Helsinki's stunning architecture, tree-lined streets, colorful market square and harbor ensure its place among Europe's most vibrant and welcoming cities. Founded in 1550 and the capital of Finland since 1812, Helsinki is located on a peninsula at the southern tip of the country, almost equidistant from Stockholm, Sweden and St. Petersburg, Russia.
This genteel and cosmopolitan city effortlessly blends past and present, nature and metropolis, East and West. It is a stylish, clean and sophisticated city, whose history, traditions and people invite your discovery.
BALANCE BETWEEN NATURE AND METROPOLIS
Overlooking the Gulf of Finland and Europe's largest and most impressive accumulation of islands, the coastal archipelago, Helsinki is an urban development in harmony with nature. Streets and avenues curve around bays, bridges arch across to nearby islands, and ferries reach out to islands farther offshore. Over 400 parks, as well as numerous waterside walkways, weave past a stunning combination of architectural styles, the result of a neo-classical building scheme in the early 1800s and the effort of modernist Finnish designers, such as Alvar Aalto. The famous "Rock Church," Temppeliaukiokirkko, is an ideal example of Helsinki's appealing mix of nature and architecture; excavated from granite bedrock, it is capped by a brilliant copper dome. During the day, light streams in from above, illuminating the cavernous walls, birch pews and modern pipe organ.
|A LIVING WORK OF ART
Helsinki is often praised as a "living work of art," a city brimming with unique cultural opportunities. Explore its diverse and world-famous architecture by starting off at the neo-classical Senate Square, with its majestic Lutheran cathedral, the Council of State--the seat of Finland's government--and the main building of the University.
|There are 70
museums and galleries in Helsinki, offering a range of local and
international arts, lifestyle and historical exhibits. Visit the Helsinki
City Museum, the Ateneum (Helsinki's most famous art museum), and the new
Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma. To experience the rich history and the
unique styles of Finnish architecture, don't miss the National Museum of
Finland and the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
The Lasipalatsi (Glass Palace) Film and Media Center is home to the Finnish information society with exhibition galleries, television studios, free Internet connections, as well as trendy cafés. The Tennispalatsi (Tennis Palace) was originally built in 1952 for the Helsinki Olympics and is now a cultural and leisure center. There you can find the Helsinki City Art Museum, the Museum of Cultures and a complex of 14 cinemas. The Winter Garden of the City, displaying its exquisite, fragrant flowers and its beautifully adorned greenhouse, is also an aesthetic treat.
Helsinki's cultural heritage also beckons travelers to Finlandia Hall and the Helsinki Philharmonics, and to the spectacular Opera House, dubbed "the classiest new aria house in the west," also home to the National Ballet.
A CITY AND HER ISLANDS
From Helsinki's busy waterfront, there are a variety of sightseeing tours and cruises to explore this city's beautiful archipelago. During the long, warm days of summer, there is much to see and do on the nearby islands (which are only 10-15 minutes from city center), including dining in the many delightful seasonal restaurants.
Eighteenth-century Suomenlinna, or the "Gibraltar of the North," is a former island fortress and is one of UNESCO's World Heritage Treasures. In the summertime, the fortress' popular collection of parks, gardens, art and historical museums is enhanced by a sea of mauve and purple lilacs. Korkeasaari Island is the site of one of the northernmost zoos in the world.
The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, founded in 1909, features architecture and lifestyle exhibits from various regions around Finland--the oldest of which is the wooden Karuna Church, completed in 1686.
|SOUVENIR OF FINNISH STYLE
The purity and sophisticated simplicity of Finnish-designed goods make a wonderful and unique souvenir of your time in Finland. Helsinki is home to the largest variety of shops, boutiques and department stores, such as Stockmann's, City Sokos, and Aleksi 13, as well as the recently opened Kämp Galleria with 50 exclusive stores.
You'll find a selection of jewelry, porcelain, crystal and apparel by strolling through the bustling thoroughfare of Helsinki's Esplanade. There are also several colorful markets: Kauppatori-Market Square, an outdoor market held year-round every day from end of May to mid-September and closed Sundays the rest of the year. In the summer, be sure to visit the Kauppatori at night as there's a lively evening market, too. Just next to Market Square is the 110-year-old Kauppahalli, a delightful indoor market where you can have lunch. Hakaniemi Market Place and Hietalahti Flea Market are two other fun choices. These emporiums offer everyday bargains on everything from wildberries and rye bread to handicrafts and reindeer skins.
