Far from the minds of many travelers to Europe, the beautiful Finnish capital of Helsinki is rapidly coming one of the most posh destinations on the continent. Nestled on the Baltic Sea coast among pine forests and across several islands, Helsinki is a spectacular mix of Scandinavian hospitality, urban culture, and strong Russian influences. The city itself is on a peninsula jutting out into the icy Baltic waters, and one-third is comprised of parkland. The city is clean and compact, and has a thriving young and hip cultural scene. Helsinki is often overlooked for London or Paris, but provides a calm, relaxed, and distinctly European escape for travelers to Europe.
To begin, Helsinki is small. With only 590,000 residents, the city is compact and easy to navigate. The citizens of the city exude the beat of Helsinki, which can best be summed up as laid-back, relaxed, yet put-together. Helsinki, like comparable Scandinavian capitals of Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen, is incredibly clean, fresh, and attractive. Dense forests flank the northern suburbs, and the crystal-clear waters of the Baltic skirt the city to the south. In between lies a dynamic mix of architecture, including 600 Art Nouveau style buildings. Helsinki was even rated as a “World Design Capital” for 2012. The green, yellow, and blue row houses surrounding Senate Square provide a stark contrast to the pure white tower of the Tuomiokirkko, or Lutheran Cathedral. If the striking architecture is not enough to lure tourists in, the thriving arts and culture scene of the city is sure to.
The Ateneum Art Museum, the Design Museum, and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art are only a few of the dozens of art museums and galleries that litter the city center. The National Opera, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and a dozen film festivals also provide for plenty of artistic entertainment. For those more interested in modern Scandinavian design, the Asematunneli and other large department stores offer never-ending opportunities to view and purchase the latest in Scandinavian design — years before IKEA back in North America. The area around Uudenmaankatu has been named Design District Helsinki and is full of design shops, fashion stores, and even trendy markets.
Even after a day shopping, eating, and drinking, Helsinki’s nightlife will keep the young out all night. For Finns, drinking is an intense pastime that is taken quite seriously. However, as is most everything else in Finland, going out is not cheap. Prices are on par with those of New York and London. That does not stop locals, however. The areas around Iso-Roobertinkatu, the Central Railway Station, and Kamppi are littered with clubs that stay open until at least 4 am. Helsinki also contains an incredibly large and hip gay scene. Something to beware is local liquor that is 90% alcohol, of which one sip is enough to make an American sick.
Aside from beautiful beaches and great outdoor activities, be sure to try a traditional Finnish sauna while in the city. Cheap flights to Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport can easily be found from all East Coast cities.