Sunshine teases with its brightness, but the sea is still frozen and plenty of the white stuff hangs around Helsinki. Bundle up and brave the cold to see the best the Finnish capital has to offer.
Pull on the woollies and let’s take a hike — across the ice-covered sea. Walking on water is something you won’t forget. There’s the Töölö Bay in the heart of the city or the Hietaniemi Beach. The wide-open space feeling is hard to beat and with the promise of a hot coffee and a freshly baked cinnamon bun in the coziest of cozy spots, your day is starting off well. Café Regatta, near the spectacular Sibelius Monument, is filled with Finnish junk items that could almost be mistaken for being valuable.
On the way back to the city, don’t miss the Temppeliaukio Church (Church in the Rock), which in its understated, almost hidden location, is a marvel of architecture fully utilizing the beauty of primary rock that’s ubiquitous in this city. The Old Market Hall just moved to Hietalahti Market Hall and had a facelift. Nowadays, it’s the place for oysters and champagne, scrumptious burgers and heart-warming soup. The selection of uniquely Finnish products such as smoked or natural fish, reindeer, cheese and bread is simply astonishing and quite a cultural experience.
The frigid temperatures may not inspire you to take a dip, but swimming pools abound here, so if you get the urge, try the indoor pool at Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. It’s more like a Turkish bath, where gender segregation is based on the day of the week and time of day. You won’t feel like an outsider, as Finns are quite comfortable with getting naked and enjoying the sauna with complete strangers.
For a change of scenery — and a good look at traditional Finnish art — the Ateneum Art Museum has an impressive collection of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eero Järnefelt and Hugo Simberg’s works. But if you want to explore the more contemporary stuff, take a walk down Uudenmaankatu, where galleries compete for attention.
Brunch is quite the in-thing around town, and lots of restaurants have some pretty amazing buffet tables filled with Finnish delicacies. Kellohalli is four metro stops from the central railway station. Housed in what used to be the local abattoir, the whole area is becoming a food mecca. The brunch here comes à la carte or as a three-course meal, with one selection from every price range, and is bursting with freshness and flavor. Expect dishes such as a fennel beetroot salad to start, chicken liver pâté and flank steak served with hollandaise.
Get a birds-eye view of the city and sip a handmade Apple Sour while perched on the top of the Solo Sokos Hotel Torni at the Ateljee Bar. Even the toilets are glass-enclosed revealing the spectacular vista. Dinner should be had at Elite, a living room for artists since the 1930s. Try famous classics such as the Tauno Palo steak with creamy onion sauce or fried Baltic herrings. Work off the calories with a jiggle of the hips at Storyville Jazz Club. Action downstairs begins at around 10 p.m., and both local and international musicians perform live.
Helsinki Music Centre is said to have the best acoustics in the world. The building itself is worth a look-see with its plunging atrium and hanging sculpture. Music from all genres is given a platform and many of the events are free of charge.
And for an extra tip, your stay in Helsinki could be made a lot easier with the Helsinki Card that offers unlimited metro, bus and tram travel, as well as a free guided or audio tour and discounts.
Photos Courtesy of Elite, Ero Jarnefelt, Ateneum Museum, Ero Kokko and Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall