"Where Slavic charm & Nordic simplicity meet" Top 5 Page for this destination Helsinki by annase
Helsinki Travel Guide: 3,703 reviews and 7,537 photos
I'm biased because Helsinki is the city where I was born, so I'm only going to praise it for the most part. Although I no longer live in Helsinki nor have I done for the most part of my life, out of all the Finnish cities and towns, it’s always felt like home to me. I love so much about it. The city is full of gorgeous cafes selling the best cafe latte and the biggest ever cinnamon rolls in town (these can be found at Cafe Esplanadi), bars that are at the same time totally mad and great such as the one offering heavy metal karaoke twice a week (Don't know which one. Don't even ask), lovely landmarks and icons amongst which I grew up such as the white Evangelic Lutheran church on top a set of stairs at the Senate Square, the Russian Orthodox Church overlooking the harbour, the large cruise ships sailing between Finland and the neighbouring countries, lots of different languages, ethnic groups and so on.
There is also a restaurant called Lappi (Lapland) that prides itself on its reindeer dishes. There are charming restaurants serving Finnish and Scandinavian cuisine (e.g. G.W. Sundmans); restaurants/bars where you hardly ever meet people from anywhere else except that particular district/area (e.g. Seahorse); hot and trendy night clubs; a bar that is entirely made of ice (Icebar); popular hangouts of the bohemian artists, the media professionals, architects and other fashionable people.
The cuisine on offer in the city is unbelievably varied: there is Russian (Šašlik, Troikka), traditional Finnish (Weeruska, Cella, Lehtovaara), trendy Finnish (Nokka), Mexican, Chinese, Italian, American (Memphis), Indian (Gandi), Nepalese (Himalaya), Turkish, Thai and even Eastern European, as well as lots of high class a la carte restaurants serving only the best and highest quality French inspired cuisine whose chefs pride themselves for using real butter and cream - none of this low fat tut.
At the same time, although the city is full of all these influences from all the other parts of the globe, there is something distinguishably Finnish and amazingly sweet about the whole city. Most people are very environmentally minded; they either cycle or use the public transport, which is very good and cheap. They eat healthy food and do regular exercise.
One of my fondest and earliest memories of the city is that I'm sat down on the steps next the Helsinki Cathedral on a beautiful summer day, snacking on sweet sugar snaps and strawberries that me and my mum has just bought at the outdoor market next to the sea. I must have been under 5. I also remember the colour and the smell of sea, the naked 'Havis Amanda' statue next to the market square, the faint yellow icebreakers that float silently in the sea on the other side of island Katajanokka when they are out of work during the summer months, the red and yellow commuter trains and the green and yellow trams that are now obsolete...
A city with a sea view
Because Helsinki is located on the coast of the Baltic Sea, it has several kilometres of coastline as well as and picturesque archipelago. In the city centre, the market square offers a great views up to the sea. Most of the shoreline around it has no major buildings on it and it has been constructed in several places to make it more open. The market square is the place where all the small boats leave for the neighbouring islands and the much bigger white, red and blue cruise liners leave for Sweden and Estonia. Some of the most luxurious cruise liners plying the world's oceans were built in the shipyards not so far away from this spot.
Helsinki is definitely different from other cities in Europe. I have only noticed how many influences it's got from the East after not living there anymore, as I look at it more from an outsider's perspective. Throughout its 459 year existence, the city has been influenced by currents both from the East and the West. Because the city is located relatively close to Russia, Russian influences can be seen everywhere. Despite the fact that Finland was ruled by its Western neighbour, Sweden about 600 years and only about 100 odd years by its Eastern neighbour, Russia, it is the colourful influences of the latter that can be observed in many places. There is a massive Russian Orthodox church on a hill that overlooks the city harbour. There are several oldy worldy velvet-curtained Russian restaurants as well as a Russian tea house near the market square, serving imperial specialties such as caviar and blinis.
