Perched on the edge of the Gulf of Finland, Finland’s stylish and yet totally un self-conscious capital, Helsinki, is the perfect short-break destination.Like the rest of Finland, this is a city of extremes – from bustling summer streets filled with people enjoying the midnight sun, to quiet afternoons in winter when the sun barely peeks its face over the horizon. Whenever you visit Helsinki, there is always plenty to do and the city well warrants a few days in order to appreciate it properly. But if time is short, here’s the low-down on getting the most out of your visit.
Built on a coastline strewn with tiny islands, inlets and bays, much of the international travel into Helsinki is done by boat. There are several ferry terminals that see daily arrivals from Stockholm and Talinn.
Helsinki itself is quite straightforward to get around – particularly in the centre where most attractions are easily accessible by foot or bicycle. For further a-field destinations, there is a reliable tram system, a subway and several bus lines. Tourist tickets are available for unlimited use for either one, three of five days and can be bought from ticket machines and the service point in the central railway station.
Take in some culture
There is so much to see in Helsinki that 24 hours is not really long enough to get round it all. If culture is your thing then the National Museum of Finland is a must-see, with its huge collection of exhibits dating back to prehistoric times and its spectacular neo-medieval building.
Other highlights include the Helsinki City Museum, The Finnish National Gallery, The Soumenlinna Sea Fortress and the Temppeliaukion Kirkko or ‘Church in the Rock’ – quite literally a church that has been carved out of the living rock.
Have a sauna
A trip to Helsinki or indeed anywhere in Finland, would simply not be complete without a sauna. An integral part of Finnish culture, there are almost two million saunas in the country – an average of one per household.
The sauna is not just a place to relax for Finns, it’s a social place for spending time with friends and family. Although most hotels will have their own sauna for guests to use, you will get a more authentic experience at one of the public venues. Kotiharjun is one of the most famous in the city and offers the perfect traditional sauna experience.
Grab something to eat
Eating out in Helsinki offers as much choice as in any other European capital but be warned, its not cheap. The Katajanokka and Kruununhaka areas of the city are bursting with chic restaurants if you feel like splurging, while cheaper eats can be found in the Kallio quarter of town.
Another option – if it doesn’t leave you too full for an afternoon of sightseeing – is to have your main meal at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer set menus at a much more purse-friendly price.
There are no shortage of places in Helsinki to while away the wee small hours. The Finns love to party through the night and many venues don’t even open their doors until 10pm.
For a glamorous night, with a dress code to match, head to The Lux Nightclub, with its five bars and big open-air terraces. For pop music and a young, energetic crowd, Helsinki’s largest club, Nightclub Kaarle XII, is the best bet.
If dancing the night away isn’t your thing, Helsinki has plenty of more cultured night time offerings, such as the Finnish National Theatre, the Helskinki City Theatre, the Finnish National Opera and the Finlandia Concert Hall.
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Photo by pntphip