hotel – how often have I stayed at business hotels that offer great weekend rates to attract city break tourists in order to fill their rooms over the weekend, but have a distinct ‘business-y’ feel to them. Not so the Royal: even though it is undoubtedly a business hotel during the week, with 13 meeting rooms that hold up to 500 people, plus a large conference room (which can be transformed into a ballroom), it manages to attract city breakers just as much as it attracts business travelers, thanks to a funky design and a more laid-back feel than your standard business hotel.

As far as business goes, I have to say I was impressed by the hotel’s concept of experience meetings which allows businesses to choose lighting and seating arrangements according to the nature of their meeting or in accordance with their company colors. And my absolute favorite part was the Brain Box breakout room which was the most innovative meeting room I’ve ever seen. I’d probably call it brainstorming room rather than meeting room as it was equipped with couches, funky lighting, fresh mint plants for tea, and iPod docking stations so that you can brainstorm while listening to your own music or stream the music of your choice. I have never seen a room in a hotel that inspired me to be creative in the same way the Brain Box did!Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki Brain boxNo need to go to a meeting room to get some work done though, since all guest rooms are equipped with a desk and a sufficient number of plugs for all your electronics. The best part of the modern and chic rooms was not in any way business or work related though, but focused on pure relaxation: the Magic Dreams beds, a feature you find in all Finnish Radisson Blu hotels (including the other Radisson Blu properties in Helsinki – the Radisson Blu Seaside and the Radisson Blu Plaza as well as the nearby Espoo Radisson Blu). Together with Finlayson, the Radisson Blu developed a unique double-spring foam mattress made of intelligent visco-elastic. The foam, originally designed by NASA, conforms to every guest’s individual body shape, and this combined with the uber comfortable duvets and pillows make for a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing night of sleep. I have to say that even after several very short nights with only a few hours sleep, I always woke up feeling relaxed and re-energized, ready to take on the day.Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki RoomWhat got me out of bed was not only a quick espresso shot straight from the Nespresso machine in my room (all room categories except for the standard rooms, which only have a kettle, are equipped with one: the business rooms, junior suites, executive suite and royal suite), but also the prospect of the generous breakfast buffet. A pet peeve of mine is when 4* and 5* hotels serve stale pastries and breads (which I’ve experienced quite a few times), but no need to worry about that at the Royal where not only do you get to choose from a wide range of fresh and crunchy breads and pastries, but also have a fresh waffle station, an omelet station, fresh fruit, a large selection of cheeses and cold cuts, salads and jams, cereals and nuts. If you don’t have time for an extended breakfast, you can take advantage of the Grab & Run takeaway breakfast – a great service for travelers who are in a hurry.Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki Breakfast Buffet I’ve already mentioned that the hotel is located very central, ideal to explore Helsinki’s sights and its culinary scene, but you don’t have to venture far for some of the city’s best food: the onsite steak restaurant Grill It! offers some of the best charcoal grill steaks in the city, and judging from the fact that it is Michelin-related and from the 4* rating on Tripadvisor, the restaurant seems to be a great choice for meat lovers.Radisson Blu Royal HelsinkiLuckily, there is a gym just outside the hotel which can be used for free by hotel guests and was much needed to offset all the breakfast croissants I couldn’t stop stuffing myself with. Travelers who are in need of relaxation instead of a workout will be happy to hear that there is a sauna in the hotel, making it easy to unwind after a day of sightseeing. If sauna isn’t your thing, you’ll be delighted to hear that you can purchase a movie package of 75 movies for only €5. How cool is that?! On a rainy day, I was seriously tempted to stay in my room all day and watch movies.

All these fantastic features come at an extremely affordable price tag, with nightly rates including breakfast starting at €139. Considering the prime inner city location of the hotel, the high-end amenities, excellent breakfast buffet, WiFi, gym and amazing Magic Dreams sleeping experience, this is a steal!Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki

Take a tour

To get a better picture of the Radisson Blu Royal, which is also known for its architectural features, take a virtual tour of the hotel via this short video:

Giveaway

And if you’re planning to visit Helsinki, you can win a 2-night stay in a business class room for two persons including Super Breakfast – the details of the giveaway will follow in my free May 2015 newsletter on 15 May, for which you can sign up here, if you aren’t signed up already.

