Helsinki, and indeed Finland, might not be high on the list of places that people plan to visit but, this Northern European capital offers plenty of attractions, parks, islands and a relaxed atmosphere in a compact space that can be easily covered over a long weekend.
One of the best ways to get around the city, is by boarding one of the trams; Line 2 (former 3T) route has stops at many tourist sights in Helsinki and a very useful map can be obtained from the Visitors’ Center pointing out all the attractions along the route.
The first stop should be at Senate Square, the main square in Helsinki; the Cathedral dominates this vast square and a look inside will offer the opportunity to see the beautiful Organ. Other important buildings on Senate Square are the Government Palace and the National Library.
Market Square is less than five minutes walk away from Senate Square; here market traders sell their goods to both locals and visitors and fresh fish can be bought straight from boats in the harbour. Along the waterfront, not far from Market Square is The Old Market Hall, an indoor food market established in 1889.
From the harbour there are nice views of Helsinki with the Cathedral in the background and on a small hill nearby Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral can be seen; with a number of icons inside and a nice view from outside a visit to what is considered to be the largest orthodox church in Western Europe is highly recommended.
Back in the city center, past the imposing building of Helsinki Railway station the tram stops outside Kamppi, a shopping center housing a cinema and a number of shops and restaurants before continuing to Sammonkatu, the stop closest to one of Helsinki’s most peculiar and popular attraction: Temppeliaukio Church. The walls of the church are carved into solid rock topped with a copper dome; due to its excellent acoustics, classical music concerts are often held in the church.
And the music element of the city is also evident in Sibelius Park: named after the composer Jean Sibelius. The famous Sibelius Monument made to resemble organ pipes and a bust of the composer can be seen here; there is a small cafe near the park perfect for a coffee break.
Helsinki parks are an integral part of the city like the Esplanade Park found near the waterfront. This vast park is always busy with people watching the world go by, horse-drawn carriages waiting for customers and the famous Kappeli Cafe’ on this site since 1867.
A number of buildings architecturally interesting both from outside and inside can be visited during a trip to Helsinki like the Finnish National Opera, Finlandia Hall, the Parliament and museum like the National Museum, the Ateneum Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
For sports enthusiasts, a visit to Helsinki Olympic Stadium will offer the opportunity to visit the stadium and enjoy stunning views of Helsinki from the top of the 235 feet high Stadium Tower; for visitors on a budget a hostel is conveniently located here. Outside the stadium there is a statue dedicated to Paavo Nurmi, a long distance runner; this is a copy of the original statue held at the Ateneum Art Museum
For families with young children a visit to Linnanmäki Amusement Park should not be missed; the park opened in 1950, includes a very popular wooden rollercoaster.
On a long weekend in Helsinki a day out of the city can be enjoyed by going on a boat trip; from the harbour, boats leave regularly to Helsinki Zoo, Porvoo and Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress a huge complex set on 8 islands with bridges, gates, bunkers, museums a submarine and a choice of restaurants.
Accommodation in Helsinki ranges from hostels to a former prison cleverly converted into a hotel found in the Katajanokka district about 10 mins away by tram or 15 mins walk from Helsinki city center.
Helsinki can be visited all year round fascinating visitors both in summer, with long sunny days, and in winter when the sea freezes over and snow covered buildings give a magical atmosphere to the city.
A visit to Helsinki can be combined with a trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. A number of ferries and hydrofoils leave from Helsinki Port regularly; although Tallinn can be visited in one day, a longer stay will offer the opportunity to travel to other parts of Estonia, a relatively new country on the tourist map.