|WELCOME TO HELSINKI|
|Helsinki is often likened to Stockholm, but with its unique Russian influence and architectural showcases, Finland's capital is a city in its own class. Spectacular and green in the summer and frosty and magical in winter, Helsinki is worth a visit any time of year. Our apartments are located in the compact city center, so whether it's buildings or nature you want, a short walk is often all you need to get where you want to be.|
|In 1550, the Swedes literally put Helsinki on the map when they decided to create a fortified port on the tip of the Finnish peninsula to compete with then-Danish Tallinn across the Baltic. After Sweden acquired the northern coast of Estonia, it didn't need to compete with itself, so it left Helsinki relatively untouched for almost 200 years until the Russians expressed interest in Southern Finland, at which point the Swedish crown decided to fortify the little port city.
The Russians eventually gained control of the peninsula in the early years of the 19th century and moved the regional capital from Turku (Åbo) to Helsinki, which was easier to keep an eye on from St. Petersburg. They even went so far as to relocate the region's only university and this aided Helsinki's development over the course of the century into a modern capital city. The Russians encouraged the Finns to speak their native language (rather than Swedish) and this, in turn, encouraged a sense of nationalism in the semi-autonomous region.
Finland's independence finally came in 1917, but was followed by civil war. War continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, with Finland tugged at by both Germany and Russia during both World Wars. The country managed to hold itself together and in 1952 even hosted the Summer Olympic Games, asserting Helsinki as an industrialized international city.
Economic ups and downs have characterized Helsinki throughout modern history, but the city has emerged as an affluent, culturally rich capital with one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. Helsinki seems comfortable and confident in its place where Russia meets Western Europe with a culture and language all its own. Helsinki's past is written in its fantastic architecture from its St. Petersburg-like cathedral to its Art Nouveau train station to its modern state-of-the-art, low-rise office buildings surrounded by bike paths and green space.
|Location and size|
|Helsinki is located on the southern edge of Finland, directly across a narrow stretch of the Baltic from Tallinn, Estonia. The metro area incorporates a number of small islands and bays, but the city center itself is located on a small mainland peninsula. The metro area covers around 4,000 square kilometers, with the denser city center occupying just 765 square kilometers.|
|The city itself is home to over 500,000 people, but incorporating nearby cities and townships brings the population to over one million. Close to 10% of the city's population is foreign-born—mainly from Sweden, with which the city shares a close history.|
|Finnish (Suomi in Finnish) and Swedish are both official national languages of Finland, but 95% of people living in Finland speak Finnish, while only 5% speak Swedish. In the Swedish speaking parts of Finland (and in the Finnish speaking parts of Sweden) there is some overlap in the language, but for the most part, Finnish is not related to the other Scandinavian languages, which enjoy mutual intelligibility. Finnish is most closely related to Estonian and has become a popular second language for young people in Estonia. Spoken and written Finnish are quite different from each other, with the written language having much more formal syntax—so much so that when someone sounds pretentious the Finns say he "talks like a book." In Helsinki, English fluency is widespread, especially as the language of commerce with companies like Nokia adopting English as the official language of business. Finnish doesn't share any roots with English, so it isn't likely that you can decipher any words, but there is one word, which we all know in Finnish and which you are likely to come across during your visit to Helsinki, and that's "sauna."|
|General characteristics of the locals|
|Helsinki is a forward-looking city dominated by service industries and with a large student population. The young people of Helsinki are incredibly trendy and the fashion sense is reminiscent of Japan with teenagers sometimes dressed in over-the-top costume-like attire. It is the most literate city in the world, and by some accounts, the largest consumer of coffee, so the people of Helsinki can also be characterized as intellectuals, easily found with their noses buried in books in cafes. Like other major cities in the far north, the city has a kind of societal hibernation, with people secreted away in warm interiors all winter and coming out in spring in full force ready to play and celebrate the sun.|
|Overview tours by bus or boat are available, especially in summer, to help you get oriented. Helsinki is a very bike-friendly city and whether you bring your own or rent a bike (they are essentially free with a 2 euro deposit you get back when you return the bike), this is a great way to explore when the weather permits. There are also several guided walking tours, usually lasting about two hours, which take in the central sights and provide history and background.|
|Helsinki City Museum: The main building of the city museum is housed in an old department store and has a comprehensive exhibit on the city's history. Admission is free. Sofiankatu 4. +358 09 3103 6630.
