The Finnish capital of Helsinki owes more than a little nod to Tsars of Russia for its similarity to the architecture of the great city of St. Petersburg.
The Russian influence has long gone and what remains is a vibrant and exciting city that takes its very life force from the water that surrounds it; never one to take itself too seriously Helsinki is filled with good natured humour and an ability to laugh at the absurdities of life – everything in Helsinki is done because it is fun, not because it is cool.
Much of Helsinki appears lost in time, the preservation of the cities heritage being one of the few things that is taken seriously; there is an almost genteel feel to the many building that celebrate all that is great about being Finnish, this pride in the city is just another aspect of the Finnish way, that will draw you in and steal your heart, as you visit this fabulous European capital.
Helsinki is certainly not a cheap city with accommodation being on the expensive side, you do however generally get good quality for your money, making it a slightly less bitter pill to swallow, business is booming in the city and weekday rooms can be expensive, weekends often offer reduced rates when all the business travellers have left.
Seurahuone Hotel has a great location just opposite the main railway station and is filled with old world grandeur; glass ceilings and indoor fountains are the order of the day in this historic building, which manages to effortlessly combine the era of grand hotels with modern amenities that will appeal to the most discerning of visitors.
The food of Helsinki is hearty and warming, herrings are the nations favourite fish and are served almost everywhere, sausages are also popular along with reindeer and lamb; berries also appear on most menus either as jams or condiments (or as desserts during the autumn season) – the best way to enjoy the berries though is in one of the warming local schnapps or liqueurs that are widely available.
Push the boat out and dine at the Savoy overlooking the park, the surroundings are traditional and the food is sublime, all the best examples of Finnish cuisine are perfectly cooked and served here, the prices might be high but that never stops this iconic restaurant being fully booked, so be sure to book early to avoid disappointment.
Take a tour around the city via the canals that crisscross the main areas, the Degero Canal with its stunning scenery is usually included as part of the tour, as are the harbours of the city where the huge Finnish icebreakers silently work; this short tour is well worth the time taken if only to see the city from a completely different perspective.
You cannot visit Helsinki and not try at least one of the warming saunas that are on offer, the most traditional one is Kotiharjun which uses the age old method of burning wood to heat the sauna, it may be part of the city experience, but first and foremost this is the most relaxing way to spend your day.
As a vibrant city destination, Helsinki has merit throughout the year, however the winter months can be quite desolate with much of the city quiet as people avoid the cold weather with its freezing temperatures and unforgiving wind chill factor; spring is late coming but when it arrives the city revitalises and the harshness of the winter is soon forgotten.
Most of the cities festivals take place between May and August, however Christmas and New Year is a very attractive time in the city – lights are festively strewn around as an antidote to the dark and gloomy days.