Finnish cool can be found in abundance in the seaside city of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. This city of 620,000 people was founded in 1550 by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden and has found itself at the centre of all manner of territory grabs ever since. It is compact and easily explored on foot – meaning visitors can ditch public transport if they so wish.
Helsinki, which is at the southern tip of Finland, has small pockets of old-school charm mixed with a modern, minimalistic style. The archipelago of Helsinki is made up of around 330 islands, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Suomenlinna, thereby providing plenty of opportunity to see more than just this vibrant city.
GETTING FROM THE SHIP…
With 300 cruise ships and more than 400,000 passengers descending on Helsinki every year, it is fair to say this can be one busy port. Cruise ships dock in either the South Harbour or West Harbour.
Docking in the South Harbour? Good news: you’re bang in the city centre and just a short walk away from all the sights, providing an ideal location for disembarking passenger. So, if you end up in West Harbour, you’re not quite as lucky as you’ll be facing a 10-15 minutes journey by public transport and a 25-minute walk to the main centre. Trams, however, provide easy access into the city.
WHAT WE LOVE…
Suomenlinna: Time permitting, guests should catch the 15-minute ferry to this sea fortress which has been vital to the protection of the country for generations – even though it has been conquered by the Swedes and Russians. Construction began in the 18th century and today it is a world heritage site that attracts visitors from all over. It’s quite the picturesque site – perfect for a picnic!
Temppeliaukio Church: A treat for the eyes and ears, the Rock Church, as it is known, is excavated directly into solid rock. Opened in 1969, the church is known for its acoustics and regularly hosts concerts. It is also a fascinating spot to relax and take in the ambience. A popular spot for tourists – so best to visit early to avoid large queues.
Senate Square: Senate Square is ringed by four buildings designed by famed German architect Carl Ludvig Engel. There’s Helsinki Cathedral, which was once known as the St Nicholas Church, the Great Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, and the National Library of Finland. The square is also home to a monument of Alexander II, former Tsar of Russia and Grand Duke of Finland. Plenty of photo opportunities here then.
TOP 3 PLACES TO EAT…
Mumin Kaffe: Enjoy a cup of coffee amongst Helsinki’s most famous residents: the Moomins! There’s Moomin biscuits, sweets and a range of homemade cakes – perfect for families.
Chef & Sommelier: Finnish cuisine lends itself well to fine dining and this Helsinki restaurant epitomises that. Choose from fixed menus of up to nine dishes and go on a gastronomic adventure.
Sandro: This Moroccan-inspired brunch spot has quickly become a firm favourite among the locals who love nothing more than piling their plate high with couscous, chickpeas and tabbouleh.
TOP 3 PLACES TO SHOP…
Market Square: With plenty of local traders setting up shop and the nearby parks providing a perfect backdrop – the Market Square is a treat to wander around.
Old Market Hall: Situated in the same area as the Market Square, the Old Market Hall is full of food stalls serving all manner of Finnish delicacies, including reindeer and bear!
Esplanadi Boulevard: This pretty street has a touch of Central Park about it and is lined with boutique fashion shops and trendy cafes.
OUR LOCAL TIP…
There’s no tipping culture in Finland so don’t feel obliged to tip the bartender pulling your pints – although rewarding good service is always appreciated.