CAPITAL FARE AND FUN
You'll find Helsinki's international cuisine and alluring nightlife the perfect way to end your day in the Cultural City. Finland's blend of east and west influences offers over 40 different types of cuisine in Helsinki alone...everything from Finnish, Scandinavian and Russian to international cuisine.
Options range from local fish, game and wild fowl to fresh berries, breads and delicious pastries. You can dine at gourmet restaurants, intimate bistros or bustling cafés, all of which can be found either hidden in cozy basements, nestled in historic buildings or sprawling out onto the sidewalk (a people-watcher's dream!)
Dining and dancing is a favorite form of entertainment here, and many restaurants are open late for those who want to dance until dawn. This is a popular option because, after all, how can your night end if the sun is still shining? Vanha Maestro is a hot night spot with ballroom dancing for all types of dancers, and it's a great place to Tango--a Finnish passion! The Helsinki Club, Hesperia Night Club and 10th Floor Restaurant (Vaakuna), Tiger and Copacabana Salsa Club will also keep you tapping your toes into the early morning hours.
For a different taste of Helsinki's rich culture and welcoming people, try the wide variety of lively pubs and bars where you can soak up the atmosphere and mingle with the locals. Storyville is a jazz pub where you'll swing to the pulsating beats of live performances that have been known to last until morning! Or, if you don't feel like staying in one place, the Koff Beer Tram is a traveling streetcar that serves beer and other refreshments as you take in Helsinki's sights, stopping at cafés and pubs throughout the city during summer months only.
During the precious sun-filled days of summer, outdoor concerts are always popular, and jazz, pop, and folk performances can always be found. Or if your interests include gaming, you'll enjoy roulette and baccarat at the international Casino Ray in the Ramada Presidentti Hotel and the billiard hall, Corona.
With over 40 different types of cuisine in Helsinki alone, you'll find the culinary offerings and alluring nightlife the perfect way to end your day in the Cultural City. Satisfy your cravings at gourmet restaurants, intimate bistros or bustling cafés, all of which can be found either hidden in cozy basements, nestled in historic buildings or sprawling out onto the sidewalk (a people-watcher's dream!)
Once in Helsinki, pick up a copy of "Helsinki This Week" for the latest happenings and great suggestions for dining and nightlife.
X marks the spot. Gen Xers, that is, who are flocking to the city of Helsinki for stylish, affordable hotels, great food, and a pulsating nightlife. Here are just a few of the places and events that explain why Helsinki is fast becoming the destination in Europe for the 20- to 30-something set.
Rock Around the Clock
The season kicks off on April 30 with Vappu, when students take to the streets to celebrate the arrival of spring in a two-day festival. Then on June 20 the party continues as the city unites to mark Midsummer Eve, when the sun remains above the horizon nearly 24 hours a day. The following month, on July 5-6, Ruisrock, one of the oldest rock festivals in the world—30 years and going strong—keeps the energy high in nearby Turku.
Trendy cafés around Esplanadi Park like Café Strindberg and Café Esplanad are crammed with students and young professionals (Café Ekberg, Waynes Coffee, Café Giovanni, Café Engel, and Bakers Café are also big draws). For those in need of an Internet fix with their kahvi (coffee), head to NetCup Coffee and Meteori Café. You’ll find home-away-from-home comfort food at places like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. The basement floor of the Forum Shopping Center also has a good fast-food section. And of course there are Helsinki’s legendary hot-dog kiosks for hungry night owls who want to hang out after the restaurants close.
Once in Helsinki, pick up a copy of "Helsinki This Week" for the latest happenings and great suggestions for dining and nightlife.
Helsinki’s hostels are among the best in Europe—Eurohostel, Hostel Erottajanpuisto, Kallio Youth Hostel, SRM Hostel Stadionin Maja, Academia, and Interpoint, to name a few. For more information, contact www.hostels.com/fi, the student travel agencies Kilroy and STA, or Kompassi at Lasipalatsi.
