It’s not often that we associate introversion with wanderlust. The two seen inherently incompatible. Introverts avoid human interaction, often preferring the coziness and comfort of that which they know. So what right-minded introvert would want to step into the unknown, explore new countries, and place themselves among entire cities of people they’ve never met?
In one of our recent stories, the author explained that the central overlap of the Venn diagram between introverts and world travelers is a lot larger than you might expect. “As an introvert, the reward in solo travel lies in the immense opportunity for observation,” she writes. “Observing the world, the culture, and the other people around me makes my travel experience fuller and richer.”
With that in mind, we wanted to explore the subject of introverted travel further, and when it comes to overseas havens for the quiet and reclusive, few cities are more exhilarating than Helsinki. The Finns are naturally introverted, forgoing unneeded interactions or small talk in favor of solitude and contemplation. So, if you’re looking for a journey abroad where you can sit back, observe, and quietly immerse yourself in the tranquility of each moment, here are some introvert-friendly activities to seek out in the Finnish capital.
Relax in a café
Ah, the coffee shop: the gathering place of introverts worldwide. It’s in these aromatic hangouts that the more reserved sip on chocolate-flecked cappuccinos, curl up with a pen and notepad or a good book, and while away the hours soothed by the comfort of acoustic guitar and caffeine. Luckily, Helsinki is the Brooklyn of Scandinavia, offering a surplus of hip and cozy cafés where even the shyest of travelers can feel at home. You can’t go wrong by simply wandering the city and stumbling into whatever shop beckons you with its warm atmosphere and inviting scent of espresso beans. But, if you’re looking for a place to start, opt for the soft and eccentric interior design of Good Life Coffee, the floral offerings and delicious cakes of Andante, or the open terrace and refreshing smoothies at Why Join the Navy When You Can Be A Pirate — and yes, that’s its real name.
And, don’t worry about suffering through judging looks when you head up to the counter for your third espresso; you’re in good company. Finland has the highest per-capita coffee consumption in the world!
Stroll through Central Park
Like its Manhattan counterpart of the same name, Helsinki’s Central Park cuts a large swath of rich forest through the middle of the city. Beginning at Toolonlahti Bay and stretching six miles (10 kilometers) north to the River Vantaa, the park offers protected areas of primal, often untouched woodlands in which you can take a leisurely stroll unbothered by the sounds of the city. The vegetation is thick and lush, and the diversity of wildlife is rich, with a variety of animals such as elk, fox, arctic hare, and muskrat calling the area home. Whether you want to gather up some picnic supplies and spend an entire day within its expanse, or just make a quick detour through nature en route to your next destination, no trip to Helsinki is complete without an outdoor adventure in Central Park.
Take a day-trip to Seurasaari
Floating in Laajalahti Bay just west of the city, Seurasaari is home to the popular Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, an idyllic collection of cottages and farmsteads that highlights the romanticism of traditional Finnish history. But the beauty of the island extends well beyond the famous tourist haven. As you cross the white wooden bridge onto the island, you’ll be greeted by a dense forest of birch and pine, warm rays of sunlight, and a cavalcade of critters including swans, geese, ducks, and squirrels. On the south bank of the island, you’ll find the Kalevalakehto Installation, a wooden, boat-shaped building constructed by architecture students and intended for quiet reflection — there are few better spots for uninterrupted contemplation throughout the entire city! Be sure to steer clear of the island’s beach, however. On every day except Wednesday and Sunday, beachgoers are allowed to get nude — a decidedly extroverted activity if there ever was one!
Go on a walk
Despite its introverted nature and proximity to the Arctic Circle, Helsinki is not a frozen wasteland, nor is it an urban assembly of cement buildings with bars on the windows. In fact, it’s architecturally one of the most appealing cities in the world, even earning a Creative City of Design award from UNESCO in 2014. A quick jaunt downtown will lead you past a colorful array of quirky design boutiques, a variety of pastel buildings, and several breathtaking cathedrals. What better — or less expensive — way to observe the silent nature of a city than by foot? So throw on your sneakers, pop in your headphones (if that’s your thing), and start exploring!
Lose yourself in a bookstore
You won’t find too many English offerings in Helsinki’s bookshops, but you can always bring your own because — let’s be honest — you don’t need to buy anything to enjoy a bookstore. As any introvert knows, there are few better ways to spend an afternoon than by tucking yourself away in the corner of a cozy shop, accompanied only by the characters on a page and the endless shelves of stories around you. As with the city’s coffee shops, you can’t go wrong just exploring and discovering, but if you’re looking for a place to start, check out Senaatintorin Antikvariaatti, a charming used bookshop that also offers antiques, records, live music, and poetry readings. Also, although it’s not technically a bookstore, you should pop into the gorgeous National Library at Cathedral Square, which is open to the public and perfectly tailored to bibliophiles who want a quiet space for some uninterrupted reading.
Get inspired at an art museum
Whether you prefer classic art, contemporary art, or even street art, Helsinki’s got it all, and there’s nothing like a day spent appreciating art to put you in that quiet, immersive state that so many introverts crave. For contemporary works, check out Helsinki Contemporary or the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. For classic art, opt for the Ateneum Museum or the National Museum. Or, for striking street art, head to the bohemian Kallio District, as well as the famous Graffiti Wall in Suvilahti, where you can even add your own personal flourish to the growing mural.
Now that you’ve got your itinerary, you can kick back and enjoy Helsinki solo-style!
Header photo by Joakim Honkasalo