This little city is easily visited on foot. Helsinki offers a wonderful blend of urbanism, nature, culture, sports, discipline, and festivities, and all of this in the most charming of settings. Moderately sized, it has both the advantages of a provincial town and a big city.
With 61 miles of coastline, the Finnish capital is centred around the sea and has lots to offer, be it in the summer or winter. While some come here to admire the city covered in snow, to enjoy ice-skating sessions, or to visit the famous Christmas market, others come in the summer for the endless summer days, the beach, the bicycle rides, and the cruises to the islands across from the city. Come winter, come summer, by day or by night, Helsinki offers a plethora of cultural activities for visitors. Numerous museums, art galleries, operas, concert halls, and churches attract lovers of art, architecture, and music. However, Helsinki can also be a destination for sports enthusiasts and partygoers. In short, it is the ideal place for just about anybody! 240 parks, 315 islands, 61 miles of coastline: nature has its hold in the very heart of the capital! That's not all though; the tram, the pastel-coloured buildings, and the splendid monuments and numerous attractions make for a northern town that is nice to live in and full of charm. It is ideal for a couple's retreat, a family holiday, or a jaunt with some friends. Children, adults, hyperactive tourists, or holidaymakers in search of peace and quiet will all find what they're looking for here!
In 2012, a TGV line running from Helsinki to St. Petersburg in three and a half hours will provide a fantastic opportunity to combine 2 holidays into one!
- Go for a walk and a picnic on any of the 315 islands across from the city; you can get there by boat in summer or ice-skate there in winter.
- Visit the fortress island of Sumenlinna, open all year round.
- Enjoy a cruise around the islands.
- Every year in September, Design Week attracts fans of modern art. In fact, Helsinki has been elected the capital of design for 2012!
- Visit the flea market to find second-hand clothes.
- Go to the skating rink that is set up every winter in front of the train station. Music, skate rental, and numerous activities are on the programme.
- Stroll through the design district, with its boutiques, galleries, and artists' workshops - it is the perfect place to buy some original, but expensive, souvenirs.
- Visit the porcelain factory and the Arabia Museum, an institution in Finland. In the area surrounding the factory, a new chic district is taking shape and should have entirely opened by 2014. You should phone beforehand to visit the factory as that way, you'll be given a 20% discount in the factory shop.
- Take the tram-bar that tours around the city: a very enjoyable way of seeing Helsinki while enjoying a glass of mulled wine.
- Take a walk on the Esplanade, the Bond Street of Helsinki, among the luxury boutiques where the Christmas market is held yearly from the 8th to the 21st of December. In summer, this is the place of concerts and festivities.
- Visit the zoo located on one of the islands.
- Visit the museum of modern art.
- Go for a quick jaunt to Stockholm, Tallinn, or even St. Petersburg from Helsinki.
- In winter, the city is covered in snow and the inhabitants place lit candles in front of their windows with the curtains open, which gives the impression of a city lit from the inside.
- Splendid buildings like the Presidential Palace and the National Theatre on the central station square.
- Senate Square, the most beautiful square in the city with its Neo-Classical style.
- Helsinki's oldest district, Krunohaka, is where you'll find restaurants, the university campus, antique dealers, cafés, and a guaranteed good time.
- Taivallahti parish, dug out of the rock, was built by 2 young architects in the 1960's. The ceiling is covered with 15 miles of coiled copper wire, creating the most unbelievable sound effects. Many concerts are held here, which is another good reason to come and visit.
- The Cable Factory, called Kaapeli, is a former factory that has been turned into a new kind of cultural and artistic complex, within which work over 800 artists. - The two markets; indoors the Maatilatori is dedicated to produce, and outdoors is a fish market.
- Stockman, a 10-storey department store that is the biggest in Europe after London's Harrods.
- The seawater contains very little salt and in summer you can watch locals cleaning their rugs on some of the banks.
- The bright red Orthodox cathedral, and the Protestant cathedral that stands in the heart of the city, like a Greek temple.
Don't forget to bring warm clothing with you, as the temperature is never that high, except in the middle of summer.
Bring your bathing costume with you even if you are coming in winter. In summer, you can enjoy a cool but pleasant swim at the numerous beaches, and in winter, the national pastime is the sauna, which the locals partake in on a regular basis.
Buy a Helsinki card from the tourist office. It allows you to visit all of the museums and use the public transport for free for 1, 2, or 3 days. It is also cheaper than buying individual tickets.
Not complying with the rules of the road is very much frowned upon in Scandinavian countries. For example, jaywalking is not recommended here.
Wearing high heels is also not a good idea, as the streets are made of cobblestones and are very hilly.
- Around 15 restaurants in the city offer the Helsinki menu. All of the food must be local, but the dishes are specific to each restaurant. It's the perfect way to enjoy the local cuisine.
- Among the specialities you should try are: ruisleipa, black bread, salmon, and all sorts of smoked, cooked, or marinated fish, fish eggs sold by the kilo by any fishmonger, and game (elk, reindeer, pheasants) cooked in a berry sauce.
- You should also give Lihapiirakka a try: meat pies that are sold at the outdoor fish market.
- Have a meal at the Savoy, an old classic restaurant open since 1936 that offers fine food and a splendid view of the city.
- A hat, rug, or waistcoat made of reindeer, fox, or rabbit skin - the best way to keep warm in winter. You will find these for sale at the fish market.
- Fazer chocolates. They're cheaper in the supermarkets than they are in the Fazer shop in the city centre, but you'll have less choice and the atmosphere is not quite as impressive.
- Hot smoked salmon, which is difficult to find in central Europe, where it is generally vacuum-packed
- Cranberry, blueberry, and (the great speciality) blackberry jams.
- Litala designer objects, which you can buy straight from the factory outlet.