VIDEO: Button and Bly’s Travel Show in Helsinki, Finland

Hey Autostraddle, Button here! As some of you might know, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Sweden, more specifically Stockholm. I’ve also been over to Oslo a few times and traveled through Denmark. If it’s one thing you learn when you travel, it’s how fast things can change around you, especially in Europe! Going from one setting that looks a certain way, a language that sounds a certain way, people that act and look a certain way, to something completely foreign in a matter of seconds. However, I’ve been perceiving most of Scandinavia and Northern Europe as somewhat similar. Then Helsinki happened.

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Helsinki is like a real life fairytale. From an international tourism aspect, it’s an underrated destination:a city in a country that has seen its fair share of turmoil. With its perfect geographical position by the Baltic Sea, the city has historically been a real treasure for armies and rulers seeking a hub for trade, military and business. As a consequence the city has faced some rough times, but what didn’t kill Helsinki, has made it stronger. Despite its tricky past, Helsinki is a city of glory. The architecture is renowned for its trademark minimalism. The streets are cleaner than my floors at times (as much as I hate to admit it). Public transportation is punctual, reliable and affordable.

The people are reserved at first, but don’t get that confused with being arrogant or rude. They just need a minute to open up and when they do, they are amazing! When it comes to LGBT culture, Finnish people and the culture in Helsinki is nothing like our neighbors in Russia. Lisa and I were kissing and holding hands on the streets like normal and not once were we looked at or even felt uncomfortable. All in all, a great queer-friendly destination!

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Since we’re very committed to highlighting all types of travel options, we decided to take a cruise to Helsinki. It was smooth and fun, with gorgeous views of the Swedish archipelago, good food, and very inexpensive. If you find yourself in Stockholm and have a few days to explore, hop on a Viking Line cruise. They depart from the city port daily right into Helsinki. You can sleep (or sample Finnish liquor and find yourself dancing until 4 am), wake up, eat breakfast and then board off onto Finnish grounds. Viking Line offers a lot of different cabins so you’ll easily find the one that fits your budget. There are of course saunas and spas on the ships. Duh. Saunas. Finland.

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Instead of catching the ship back to Sweden at night we stayed over so that we could explore and enjoy the city. We had done some research on gay friendly hotels in Helsinki and found something crazy, but beautiful: a former prison named Hotel Katajanokka! For 170 years this building was an active prison, with the last prisoners being moved as late as in 2002. Now, however, it’s a fascinating place to stay and explore, with some cells preserved to look just as they were. Our Hotel Manager, Rita, let me interview her about everything from prison ghost stories to modern Finnish carpet washing, so if you decide to go, make sure to send Rita my best regards! The hotel staff is friendly and there were definitely multiple gay couples there on vacation. And don’t for a second think this is an old shabby hotel due to its history — this hotel is clean, beautiful, and decorated in the distinctive Finnish modern style.

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There are many gay clubs in Helsinki. We went to DTM link, the biggest club which stays open until 4 in the morning! The mix of people was refreshing, with many queers: we saw trans, gay, and straight couples all dancing their butts off. We highly recommend making local friends! The following day, Rita (our new favorite guide ever!) took us through some beautiful seaside strolls by the Baltic and shared all her genuine local knowledge.

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Callio is the trendy, hip area where you can find indie and queer shops, restaurants, and cafes. We stumbled onto one that stood out a little extra: Bear Park Cafe. The cafe is tiny, with a color explosion within its interiors and many tchotchkes, myriad postcards and obscure-looking plastic characters. The owner, Mikko, also organizes a “Bear Drag Run”— beautiful gay bears running in heels, and the pictures he showed us are as wonderful as you could expect. He also organizes queer plays at theaters throughout the city.

We left Helsinki in awe. Today it’s a blooming destination with a great cultural heritage and intriguing history mixed with fun, modern, and open-minded people. It felt like a a real-life fairytale. I would recommend you move Helsinki to the top of your list of places to be.

You can check out our adventures in our full episode, right here:

Button and Bly are two inexperienced knuckleheads sharing their adventures around the world through their travel vlogs. They have found their niche in queer women. Not only is Button and Bly one of the only LGBTQ travel shows being made, it ranks amongst the top in quality of any vlog on the internet.

Button has written 7 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Sorry, I can’t help but point out that a couple of the historical references in paragraph 2 are completely wrong – “a city and country that has been torn between the former Soviet rule and the current Swedish government.”

    1) Finland was never part of the Soviet Union, it was indeed part of the Russian Empire (before the Soviet era hit Russia), but took the opportunity when the Russian Revolution happened to make a declaration of Independence in 1917 and a brief civil war happened before they became independent. For this reason there are none of the Soviet social undertones and Architechure that are still residual in other former Soviet countries from Uzbekistan to Estonia… (You should go to Estonia while you are in the region, there was a battle for minds in the 70′-90’s between the Soviet Rule and the illegal TV signal that wafted over from Finland that all the locals tuned into! )

    2) Swedish Governing of Finland happened before that, from the 1100’s until 1809, and given their pride in being independent since 1917 after centuries of having rule imposed I think that any modern Finnish person would be utterly horrified at someone suggesting Sweden had any influence over it’s current government more that of a Friendly neighbour and partner in the Nordic block!

    My best friend is Finnish and I love visiting Finland. I’ve spend more time up in places like Jyvaskyla and Tampere on my trips than Helskini, but I agree the Finns are quite culturally unique, and their country is beautiful!

