Water surrounds Helsinki, shaping the land with a series of inlets, bays and harbour areas. This dialogue with the waves extends over the writhing exteriors of Helsinki’s exceptionally designed buildings, groovy clubs, and traditional saunas. City breaks in Helsinki are a perfect choice if you’re looking for a destination with buckets of style.
The most iconic building in Helsinki is Tuomiokirkko, the city’s cathedral. Designed by the architect C.L. Engel in the 19th century, this white Lutheran cathedral stands over Senaatintori as a physical reminder of the power of God. The stairs leading to the cathedral are a handy meeting place to visitors to the city, as well as couples kissing in front of the impressive backdrop. Opposite Tuomiokirkko is the Russian Orthodox cathedral, Uspenskin Katedraali, built in the 19th century. If Tuomiokirkko is an icon of Helsinki’s past, Temppeliaukion Kirkko is a symbol of its present. Another church, this building was designed in 1969 by the architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen – shorn into the rocks and laden with a magnificent copper roof. It’s a marvel to behold and well worth visiting.
Parks and zoos
A haven for relaxing Helsinkians and travellers alike, the Esplanade Park is a stunning patch of green space set in the heart of the city. The park’s Espa Stage is a popular venue where you’ll be able to watch all sorts of live events in the summer, from fashion shows to jazz music. If you’re travelling with kids in tow, Helsinki Zoo is a fun place to spend a few hours. This zoo is one of the oldest in the world, dating from 1889, and is home to over 200 different animal species. Also worth checking out if you’re with family is the Linnanmäki Amusement Park, which features a number of fun rides including an old-fashioned wooden rollercoaster. For an insight into the Finnish folk tradition, Seurasaari Open-Air Museum has a variety of recreated traditional buildings, as well as guides dressed in national costumes. Also worth visiting if you’re interested in military history is the nearby Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, one of the biggest sea fortresses in the world.
One of the best places to dip into Helsinki’s cutting-edge art and design is at Kiasma, a curvaceous building that houses an excellent collection of Finnish and international contemporary art. For a more comprehensive view of Finland’s rich cultural heritage, head to the Ateneum Art Museum where you’ll find 19th-century and early-20th-century works from the Golden Age of Finnish art. On a nearby island is the Villa Gyllenberg gallery where you can see more Finnish art, while the enormous Kaapelitehdas cultural complex features a photography museum and a number of performance spaces, all housed in a converted sea cable factory. Similarly, the Korjaamo cultural centre is housed in a converted tram depot.