400 years ago the legendary Swedish King Gustav Vasa ordered the inhabitants of 4 Finnish towns to relocate to the River Vantaa and challenge the trading dominance of the Hanseatic League. Yet it was the Russian Czar Alexander I who made the small, peninsular trading town of Helsinki the capital of Finland. Present day Helsinki has grown considerably, extending over the island and peninsulas, and as a result the whole town is bathed in a sharp, salty sea breeze. With a number of famous Finnish architects working around the world, it’ll come as no surprise that the city showcases a lot of beautiful modern architecture.


The first thing to do in Helsinki is visit Finland’s National Museum, designed - like the Station - by Eliel Saarinen and built in the glorious National Romantic style peculiar to the country. The National Museum itself charts Finland’s history through a number of well composed exhibitions. Nearby, you’ll find the elegant red-granite Parliament House and Finlandia Hall, Helsinki’s main concert venue, designed by the father of Scandinavian modernism, Alvar Aalto, and well worth a visit.

The next port of call should be the island fortress of Suomenlinna, or Finland’s Castle. Built in 1748, the castle’s grown to cover a number of islands, with many of its fortifications serving as museums and its grounds as gardens and parks. The Nordic Arts Centre, which showcases Scandinavian Art, is based here and the islands really come to life during the summer months.

Just off the coast is the beautiful island of Pihlajasaari. During the Summer the beaches are full of sunbathers, and there are some lovely maritime views. There is a restaurant serving hot and cold food and the island is a short journey via ferry from the Carusel Café.

Back on the mainland, the magnificent Senaaintori – senate’s square – is the place for a repose, with elegant neoclassical architecture on all sides and rising dome of the Lutheran Cathedral to the fore. From here, amble around the surrounding districts, markets and thoroughfares, absorbing the lively atmosphere of Helsinki’s hustle and bustle.

If you are looking to explore the Finnish hinterland, the area surrounding Helsinki has lots of attractions, amongst them the garden town of Tapiola, a beautiful experiment in urban planning, and Savonlinna, a brilliant base from which to explore the Finnish lakelands.


The Kuappatori, Helsinki’s main market, is an absolute must, with piles and piles of fresh fruit and fish and lots of handicrafts. Look out for the rare cloud-berries (soumuuraimet) Arctic Circle fruits which blossom under the midnight sunlight. Otherwise, good local boutiques line Pohjoisesplanadi and Aleksanterinkatu, near the Southern Harbour.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Dining out in Helsinki is relatively expensive but can be a real culinary treat. Traditional Finnish restaurants will usually serve excellent cold meats - voeleipäpöytä, a wide selection of freshwater fish and crayfish and specialities such as lihapullia, meatballs, or poronkäristys, reindeer casserole! Helsinki also has a couple of good Russian restaurants.

The bars in Helsinki tend generally to be nice and chic, though those round the Kallio district are more laidback.

In terms of clubs, Helsinki has a good selection, ranging from Salsa to house and drum’n’bass.

Tourist Information

Helsinki City Tourist & Convention Bureau, Pohjoisesplanadi 19, HelsinkiTel: +358 (0)9 169 3757Email: Helsinki Tourism website


Vantaa International Airport lies about 20km North of Helsinki, with regular buses running to and from the centre. Flights leave to most major international destinations and a large number of Finnish towns.