Ron Stern | Global Gumshoe
While Helsinki may be one of the coldest destinations in the world during winter, summertime’s long days of sunshine bring out the crowds to this Finnish city located on the shores of the Baltic Sea. With 150 miles of coastline and 300 islands filled with trendy shops, restaurants and loads of historical landmarks and museums, it’s no wonder that so many are discovering this Scandinavian playground.
Starting in early May and into September, tourists and locals alike emerge to enjoy the warm weather splendors of this beautiful city. It may be hard for visitors on a schedule to decide where to start as there is such an abundance of things to see and do, so to make things simple, here is a short list of some of the best activities and attractions.
You may have to remind yourself that you’re in Finland and not France or Geneva as there is such an abundance of retail shops offering everything from housewares to jewelry to clothing. One of the most popular areas is along Esplanadi where you’ll find large department stores like Stockmann’s as well as scores of boutiques and local brand stores like Iittala and Artek. There is also a design district with 200 shops, museums and art galleries.
By far, the most popular excursion is the 15-minute ferry ride to the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that brings in about 700,000 visitors each year. You can purchase tickets for about five euros round trip, or, if you buy a Helsinki Card at the tourist office, you can ride for free and also get one free sightseeing trip.
The town of Porvoo is an additional day trip that you should plan to take during your visit here. This medieval town (population 48,000) is about an hour by bus, which costs 12 euros. There is a newer section within it, but the old city, which dates from 1760, houses much to see, including a cathedral, shops and restaurants, all along winding cobblestone streets.
It might be difficult to decide where to eat given the plethora of restaurants. Probably the most prevalent food you will find here is fish. This isn’t surprising considering Helsinki’s proximity to the sea. Salmon is a popular choice, although much of it is imported from Norway.
Market Hall, near the southern waterfront, was originally constructed in 1888 but has recently been renovated to house all manner of specialty food items. After you taste your way through this foodie heaven, head out the other end to an open-air market where vendors set up their booths under brightly colored orange canopies. Held every day of the year in summer, this is where you can find locally made Finnish handicrafts, hats, t-shirts, fresh fruits and, of course, more food.
One thing you will notice in Helsinki is the number of people sitting in cafés drinking coffee. Even in the middle of summer with temps in the 90s, the Finns still love this drink. In fact, they are the largest consumers of coffee in the world, downing more than 10 kilos per person, per year.
Landmarks and churches
Helsinki has a rich history that is visually represented in diverse ways. Statues commemorating various aspects of Finnish history and culture are visible throughout the city. One of these is the Sibelius Monument dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose most notable work, “Finlandia,” played a large part in the country’s national identity. The abstract work is subject to interpretation as some see a pipe organ while others a musical form of an aurora borealis.
The Uspenski Cathedral and the Lutheran Cathedral, part of the local skyline, are quite beautiful and must-sees while in Helsinki. The Uspenski is situated on a hill overlooking the city. Its thirteen gold spires reflect the light of the sun and depict the flame of Christ and the 12 apostles.
Located in Senate Square is the green-domed Lutheran church, which dates from 1853 and is the main church of the country. Its architect, Carl Ludwig Engel of Germany, patterned all of the buildings in the square in the Neoclassical style after the ones in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The Temppeliaukio or “Rock Church” was designed in 1969 by the two brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen. The church was built right into the solid bedrock with unfinished stones part of what makes this landmark so amazing. Thousands come each week to visit the church and to hear the excellent acoustics created by the solid rock when the pipe organ is played.
Helsinki’s vibrant art culture can be found in more than 80 museums and their gift shops and cafés — an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. The Helsinki Card provides free admission to most museums, but keep in mind that many are closed on Mondays.
Every sort of museum appears to be represented in the city, including ones dedicated to military history, mariners, toys, photography, design, restaurants and individuals. The largest is the Finnish National Gallery, which is comprised of the Ateneum art museum, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sinebrychoff art museum.
The Ateneum is located close to the railway station and has a fine collection of master works along with rotating exhibitions. They offer a guided or audio tour of the paintings, sculptures and drawings.
Summer is the perfect time to come to Helsinki with flowers all in bloom and the smell of the sea in the air, and you will find a warm and inviting tervetuloa (welcome) waiting for you.
For more information visit visitfinland.com
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