A weekend in Helsinki
Finland's capital city offers great hotels, shopping and cultural attractions.
The world is getting smaller and smaller. Thanks to more competitive flight fares, it’s easy these days to hop on a plane and visit any city around the globe. With so many choices, where should you go next? Well, I spent a few days in Helsinki, Finland’s capital city and it was a delightful treat.
Helsinki is not only the capital of Finland; it’s the country’s largest city, too, with a population of about 528,000. Including the surrounding areas, the population swells to 1 million, while Finland’s total population is about 5 million. Tiny, by comparison to the populations of say, Canada or the US. The city is old and historic, founded in 1550 by King Gustav I of Sweden. Because of the country’s Swedish history (Finland was ruled by Sweden until 1809, then under Russian rule until gaining independence in 1917), Swedish is one of the country’s official languages, along with Finnish. Helsinki is situated on the southern tip of Finland, on the Gulf of Finland, on the north shore of the Baltic Sea. Did you know that Finland has 188,000 lakes? Not surprisingly, fish is a staple in the Finnish diet.
Ready for a quick tour of this world-class city? Here are some of the best things to do in and around Helsinki.
There are lots of hotel options for visitors. Check out the following:
Klaus K Hotel
This modern, boutique-style hotel is moderately priced and offers stylish accommodations. The rooms are beautifully decorated according to four different themes: Passion, Mystic, Envy and Desire. As their names suggest, each room evokes a particular feeling and the “passion” rooms are particularly luxurious, if a little small.
For more information, visit klauskhotel.com
This hotel is stunning, both on the inside and out. The building’s old architecture makes it reminiscent of gay Paris and has a real old-world charm about it. But the inside is luxuriously modern, featuring all of the amenities you might expect. It’s the only five-star hotel in Scandinavia! Plus, it’s centrally located in the heart of the city; it’s situated on the city’s main shopping drag and there are lots of street side cafes, perfect for enjoying a cappuccino while you’re people watching.
For more information, visit hotelkamp.fi/en
Holiday Inn Helsinki
If you’re looking for practical accommodations, check out the Holiday Inn Helsinki. Located in the city’s business district, this 244-room hotel is a good option for business and leisure travelers alike. It’s not far from Helsinki’s city centre and is only 20 minutes (by taxi) from the airport. Of most interest is the fact that this hotel has one floor entirely dedicated to providing special care for guests with allergies. Cool! ichotelsgroup.com
There are lots of shopping options for all you die-hard consumers. Here are a handful of options you have to check out:
Locals are fond of saying, “If you can’t find it at Stockmann, you don’t need it!” Well, there’s a hefty endorsement! Stockmann is the largest department store chain in Scandinavia and offers a wide selection of goods, from food and fashion to beauty and books. For more information, visit stockmann.fi
Marimekko is one of those shops that you simply must visit. Established in 1951, this authentically Finnish textile and clothing design company offers top of the line clothes, home decor items, handbags and other gorgeous accessories. You’ll definitely want to pick up a few things to take home; everyone will be dying to know where you got them!
The Market Square
The largest and probably most enticing outdoor market in Helsinki is The Market Square, located on the South Harbour on the Gulf of Finland, where the cruise ships come in, is open Monday through Thursday from 8am to 5pm, Fridays from 8am to 6pm and Saturdays from 8am to 3pm. You’ll have lots of fun strolling from stall to stall, checking out beautiful handmade silk scarves, jewelry and other souvenirs. Hungry? There are food stalls as well, so you can warm up with a hot bowl of salmon soup on a cool day.
There’s no shortage of cultural and historical landmarks to see in Helsinki. Here are three you won’t want to miss:
Senate Square is a popular tourist attraction. This large, outdoor square is a symbol of Helsinki’s history and presents an interesting juxtaposition of religion, politics and education. The square is flanked on the north side by the impressive and imposing Lutheran Cathedral, the construction of which was completed in 1852. Situated atop a magnificent staircase, The Lutheran Cathedral is designed in the neo-classical architectural style and is a major tourist destination; each year, upwards of 350,000 people visit the church, the majority of which are tourists. On the eastern side of the square you’ll find The Palace of the Council of State, built in 1822 and on the opposite side is the University of Helsinki’s main building, built in 1832. Dominating the centre of the square is a statue of Emperor Alexander II, a reminder of Finland’s past association with Russia.
This incredible church is a must-see for all visitors to Helsinki. Completed in 1969, this church is built entirely inside solid rock and is also known as The Church of the Rock. Surrounded by glass panels, the church is flooded with natural light and it’s also got amazing acoustics; it’s a popular venue for concerts. In fact, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Finnish National Opera Orchestra rehearsing when I visited. What a treat!
The Sibelius Park and Monument
This park was created to pay tribute to the life and work of Jean Sibelius, the famous Finnish composer (1865-1957). The park itself is pretty, with plenty of birch trees, oversized rocks and park benches to sit and enjoy the view. But what’s of most interest is the sculpture (abstractly resembling organ pipes) by Eila Hiltunen, created to honor Sibelius. A disembodied sculpture of the composer’s head in cast stainless steel sits not far away. Unveiled in 1967, the “organ” monument weighs 24 tons and is a point of pride for many Finns.
Natalie Bahadur is the editor of styleathome.com and a regular contributor to ellecanada.com