Entwined with the Baltic's bays, inlets and islands, Helsinki's boulevards and backstreets overflow with magnificent architecture, intriguing drinking and dining venues and groundbreaking design.
Finland is famed for its streamlined, functional, stylish design. In the 20th century, pioneers such as Alvar and Aino Aalto cemented its reputation, and the capital remains the country's creative hub. Helsinki's design scene is one of the most electrifying in the world today, and a major influence across the globe. Boutiques, workshops and galleries filled with glassware, lighting, textiles and innovative homewares proliferate in the Design District just south of the centre in Punavuori, which is home to Helsinki's superb Design Museum, and throughout the city, from its thoroughfares to repurposed industrial spaces.
Taking its cues from the design scene, architecture in Helsinki is flourishing. Contemporary highlights include the Kiasma museum of contemporary art (1998) and concert hall Musiikkitalo (2011). Modernism is exemplified by Alvar Aalto's Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (1969) and Finlandia Talo concert hall (1971), along with Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen's astonishing rock-carved church, the Temppeliaukio (1969). Finland's art-nouveau movement, National Romanticism, has left a glorious legacy of buildings from the era such as Helsinki's beautiful train station (1919). Functionalism, wooden architecture (including 1920s classicism and 2012's Kamppi chapel) and Byzantine-Russian, neo-Renaissance and neoclassical styles are all woven into the city's fabric.
Locally sourced, seasonal, sustainably farmed and foraged ingredients might be red-hot worldwide trends today, but in Finland they have long been a way of life. Wildlife such as reindeer, elk, bear and snow grouse, along with shoals of fish such as salmon and freshwater arctic char, find their way onto plates here, together with forest mushrooms, bushels of berries, including lingonberries and prized cloudberries, herbs and specialities such as tar. Finnish flavours can be found all over Helsinki, from a historic kauppahalli (covered market) to venerable restaurants, creative bistros and Michelin-starred gastronomy labs, in addition to international cuisines.
While it's a culture-packed urban centre, Helsinki is surrounded by sublime natural environment that's easily reached from every part of the city. Opportunities to get active abound here, from boating to its archipelago's islands, strolling along its beaches and through its extensive parks and gardens, and hiking in its surrounding forests. When snow blankets the city in winter and the seas freeze, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, ice skating and ice fishing on the many bays are all invigorating ways to keep warm while staying in touch with nature.