Helsinki is a sea-town par excellence and an exciting, dynamic place. Half the city seems to be water, and the tortured geography of the coastline includes any number of bays, inlets and a speckling of islands. The harbour is the heart of the city, and watching the giant ferries glide into port is a defining memory and essential Helsinki experience.
Helsinki is cool without - as yet - being self-consciously so. Unlike other capitals, you sense that people go to places because they enjoy them, not to be seen. Much modern décor is ironic and humorous, and achieves stylishness by daring to differ rather than trying too hard.
While not an ancient place, much of what is loveable in Helsinki is older. The style of its glorious Art Nouveau buildings, the spacious elegance of its cafés, the careful preservation of Finnish heritage in its dozens of museums, restaurants that have changed neither menu nor furnishings since the 1930s are all part of the city's quirky charm.
It has a very different feel to the rest of Finland, partly because before the days of the hi-tech society it was the country's sole point of contact almost with the rest of the world.
Like all of Finland, though, Helsinki has a dual nature. In winter you sometimes wonder where all the people are. In spring and summer they are back again, packing green spaces and outdoor tables to get a piece of blessed sun, whirring around on thousands of bicycles and kicking the city's nightlife into overdrive.
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These tours & activities make it easy:
Revamped: 10 neighbourhoods that have had incredible makeovers
Some neighbourhoods are effortlessly charming while others bring new meaning to the phrase 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. From gritty to glossy, these 10 neighbourhoods around the world have been completely revamped into coveted places to live, work and play. Grünerløkka cafe.
Top things to do in Helsinki
Helsinki destination guides
Just a 15-minute ferry ride from the Kauppatori (market square), a visit to Suomenlinna), the ‘fortress of Finland)’, is a Helsinki) must-do.
Europe's greatest train stations
In Europe's great cities, a station can be a destination in itself. Take a later train and discover these 'railway cathedrals'.
Experience the diverse delights of the Baltic states on this adventurous journey through Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany. From the medieval spires of Tallinn and the funky bars of Riga to the Baroque-styled quirks of Vilnius, hidden delights await. Visit colourful markets, be immersed in art and architecture and trek past Lithuanian lakes.
Discover Helsinki independently with the Helsinki Card. The card is a handy, economical way to make the most of your visit in Helsinki. It is a transport ticket and entrance ticket all in one and has a number of great value reductions and bonuses attached.
10 of the world’s unsung places
Some places stay persistently off the beaten track, despite their many charms. Here’s a sampling of places overlooked because of geography, chance and the presence of more glamorous neighbours. 1.