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Holidays to Helsinki
Helsinki - a summer full of fun!
East meets west in Helsinki, Finland in a culture clash that's more blend than battle. This uncompromisingly western city contains all the things you expect, such as advertising, coffee shops and fast food, along with charming Russian habits like overwhelming hospitality (once you reach behind the nominally shy Finnish exterior), a passion for life and ...saunas.
Ideal for cheap weekend breaks, Helsinki is a small city of around 500,000 people and the city draws you in with that beautiful small-town feel - it's easy to get around, the locals are very friendly and nature plays a big part in the attractions.
Head for the harbourside for a spot of people-watching, sample the good food and shop til you drop in the markets. Pick yourself up a fluffy hat and a selection of kitsch souvenirs. Wander the street stalls and marvel at how almost everyone is on a mobile phone. (You are, after all, in the land of Nokia!)
A word to the wise - if you're lucky enough to strike up a friendship with a local, they'll likely invite you for coffee or a sauna. It's rude to refuse so just sit back and enjoy! Weekend getaways are indeed the way to ease tensions.
There's plenty to see and do in Helsinki. Much of it revolves around the harbour but the surrounding countryside in summer is nothing short of spectacular!
A couple of things to remember - the taxes on alcohol in Finland make it prohibitive to drink in the local bars. Come packed ans tacked with duty-free or get ready to bite the bullet when you're out. This is not London, bars and restaurants aren't open 24/7, you'll need to eat early and make sure you don't get to the nightclubs too late.
Eating out in Helsinki
Cheap, expensive and everything in between.
Helsinki is a bit of a lunch town - and by that we mean it, like other European cities, has the curious habit of serving the same meal at dinner whilst charging more money. In other words, if you want meal value in Helsinki, eat out at lunchtime!
Finland is a meat and potatoes kind of country but luckily Helsinki has it's fair share of top quality restaurants. Budget and mid-priced travellers can also find something; you may have to search a little though! And thank heavens for the student union! They own a chain of good quality, healthy food outlets across Helsinki serving good grub for around €5.
The budget options - the student food chain you're looking for is called Unicafe and there's about ten of them across the city. No gourmet repast but decent food at a decent price in an expensive city. You're other budget options include fast food outlets and kebab-style shops. If you like pasta, then Pasta La Vista on Mikonkatu is your choice. For something a little Russian in style try Pelmenit on Kustaankatu . The Russian owner serves pelmeny (Russian dumplings), blini (Russian crepes), soups and salads.
Mid price options - Check out FishMarket on Pohjoisesplanadi , Helsinki's brilliant seafood restaurant and seafood bar. Kuu Kuu on Museokatu is a cosy modern bar/restaurant serving typical Finnish and Swedish fare. You can't leave Helsinki without trying typical Helsinki food - which you'll find at Kosmos on Kalevankatu The place has been around since 1924, proudly serving a melting pot of Russian, French and Swedish influences.
Splurge - Chez Dominique on Rikhardinkatu. Finland's only Michelin two-star restaurant serves a mix of French style food using Finnish ingredients with more than a passing nod to Finnish food history. Saaga on Bulevardi is typical Lapp food - think Reindeer meatballs, smoked elk meats and bear. It's better than it sounds and you have to love the whole reindeer horn setup. (Tell your friends you dined at a real Finnish restaurant!).
What to wear, when to go
Helsinki sees the odd snow flurry in winter, being close to the arctic circle and all. You'll want to rug up in winter! That said, the place is a winter wonderland with scenic vistas and gorgeous snow scenes as you roam the town. Summer is such a contrast it's hard to believe you're in the same city with rolling hills, forests and beautiful water scenes surrounding the town.
Winter gets cold - down to -7 or so (and don't forget the wind chill factor.) Summer is much better with averages around the 20C mark Autumn starts getting serious around October with an average daily temp of 6C, while Spring is a still chilly 6C in May.
Summer is unsurprisingly the wettest time of year - because it's too cold for rain during winter, but those long, long summer days give you plenty of time to see everything.
Helsinki - pretty as a picture!
Helsinki comes into it's own in summer when the 19 hours of sunshine gives you plenty of opportunity to see all the sights. Hit the beach, enjoy an outdoor restaurant and have a quiet beer or two in the still-remaining daylight afterwards! The Finns know how to take advantage of their summer; bars are everywhere and the outdoor scene is popular so our recommendation is to get up early, see all you want to see, then start winding down in the afternoons with a spot of people watching and outdoor dining.
Suomenlinna Sea Fortress - is situated on an island just a short boat ride from Helsinki. The ride itself is well worth the effort with great views of Helsinki from the water. The island is home to numerous cafes and restaurants and you can see what 200 year old army base looks like. The history of the place, originally built by the Swedes in 1700s as a bulwark against Russian invasion, is fascinating and the island is full of catacombs, tunnels and fortifications.
The Rock Church - blasted out of the hard bedrock in 1969 this church on Lutherinkatu is interesting simply because it's a classic example of how they build in Helsinki. The granite-hard bedrock is just metres down so any foundation work in Helsinki is generally done with explosives! (Which explains the occasional boom you'll hear.)
Festivals - if you're in Finland over April 30 - May 1, then Vappu is your 'must do'. Vappu is an excuse for all-comers to wear brightly coloured clothes and enjoy street parties everywhere. if you've a sturdy constitution try to keep up with the locals, otherwise stick to a couple of beers and retreat to a pub somewhere.
Galleries and museums - the Design Museum on Korkeavuorenkatu is an excellent resume of the contribution to modern culture by Finnish design. Many of those consumer goods you can't do without were born in the mind of a Finnish designer.
Don't miss - a Finnish sauna. This country lives for them and so will you afterwards. One of the better public ones is on Harjutorinkatu. Kotiharjun sauna is one of the few wood burning public saunas in Helsinki. There are separate saunas for men and women and make sure you cool down in the freezing pools like a local!