How does the seaside capital of one of northern Europe’s most distinct countries, Finland feel like?
Some people experience Helsinki as unpresumptuous and cool while others think it is delightfully retro. 70% of Finland’s foreign business happens here, 10% of the Helsinki population of 584 420 were born abroad and they speak 132 languages.
A quarter of the population of the country, 29% of jobs, eight universities, six technology parks, and a third of Finland’s GDP can be found in and around Helsinki, founded in 1550.
How to Go Around Helsinki
At 42 € for 48 hours and giving unlimited travel on the excellent public transport system and with free access to 50 museums, the Helsinki Card is a great bargain.
Wake up with coffee and breakfast at Café Esplanad (Pohjoisesplanadi 37) or Café Strindberg (Pohjoisesplanadi 33).
A short walk away is one of the market squares, Kauppatori, full of tourists browsing handicrafts stalls. Locals buy fish, fruits or vegetable in this popular open-air marketplace overlooked by the red brick built Russian Orthodox Uspensky Cathedral on Katajanokka Island.
On the Senate Square, walk up the high flock of steps of the huge white Lutheran cathedral to get a beautiful panoramic city-view.
19th century neoclassic buildings like the imposing main building of the Helsinki University are around the square. A small side street, Sofiankatu, is paved with cobblestones and has street signs in Russian first, Swedish next and Finnish last as it was two hundred years ago. The stately parliament house built with red granite has a modern annex and modern glass buildings opposite.
Classical art-lovers shouldn’t miss the Ateneum Art Museum with Finnish art from the 18th century to the 1960s and foreign art from the 19th century onwards. Modern art-lovers have the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, an ultra-modern building designed by American architect Steven Holl. The National Museum, has an interactive exhibition to take you through Finnish history. Temppeliaukion Kirkko, a church hewed out of solid granite rock with a rolled copper roof hosts many concerts and is a tourist must see. You don’t need to have children tagging along to scream in childish delights at Linnanmäki amusement park. Many parks in Helsinki, like Esplanade park provide free WLAN Internet, so you can sit there in the sun with your laptop, people watching and posting updates on Facebook.
Helsinki has a glitzy and pricy Flamingo if you want that spa kind of pampering. The wood fired Kotiharjun Sauna (Harjutorinkatu 1) is a dare for the culturally brave. The Russians prescribe vodka for solving all the problems of life. The Finns use the sauna to that end. With separate saunas for men and women, the traditional relaxation solves all the problems of life, but no drinking alcohol in the sauna. You can experience swimming naked at the classical Roman style baths round the year at Yrjönkatu pools. Separate places and times for men and women. The Finnish Sauna society has eight different kinds of saunas for you to brag about back at home.
Suomenlinna is a UNESCO-listed group of islands only a 15-minute ferry ride away and Seurasaari is an open-air museum (in summer) a short bus-ride away with farmhouses, churches and manors to show how people lived in Finland hundreds of years ago.
FOOD, DRINKS and NIGHT-LIFE in Helsinki
The not-so-cheap restaurant Aino (Pohjoisesplanadi 21) serves excellent Finnish food. Lappi (Annankatu 22) and Saaga (Bulevardi 34B) serve exotic Lappish cuisine. Jailbird, located in a former prison is a restaurant for people who want to pay for dining in a jail.
The young party bums should check out Baarikärpänen (Mikonkatu 1), Fever (Annankatu 32) and KY Klubi (Pohjoinen Rautatienkatu 21). Seasoned partygoers try the following: Ahjo (Bulevardi 2/4), Fennia (Mikonkatu 19). Then there’s Millionaire’s Club (Kaivokatu 12) or Gentleman’s Club (Iso Roobertinkatu 4-6) for the really naughty men.
For gay and lesbian clientele, Bar Loop, the trendy Jenny Woo, Hercules nightclub, DTM offers you free WLAN, Mann’s Street is for real Finnish men who happen to be gay.
In the last two decades small boutiques in Helsinki have moved over to shopping centres like in all major cities. In summer, Helsinki is full of tourists - Americans coming in large cruise ships, Russians from Moscow and St Petersburg coming for bargains and for holidaying, the Japanese strolling around and buying Finnish design clothes at Marimekko. Check the latest on what’s happening in Helsinki from the Trip Advisor
WEATHER in Helsinki
When you come up so far north, weather can be very fickle, so dress appropriately. The average Helsinki daytime temperature is 17c in July and the daylight hours are around 20 hours then. Nights can be cooler. Check the latest weather here
Two Finnish words Anteeksi (excuse me/sorry) check pronunciation here and Kiitos (Thanks) check pronunciation here will help you a lot. Most of the people in Helsinki speak a fair amount of English.
As a city, Helsinki symbolises the Finn’s penchant for the understatement.