When it comes to sightseeing in Northern Europe, Helsinki might not always be at the top of your list.
Sure, it may be a little out of the way for some and not always the friendliest to tourists’ wallets but, that shouldn’t deter you from seeing all the amazing sights and sounds that complement the Nordic charm the city is known for.
Here are four reasons why we think Finland's modern and vibrant capital should be at the top of your list of places to see when considering your next Scandinavian jaunt.
1. Helsinki is super green
Did you know that Helsinki is one of the greenest cities in the world? More than a third of the city is covered by parks and other lush and vivid green spaces. 42 nature reserves are also studded around the city and can be used all year round.
Esplanade, Helsinki by Adobe Stock
When exploring the lush capital, it’s not uncommon to feel a close connection with nature. To get the best sense of this though, you must visit the beloved Sibelius Park in Töölö – a stone’s throw away from the city centre.
While not the largest and most manicured of city parks, it was designed to reflect the rugged natural beauty of Finland. When taking a stroll through this little gem, do not forget to visit what undoubtedly makes this park known to the world; the Sibelius Monument that was erected as a homage to the great Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
We challenge you not to be completely taken aback by the kinetic presence of this 24 tonne sculpture of welded steel pipes. Here, you can give your inner child permission to come outside and try its hand – through voice - at ‘composing’ a symphony underneath the striking sculpture.
Sibelius Monument in Sibelius Park, Helsinki by Adobe Stock
Looking under the Sibelius Monument by Adobe Stock
2. Helsinki is an architect's utopia
Showcasing an eclectic mix of Modernism, Functionalism, Neoclassicism and the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings, Helsinki can proudly claim the accolade of having one of the most diverse architectural cityscapes in all Northern Europe.
From complex and multifaceted structures that are influenced by foreign regions, to the most refined designs typical of the classic Nordic style, there is a distinctive aesthetic blend that radiates from the city with something different around every corner. However, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Suomenlinna deserves a special mention as it was shaped by three unique historic eras – the Swedish, Russian and Finnish - making it a captivating entity to discover.
Today, this maritime fortress that once helped defend each of the nations mentioned above serves as a bustling suburb with beautiful parks, events, restaurants and architectural relics from a wartime past – with so many diverse functions, it’s no wonder the seasoned fortress is visited by so many around the world.
Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress on the islands in the harbour of Helsinki by Adobe Stock
Old Suomenlinna ferry terminal in the Maritime Fortress by Adobe Stock
3. Helsinki knows how to turn up the heat
Now, let’s Finnish up with Helsinki's steamy sauna culture (see what we did there?). Heavily rooted in the Nordic ethos, the humble sauna represents the holy grail for spiritual and physical cleansing. If you wish to understand Finland and its people, doing so over a blissful sweat is a good place to start.
As a result, you won’t be hard pressed to find a sauna complex in Helsinki with thousands of them studded around the capital, including some of the best in the country (such as Löyly and Sompasana). But what makes taking a sauna in Finland so different to the rest of the world? Well, it’s a matter of perspective. In Finland, it is not a luxury but a necessity and what makes the experience unique is the etiquette and decorum applied to the process.
Löyly public sauna and restaurant complex in Helsinki by Kuvio
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to sauna in Helsinki:
- Dress right down to your birthday suit.
- Always take a shower before going into the sauna.
- Enter the sauna with nothing but a towel around you and use a cloth or disposable seat to sit on (you can wear a swimsuit if a towel is a little too adventurous for you).
- If you are sitting closet to the hot stones in the sauna, it is your duty to throw water on it as much as you like.
- After the sauna, it is common to have a cold drink and a small snack.
- Shower or Repeat as many times as you like.
4. Helsinki is still one of Europe's best kept secrets
We think Helsinki is one of the best preserved secrets in Europe. It has a booming design culture, charming locals and best of all, it is a destination not yet overrun by tourists. If this sounds like the destination you’ve been waiting for check it out as part of our popular Scandinavian Discovery small group tour.
Aerial sunset view of beautiful Helsinki by Adobe Stock