    • Great comment, Darcy. This was a lovely article but it seriously needs some fact-checking. I agree, if you’re in the area you should visit Estonia. A ferry day-trip from Helsinki to Tallinn can cost as little as 20 euros, and Tallinn is a super lovely city!

    • Hey Darcy! Thank you so much for the comment, you brought a lot of great points. You are absolutely right about my wording in that it was misleading and should have been changed to specify Russian empire vs Soviet Union. I’ll try to clarify. Finland was never in the Soviet Union, but has had to defend its independence from the Soviet Union as recently as 1947. Before that, as you stated, Finland was part of the Russian empire after sovereignty was transferred from Sweden. It was also my understanding based on the convos I had that most of the larger art nouveau buildings in Helsinki were built by Russian officials shortly after the Russian empire moved the Capitol from Turku, thus do have a distinctive influence there. As far as socially, they enjoy a much more liberal outlook than their eastern neighbors, yet individually I’m not sure if I would agree that they are completely without influence. I heard time and time again “our views out more Swedish but our personalities are more similar to our soviet neighbors.” Of course the people I spoke to were simplifying so I could better associate.
      I would love to go to Estonia and it would be a dream to spend some time visiting up where you e had the opportunity to see. Thank you for calling attention to the typo. Very glad you caught it. 🙂

      • When I said I didn’t deem it to have Soviet social attitudes and architecture I didn’t at all mean that there was no -Russian- influence. I don’t know if that’s an Americanism I’m not aware of to use the words interchangeably? Like anywhere Finland is a product of it’s geography and esp having spent over 100 years under Russian Empire rule there are definitely influences from their neighbours to the East embedded in their customs. But as you say, they had to defend from the Russians repeatedly last century so I would say it is more about resistance than cross cultural exchange with Soviet communist society. Compared to former Soviet Union countries who experienced Russian influence during soviet times, I would say the impact is completely different – (like comparing the work of Tolstoy vs Trotsky) – hence liberal attitudes etc more in line with Scandinavia and a lack of ugly block buildings from the 60’s-80’s that are often associated with the term ‘Soviet Architecture’.

        Russians and a Finns share a love of Sauna, vodka and can both be perceived as a little surly for sure!
        Many Finns can even ‘see Russia from their house’ 😉 !

  2. “a city and country that has been torn between the former Soviet rule and the current Swedish government.”

    Finland was never under Soviet rule, and the Swedes lost control of Finland back in 1809.

  3. Wow I’m excited to see Helsinki on Autostraddle! I live in Helsinki and I LOVE it. It’s a good place to be a queer woman – people are really accepting and I’ve never experienced any harrassment or discrimination (disclaimer: I’m white and cis but not straight-passing). The queer scene is small because it’s a small city, but the scene is pretty active. Helsinki Pride is awesome and lacks the commercialism that some bigger cities’ Pride festivals have.

    I was going to warn you that Finland is expensive, but actually for a Nordic capital Helsinki is pretty cheap. Copenhagen and Oslo are way more expensive.

    If any Straddlers are looking to visit Helsinki, I’d be glad to host you or show you around 🙂

    • Hey Monae!
      Totally agree – perhaps it’s because they are in the Euro zone but Helsinki is so much cheaper than the other Nordic capitals!

      You don’t say if you’re Finnish or not? I’m interested in talking to someone about their experiences of learning Finnish as a foreign language… is that you?
      My friend is having a baby and it’s just occurred to me that I’m not going to be able to talk to her kid till its 12 or so and had a few years of English at school… so I’m thinking of studying some Finnish! Keen for some tips or stories of others experiences with Finnish as it seems like one of the harder languages for a foreigner to get their mouth around!

      • Hi Darcy!

        Aww you’re such a good friend. Finnish is my first language so sorry, I can’t really comment on learning it as a foreigner. It’s not an easy language but you can do it, obviously a lot of people have!

        One tip I would give you is that if you take a Finnish class, make sure to learn spoken, everyday-Finnish as well. Literary, ‘proper’ Finnish is (even grammatically) quite different from the way we actually speak. I’ve heard some complaints that foreigners are taught to speak ‘properly’, leaving them unprepared for everyday situations. I guess it’s up to the teacher and the learning materials. I’ve also heard that Finns are too eager to switch to English when they hear someone speaking with a foreign accent, so you have to be persistent when you practice with Finnish people.

        A great resource to hear spoken Finnish is the web service of the Finnish broadcast company Yle. They have a lot of tv and radio shows on http://areena.yle.fi

        Lykkyä tykö, hyvin se menee!!

  4. As a Finn, this was so nice to read! I´m very glad to hear our capital – and it´s inhabitants – behaved themselves!

    The history bits have already been beautifully clarified, so all that remains for me to nag about are C´s and K´s: it´s Kallio, not Callio. (: But thanks for your article and good luck for all your future travels!

  5. The Finns are badass, but “warm and welcoming” are not words that I would generally use to describe them. Nonetheless, if you guys could do this again, but just be more stoned next time, that would be fuckin awesome. Kippis!

  6. I love travel blogs/vlogs so more of these! I really want to visit more Nordic countries, but the cost/time of year when I travel never seems to align right for me and I go somewhere else. Maybe after my next planned trip to Japan and Korea I’ll make Finland a priority. Maybe a Finland-Sweden combo…hmmm. One of my favorite figure skaters is Finnish, it’s important to know about where your faves come from, that sounds like reason enough to me right?

    I feel like a club closing a 4 am is on the early-normal end for Europe though. Beast mode over there. :p

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