Experience a slice of island life
Perched at the north-eastern edge of the Baltic, the ultra-cool Finnish capital has curiously mild climate, with particularly long summer days to enjoy – and plenty of coastline to explore. With graceful city streets and a vibrant mix of classical and modern architecture, it’s pleasing on the eye, too.
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Helsinki is one of Scandinavia’s best shopping honeytraps. Modernist Finnish interior design is world-famous, and you can drool over stunning designer homeware in the upmarket Esplanadi neighbourhood. Between there and the railway station are some of the city’s biggest shops, including the fabulous Stockmann (Aleksanterinkatu 52) department store. The Forum (Mannerheimintie 20) is a vast shopping centre, brimming with stylish boutiques and big-name stores. An open-air market also sells food, crafts and trinkets by the waterfront, on Kauppatori. Classic souvenirs include berry liqueurs, reindeer hides, carved wood, ‘reindeer droppings’ liquorice sweets and Moomin goodies for the kids.
Food & Drink
A wave of New Nordic Cuisine has transformed Helsinki into a gourmet haven. The old slaughterhouse, Kellohalli (Työpajankatu 2), is now an innovative food venue for pop-up restaurants, stalls, festivals and other foodie events. Elsewhere, chic rooftop restaurant Savoy (Eteläesplanadi 14) is one of Helsinki’s finest and most expensive. To push the boat out more literally, hop on a ferry to Särkänlinna Restaurant perched on the 18th-century ramparts of Särkkä Island. It serves typical Finnish fare. Or if you’re feeling brave, try the Kynsilaukka Garlic Restaurant (Frederikinkatu 22) for everything from garlic beer to garlic marmalade crêpes at reasonable prices.
This free event sees Helsinki’s big landmarks shimmer and glow with weird and wonderful light installations, dreamt up by local and international artists. It takes place over four days, beginning shortly after dark and ending at 10pm.
World Village Festival
The ultimate in multicultural merrymaking, this celebration of global cultures packs in music, circus, dance, theatre, art, discussions and other surprises. It’s a free event that takes place at Kaisaniemi Park and Railway Square.
Taste of Helsinki
Finland’s biggest food and wine festival cooks up a storm in Kansalaistorin Puisto each summer, with demonstrations and tasting menus by a dozen of the country’s best restaurants.
The biggest arts festival in the country has a packed program of cultural goings on, from classical and world music to circus, dance, film, theatre, events for kids and much more.
Baltic Herring Fair
Going ever since the 18th century, this traditional fishermen’s fair takes place annually in Helsinki’s Kauppatori (Market Square) on the waterfront. Tuck into all manner of salted, pickled and marinated fish, and browse the unusual crafts.
From stylish boutique hideaways to backpacker haunts and five-star piles, Helsinki has plenty of choice when it comes to accommodation. Hotel Kämp (Pohjoisesplanadi 29) is the grande dame of the city, built in 1887 and still attracting the great and good, or at least those who can afford its hefty rates. A quirky art nouveau castle houses the mid-range Glo Hotel Art (Lönnrotinkatu 29) in the city centre, while Kongressikoti Hostel (Snellmaninkatu 15 A) offers simple, old-fashioned rooms just a cloudberry’s throw from the cathedral.