Details

Amenities: free Wi-fi, breakfast buffet, sauna, gym, in-room NESPRESSO coffee machine or electric kettle (depending on room category), hairdryer and toiletries, parking (extra charge), flat-screen TV with movie packages, bar and restaurant on site.
Location:
Runebergsgatan 2, 00100 Helsinki, Finland
Price:
Standard rooms start at €162, packages incl. sparkling wine, fruit & chocolate plate, bath moods products start at €284
LGBT Friendly:
Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Yes, definitely
Website: Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki

Radisson Blu Royal Helsinki

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A first-timer’s guide to Helsinki

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Confession: I feel like I only scratched the surface of Helsinki. I owe the city another visit. I had ambitious plans for my short few days in Finland’s capital, but the main purpose for my visit was the MATKA travel conference which took place in January, also not the best time of year to be out exploring for hours on end. And as it is often the case with conferences: you just don’t get to see as much as you’d like of the city you’re in, especially when the sun rises only around 10am (!) and sets again six hours later already. Also: I got the chance to take a side trip to Stockholm which was amazing, but again, it took time away from exploring Helsinki.helsinki statue

The quintessential Finnish experience: A sauna evening

I still think I got a good idea of Finnish culture during my visit. Of course I couldn’t go to Finland without visiting a Finnish sauna. The Finnish Sauna Society – Suomen Saunaseura ry – organized an evening in a Finnish sauna for us, which was the perfect way to spend a cold winter evening.

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Icy Helsinki in January

The saunas usually comprise of several wooden, dimly-lit sauna rooms which differ in the way they are heated and how hot they get. Most saunas have wood-burning saunas (70-130C /158-266F), smoke saunas (80-160C /176-320F) and electric saunas (80-105C /176-221F). Expect to sweat A LOT. To cool off in between sweat sessions, you can either simply take a cold shower or, if you’re brave enough, jump into a lake. Yes, even in the middle of winter! While I wasn’t brave enough to do that (I only dipped my toes in, then I chickened out), others had no problem jumping into the icy lake, where a hole had been cut into the ice just big enough to swim a small round (as if a dip wasn’t enough!).

I might not have jumped into the lake, but I love the concept of the Finnish sauna. Getting together with friends while enjoying the benefits of the sauna experience (it is not only a place for physical and spiritual cleansing, but also good for your skin and takes stress of you, helping you unwind after a long day at work for example) or simply sitting in silence taking time to reflect on the day is just the most wonderful invention. There are about 3.3 million saunas in Finland (a nation with only 5.3 million people!) and you find them everywhere – in hotels, in private homes, hotels, gyms, even office buildings! Some Finns go to the sauna six times a week, and 99% of Finns use a sauna at least once a week, and I can totally see why. Once you get over the fact that you have to get naked in front of strangers (note: you can leave your towel on if you’re more comfortable that way, but you’ll stand out for sure), you will, without a doubt, love this cleansing and relaxing experience. I felt like a new person after my sauna night. To prepare for your first sauna visit, read this sauna etiquette. If you want to visit a sauna in Helsinki, check out Kotiharju (a wood-burning sauna) in the Kallio neighborhood, Kulttuurisauna, a modern sauna right on the water, or Saunasaari, a sauna resort on an island, a short 15-minute boat ride from Helsinki.sunrise finland

Culinary Delights of Finland

Like I said: I didn’t get to explore Helsinki as thoroughly as I wanted to, but I got a good taste of the city during my stay when I joined a food tour with Heather’s Helsinki. Heather, an Australian expat and long-time Helsinki resident, put together a diverse culinary teaser of some of Helsinki’s delicious foodie hangouts. We got to know Stockmann’s Department Store which has the biggest fresh produce department in the city, including lots of fresh fish and sea food, followed by a stop at the city’s smallest grocery store, a café that specializes in porridge (oatmeal), which was great to warm up on the cold winter morning, and the best sweet treats in Helsinki at the Karl Fazer Café (more on that below).karl fazer cafe helsinkiThe cold temperatures saw me make a beeline for coffee shops to warm up in more often than I had planned, but coffee is also an essential part of Finnish culture, because Fins have the highest per-capita coffee consumption in the world, with around 12 kilos per year. Who knew? So of course I had to sample some of the capital’s coffee shops.helsinki coffeeI did get to see some of Helsinki’s main sights and landmarks though, and if you only have a couple of days in the city, read on for the places I recommend you visit.

