A modern city featuring some of the most distinctive architecture in the world, both old and new, Helsinki is one of the cultural hot spots of Northern Europe. An ideal holiday destination for both for lovers of the arts and those who relish its exciting and vibrant nightlife, Helsinki is also a child-friendly city perfect for family vacations, and being surrounded by forests, lakes and the sea, it is also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Situated on the Baltic Sea, Finland's capital, Helsinki, is a modern city of over half a million people, and is the second most northern capital in Europe. At the start of the new millennium, Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary at the same time as it was the official European City of Culture in 2000. Surrounded by an archipelago of hundreds of tiny islands, and culturally influenced by both the East and West, Helsinki is unique, combining both modern and historic architectural styles with a love of open spaces that is at the very heart of Finnish identity.
Helsinki is world famous for its architecture; the city centre is renowned for its neoclassicalism, especially around Senate Square where the Government Palace, Cathedral, and Main Building of the University of Helsinki, all designed by C.L. Engel, stand out. Close by on a hilltop stands the Uspenski Cathedral, Europe's largest Russian Orthodox church, and a stunning example of the Byzantine-Russian style. Scattered about the city are fine examples of Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau, noticeably developing into a National Romanticist style, particularly in the case of the National Museum of Finland and the magnificent Railway Station. Elsewhere, the Temppeliaukio Church and Finlandia Hall represent early Modernism.
As befits one of Europe's foremost capital cities, Helsinki is vibrant, yet paradoxically as laid-back as the Finns who call it home. Wide and spacious streets and avenues allow for a multitude of cafes and restaurants to serve outdoors, where you sit back and relax, and at night there is no shortage of bars, clubs and venues to choose from. Throughout the year, Helsinki offers an incredible variety of activities for people of all ages, whether they prefer challenging sports, or gentle investigations of the natural beauty all around them. Cruises around the archipelago, trekking in the nearby forests, and traditional Finnish saunas, are some of the more popular choices, but there's plenty more besides.
Finns have long had an inherent appreciation and understanding of the cultural importance of art and design. Finland's place on the international design stage today is evidenced by the designation of Helsinki as the World Design Capital for 2012 by the ICSID, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, coinciding with the city's 200th anniversary of becoming the nation's capital.
Helsinki is one of the cultural hotspots of Northern Europe, with plenty to offer lovers of classical music, theatre, museums and the arts, as well as hosting numerous music festivals. Surrounded by forests, it also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, and there are numerous cruises along the coast and amongst the many islands of the archipelago.
Helsinki has a considerable international reputation for hosting sporting events of every kind, thanks in part to the 1952 Olympic Games which were held here. In 1983 the city became the first to host the World Championships in Athletics, and it became the only city to host the Championships twice in 2005.
There are approximately 1,300 restaurants in Helsinki, including 13 Japanese, 26 Indian, 43 Chinese, 8 Nepalese, and 6 Thai restaurants. The city also boasts 3 restaurants awarded stars in the Michelin guide, including Chez Dominique which is one of only three restaurants in all Scandanavia to be awarded 2 stars.
Helsinki centre has a vast selection of hotels, from the luxuriance of the Hotel Kämp and Hilton Strand, to low priced hotels. There are more than 30 hotels located within a few kilometres of the city centre, and an even greater choice for those who prefer to stay a little further from the hustle and bustle in more peaceful settings.
As befits the capital city of a country whose citizens display a keen sense of style, Helsinki offers the widest range of shopping opportunities in Finland, indeed it would be hard to find a better city for shoppers in all the Northern countries.
Getting to Helsinki couldn't be easier. The international airport, Helsinki-Vantaa, connects Finland to Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia, while the ports serve ferries to and from Germany, Sweden, and Estonia. There is also a regular rail service connecting Helsinki with St. Petersburg and Moscow in Russia.
Helsinki is one of the most family oriented cities in Europe, with a dozen parks and countless playgrounds in every part of the city. Families visiting the city find Helsinki an especially pleasant and convenient vacation spot, and children love the city.