Helsinki may not be quite as well known as its Nordic cousins, stylish Stockholm and chic Copenhagen, but that’s just fine by the Finnish capital. Handsome Helsinki revels in its understated brilliance, simply sitting back and allowing visitors who travel here to slowly but surely fall hook, line and sinker for its charm, good looks and irresistible personality.
Perched on the fringes of the Gulf of Finland, Helsinki is blessed with a unique geography that simply demands to be explored – a must-see sight on holidays to Finland.
* The region enjoys almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer, meaning plenty of time to enjoy the alfresco lifestyle. In the colder months, the prize just might be a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
* Saunas are intrinsic to the Finnish lifestyle. Most striking of them all in Helsinki is Löyly (which means ‘steam radiating from the rocks’). Cool off with a dip in the Baltic Sea – if you dare.
* The Moomins (the famous white hippo-like fairy-tale characters created by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson) are so popular here there are even cosy Moomin cafés.
Here are just a few things to do in Helsinki, especially recommended by our Helsinki expert Virve Kataja.
Better known as Rock Church, this dramatic dome-topped landmark has been excavated directly into solid rock. Completed in 1969, the centrepiece is the altar, which stands in a crevice dating back to the Ice Age. Visit before noon to see a fantastic light and shadow show as beams stream in, illuminating the walls.
Dating back to 1852 and dominating Senate Square, this neoclassical Lutheran cathedral has become the symbol of the city. Gaze up at the roof and you’ll spot 12 zinc statues of the apostles, said to be the guardians of Helsinki.
Dedicated to the legendary Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), this sculpture in Sibelius Park weighs more than 24 tonnes and consists of 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in an undulating formation to reflect the composer’s work.
This lively patch beside the harbour has been trading for hundreds of years. There are all sorts on offer, from art and crafts and reindeer-skin gloves to steaming bowls of salmon soup with rye bread.
Known for world-respected design, this interesting hub in the heart of the city is lined with boutiques and interiors stores. Pay a visit to the fascinating Design Museum for some history and insight into the whole movement.
‘Cafe Regatta on the seafront is famous for its fresh cinnamon buns and blueberry pie – and the building itself is wonderfully historic and characterful’ - Virve Kataja, Helsinki Tour Operator for Cunard.
Beyond the city.
Visit the islands. There are some 330 of them (think sandy beaches, old Viking settlements and picnic hotspots) scattered far and wide across the surrounding waters. Pihlajasaari is popular with sunbathers during summer, while historic Suomenlinna, a fortress built in the 18th century and spread across six linked islands, provides a fascinating glimpse of the past.
Meet the reindeer. Head to Nuuksio Reindeer Park to get up close to these hoofed creatures, which come from Inari, high up above the Arctic Circle in Lapland. You can even accompany them on a woodland walk.
Wander through history. Take a trip to Porvoo, around 50km east of Helsinki. It’s the second oldest city in Finland and is famed for its quaint red shore houses, originally painted so to honour the arrival of King Gustav lll of Sweden’s visit in the late 18th century, when Finland was part of Sweden.