Helsinki seen from the air by Miika Silfverberg.
Due to the cultural influence of neighbouring Russia, Helsinki has a quite different character from other Scandinavian capitals.
It contains some radiant architecture, excellent museums, scenic waterways, and has a lively, cheerful atmosphere – especially in summer months.
The cleanliness, compact centre and plethora of open spaces make it a terrific walking or biking city.
• Never cheap, especially eating and drinking – though due to the recession you can find some of the cheapest deals among Scandinavian holiday packages.
• Local drunks can be offensive and the main train station at night is not a good place for foreigners to be.
• It can be chilly even in summer time.
Bicycling and rollerblading are popular activities. Hire is available. Try to get a free bike/skate city map from tourist office.
The city offers several swimming pools. The best one is the Itakeskus underground swimming hall, with a gym, saunas as well as several pools. Finns have passion for saunas, so you should try one.
Nude bathing is commonly accepted and there are nudist area on some island beaches. e. g. the western edge of Seurasaari.
Helsinki city centre around Market Street. Photo by Axilera.
Try Finland’s best department store called Stockmann, shops along Mannerheimintie street, or Mikonkaku, a pedestrian street. Also shopping malls such as KampGalleria, Itakeskus.
Typical souvenirs are ceramic and glassware (‘Arabia’ is a good name), crafts made from reindeer skin, and liqueurs made from local berries includes arctic brambleberries.
Finnish restaurants offer a typical Scandinavian smorgasbord (buffet) with herring, eggs, hot and cold meats, potato dishes, salad, cheese, and desserts.
You can find a wide range of international cuisine, but it is a great place to try Russian food. In fact some say that the world’s best Russian restaurants can be found in Helsinki.
Kauppahalli (the Old Market Hall), next to Kauppatori, is an ideal place for snacks.
There’s no shortage of mid-range to first-class hotels, and they are not as expensive as they used be.
For good deals try business hotels in July-August, or on weekends; always check discount deals and book ahead. Basic hotels and hostels fill up quickly in peak summer time, so book ahead.
Suomenlinna fortress island 20 minutes by ferry from Helsinki. Photo by Ilmakuva.
***Suomenlinna (Suomenlinna Sea Fortress), a great Swedish castle on the Suomenlinna island group, 20 minutes by ferry. A UNESCO World Heritage site.
***Porvoo medieval town, an easy 50kms by bus or summer ferry.
**Seurasaari Open-air Museum, a folk museum, which offers an experience of traditional Finnish life, on nature lover’s Seurasaari Island, 15 minutes by tram/bus. It’s a good place to be for Midsummer’s Eve celebrations.
* Korkeasaari Zoo (Helsinki Zoo), one of the world’s oldest zoos, on Korkeasaari Island.
It is reachable by boat from the fish market.
April – May, **Yuppu, an lively May Day celebration, particularly for students.
June, *Helsinki Day, to celebrate the city’s anniversary held at Esplanade Park.
late August- early September, ***Helsinki Festival, an arts festival including concerts, performance arts, parties and children’s events.
August, *Art Goes Kapakka, a fun summer event when dancers, musicians and performers get together in pubs and bars.
early October, **Baltic Herring Market, a 200-year-old tradition of fishermen gathering in the market square,
mid December, ***Christmas Market, the Lucia parade, special crafts offerings, etc. . . mainly at Esplanade Park.
Best: June-September, especially June for very long sunny days, or August for cultural festivals.
Christmas is also special, because Finland is, of course, the home of Santa Claus.
Worst: January, February, very cold, deep snow, short dark days.