Fashionistas love Seppälä, One Way, and H&M (Clothes), three stores that reflect Finland’s famous design sense. And don’t forget the Hietalahti Flea Market, at the western end of Bulevardi, with incredible clothing buys as well as antiques and collectibles.
Most theaters hand out weekly programs with listings in English. Check out Forum, Finnkino Film Center, and Kinopalatsi. All movies are shown in their original language.
Soda, Pravda, Kerma, and Memphis are great watering holes.
Tiger, Teatteri, Helsinki Club, and Ray Casino stay open until the wee hours.
Tavastia Rock Club, Vanha, Botta, and the jazz pub Storyville redefine the word cool.
Helsinki on Foot:
Helsinki Expert. Guided city walks in English Tues. & Thurs. (June 24-Aug. 21). Website: www.helsinkiexpert.fi
Free bikes from 25 CityBike stands in the center of Helsinki (deposit required). Also free route maps from the Helsinki City Tourist & Convention Bureau. Greenbike Oy, Mannerheimintie 13, opposite Parliament, tel. (358-9) 8502-2850.
Tram 3T Tours:
Hour-long tour. Check the Helsinki Tourist Office or City Transport Office for a brochure about the tour and sights along the way.
Koft Beer Tram:
Departs Railway Station Square and Market Square. tel. (358-9) 6840-74
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress:
Waterbus from Market Square, June-mid August, to the new Visitor Center, the starting point for guided tours, and Kuninkaanportti (Walhalla Restaurant).
Daily 1 1/2 hour tour from Market Square (May-Sept.).
Three or 3 1/2 hour cruise through Helsinki's beautiful archipelago, departing from Market Square (May-Sept.).
Hvitträsk and Ainola:
Half-day coach tours Sat. (June 16-Sept.7) to Ainola, home of the late great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and studio home of the architect trio Saarinen/Gesellius/Lindgren. Departs from Fabianinkatu, by the Esplanadi Park (train connection in other seasons).
Half-day coach tour Mon., Wed. & Fri. (June 2-Sept.7) to Finland's second oldest town, dating from 1346 (see King's Road section). Departs from Fabianinkatu, by the Esplanadi Park. Porvoo Museum Train on Sat. (June-Aug.). Regular bus connection other months.
M/S J.L. Runeberg Day Cruises:
Nine-hour cruise east of Helsinki to Porvoo, departing from Market Square and stopping at Haikko Manor (Mid-May through June-early Aug.). Six-hour cruise west of Helsinki around Porkkala peninsula to enjoy the archipelago and have lunch. Departs Thurs., June 28-Aug. 2, from Market Square.
Historical Coastal King's Road
Finland's southern coast is rich in history and natural beauty. Walk along the cobblestone streets of the coastline's welcoming wooden villages, and you will be following the footsteps of ancient kings. Finland's "King's Road" dates back to the 13th century and was the main thoroughfare between the courts of the Swedish Kings and the Russian Czars, running between the capital cities of Scandinavia and Russia.
The centerpoint of this popular coastal region is Uusimaa, the "Capital County," which stretches both east and west of Helsinki. Uusimaa is a magical place dotted with quaint settlements, medieval villages and historic manors. It overlooks more than 6,500 islands, which form part of Finland's remarkable archipelago and extend all the way to the Åland Islands (a group of islands belonging to Finland and located in the Gulf of Bothnia between Finland and Sweden).
West of Helsinki
Traveling westward, just on the outskirts of Helsinki, explore Espoo, with a history dating back 8,000 years. Visit the Gallen-Kallela Museum which exhibits the work of Finland's national painter. Then head farther west to the pleasant and welcoming town of Tammisaari (Ekenäs). It features 17th- and 18th-century wooden architecture, tours of the archipelago and a festive summer market. The capetown of Hanko is Finland's southernmost town. It has picturesque guest-houses and a yearly regatta in July.
Turku is Finland's oldest city. Established 770 years ago on the western coast of Finland, Turku is the country's former capital. This historic city boasts a 13th-century castle, medieval cathedral and enchanting buildings, as well as a Handicrafts Museum. It is also home to the Aboa Vetus (old Turku) and Ars Nova (contemporary art) museums and the new Forum Marinum. During the Yuletide season, Turku's beautiful lights, decorations, special events and Finnish traditions definitely prove that its nickname, "the Christmas City," is well deserved.
