Whether you visit during its sunny summer or icy winter, Helsinki is full of attractions and events year-round. It might take a while to get used to the fact that the sun hangs in the sky long into the night, but it actually seems to add to the city’s fairy-tale qualities.
The capital of Finland comes alive in the summer, with a plethora of cultural attractions in the form of art festivals, concerts and exhibitions drawing people into the sunshine. You’ll find everyone out cycling, walking, boating or enjoying a picnic in one of the city’s many parks.
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If you take your flight to Helsinki in August, then you might find yourself attending one of the city’s biggest cultural attractions – the Helsinki Festival. This is a vibrant, eclectic celebration of all things artistic, featuring opera, ballet, music and art. To support the festival, many art galleries open until midnight. You can visit places such as the Helsinki Contemporary, the Ateneum and the Napa Gallery long after they would normally close.
Helsinki features a maze of meandering paths, which is perfect, if you want to do your sightseeing on foot or on a bicycle. The National Museum of Finland is the best place to go to familiarise yourself with the country’s history. It is easy to spot, thanks to its sky-scraping spire and the bears, carved out of stone, sitting outside to welcome guests. Inside, you’ll find a broad range of collections from Finland’s prehistoric past to modern times.
One of the most popular tourist attractions is the Sibelius Monument, built to commemorate the life and works of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The monument, located in Sibelius Park, comprises more than 600 steel tubes linked together to evoke the impression of a wave.
A trip to Helsinki wouldn’t be complete without visiting the inhabited sea fortress of Suomenlinna, one of the biggest sea fortresses. The popular Finnish attraction was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1991.
You can catch a ferry from Helsinki’s harbour to go around the site and spend a day simply soaking up the scenery. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). This magnificent celestial spectacle appears over Helsinki on around 20 nights of the year.
If you’re travelling to Helsinki with children, then be sure to take some time out to visit Helsinki Zoo, one of the world’s oldest. Here you can see more than 200 animals, ranging from those endemic to the Arctic wastes to natives of tropical rainforests.
Alternatively, if the little ones need to burn off some excess energy, take them to the Linnanmäki amusement park. They can enjoy a range of rides, including the park’s 50-year-old wooden rollercoaster. Helsinki is also full of beautiful, expansive parks perfect for walks and picnics.
Helsinki’s café and restaurant scene is thriving, giving you the chance to sample a wide range of cuisines from a growing number of establishments. You’ll find American, African, Asian and Mexican restaurants and diners lining the streets. However, it’s well worth hunting out a traditional, Finnish restaurant and trying some of the local cuisine.
Finland is one of the world’s most ecologically aware countries. Majority of its restaurants are ethically run and use seafood, meats and vegetable from sustainable, local sources. Don’t forget to try lohikeitto, a traditional salmon soup made with fish, leeks and potatoes and seasoned with dill. Pickled herring is another popular treat, often served with flatbread. For an authentic taste of old-world Finland, look out for reindeer steaks, served with mashed potatoes and a lingonberry jam.
If you’re travelling to Helsinki with shopping in mind, then prepare yourself for a shopper’s paradise. The city houses everything from chic designer boutiques and artisan stores to souvenir shops and vibrant open-air markets.
Thanks to the extended hours offered up by the summer sun, many shops and markets stay open well into the evening. You can find unique and odd items at Market Square, where rows of stalls sell hand-crafted goods, local delicacies and one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Essential facts about Helsinki
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