Ateneum Art Museum: The Ateneum houses Finland's National Gallery and contains many treasured paintings from the country's best artists and also displays exhibits from international artists. Kaivokatu 2. +358 09 1733 6401.
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art: The museum's tagline is "I just don't get it," and the collection is intended to defy all expectations. This is one of the most cutting-edge art museums in the world and also has a performance department featuring theater, dance, film, music and lectures. Mannerheiminaukio 2. +358 09 1733 6501.
National Museum (Kansallismuseo): Housed in a stunning building from 1916, the recently renovated National Museum has exhibits on all things relating to Finnish history and culture. Mannerheimintie 34. +358 09 4050 9544.
Design Museum: See how Finland came to be a leader in design at the Design Museum, featuring examples of commercial, functional and modern art. Korkeavuorenkatu 23. +358 09 622 0540.
|Senate Square: The narrow winding streets of old Helsinki all open up into Senate Square, an enormous open space surrounded on all sides by the remarkable buildings of the Lutheran Cathedral, Government Palace, University of Helsinki and the National Library. Close by is also the spectacular Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, the ornate interior of which is not to be missed.
Olympic Stadium: Built for the 1942 Olympics, which were postponed due to WWII until 1952, the Olympic Stadium is an impressive work of architecture. The Olympic Tower features great views of the city and the Sports Museum is also housed here.
Church in the Rock (Temppeliaukion): The bizarre, partially underground Church in the Rock was built in 1969 and hewn from a solid block of granite. The naturally excellent acoustics are worth trying to catch a concert here.
Suomenlinna: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is considered the greatest fortress on the Baltic. It was built by the Swedes to defend it from Russia, to whom it eventually ceded Finland along with its great fortress. The ruins are left pretty much intact and the island location is a popular place to picnic in nice weather.
|Islands: The metro area of Helsinki incorporates a number of islands, each with its own highlights. Pihlajasaari is a small walkable island featuring wildflowers in summer along its mostly rocky beaches; it is also the home of Helsinki's best nudist beach. Seurasaari is heavily wooded and has three museums including the Open-Air Museum with its collection of historic buildings from all over Finland. Korkeasaari is connected to the city by a narrow strip of land and contains the Helsinki Zoo.
Parks: Helsinki is lush and green in the summertime and several city parks, including the green space along the central Esplanadin, come alive with bodies whenever the sun is out. Keskuspuisto is a huge park that stretches for 10 kilometers and is left mostly in its natural state. Kaivopuisto Park is at the rocky southern edge of the city. A former 19th century health spa, the park has an old resort feel and features great views of the water.
Kotiharjun sauna: This is the only public wood-fired sauna in the city and it's a relaxing place to experience something truly Finnish.
|Nuuksio National Park: Nuuksio isn't very large and isn't very far from Helsinki, but it is a fantastic natural place with forests, lakes and wildlife, and is one of the easiest ways to see the wilder side of Finland within a day's journey from the capital. There are buses and trains headed to the park from Helsinki and admission is free.
Porvoo: The medieval city of Porvoo is an hour bus ride from Helsinki and poses an alternative to the modern look of the capital. Old wooden structures dominate here and give a sense of life in Finland before urbanization. The museum and the old church are worth checking out. In the summertime you can also get to Porvoo by boat or vintage train.