Ten miles from Turku, the town of Naantali is home to a luxurious spa, which is now one of Finland's finest conference and resort hotels. Naantali is a virtual living museum dating back to 1443. Every June, Naantali opens the tourist season with a first-class event, the Naantali Chamber Music Festival. Plus, Moominworld is close by, a family favorite where Finland's cartoons come to life!
A little farther north, Franciscan monks built a monastery in Finland's third-oldest town of Rauma. Established back in the 14th century, Rauma is a thriving maritime town also known for its extraordinary lacemaking industry. Old Rauma has the best-preserved wooden houses in all of Scandinavia and has been placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Treasures.
East of Helsinki
Along the King’s Road, you’ll discover Finland’s second oldest town, Porvoo, which dates back to 1346. Porvoo served as an important trading center as early as the Middle Ages. Its attractive scarlet-colored houses overlook the Porvoo River and were built around 1760. The medieval cathedral and countless boutiques and galleries are great examples of how this small historic town has held on to its unique beauty. Nearby is the Haikko Manor and Spa.
Eastward from Porvoo, the narrow streets of Loviisa twist and curve around charming houses, numerous cafés and quaint restaurants. Loviisa was founded as a frontier and fortress town back in 1745. In his youth, Finland’s famous composer, Jean Sibelius, spent his summers here. Farther east, the archipelago of Kotka offers many coves and open seas for sailing to its pristine islands. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, constructed in 1799, is the oldest building in Kotka. The adjacent former garrison town of Hamina was designed in a unique circular plan and enclosed by a star-shaped fortress that is still standing after nearly 350 years.
|History Comes Alive
Eura, just east of medieval Rauma, is an especially rich area for archeological finds from the Viking Era of 800 - 1050 AD. Thanks to the discovery here of ancient relics from the Late Iron Age, it has been possible to determine what life was like in Finland one thousand years ago. Of the Norse clothing that was found, the Dress of Eura is one of the best-preserved pieces. This artifact is one of many featured in the exhibition "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga," organized by the Smithsonian Institution and touring in the United States in 2001.
Latest World Heritage Site in Finland is the Bronze Age cairn area of Sammallahdenmäki. Both Rauma and Sammallahdenmäki are UNESCO World Heritage Sites-a rare occurrence, as the two sites are only 10 miles apart. The Sammallahdenmäki site comprises 33 stone burial cairns built on cliffs overlooking the Bronze Age sea, the shoreline of which is still easy to visualize. The burial pattern was part of the Scandinavian Bronze Age culture which has been connected with worship of the sun.
An amazing panorama of 187,888 glistening lakes, tiny islands, and winding waterways lie in the fascinating Lakeland region of Finland.
In the Western Lake district, Hämeenlinna is home of the medieval Häme Castle. During the summer, there are daily cruises on the Finnish Silverline, from Hämeenlinna to Tampere, including a stop at the Emil Wikström's Museum in Visavuori. Finland's third-largest city, Tampere, is a well-known textile industry center and lies on the banks of the Tammerkoski Rapids. Spend the day at the Särkänniemi Amusement Park, Finlayson's Old Cotton Mill or stop by the Sara Hildén Art Museum. Tampere Hall, inaugurated in 1990, is the largest congress and concert center in Scandinavia.
At the northern tip of Lake Päijänne in the Central Lakeland region, Jyväskylä is renowned for the Alvar Aalto museum, an architectural tribute honoring Finland's famous architect, as well as a Regional Museum of Central Finland.
Lappeenranta, in Eastern Finland, is considered Finland's gateway to the East. It is home to Finland's oldest Orthodox church, the Virgin Mary Church, built in 1785. The town of Savonlinna was built on a chain of islands and has been a tourist resort since the 19th century. Today, Savonlinna attracts thousands of people to its world-renowned Savonlinna Opera Festival, held each July, at the majestic 15th-century Olavinlinna Castle. Take a trip back in time to prehistoric days and learn about the livelihoods of Finnish ancestors at the Kuopio Museum of Cultural History, then visit the impressive Orthodox Valamo Monastery which was moved to Heinävesi after 800 years on Lake Ladoga, Russia.