City Slicker: Helsinki

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The best time to go to Finland's capital is during the long days of summer. Nick Boulos provides a guide for first-time and returning visitors


Why visit?


Helsinki is at its most splendid as summer arrives, heralding long days to enjoy what Finland does best: the great outdoors.

The city's cobbled streets and art nouveau buildings bask in warm sunshine until the early hours, so there's plenty of time for late-night strolls in Kaivopuisto Park and revitalising midnight dips in the Baltic, popular with Finns keen to top up their vitamin D before the dark days of winter return. However, Helsinki is a delight whatever the season. It is easy to navigate on foot, with all the main ports of call within walking distance, and there are gourmet treats for every palate – from Michelin-starred restaurants such as Carma (carma.fi), to those specialising in hearty native cuisine.

But it's the locals that make the biggest impression. With such a dominant café culture in Helsinki, you're bound to get talking to the natives over a possumunkki (piglet doughnut – named so because of its shape) at one of the charming outdoor terraces along Esplanadi. Be under no illusions, though, Finns may be open and warm to visitors but there are ways to offend these mild-mannered, liquorice-obsessed people. Avoid over familiarity unless you know the person well – there's no need for European-style kisses on both cheeks here, a handshake will do just fine – and talk of work should strictly be left outside the sauna doors. Along with every stitch of clothing ...

Don't miss ...

Tuomi-okirkko (00 358 9 23406120). Surrounded by the 19th-century neoclassical architecture of Senate Square, the extravagant Helsinki Cathedral takes pride of place atop an imposing granite staircase. No prizes for guessing why locals call it the "big white Church".

Kauppatori market square (00 358 9 3101671). Fresh produce (Baltic herring, anyone?) and handicrafts attract locals and visitors to this outdoor market on South Harbour.

Temppeliaukion Church. Built into solid rock in the 1960s, this astonishing structure is a favourite for concerts due to its excellent acoustics.

Design Walk (helsinkiexpert .fi/tours). These two-hour tours cover the most progressive concepts in fashion, furnishing and art found within the 25 streets of Helsinki's design district. You'll come across established names, such as Marimekko and Iittala, and rising stars in the world of Finnish design.

Porvoo (tourism.porvoo.fi). Finland's second-oldest town is only 30 miles from the capital. Medieval Porvoo is the most popular day trip from Helsinki.

Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (00 358 9 6841880; suomenlinna.fi). Built across five islands in 1748 to ward off Russian attacks, the fortress is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Explore the museum, walking trails, and landmark church which doubles as a lighthouse. Save time for a coffee or cider at Café Vanille (cafevanille.fi), a cosy spot inside a charming 19th-century wooden house.

Finnish fare. Reindeer fillets, bear meatballs and vendace from Lake Kitka are served on sturdy wooden platters while drinks come in traditional kuksa mugs at Lapland restaurant, Saaga (00 358 9 74255544).

What's new?

Kallio

The allure of lower living costs has turned the once predominantly working-class neighbourhood of Kallio – just across the Pitkäsilta bridge – into a desirable stomping ground for the city's artists and young professionals. The now legendary nightlife scene makes it an obvious evening destination, but it's also a worthwhile area to explore by day. The Kallio Church, designed by Lars Sonck, is an interesting blend of art nouveau and Finnish national romantic architecture. Kotiharjun – Helsinki's last totally wood-heated public sauna – can also be found here.

Details: 00 358 9 7531525; kotiharjunsauna.fi

F8 Sweet

Sticking two fingers up at the global recession, Finland's largest department store, Stockmann's, has opened the country's first champagne bar. Situated at the centre of the store's eighth floor, F8 Sweet served its first flute of champagne back in March, throwing the prevailing caution to the wind. It also offers indulgent desserts as well as nine varieties of bubbly. Glass-enclosed with vivid fuchsia carpets, the bar blends comfort with sharp, feminine designs. Caboche lamps twinkle above glossy chairs designed by the Spaniard Jaime Hayon. The sophisticated ambience ensures there's no finer spot to sit and sip a glass of Cuvée Louise 1998 – if you can stretch to the £254 a bottle.

Details: 00 358 20 7296803; f8.fi/en

Hotel Haven

Helsinki's newest five-star hotel, which opened earlier this year, is arguably its most desirable, having become a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection – the first in Finland to do so. It has three restaurants, a spa and homely lounge bar specialising in Finnish tipples and rum as well as warm drinks. Upstairs, the 77 luxury rooms boast many a fine touch, including king-size beds, Bang & Olufsen appliances, Egyptian cotton bedlinen and bath robes, and Elemis spa products in the bathrooms. The most notable feature, however, remains the panoramic views over Market Square and South Harbour. Doubles are from £178.

Details: 00 358 9 681930; hotelhaven.fi

Finnish Museum of Natural History

The natural history museum reopened last summer after nearly three years of extensive restoration. It takes an in-depth look at the nature and geology found throughout Finland's varied terrains, from the pine swamps of the north-east to the islands of the south. Permanent features include "The History of Life", a virtual exhibition that examines evolution. Keep your eyes open for a new attraction, set to open next year, that will explore nature on each of the seven continents.

Details: 00 358 9 19128800; fmnh.helsinki.fi/english/nhm

My O My

This exclusive store specialising in fashion, design, sweets and art – in that order – is so über-chic it's surprising there aren't bouncers on the door. While My O My's main focus is on womenswear, there are plans to expand into the metrosexual male market. The "bunny hideaway" will keep the little ones busy, allowing you to admire a range of goods from Faliero Sarti scarves to futuristic candlestick holders and dinner plates emblazoned with pictures of French opera singer Lina Cavalieri.

Details: 00 358 10 4233733; myomy.fi

Insider's secret: Tarja Hiltunen

Tarja is a local fishmonger at the Old Market Hall.

"The best place in Helsinki for fresh seafood is a restaurant called Fish Market, just behind Market Place. The menu changes every season but I particularly like the kuha (pike perch). Its flavours are so mild that it's enough to cook it with only a little sea salt and butter – no need for herbs and spices. Whatever you decide to order, the food is always excellent."

Details: Fish Market, 00 358 9 13456220.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Finn Air (0871 241 4411; finnair.co.uk) offers return flights from London Heathrow to Helsinki starting at £138 return.

Further information

Visit Finland (visitfinland.com/uk).

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
people
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction
music
Sport
Today's Liverpool Echo back page
football
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?