Things you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Helsinki

Karl Fazer Café
Yes, let’s start with food. Karl Fazer is a Finnish institution, producing the very best Finnish chocolate since 1922. This chocolate is so good that I ended up bringing back THREE giant 200 gram chocolate bars and I am still dreaming about the salty popcorn in milk chocolate which I’ll have to stock up again on my next visit (you don’t want to leave Finland without trying this chocolate, trust me!). But back to the cafe: Karl Fazer doesn’t only know how to make to-die-for melt-in-your-mouth chocolate but also how to make some of the best pastries someone with a sweet tooth could ask for. If you happen to find yourself in Helsinki in February, make sure to try the fastlagsbulle (the Finnish version of Swedish semla, a seasonal pastry), cardamom-scented yeast buns filled with marzipan and whipped cream. They are available in other bakeries as well, but none beats Karl Fazer’s! If you’re in Helsinki at any other time of year, good luck deciding which pastry you want to try, because they all look (and taste!) amazing. Apparently the weekend brunch is also fantastic, but you have to book a table in advance since it gets crowded. Address: Kluuvikatu 3karl fazer chocolatesEat Korvapuusti (Cinnamon Bun)
Trust me, you will want to try one of the delicious Korvapuusti, cinnamon buns, which you can buy in most cafes and bakeries. Absolutely to die for. A scenic spot for a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun is Café Regatta right by the sea (Merikannontie 10), or try Korvapuusti at Cafe Esplanad (Pohjoisesplanadi 37, right in the city center), Cafe Succes (Korkeavuorenkatu 2), Cafe Aquamarine in the Kamppi neighborhood (Uudenmaankatu 19-21) or at Villa Ullas (a seaside cafe in the suburb of Helsingfors, if you have a car and time to venture further; Kallviksuddsvägen 6).finland cinnamon bun helsinkiA free walking tour
The best way to pack in a lot of the city while getting some insider knowledge at the same time is to take a free walking tour. As most European capitals, you can take a free walking tour of Helsinki which doesn’t only cover the main sights but also gives you an overview of how the city is laid out and some ideas for spots to return to, plus you can get some local recommendations for good places to eat and drink.helsinki from the waterTake the tram
No need to fork out the money for a hop-on hop-off bus in Helsinki, you can just hop on one of the old-fashioned trams instead and take in the city’s sights from the window seat. Tram 2 and 3 pass most landmarks, such as Senate Square and the Cathedral, Kamppi Chapel, Temppeliaukio Church and the railway station. You can even pick up a brochure outlining the sights you’re passing on tram 2 and 3 at the ticket offices. A tram ride is only €2.50 when purchased at a ticket machine (slightly more expensive when purchased on the tram), or you can get a day ticket for €8.00 which covers trams, buses and trains.finland helsinki tramIf you are planning to visit several museums and take a sightseeing tour, you might want to consider getting a Helsinki Card (€44 for 24 hours or €54 for 48 hours, the latter option is a great deal and includes most museums, all public transport, a sightseeing tour, the Finnair SkyWheel, the ferry to the UNESCO site of the Suomenlinna Fort, and more).

Helsinki Cathedral
You can’t miss the Cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen: a bright white Evangelic-Lutheran church with five green domes is visible from most places in central Helsinki. Look out for the zinc statues of the twelve apostles on the roof and head up the stairs to get a great view over Senate Square and the city center. It is free to go inside the cathedral.helsinki cathedralTori Quarter
The Tori Quarter starts right next to the Cathedral and it is here where you find independent shops and boutiques selling unique Finnish clothes, handicrafts and other home decor made in beautiful Finnish design. There are also a number of cozy cafes in this neighborhood – Café Engel comes especially recommended.helsinki coffee shopTemppeliaukio Rock Church
Even if you’re not into churches, you might want to check out this one, which is carved into granite rock and doesn’t look anything like your usual church. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming outside of the church – it’s all about the inside, where the interior walls are made of natural bedrock.

