Helsinki is now part of Scandinavia, but it shares its history with Russia as well as Sweden, giving it a somewhat exotic feel if you are coming from the West. This is a compact city that is wide open and extremely pleasant during the summer, but the short days and climate insure that Helsinki is an indoor city to those brave enough to visit during the winter. The Finnish language doesn’t resemble the other Scandinavian languages either, but fortunately nearly everyone speaks English.
What To Do
The giant Lutheran Cathedral is the most popular symbol of Helsinki and is worth a visit. After a recent renovation this green and white structure looks almost new even though it’s over 150 years old. Senate Square is the heart of the city and home to several fine museums and galleries.
Helsinki is surrounded by several small islands and boat tours of the islands are very popular in summer. Suomenlinna Island contains a fascinating sea fortress, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is well worth a visit if the weather cooperates.
Being a long way from nearly everything, Helsinki is rarely a city one just happens to come upon accidentally. It’s a great destination for Eurail Pass holders able to burn a full day on this long and fairly expensive trip, but if you are coming from somewhere other than a country nearby you’ll want to book a flight into Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport (code: HEL). There are regional buses as well as shuttle buses that connect the airport with the city center.
Where To Stay
There are several hostels in Helsinki and during peak season they can be booked well in advance. Of course there are hotels in Helsinki as well, but prices tend to be high so if you are interested in finding a cheaper place it’s also recommended to book well ahead. The center is compact, but you should be clear on your location before booking since it’s not worth saving a little money if you end up staying well out of town.