Open the Map and discover the Scandinavian countries on the north shores of the Baltic Sea. The one closest to Russia is the country of Finland. The seaside city of Helsinki is the capital. It is the northern-most capital city in the EU though at the southern-most part of the country. I was lucky enough to visit Helsinki with my family in July, 2019.
Helsinki is situated on a peninsula amid 315 islands on the Baltic. It is small in population compared to other European capitals with 650,000 inhabitants. The population may be modest but the city boasts much to see and do, especially for nature lovers.
Helsinki was sparsely populated as far back as the 10th century but was established as a trading village by the Swedish King Gustav I in the 1550’s. It has steadily grown but still enjoys a low population density and is annually put on lists as the Most Livable City. Summer is the best time to visit to enjoy the beautiful green spaces, parks, boating and cycling. In summer the temperatures are around 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit and during the solstice there are 19 hours of sunlight a day.
Helsinki is not a city that conjures up images for travelers. Unlike Paris Rome or London, which bring vivid iconic structures to mind, I had no clue what to expect for our brief stay in Finland’s capital. Since my visit, I now think of Helsinki as a general feeling of cleanliness, pristine nature, fresh air and healthy people. There are, however, many places to see that are iconic structures for the people of Helsinki.
To enjoy the outdoors, plan on walking the city in comfortable shoes. There is a relatively new subway system for rapid transit if that is your thing. But we walked everywhere and soaked up the glorious weather. My recommended outdoor places to enjoy are the Zoo, the long central park named Espa, the Design District, the Market Square and Senate Square. The most tourist frequented park is Sibelius Park, where a modern steel sculpture was erected in 1969 to honor the composer Jean Sibelius. Enjoy the coastline which you can stroll, bike along or go boating in.
While strolling the city it becomes obvious the buildings there are very new compared to other parts of Europe. There are many nice examples of Art Nouveau design. Buildings to visit are the 1882 Helsinki Cathedral which sits atop a hill overlooking the city like a tiered wedding cake. Don’t miss the Parliament building, the ultra-modern Opera House and the most unique structure: The Church of the Rock. This church, known as Temppeliaukion, is a real Lutheran Church built deep inside a massive boulder in 1969. It sits in a non-descript neighborhood of small shops and housing high-rises. Going inside is like watching an episode of the Flintstones. You walk into this giant, ruff hewn cave that is round. The light streams in through glass skylights with a copper dome capping the center. Many musical performances take place in the Church of the Rock because of the superior acoustics. I could clearly hear the whispering of the tourists on the other side of the church.
The City Museum offers a wonderful history of Helsinki and the National Museum of Finland gives an in depth look at the entire evolution of the country from the stone-age to modern times.
For a luxurious overnight stay, check-in to the Hotel Kamp, housed in a beautiful 1887 building near Market Square. It offers that old European elegance. For a great breakfast or pastry and cup of coffee, head to Helsinki’s oldest café, Ekberg, which has been open since 1852.
I left Helsinki with a deep appreciation of how much its people love and care for their city. They enjoy clean, healthy living and outdoor life during the warmer months. So, Open the Map! Find Helsinki at the tip of Finland and plan to visit this sparkling city and soak up sunshine while strolling its clean streets and lush parks. It is certainly a natural oasis of green and quiet amid a bustling continent.