The city of Helsinki stands on the shores of the Baltic Sea. As capital cities come it is compact, uncongested and easy to navigate, with many of the bucket-list sites and attractions within walking distance.
For many years Helsinki stood in the shadows of its Baltic and Scandinavian neighbours. A local said that “the city lost its identity for a while, wanting to be the Nordics answer to southern European and American capitals’ and it is easy to believe this sentiment. Things, we’re pleased to say, have changed. Today, Helsinki and its residents are proud of who they are; they are no longer trying to replicate the charms of others, and it has paid off. The city is welcoming, safe, interesting to explore and oozes appeal. It may not be on the top of the city break list but once visited we can assure you that it will enrapture and you will want to return.
The location and size of Helsinki ensures that nature can be felt and enjoyed by all. You are never far from a park or the coast and it is one of the greenest cities in the world.
New attractions have been designed to enhance the quality of life for residents and to enable visitors to experience the Finnish way of life - albeit for a short time. Visit Allas Sea Pool, a complex that brings together urban culture, modern design and swimming – there is, as its name implies, a sea pool as well as two heated outdoor pools overlooking the central Market Place and Baltic Sea. Or try Loyly, a public sauna with panoramic terrace, bar and restaurant affording views towards the old town and sea. A personal favourite is Oodi Central Library which opened in the country’s centenary year, 2018. Designed by the people for the people, the library is flooded with natural light and includes a reading area, work and concept spaces, a cinema and a culture centre – for a glimpse at the future, this cultural centre should not be missed.
Other sites worthy of visit include Amos Rex gallery, Old Market Hall, Kiasma museum of contemporary art and Ateneum.
Away from the visitor attractions there are shops, independent boutiques and food halls to explore and enjoy. For us though, to be in Helsinki is to be outdoors. The city is surrounded by over 300 islands and, with nature on the doorstep, a visit to the city’s inner archipelago is a must – for visitors and locals alike. A short 15 minute boat journey connects the Esplanade promenade with Suomenlinna island where people congregate to picnic, bathe, walk, eat and to marvel at the island’s formidable fortifications. Sweden and Russia have both played a part in the island’s history and make-up. Vallisaari island and Lonna island are equally accessible, with the former hosting the Bienelle in 2020 and the latter home to a public sauna and excellent café/restaurant.
Outside of the city, Nuuksio National Park and the historical town of Porvoo can be reached by bus.