Seasonal variation - a city of contrasts
The seasonal changes in Helsinki are starkly contrasting. In the winter, life in Helsinki dies down. Even though the unusually overpowering darkness might be rather exotic and somewhat mysterious to the occasional tourist to start with, in the long run it can become hugely depressing and you just wish that the Winter would end right then and there. At least towards the end of the year, the town will be decorated with plenty of Christmas lights to brighten up the city scene.
It certainty is freezing cold in the Winter. You might prefer to stay indoors most of the time and snuggle up on the sofa under the blanket when it's crisp and snowy outdoors. It really gets so cold in Helsinki that that the sea freezes over and the main waterways need to be kept open with the help of not just one icebreaker, but several! In the summer, the city gets surprisingly hot and sunny. The warmth and permanent daylight cheers the city up. No wonder Summer is welcomed with open arms.
Although the majority of foreigners living in Helsinki are originally from the neighbouring countries Estonia, Russia and Sweden, it is getting more and more multicultural as more people from other parts of the world have adopted Helsinki as their home town. You can now hear Spanish, Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, French, Chinese, Thai around which is so good for someone who's used to living in a multicultural society.
Despite being the capital, the city is still small and intimate. It is lively, but not bustling. It is easy to explore the city by foot or even a bicycle. Cycling is much safer than in many other cities in Europe due to marked off road cycling routes.
Helsinki - a green city
There are numerous parks in Helsinki. You can find one almost around every corner and even in the most densely-built areas. Some of the parks include the centrally located Esplanade Park (between Eteläesplanadi-Pohjoisesplanadi), Kaivopuisto Park (at the very tip of Helsinki next to the sea), Kaisaniemi Park (next to the central railway station), Sibelius Park (with a Sibelius monument between Mechelininkatu-Merikannontie). There is even a relatively small and unknown Leninin Puisto ('Lenins Park'). Yes, indeed. It is the former Soviet ruler. Appareantly, some local people are trying to get a statue of Lenin erected in the park. This has been going on for a while, but nothing has happened yet. If you wanted to see his statue, you could always make a trip to Vyborg in Russia, where they do have one already. Lenin's park is located along Vesilinnankatu if you are interested in seeing it.
Architecture - street pattern
Helsinki as it is today, is for the most part the creation of two guys, Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludvig Engel. The former designed the street pattern and its wide streets and parks. The latter has had a lasting impact on the city with his neo-classical style buildings. He has designed over 30 public buildings including the houses surrounding the Senate Square including Helsinki Cathedral, the Senate (now the Palace of the Council of State), the library and the main building of Helsinki University as well as a load of private houses. All these buildings have had a huge impact on all later developments in Helsinki and are a significant part of the cityscape.
Helsinki is also a cultural city, with many events taking place around the year, including: the Helsinki Day in June, Helsinki Festival, Helsinki International Film Festival 'Love and Anarchy', the Night of the Arts, the Sibelius International Violin Contest, Musica Nova Helsinki, Concerts in the Park, the Children's International Theatre Festival, and the Day of the Rose and the Book. In addition to the festivals, there is also the regular cultural output of various theatre and dance groups, some of the world's finest orchestras and choirs, rock concerts, films and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet.
In addition, Helsinki hosts several other events, including the October Herring Festival, Women’s 10K run (Naisten Kymppi), Helsinki City Marathon, provincial fairs that take place on the Senate Square, the Midsummer festivals, the May Day carnival and a rather small scale Samba carnival (especially to those who are used to carnevals in Rio).
- Pros:Small, intimate, cosmopolitan, more and more international and multicultural, loads of parks and lovely art nouveau architecture
- Cons:Expensive, small, freezing cold and dark in the winter
- In a nutshell:Lots of lovely landmarks and icons I grew up with such as the white church on top a set of stairs at the Senate Square, the Russian Orthodox Church overlooking the harbour, the large cruise ships, icebreakers, trams..
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