Saturday, June 16, 2012

A visitors guide to Helsinki

What should you do if you're visiting Helsinki?

It's a pleasant city to just walk around, admiring the buildings while eating an ice cream, and a good starting point is the Kauppatori where you'll find the Havis Amanda statue, regarded as a symbol of the city.
Here you can get ferries out to explore the islands, and top of the list of must-dos is the superb fortress island of Suomenlinna which is a Unesco World Heritage Site:
Back on the mainland first head towards the impressive Orthodox cathedral with its characteristic onion topped domes, gleaming in the sunlight.

Nearby is a harbour with a number of lovely old wooden boats. I never did work out how to get trips on them, but guess they might be reserved for parties from the many cruise ships that dock here.
Towering over the city is the Tuomiokirkko, a neoclassical Lutheran cathedral (top of page). Inside its plainly decorated with the exception of its magnificent organ:
If you get a chance its definitely worth the 20 minute or so walk to the Temppeliaukio church cut into sold rock it has the feel of a James Bond set:
A little further away in the Sibelius Park you'll find the Sibelius Monument:
You can walk almost the whole way around Helsinki by the sea which gives you great views of all the boats bobbing in the cool dark waters of the Bay of Finland.

There's a lot of art and music in Helsinki too. When I was there (summer 2012) the Ateneum art gallery (near the station) had a major exhibition of the Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck and you can usually hear live bands playing in Esplanade Park.

I managed to eat in a number of good restaurants, namely:

  • Elite: this is a bit off the beaten track and I stumbled upon it by accident, but it was a treat, my favourite. Worth making an effort clothes-wise. Classic Finnish cuisine well prepared with great atmosphere
  • Toscanini: a city centre Italian which understands that Italy cuisine is more than just pizzas. 
  • Salve: at the south of the city this sailor themed restaurant is Finnish cuisine based but more relaxed than Elite. I had the two course special that included a free ticket to the Atenium art gallery.

All in all a very pleasant city with much to see and do.

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