Helsinki, known as the Daughter of the Baltic is the world’s coldest capital, with a yearly average temperature not exceeding 0 °C. It is the largest city in Finland, covering 276 square miles and boasts a population of 1,304,851.
Several months ago, the idea of a city break might have seemed like a bad idea. Crowds and concrete weren’t top of anyone’s agenda.
But, as we tip-toe back to some degree of normality, the cultural void left by months of lockdown is becoming more pronounced. Theatres, galleries, shops and restaurants have been noticeably absent from our lives.
While it might take some time before we’re ready to embrace a metropolis, smaller cities have appeal. Easily navigable on foot and populated by more trees than people, Finland’s capital, Helsinki, strikes a perfect balance.
Any double-vaccinated travellers can enter without a PCR test, and most restrictions on venues have been lifted. The only stressful decision is deciding what to do…
Take a sauna at Löyly
As much a piece of art as a place to relax, this is a trendy hangout for locals who prefer a modern take on the Finnish tradition of sauna.
Named after the metal ladle used to throw water on coals, the site is set on the waterfront in a former industrial area a little out of town.
Bathing suits are worn in the communal saunas, which can reach up to 90˚C if overzealous Finns are in the room.
Cool off by going outside and taking a dip in the sea, accessed via a ladder. An outdoor restaurant provides a relaxing space to chill and chatter between sweat sessions. In the winter, drink beer around an indoor fire.
A two-hour session costs €19 (about £16), including a towel and seat cover.
Walk around Amos Rex
Originally built for the 1936 Olympics, this Art Nouveau masterpiece has been lovingly restored and given a new lease of life.
Climb a spiral staircase to find a cinema and head downstairs to an art gallery built in the basement. It’s a cavernous area perfect for large-scale installations.
Light streams through windows built into cones rising from the marketplace square. Cherished by locals, the futuristic structures have been a hit with skateboarders. The gallery even has spare skateboards should tourists like a go.
Dine at Cheri
The latest venture from trendsetting chef Richard McCormick opened a few weeks ago. Overlooking Esplanade Park, the pink parlour is a playful mix of plush dining booths and 1980s antiques.
Using local ingredients to transform French and European favourites, the menu is a delight. A tartare of foraged mushrooms is rich in earthy flavours; a lobster linguine is a sweet and salty nod to the sea.
Sleep in Scandic Grand Hotel
One of the most iconic structures in Helsinki is the train station. An example of Art Nouveau splendour, its pistachio-hued clocktower rises above two pairs of lantern-bearing statues.
Designed by the same architect, Eliel Saarinen, the neighbouring railway administration building has been transformed into a hotel.
The breakfast buffet is one of the city’s finest. Find three types of porridge, a seasonal apple crumble with custard, and egg soufflé served with a chimichurri sauce.
Shop with a conscience
Finns have an in-built desire to live as sustainably as possible. Mindful of the waste generated by over-consumption, citizens are changing their habits and finding new ways to eat and shop.
Alongside charity stores featuring furnishings and bric a brac, several designer clothes shops give used items a new home. Clothing hangs neatly from rails and accessories are displayed in glass cabinets at Flea (Iso Roobertinkatu 11), which doubles as a champagne bar while at Relove (Fredrikinkatu 25) a section is set aside for a trendy café.
Go one step further and start from scratch with a collection of yarns sold at multiple knitting shops in the city. Part of the school curriculum, the popular pastime is taught to boys and girls.
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