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. 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.
Some 300 cruise ships and more than 400,000 passengers descend on Helsinki every year. Cruise ships dock in either the South Harbour or West Harbour.
South Harbour is bang in the city centre, with room for three ships, providing an ideal location for disembarking passenger.
Meanwhile, West Harbour is around 10-15 minutes away from the main centre. However, trams provide easy access into the city.
NEED TO KNOW
As in many European cities, street signs in Helsinki are found on the corner sides of buildings. The weather in Helsinki is best described as warm/pleasant in the summer and cold and snowy in the winter.
One of the main shopping areas is the Kamppi Centre, although visitors should ensure they take a walk round the Old Market Hall, next to Helsinki Market Square, which serves traditional Finnish cuisine. Money-wise, Helsinki isn’t the most affordable of cities to visit, so visitors need to budget properly to ensure a good time.
WHAT WE LOVE
Island hopping: Time permitting, guests should catch the 15-minute ferry to Suomenlinna, a sea fortress. Construction began in the 18th century and today it is a world heritage site that attracts visitors from all over. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Finnish control over the fortress. Another island, Vallisaari, is also accessible via a short ferry ride, and was once home to a small population. It was then taken over by the Finnish Defence Forces, before it opened as a tourist destination in 2016.
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.
Market Square: Full of life, Helsinki’s Market Square is one of the epic centres of the city, with various stalls and nearby parks providing a perfect backdrop. The Presidential Palace and Helsinki City hall overlook the square.
Helsinki Central Railway Station: Not all train stations are bland, non-descript buildings. The Central Railway Station is regularly touted as one of the most beautiful in the world – its four large statues at the entrance are the stars of the show.
Senate Square: Senate Square is ringed by four buildings designed by Carl Ludvig Engel. On the northern side is Helsinki Cathedral, which was once known as the St Nicholas Church and Great Cathedral, joined by 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.
- Around a third of Helsinki is covered in greenery
- The number of nearby islands makes this a great place to see more than just one location
- The destination is compact and full of sights to see