Helsinki from the sea
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Helsinki from the sea

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Helsinki travel guide

Stylish without being self-conscious and home to an eclectic mix of Scandinavian, Russian and Sami culture, loveable Helsinki is an accurate reflection of Finland itself.

Looking across the Gulf of Finland towards Estonia, the Finnish capital has always been a sea town and its harbour remains at its heart.

Helsinki has a character that perfectly reflects its geographical location - on the historical fault-line between the Swedish and Russian empires. Although the city is unmistakably Scandinavian, the architecture and the locals’ penchant for vodka show the clear influence of mother Russia.

Outweighing both, however, is the influence of the sea and the maritime history that comes with it. Unusually for a city of its size, Helsinki boasts 315 islands and close to 100km (60 miles) of coastline.

Many of the city’s main attractions are found by the water, from the UNESCO-listed Suomenlinna sea fortress to the gorgeous beaches of Pihlajasaari and Uunisaari islands. Helsinki’s seafood restaurants that are second to none too – try perch, whitefish, pike-perch or salmon served with new potatoes in summertime, while the legendary crayfish season starts in August.

The changing seasons, in particular the long dark days of winter, have also influenced the character of the city, not least in the cosy bars and restaurants that come into their own when it snows.

By contrast, the long sunny days of the summer months let you appreciate the unironically named Winter Garden, wander along Ruoholahti canal or dive into the Kumpula Outdoor Swimming Pool. Whatever the season, don’t miss a trip to the Kotiharju sauna, the oldest public wood sauna in the city.

There’s always plenty to do outside too, with fishing, cycling, golfing or a visit to the Finnish Nature Centre in nearby Nuuksio National Park among the summer highlights. In winter, try ice skating, skiing and snowboarding or go cross-country skiing on one of the city’s dedicated trails. It might be a bit dark in winter but Helsinki really is a year-round city.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.