Helsinki, Finland is an easy city to love. From cutting-edge art museums and historical sights to a vibrant foodie scene and shopping galore, Helsinki has more than enough to keep travelers enthralled. The soulful, friendly locals are another reason to visit too.
Unabashedly original with an eclectic, trend-setting style all its own, a trip to Helsinki could be all about the fashion-savvy people watching. But, do make sure to explore the sights; there’s much to see! For a whirlwind twenty-four hours in Helsinki, don’t miss the following highlights:
Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art
Designed by American architect Steven Holl, beginning in 1996, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art stands out for its curvy, sleek design and emphasis on natural light. There is glass everywhere! But, it’s not only the architecture that is impressive; the largely Finnish revolving contemporary art collections are some of the region’s finest. After exploring the museum highlights, it is brunch with locals at Café Kiasma located on the ground floor. Chic and modern with stellar views of the surrounding urban commotion (including regular groupings of skateboarders working their magic on the other side of the windows), the café is a prime spot for people watching.
Helsingin Tuomiokirkko (Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral)
Constructed in the mid-1800s, the distinguished neo-classical Helsinki Cathedral is strikingly grand with a stark white façade topped off by one large central green dome that is surrounded by four smaller ones. The cathedral’s elevated position at the top of an imposing flight of stairs and across from stoic Senate Square adds to its allure. If travel weary legs need a break, stop in one of the quaint cafes across from the cathedral to sip an espresso and take in the majestic views.
Kauppatori (Market Square)
Foodies should beeline to scenic, harborside Market Square where local food vendors cook up simple, fresh fish and veggie meals at very reasonable prices. Portions are generally huge, so consider sharing. If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen in Helsinki, stop at the fisherman stalls to pick up freshly caught, local salmon. There are produce vendors and boisterous cafes that line the market too, and even a few handicraft stalls perfect for purchasing souvenirs for family and friends.
Suomen Kansallismuseo (The National Museum of Finland)
For a crash course on Finland’s history, all the way from pre-historic times through the present day, the National Museum of Finland is the place to go. The imposing early twentieth-century granite building with a grand square tower is reason enough to pay a visit, but the chronologically organized exhibits that are chockfull of ancient treasures, artifacts, and cultural info are the real draw. Make sure to spend some time in the museum’s entrance hall, where magnificent, colorful frescoes line the vaulted ceiling telling tales from the Kalevala, an epic historical work of Finnish literature based on ancient folklore and mythology.
Lined with manicured parks and upscale shops, Esplanadi is Helsinki’s prettiest promenade. On the weekends, the outdoor cafes and parks are full of local residents and tourists eating, drinking and socializing. There’s frequently live music, as well. Pop a squat next to friendly locals in the park or at a café, or if the budget allows, stop in the shops and bring home a few trend-setting Finnish fashion items.
Written by and photos by Katherine Sazdanoff for EuropeUpClose.com
Katherine Sazdanoff is a freelance travel writer who visits and writes about Europe at every opportunity. This year she embarked on a solo journey through Scandinavia including a side-trip to Helsinki, Finland. By hour two, she’d fallen in love with the infinitely original, bustling city (and, its tasty food!). To chronicle her wanderlust adventures, visit her website at www.katherinesazdanoff.com.