I love a city break. It’s the perfect way to quench a thirst for travel in just a few days. And with more airlines flying to more cities than ever before, the hardest part is often deciding which destinations will cater to your interests as well as those of everyone you’re travelling with; particularly if you are in a large group or, like increasing numbers of us, taking a trip with your immediate or wider family* as I did on this trip. This all-too-common dilemma was highlighted by recent research from American Express. For example, the study** showed that 43% of British parents said they would forgo a new holiday experience, like a multi-destination trip, due to concerns about catering for all ages.
However, combining two holiday experiences in one trip can be more straightforward than you think. So, to help to solve the problem of which destinations to pick for your next multi-stop break, Stylist has teamed up with American Express to take a trip to Helsinki and Tallinn to see what both cities have to offer.
I had a bit of an advantage though, it isn’t my first time in Helsinki so I knew it would be suitable for the whole family, the adventure was making the short trip across the water to Tallinn. This time around, even though winter may be on its way out, it is clear as soon as I step off the plane that it’s a different city, with its long nights and sub-zero temperatures. And after a mild winter at home, it’s nice to see some snow.
It’s also a different sort of trip because this is a family weekend away, the ages spanning my two-year-old nephew to my 60 year-old dad, so it’s the perfect opportunity to visit all the sites I didn’t get the chance to see during my last visit.
After dropping our bags at Klausk Hotel – an ultra-cool design hotel in the city centre (if you’re travelling with kids then try to book the Art Suite Katja Tukiainen – a bright, secret garden-themed room designed by a Finnish cartoonist) – we headed straight out to explore, taking in the Ateneum art museum,which is free for kids, and houses more than 20,000 works of art from as far back as the 1750s, and Temppeliaukio Church, quarried out of the natural bedrock. We finished our tour at Helsinki Cathedral, a stunning Evangelic Lutheran church minutes from Savotta, where we’d booked for dinner.
I have a thing about trying local cuisine wherever I go, so we’d opted for a traditional Finnish restaurant. With an interior reminiscent of log cabins, Savotta’s Arctic Char comes from Finland’s lakes, smoked and served with juniper berries, and both the meat and the mushrooms in the bear burger come from the country’s forests.
On day two we decided to explore beyond the city centre, and after a healthy breakfast at Klausk (they have a strong focus on well-prepared fresh, healthy and nutritious products), we took the 15-minute ferry ride from the market square to Suomenlinna.
The ‘fortress of Finland’ was built in the 18th century on a group of six islands at the entrance of Helsinki's harbour. We were there at the right time to take advantage of the daily English language-guided walk, which proved the perfect opportunity to grasp a basic knowledge of Finnish history. The landscape and the architecture of the fortress have been shaped by historic events, having served to defend three different sovereign states over the years: the kingdom of Sweden, the Russian empire and the republic of Finland. And the ferry trip across the sea is a small adventure in itself, playing ‘how many islands can you count along the way?’ with my niece.
We then wanted somewhere we could settle to eat and enjoy a few drinks without feeling rushed. A local friend recommends Treffi Pub & Bistro, 10 minutes from the city on the metro, and it’s exactly what we’re after – a cosy, family-friendly gastropub with delicious food (their reindeer carpaccio is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted), a good drinks selection and live music.
The following morning, we caught the 11.30 am Viking Line ferry that would take us across the water to Tallinn. We stood out on the deck and watched Helsinki fade into the distance until it felt like long enough since breakfast and the right side of midday for my sister and I to justify taking advantage of the ship’s Bistro Buffet, while the rest of the family take the kids enjoy to the play area (with a ball pool!). There’s also a youth room full of games consoles.
We had no set plan when we arrived in Tallinn a couple of hours later, other than a bag drop at the Three Sisters Hotel, three renovated 1362 merchant houses set in the city’s medieval Old Town. But you don’t need an itinerary. There’s plenty to get out of meandering around the cobblestone streets, taking in sights like ancient church spires and the gothic town hall. The city is fascinating to explore, whatever your age.
We also stumbled upon St Catherine’s Passage – home to the remains of St Catherine’s Church and ancient tombstones that used to line the inside of the sanctuary, along with numerous craft workshops where artists use traditional methods to make and sell everything from glassware, ceramics and jewellery to hats and quilts.
Still, there’s only so much you want to rely on chance when it’s chilly out so we booked ahead for dinner at Rataskaevu 16 where the atmosphere is cosy, and the exposed brick walls and dishes such as braised elk roast give it a distinctly authentic feel.
We had noticed on our way back the previous night that right next door to our hotel was The Estonian Children’s Literature Centre, so on our final morning we popped in. A library and museum celebrating children’s stories, it’s a bright and inspiring space for adults and children alike, especially in its fairytale grotto of an attic.
Flying straight back to London from Tallinn means that the only added journey time to cover the two cities in one trip was the enjoyable two-and-a-half-hour ferry in between. Anyone visiting either city should definitely consider doubling up.
HAVE FAMILY, WILL TRAVEL
American Express helps smooth the path for family holidays
A family holiday needn’t be a compromise – long haul, multi-destination or city trips can all be manageable and fulfilling options for every age group. For help with making your choice, check out our mini travel guides to Long Haul Destinations, A to B Family Adventures and Emerging City Breaks, which have been designed to help you to get even more out of your trip, whoever you are travelling with and wherever it is that you’re going.
What’s more, if you’re an American Express Cardmember you have access to:
•Over-the-phone advice to get connected with an approved English speaking doctor or lawyer almost anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, with Global Assist®¹
•Discounts or complimentary wine or treats when dining at any of 400 specially selected restaurants – each one has been specially handpicked by locals²
•The opportunity to redeem Membership Rewards® points on eligible car hire with Europcar, Hertz and Sixt³
For family travel tips and to find out how we could help you on your way, visit americanexpress.co.uk/whyamex