Turku: The former capital of the region (when it was Swedish), Turku is a charming city, and with its own archipelago, a destination in its own right. The castle, cathedral, a national park and a handful of museums mean that Turku might be more than a day trip for some. A high-speed train takes passengers from Helsinki to Turku in two hours. The city can also be reached by plane or ferry from Stockholm, which is just across the sea.
|Helsinki is one of the safest cities in the world, making it attractive for families with children. While the attractions tend to revolve around art and architecture (and bars and clubs) for adults, families with children will want to visit more of the outdoor sights, meaning a summertime visit would be best. Boat rides and parks will keep young ones entertained and historic sights like the Olympic Stadium and fortress at Suomenlinna are better suited for kids than cathedrals and museums. The Linnanmaki amusement park has been a family attraction for over 50 years and features winter activities like ice skating and snowmobiling in the cold "off-season."|
|WHERE TO EAT IN HELSINKI|
|Food is expensive in Helsinki, as in much of Scandinavia, but gourmands will be excited to try haute cuisine of the Finnish and Russian varieties, featuring regional specialties like reindeer and bear dishes. Fresh seafood is always on the menu with fish dominating in the summer and shellfish in the winter. Lunch is a good time for more budget meals and pizza is always easy to come by. Picnicking is very popular when the weather is good, so grabbing some bread, meats and cheeses from the grocery store is a cheap option for a meal and also an activity.|
|BARS AND NIGHTLIFE IN HELSINKI|
|Helsinki has a very active nightlife with packed clubs and bars almost every night of the week. Alcohol is very expensive, so like in so many Nordic cities, the party usually begins at home, and locals don't hit the bars until close to midnight. There are clubs here to suit everyone's taste—gay and straight—but lines can be long to get in and there is always a fee to check your coat, which you will want to do in winter when you come into a hot club all bundled up from outside. In warm weather, patios and rooftop bars open all over the city and then the drinking starts early and lasts well into the long summer night.|
|SHOPPING IN HELSINKI|
|Shopping is a popular activity in Helsinki and the city is home to Northern Europe's largest department store and bookstore. There are numerous indoor malls that serve as shopping safe havens in the winter, but there are also wonderful and unique boutiques out on the streets, which provide a purpose for wandering around outside in the warmer months. Modern design dominates the market with expensive, yet innovative, fashion and housewares. The Design District is the place to shop for unique souvenirs. Pick up a map at the Design Forum and design your own shopping strategy ahead of time.|
|Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport is located less than 20 kilometers to the north of the city with easy transportation to the city center via bus or taxi.|
|Parking is limited and expensive in Helsinki and with excellent public transportation and a compact city center, there is no real need to rent a car.|
|The main train station is the hub for regional transportation (mostly suburban) and is also the terminus for long distance trains to Russia and other parts of Finland.|
|The metro itself services some suburbs, but isn't of much use for tourists. The tram system is the above ground transportation system that is most useful for getting around the city center. A tram ticket is valid for one hour and allows for transfers.|
|Trams cover the city center and the buses are integrated into the same transport system, but will get you farther a field. A city ticket or tourist card will allow you to get on as many buses or trams you need during a prepaid period.|
|It's easy to walk just about anywhere in Helsinki, but if you need to take a taxi, it's best to call one of the companies as trying to hail one with your hand doesn't always produce results in this city. Be prepared for exorbitant prices.|
|Helsinki has surprisingly mild weather considering its northerly location. Situated at the southern tip of Finland, the city enjoys a stabilizing effect on its climate thanks to the Baltic Sea. Still, if you're coming from anywhere continental or farther south, the weather can seem a bit extreme with bright sunny summers and dark damp winters. Summer lasts from late June through September and averages temperatures around 20°C, cooling off considerably in the short night hours. Winter lasts from November until April with the coldest temperatures in January and February. The temperature hovers around freezing with snow likely to melt into slush before long. Plunging temperatures down to –20°C are not uncommon but don't last long.|