My first trip to Helsinki was in the middle of winter with the city covered in snow and ice. I was hustling from airport to client to hotel in freezing temperatures and didn’t get to see much, so I was eager to return in friendlier weather to see all the city has to offer. It was the first stop of my Baltic Explorer trip and I was looking forward to it!
It always amazes me how the character of a city can change with the seasons and none more so than Helsinki! In winter, there are only a few hours of daylight, if any, it’s cold and grey and unless you are a overland skier, you probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of time outside. Arriving in summer, I found a bustling city in love with the outdoors and as green as any city I have seen, with endless daylight providing energy to the city and its people!
Flying into Helsinki, your first impression is of greenery: Finland is covered to 70% in forest and it reaches all the way to the doorstep of the city. All around the city and on the islands nearby, you’ll find parks and public recreational areas, inviting people to enjoy a break in nature. Between the small size of the city with a population of 600,000, the compact size and the plentiful parks, it makes for a very relaxing city. If you like the outdoors, you’ll love Helsinki. A boat tour of the islands around the city should be high on your list.
That love of the outdoors shows itself also in the many outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars, despite the short summers. I was able to have coffee or meals outside, watching people walk by in the pedestrian areas of the old city center or in the parks. I love that – it makes for a very lively atmosphere!
Despite that outdoorsy style, Helsinki is also a city of culture! A walk through the old city center with its beautiful churches and cobblestone squares makes for a great introduction to the city and the history. It’s well restored and a great place to discover on foot! The list of museums is long – from the history of the country and the city, natural history and fine art to modern art and design, there should be something of interest for everybody. And they are well done, have great stories to tell and are well set up and easy to explore with English language guides and panels everywhere. If you want to combine nature and some history, your first choice should be Suomenlinna, the sea fortress covering several harbor islands!
All of that is easy to explore: Not only does Helsinki have a very modern infrastructure, with great trains, fast internet and mobile phone coverage, it’s well set up for visitors as well. Maps and tourist tickets are of great quality, electronic payments are everywhere and with use of the Euro, it’s an easy, borderless trip from much of Europe. Add the friendly locals and you have a very inviting city for a pleasant summer trip!