Kamppi Chapel
In the middle of the busy Kamppi neighborhood you find the Kamppi Chapel, or Chapel Of Silence – with its quiet inside a stark contrast to its hectic surroundings. The chapel was built as part of Helsinki’s nomination as World Design Capital 2012 (see below) and is a stunning piece of architecture made entirely of wood. The contemporary design and egg shape of the chapel is, similar to Temppeliaukio Church, unlike any other chapel you’ve ever seen.chapel of silence helsinki finlandDesign District
You probably didn’t know that Helsinki was World Design Capital in 2012, did you? The city even has a designated design district in which you find over 200 shops featuring interior design, fashion, jewelry, art and antiques. Dianapouisto Park is the center of the district and right by the park you find the Design Forum Finland which features up-and-coming Finnish designers. If you’d like to check out the best in Finnish design, I recommend you pick up the Design District Map at the Tourist Information or in the Design Forum.finland statue helsinkiKiasma Museum
If you love contemporary art as much as I do, don’t miss the Kiasma Art Museum, well worth a visit for the stunning design of the building alone! You’ll find Finnish as well as international artists featured here, and several exhibitions that change throughout the year. Admission is €10, and if you happen to be in Helsinki on the first Friday of the month, you can take advantage of free admission between 4pm and 8pm.

Helsinki Railway Station
If you’re venturing around the city, chances are high that you’ll pass by the Central Railway Station at some point. Make sure to take a proper look at the station, which is one of the city’s most important architectural landmarks. Designed in Jugend architecture, massive the torchbearers on each side of the entrances are particularly noteworthy. If you are an architecture geek, you might also want to check out this fantastic self-guided architecture walk which I am planning to take when I get back to Helsinki.Helsinki statues finland1

See you soon, Helsinki!

Yes, I will be back in Helsinki – but next time, I’ll come to the summer. This short visit was nothing more than a teaser that left me longing for more. Luckily I won a 2-night stay at the Radisson Blu Royal and I will also give away a stay to one lucky reader, so stay tuned for the full hotel review, but I can’t wait to stay at this beautiful and centrally located hotel again and see more of Helsinki.Radisson Blu Royal HelsinkiIf you’ve been to Helsinki and have some recommendations for my next visit, feel free to share your tips in the comments below!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Helsinki’s Impressive Cathedral

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polaroid of the week finland helsinki cathedralWhat do they say? Time flies when you’re having fun? Well then I must have had a blast these past seven days, because I don’t even know where the past week went, that’s how fast it went by! After returning to Helsinki from my quick visit to Stockholm, it was time to get to know Helsinki. When I had arrived in Helsinki the first time, it was a grey and cold. When I got there the second time, the place was completely transformed! Helsinki was covered in a fresh layer of snow.

The main purpose of my visit was the MATKA Nordic Travel Fair and my schedule was packed with workshops and networking events, and that combined with not so great weather during my free time, I didn’t get to see as much of Helsinki as I would’ve liked, but I still got a good feel for the city – and I get to return! Next time I am planning a summer visit though. While the temperatures weren’t too cold – around 32F/ 0C instead of the expected 5F/-15C – I have to admit that I prefer exploring cities in warmer weather. The reason I get to return is that I won a 2-night stay in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, where I was staying this past week, during a photo competition! And the best part: The hotel is giving away a 2-night stay to one of my lucky readers, too, so stay tuned for the competition, especially if you’re already planning a trip to Finland.

While I didn’t have a lot of time to explore Helsinki, I still got to see the city in two fun ways: a Helsinki Food Tour with Heather’s Helsinki and an Amazing Race through Helsinki, which I did with two fellow bloggers, and which brought me to Helsinki’s impressive cathedral, pictured above. You will soon hear more about all the fun things I did in Helsinki, and I will also share some thoughts on yet another amazing travel blogging event (after TBC Asia in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago). This industry is growing, developing and changing so quickly that I am glad there are events like NBE Finland where industry professionals and bloggers can get together and discuss these changes and developments. Once again, I left excited and inspired, and when I boarded the plane today, I had a smile on my face because I knew it wasn’t ‘Goodbye Helsinki’, but ‘See you later!’.

(And maybe because I am officially en route to summer, sun and beaches now! 😉 )

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