Capturing Finland’s essence and style, Helsinki boasts 315 islands and delights visitors with 100 km of coastline. A tale of the sea and two cities, Finland’s capital blends the grandeur and splendor of the Russian empire with the minimalist and cosmopolitan Scandinavian style. Visit Helsinki during the winter to discover a wonderland adorned with deserted streets hiding under the frosty embrace of snow. Come in summer, and you’ll find yourself in a fun and joyful city, where both locals and tourists party till the dawn and splash around into the Baltic Sea.
Lovely Helsinki, always keeping an eye across the Gulf of Finland where Estonia awaits with cheaper booze and tons of fun, is and always will be a sea town and harbor. The city is as Scandinavian as it comes but still boasts superb Russian architecture and has a passion for vodka cocktails. The long days of winter have brought numerous cozy bars and restaurants into town, creating a little universe dedicated to lively nights spent indoors and romantic evenings at candlelight. Summertime enlivens the city with tourists and locals taking over the city and the surroundings to enjoy cycling, fishing, or golfing.
Things to see in Helsinki
Standing proud on its own island, the Suomenlinna fortress dominates Helsinki’s skyline. Once the bastion of the Swedish empire, Suomenlinna was built in 1748 to protect the coast from Russians and was eventually surrendered to them in 1808. A superb architectural masterpiece, this fortress is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses several museums, a submarine from World War I, restaurants, and bars. The rest of the ideal is peaceful and ideal for summer picnics.
A visit to the National Museum of Finland is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the country’s history and admire archaeological and ethnographic collections. The museum familiarizes visitors with the traditional way of life from the earliest time to the present era. Many come here especially for the collection dedicated to the Sami people of Lapland.
Discover Finland’s fine art at the Ateneum, the country’s national gallery that houses works by Albert Edelfelt, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and other Finnish icons. Enter the fascinating world of Finnish design at the Design Museum where you can track the history of the renowned Finnish design movement and admire unique pieces, like the fabrics of Marimekko and the glassware of Timo Sarpaneva. Continue your incursion into the mesmerizing world of design and art with a stop at the Kiasma, the Contemporary Art Museum, that displays a collection of 4,000 pieces within the walls of a spectacular building, a true work of art on its own.
One of the most iconic buildings in Helsinki, Temppeliaukio Church was built into the bedrock beneath the city using, among other materials, stone quarried on the site. Opened in 1969, this impressive church is adorned with raw rock walls and a futuristic dome created from copper plates. Admire the Helsinki Cathedral, and you’ll quickly notice Russian Orthodox touches despite its Lutheran essence. The cathedral was built between 1830 and 1852 by Carl Ludvig Engel.
Things to do in Helsinki
The plethora of things to do in Helsinki will keep you busy for months and months. Depending on the season, the city invites you either to stay warm in a chic café, and go cross-country skiing, ice skating or snowboarding on one of the city’s trails or to dive into one of the city’s many swimming pools, like the Mäkelänrinne Swimming Center, the largest swimming hall in Finland. However, if you feel like swimming in the winter, no one will stop you from going to the Kuusijärvi Recreation Center, known for its ice swimming opportunities.
Hikers and cyclers usually meet on the rolling terrain of the Nuuksio National Park, where a beautiful world of lakes and forests awaits. This destination is perfect for trekking and mountain biking and rewards the most adventurous visitors with superb views. There’s no visiting Helsinki, summer or winter, without trying on the saunas. A local tradition, sweating up in one of the local saunas is one of the greatest experiences you’ll find in Helsinki.
Seafood reigns supreme in the local menus, so make sure you try the whitefish or salmon, as well as the crayfish. Food in Helsinki is fresh and innovative and mixes traditional recipes with creative ingredients. You’ll find menus rich in Finnish, Swedish, Russian, and English dishes, as well as Japanese specialties and plenty of fish. Be ready to embrace Helsinki’s culinary variety and don’t return home without first trying the Baltic herring, Runeberg torte, and pulla cinnamon buns.
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