My Norwegian cruise to the Baltic Capitals was one for the books. It included stops in stellar European capital cities including Helsinki, Finland, a country I had not yet visited. Bonus, I was sailing with my bestie, which meant lots more laughs and great fun. The four days prior to arriving in Finland has been magnificent, packed full of adventures, foreign lands, and beauty. Other than checking Finland off of my travel bucket list, I was sorely disappointed in what I got to see during my visit. We were blessed with a sunshiny day, though Helsinki was definitely the least interesting stop on the cruise itinerary.
Our Cruise Excursion in Helsinki
My friend, Jo, and I chose the Porvoo: Town and Countryland excursion with NCL. The price was $119 per person. On the morning of the tour, we boarded buses and rode to the Savijarvi Mansion, a well-known horse farm. The friendly third generation farm owner greeted us with warm and personal stories of the property. She was a lovely hostess. We considered it a privilege to be invited into her home, property, horse training facilities, and breeding grounds. Best of all, she had prepared a gorgeous spread of delicious Finnish goodies for us to sample. Laid out on the table for our indulgence were fresh berries, yummy homemade caramel sauce, assorted teas, coffee, and a cake. We particularly enjoyed the white cake, which was a favorite local recipe.
Helsinki translates to “Daughter of the Baltic” and is the capital of Finland with a population shy of two million. King Gustav Vasa of Sweden founded it. The Finnish people thrived on outdoor life. Much of their daily life was spent exercising, boating, and socializing. Produce was abundant and fishing was their main staple. October brought the herring market, a very popular event, where fishermen sell their foods and crafts.
Our tour group drove to the 15th century Church of St. Sigfrid in Sipoo for a quick visit and photo opportunity. The inside of the church was minimal in decoration. Interesting enough, the roof was made of wooden panes painted with tar to weatherproof them. Some say the tar smell adds to the essence. We knew in advance the church would be closed since our excursion was on Sunday. A few WWII grave markers were found in the front of the church.
The Stunning Town of Porvoo, Finland
The highlight of our day was a visit to the picturesque countryside town called Porvoo. This darling town was favored by many artists and founded in 1346. It was the second oldest town in Finland. The Old Quarter’s cobblestone streets were lined with 16th-century wooden houses and sprinkled with handicraft shops and restaurants. Porvoo’s town center was on the top of a steep hill. One of the oldest churches in Helsinki, Porvoo Cathedral, had parts that dated back to the 11th century. Due to the fact we were in Porvoo on a Sunday morning, all but one restaurant and shop were closed. Tee Ja Kahvihuone, an adorable tea shop, was open and we popped in on our way back to the bus for scones. Tee Ja Kahvihuone was fashioned after a British tea room and offered a wide array of drinks and pastries. They were scrumptious!
Our last stop was to the interesting Sibelius Monument. This unique piece of artwork made of 600 organ pipes welded together is in a beautiful park. As we traveled back through town to our ship, our guide pointed out some points of interest. We were free to hop off the bus downtown but had to find our own transportation back to the ship, which no one chose to do.
Disappointment and Corrections
On this excursion, our bus driver was confused and nearly got us stuck in the middle of the countryside on a winding private road on the way to the horse farm. Our tour guide was an unorganized older lady whose facts were not relevant to the excursion at all. I found this to be one of the worst excursions I have taken in more than 20 cruises. Some of my disappointment could have been avoided by changing the time of the excursion or by just not offering it at all, on a Sunday, since two out of three places we visited were closed.
Jo and I went promptly to the shore excursions desk when we got back on the ship, to share our concerns and disappointments. NCL refunded part of our money and their customer service impressed me. Not only did the associate listen to us, but she offered partial compensation for the price of the tour. After the fact, I read reviews of Porvoo Town & Country; and it seemed many people suggested skipping Helsinki and just lounging on the cruise ship. If ever in Helsinki again, I will catch a taxi downtown and enjoy a quaint cafe and the lovely scenery.
Helsinki, Finland Photo Gallery:
Links to the other cruise ports for this Baltic Capitals itinerary are: