Finland is a scenic country of lakes, islands, andforests, its pristine wilderness juxtaposed against ultramoderntechnology. With it extending well into the Arctic Circle, the sunnever quite sets during summer, nor does it ever quite rise in thewinter time.
This land of contrasts has plenty to delight andenchant visitors, from its forbidding castles and onion-domedSlavic churches to the reindeer herds of the indigenous Sami peopleof Lapland in the north.
Dine on reindeer steak, traverse the northern arctichome of Santa Claus, and ski or dog sled across virgin snow. Aftera trip out in the cold or one of the traditional folk festivals,let off some steam in a sauna. Invented by the Finnish, there aresome two million saunas in the country.
The lively, modern capital city of Helsinki is packedwith galleries, museums, and cafes, while beyond it lies vastswathes of countryside to explore in the clean clear air. Around 65percent of the country is covered in forest and there are almost 40national parks.
Despite its seemingly rugged environment, Finland isby no means a basic and simple country. In fact, it is regarded asbeing one of the most high-tech societies in the world and was thefirst country in the world to make internet access a legalright.
From the pulsating cultural scene in the capital ofHelsinki to the striking natural beauty of the jagged and icycountryside, Finland remains one of the more unexplored places inEurope. While the cities and towns offer many unique cultural andhistorical attractions, the natural surroundings serve as aplayground for both winter and summer activities.
Helsinki is the main point of entry for most visitorsto Finland. This is where sightseers will find the country's finestmuseums, art galleries, restaurants, and shopping. It's easy tospend a week exploring the city and enjoying the culturalattractions. Some of the most important sights in the city includeFinlandia Hall, the architecture around Senate Square, Suomenlinna,and the underground Rock Church.
Those with an interest in history or art will alsowant to allow some time to wander through the Finnish NationalMuseum or the Finnish National Museum of Art. Nearby, the Open-AirFolk Museum on the island of Seurasaari, with old houses and timberbuildings, reveals an in depth historical perspective onFinland.
From Helsinki there are a number of great day trips.Northeast of the city is the historic town of Provoo, which can bereached by road or by boat. To the north of Helsinki lies themedieval castle at Hameenlinna. To the west lies Turku, the ancientcapital of Finland. Those looking to venture further afield willfind a countryside of forests and lakes.
The historically significant Suomenlinna Fortress isnot only a major military monument worthy of the UNESCO WorldHeritage List, but also home to about 800 Finns who live in therenovated barracks. The entire site is a fun, multifacetedattraction for Helsinki residents and visitors. Built duringSwedish rule in the 18th century, the fortress is situated on anisland at the entrance to Helsinki's harbour. The fortificationbecame a strategic military shipyard with one of the biggest drydocks in the world, comparable to the fortress at Gibraltar. Apartfrom admiring the architecture, there is plenty to experience atSuomenlinna, which contains six museums, galleries, restaurants,cafes, several parks, beaches, and nature areas. Guided walkingtours are offered and there are always events taking place likeexhibitions, jazz shows, and theatrical performances, particularlyduring summer.
Architecture buffs will enjoy sitting in a cafeadmiring the buildings surrounding Helsinki's lively Senate Square,renowned for some of Europe's finest examples of the neoclassicalstyle. But you don't need any knowledge of architecture to enjoythis lovely square, which has a great atmosphere and is one of thecentral meeting places of the city. The square is dominated by thecity's main landmark, the Lutheran Cathedral, designed by CarlLudwig Engel and consecrated in 1852. The interior is as perfect asthe exterior design, and is open to the public daily for no charge.Other buildings on the Square designed by Engel are the GovernmentPalace, completed in 1822, and the University buildings, completedby 1832. The square is a thrilling place to be on New Year's Eve asthis is where the locals come to celebrate with singing, dancing,and brilliant fireworks displays. There are bus and walking toursof Helsinki departing from the square, which is a good startingpoint for exploration of the city.
Many have compared Helsinki to the beautiful Russiancity of St Petersburg, a close neighbour across a strait of water.The exotic redbrick Uspenski Cathedral cements the Russianconnection, designed by Aleksei Gornostayev of St Petersburg in themid-1800s. The ornate cathedral sits atop a rocky outcrop on theKatajanokka Peninsula opposite the fish market, fronted by a statueof Tsar Alexander II as a memento of Russia's occupation of Finlanduntil 1919. The magnificent Byzantine edifice is topped with acharacteristic golden onion dome, and the interior is opulentlydecorated with valuable icons. The cathedral is beautifullysituated and very eye-catching as it can be seen from many placesin the city. There are wonderful views of Helsinki from the hill.Parts of the church are off-limits when there is not a servicebeing conducted but there is still plenty to see. Flash photographyis not allowed inside.
Known locally as Kauppatori, the Market Square in Helsinki isthe central meeting point of the city. The space is sandwichedbetween the sea and a row of impressive historic buildings whichinclude the City Hall, the Swedish Embassy, and the PresidentialPalace. Trams and waterbuses converge on the square, where visitorsgather to watch the changing of the guard at the palace and admirethe Havis Amanda mermaid statue at the west end of the Square infront of Esplanade Park. There is a longstanding tradition ofdisplaying old American cars in the square on the first Friday ofevery month, which is fun for motor enthusiasts. The square is alsoa departure point for the ferries that travel to Suomenlinna, andit is possible to hire private vessels for sailing trips out toother nearby islands in summer. The Baltic Herring Festival occursevery year in October, serving as the oldest recurring festival inHelsinki. It's a particularly good time to visit as lots of foodand craft stalls spring up in the square, with plenty of herring tosample. Seagulls have become something of a menace in the MarketSquare, swooping down to snatch food of all kinds from the hands ofunsuspecting tourists.
An awesome and unique piece of architecture, theTemppeliaukio (Church in the Rock) was designed by brothers Timoand Tuomo Suomalainen and carved out of solid granite as recentlyas 1969. It has become one of Helsinki's most famous attractions,its rock walls roofed over with a massive concave copper ceiling,which gives it excellent acoustics and makes the roof seem like anenormous sun. From the outside, it still feels like part of therock that surrounds it. The interior is magnificent and quite theopposite of the dark cave you would expect when looking at therock-hewn building. It is an unusual place of worship but clearly aspiritual attraction and no matter what your beliefs this artisticchurch will surprise and perhaps inspire you. The church is oftenused as a venue for musical events due to its wonderful acousticsand there are sometimes piano recitals in the afternoons; if youvisit during one of these performances you can leave a donation toshow your appreciation. English services are occasionally conductedon Sundays at 2pm.
The Seurasaari Open-Air Museum allows visitors tostep back in time and glimpse the traditional way of life in theFinnish countryside, and all this in the heart of the capital city,Helsinki. Situated on a lovely green island accessed from themainland via a footbridge, the museum consists of a collection ofcottages, farmsteads, rural churches, manor houses, and other oldbuildings, all preserved and relocated from their original sitesaround the provinces of Finland. The 87 buildings currently on themuseum site have been arranged to form a complete replica of acountry district, reflecting what life was like in various levelsof rural society between the 18th and 20th centuries.
History enthusiasts will enjoy the National Museum ofFinland in Helsinki, which depicts Finnish life from prehistorictimes to the present. Housed in an impressive Romantic-stylebuilding, it looks a bit like a castle. The museum's permanentexhibition is divided into different sections: the Treasure Trove,which is a display of coins, medals, and weaponry, while thearchaeological section features some rare Stone Age finds. Inaddition, the cultural heritage collection displays folk costumes,textiles, and furniture. The Workshop Vintti offers an excitinginteractive approach to history, letting you sit on a throne,saddle a horse, or build an authentic Finnish wall. Otherhighlights include the section on the Vikings and the exhibition onjewellery through the ages in Finland. One common criticism of thisotherwise popular museum is that there is not adequate coverage ofthe Finnish wars, which may be a disappointment to military historylovers. The museum has regular temporary exhibitions as well as theextensive permanent collection but these usually carry an extracover charge. The rich history of the Finnish is relatively unknownto outsiders, which makes this museum especially intriguing. Themuseum also has a cafe and shop.
Santa Claus Village is a popular daytrip fromHelsinki via trains to Rovaniemi. Every day is Christmas in thisrather commercialised but still quaint Lapland hideaway of northernFinland. Here, Mr Claus spends his time preparing gifts for theworld's children and meeting and greeting an estimated 500,000delighted visitors a year. Coincidentally, the valley inside theArctic Circle where Santa's Village is set is shaped like an ear,so it is said that Santa can listen to all kids across the planet.All sorts of activities are on offer at the village, including areindeer park, snow safaris, and Santa's personal post office, fromwhich you can mail letters or cards home. There are beautifulChristmas decorations on sale, along with plenty of opportunitiesfor present shopping. Santa Claus Village and Santa Park arelocated just a mile from the international airport of Rovaniemi(capital of Lapland), and is also accessible by bus or train fromHelsinki.
Situated on the popular island of Korkeasaari, theHelsinki Zoo is one of the best family attractions in Helsinki andcan be reached by bus, car, or ferry during the summer. Home toabout 150 different animal species and almost seven times that manyvarieties of plant life, the zoo makes a great stop for anyonetravelling with children in Helsinki. The place is arranged indifferent habitats so that visitors move from one world to anotherthrough tundra, rainforest, mountains, wetlands, deserts, andtropics. Each season also presents visitors with differentexperiences, ranging from autumn when the big cats get more activeto greeting the newborns in spring. Visitors can see Finnishwildlife like musk ox, reindeer, and snowy owls, or more exoticflora and fauna from all over the world, including rare animalslike the majestic snow leopard and the red panda. As part of itsmission to preserve and protect biodiversity the Helsinki zoobreeds and raises endangered animals. The zoo, founded 120 yearsago, also offers rest areas, restaurants, and souvenir shops andyou can bring your own picnic and enjoy it sitting on the clifftops with lovely views.
Helsinki has a climate that is transitional between maritime andcontinental. Summers (June to August) are warm and bright, withaverage temperatures ranging from a cool 59°F (15°C) to 72°F (22°C)in the warmest month of July. Days are long and sunny, with up to19 hours of daylight. Towards the end of September temperaturescool down drastically as days grow shorter, and by November theweather is at freezing point as the cold, snowy winter sets in. Thecity is blanketed by snow in winter (December to February), withtemperatures plummeting well below freezing to the point where thesea itself freezes over, and it is never fully daylight. Springarrives late, in early April. The best time to visit is in summer,which is also when many of the city's festivals happen. Spring canalso be pleasant as the natural areas of the city come alive withflowers and new greenery. If you are planning a trip to Finland inwinter, Helsinki will be very cold but is not without its comfortsand attractions.
Considering how far north Finland is, the country has a milderclimate than one might expect. In general, Finland has an extremeswing between summer and winter, with bitterly cold winters whentemperatures drop to -4ºF (-20ºC) in many areas, particularly innorthern Lapland. Summer, by contrast, can be surprisingly warmwith temperatures rising to 68ºF (20ºC) or more. Temperatures ashigh as 86ºF (30ºC) are possible in the south and east of thecountry.
The capital, Helsinki, remains fairly temperate varying betweenan average of 63ºF (17ºC) in July to 23ºF (-5ºC) in February.February is the coldest month in Finland and July is the warmest.Snow usually covers the ground in southern Finland from December toApril, and northern Finland is snowbound from October to April.
In the far north, the sun does not set for about 73 days duringsummer, while in winter the sun remains below the horizon for a51-day stretch. The winter night sky - especially in the northernareas of Finland - is often lit up with the seemingly magical lightdisplays of the Northern Lights. If you want the mildest weather,the best time to visit Finland is between May and September. Butwhen you should go is dependent on what you want out of yourholiday.
With more than 800 restaurants to choose from, it is possible tofind many international cuisines as well as places to sample tastylocal food when eating out in Helsinki. Various restaurants onoffer include steak houses, bistros, cafes, up-market gourmetestablishments and fast food joints. Whatever else you may want totry though, the traditional Finnish food is a must.
Finnish food is generally quite healthy and simple with anemphasis on fresh produce and some influence from Russian andScandinavian cooking traditions. The local cuisine centres onseafood and many of the trademark meals are fish dishes. Freshberries are also common on menus in Helsinki, often served withice-cream or pastry. Lapland has its own distinct cuisine and itsmost famous staples are reindeer steak and snow grouse. The mostcommon drink in Finland is vodka but in Helsinki it is alsowonderful to sample the hot spiced wine called gloggi, especiallyin the winter.
The best areas to find restaurants in Helsinki include thecentral areas of Katajanokka and Kruununhaka as well as the city'smain boulevard, the Esplanadi. The Hietalahti area is good forthose eating on a budget, and the Kallio quarter is a fun clubbingarea with cheap ethnic food and some good bars.
Helsinki is renowned for its Russian restaurants, and probablythe best of the bunch is Bellevue, which is reputedly the oldestRussian restaurant outside of Russia. It also claims to produceRussian favourites that are better than you will taste in the homecountry, and many gourmets tend to agree. Characteristics ofRussian cooking are soups, black bread, pastries, caviar and fishdishes. Bellevue's menu contains all these, for example a menufeaturing beetroot soup, Chicken Kiev and Baked Alaska, or trypot-roasted bear steak or roast fillet of reindeer. The ambience ispleasant, the décor unpretentious but classy, and the servicefriendly and efficient. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch anddinner, and Saturday for dinner only.
For a taste of traditional Lapland cuisine in the heart ofHelsinki, Lappi should be a definite dining experience on anyvisitor's itinerary. Finnish dishes, including reindeer of course,are served up on the rustic wooden tables in a warm, friendly 'logcabin' atmosphere. If you want to just pop in for a drink theattached Kelonkolo bar will give a sample of the ambience to beenjoyed in the restaurant itself, where specialities include disheslike grilled fillet of elk with turnip and red wine sauce.Reservations are essential at Lappi, so popular with tourists thatits menu is printed in eleven languages. The restaurant opensMonday to Saturday for dinner.
The Michelin-starred Restaurant Ask serves organic fine diningin a quiet street of Kruununhaka and while it might seem unassumingfrom the outside, it's known as one of the best places to eat inHelsinki. The set menu changes weekly and features modernScandinavian food carefully paired with biodynamic wines, someavailable exclusively through Ask. With only 22 seats, patrons needto reserve their tables far in advance to experience this exclusiveeatery. Open Friday and Saturday for lunch and Tuesday to Saturdayfor dinner.
Whether you're after a quick bite or a relaxed cup of coffee,Gran Delicato is one of the most popular delicatessens in Helsinki.The scent of fresh-roasted coffee pervades the air as customerslinger over the stuffed ciabatta and baguette sandwiches as well aspastas, salads and other light meals. There are three locationsacross Helsinki, each with a slightly different atmosphere. Theirflagship restaurant on Kalevankatu is a bit of a walk from the citycentre, but worth it for the Greek spirit and great food.
With a wide variety of Asian and Vietnamese dishes, Lie Miplaces itself on the culinary map of Helsinki with gusto. Locatedin the design district of the city, it's a popular place to grab aquick lunch. Try the traditional Vietnamese Pho with beef andmeatballs or the Shanghai tacos with crispy pork. During lunch, afresh salad bar is included in the price along with coffee or tea.The menu changes for dinner, and their Runeberginkatu locationserves brunch on a Sunday. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch anddinner.
With Finnish delicacies like reindeer and bear on the menu,Savotta gives local fare an edgy twist. While the ground-leveldining area looks out over the stately Senate Square, thedownstairs space has been transformed into a showcase of thelogging camps of Finland. As the restaurant carefully curatesingredients from small local producers, the menu changes regularlywith the season, but look out for perennial favourites like freshfish from the lake and the range of berries in both savoury andsweet dishes. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner andSunday for dinner.
The official currency of Finland is the Euro (EUR), which isdivided into 100 cents. Banks, ATMs and bureaux de change areavailable in all cities and airports; banks are closed on weekends.American Express, Diner's Club, Eurocard, Access, MasterCard andVisa are accepted in hotels, restaurants and larger shops. ATMs arethe easiest and most economical way to get cash.
Finnish and Swedish share status as Finlands officiallanguages. Sami is spoken by an isolated population group inLapland. English is taught at schools and is widelyunderstood.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. StandardEuropean two-pin plugs are in use.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay in Finland. A visa is notrequired for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject'(containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abodeissued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas TerritoriesCitizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period ofintended stay in Finland. All other endorsements require at leastthree months validity beyond the period of intended stay inFinland.
A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen','British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to theRight of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British OverseasTerritories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days in a 180 day period for holders of passportswith any other endorsement.
Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, andendorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority ofthe United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit Finland.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths beyond the period of intended stay in Finland. A visa is notrequired for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for threemonths beyond the period of intended stay in Finland. A visa is notrequired for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months beyond the intended period of stay, and a validSchengen visa, to enter Finland.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid on arrival. Novisa is required.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for three monthsbeyond the period of intended stay in Finland. A visa is notrequired for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 day period.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid forthree months beyond the period of intended stay in Finland. A visais not required for a stay of up to 90 days in a 180 dayperiod.
The borderless region known as the Schengen Areaincludes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic,Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary,Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, TheNetherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain,Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standardSchengen visa that has a multiple entry option, and which allowsthe holder to travel freely within the borders of all theaforementioned countries.
Additionally, travellers to Finland must holdsufficient funds for their duration of stay in the country, areturn or onward ticket, and the necessary travel documentation fortheir next destination. Also note that joint passports must includea photograph of the spouse and, if issued after May 1, 2004, aphotograph of each child over seven years of age and up to andincluding 15 years of age. Otherwise, a photo identification cardshowing the child's name, date of birth and nationality must bepresented, together with the passport.
It is highly recommended that your passport has atleast six months validity remaining after your intended date ofdeparture from your travel destination. Immigration officials oftenapply different rules to those stated by travel agents and officialsources.
There are no major health risks associated with travel toFinland. British and other EU nationals should ensure they have aEuropean Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles citizens toemergency medical treatment on the same terms as Finnish citizens.Comprehensive travel insurance is advised.
Tips are not expected in Finland because a service charge isgenerally added to restaurant, bar and hotel bills, but customersoften choose to round up the bill when paying in cash. Taxi driversalso appreciate any small change or coins that are added to roundup the fare.
Crime levels are low in Finland and visitors can be assured of atrouble-free vacation. Drug offences and drinking and driving aredealt with very harshly. The main danger in the country is drivingduring the winter months, when icy roads are a hazard and cars mustbe fitted with snow tyres.
The sauna is a Finnish way of life, so they are extremelypopular. Words are taken seriously in Finland and people are heldto what they say, so be sure of what you're saying before youspeak.
Business is conducted formally in Finland. A formal, understatedsense of dress is important. Punctuality is also very important inFinland and being late is considered rude. Appointments shouldalways be made and confirmed.
Meetings are often strictly business and are not often overlunch. Finns do not require a strong relationship prior to doingbusiness, and business often takes place over the phone, fax, andvia e-mail. However, the sauna is an important part of the cultureand it is not unusual for business to be discussed in thisenvironment on a more sociable level.
Finns are very direct and prefer getting straight to the point.Often a verbal agreement may hold. At meetings business cards areexchanged and should have, on the alternate side, details inFinnish. Business hours are generally 8am to 4pm Monday toFriday.
The international country dialling code for Finland is +358.Free wifi is available in hotels, cafes, restaurants, and similarestablishments in all major towns and cities. There are free wifihotspots with high speed internet in Helsinki.
Travellers to Finland arriving from the EU can enter Finlandwithout restrictions on the quantity of purchases, provided theyhave been bought in the EU for personal consumption or as giftitems. No restrictions are placed on meat and dairy products. Somerestrictions may apply to selected tobacco products. Travellersover 20 years arriving from non-EU countries are allowed to bringin the following items without incurring customs duty: 200cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g of tobacco.With regards to alcohol, one litre of spirits with maximum 22percent alcohol content, or two litres of alcoholic beverages notexceeding 22 percent alcohol content, and four litres of wine and16 litres of beer is allowed duty free.
Helsinki Tourist Information, Helsinki: +358 (0)10 3101 3300 orwww.visitfinland.com
Embassy of Finland, Washington DC, United States: +1 (0)202 2985800
Embassy of Finland, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 78386200
Embassy of Finland, Ottawa, Canada: +1 (0)613 288 2233
Embassy of Finland, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 3430275
Embassy of Finland, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3800
Embassy of Finland, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 478 1344
Consulate-General of Finland, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4924 3416
United States Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)9 616 250
British Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)9 2286 5100
Canadian Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)9 228 530
South African Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)9 6860 3100
Australian Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)10 42 04 492
Irish Embassy, Helsinki: +358 (0)9 682 4240
New Zealand Embassy, The Hague, Netherlands (also responsiblefor Finland): +31 (0)70 346 9324
Helsinki may be cold, but the pulsating nightlife is enough toget this city hot and sweaty. With a number of trendy nightclubs,bars and pubs, visitors will have no problem making full use of thelong, dark winter nights. Most of the nightlife in Helsinki iscentred round Uudenmaankatu and Eerikinkatu, where bars and clubsabound and crossing from one to the other is a quick dash acrossthe cold street. Finns love their tango music too so expect to findplenty of sultry dancing in restaurants, bars and even the streetsduring the summer months, with a few of the favourite outdoordancing spots nearby the Vantaa area.
Head to the stylish bars in Uudenmaankatu 9 for a night out withthe local trendoids and mingle with the ultra-hip, while sipping ondesigner beers and nibbling on tapas. Eerikinkatu 27 is the placeto be seen working up a sweat to local techno music and a few barshere are synonymous with the gay scene of Helsinki. While inSimonkatu there are megaclubs, with some boasting up to threestoreys, six bars and hundreds of Helsinki's hottest peoplepartying the night away. For live music, Telakkakatu 8 is wheresome of Helsinki's hottest new bands showcase their talents, whileMikonkatu 15 is great for those looking for a heavy rock gig and alittle moshing for good measure.
For a more cultured evening, head to Finlandia Hall for theHelsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and other concert performances(this is the home of Sibelius after all). The Finnish NationalOpera performs regularly, and Helsinki's thriving jazz scene ispersonified in the UMO Jazz Orchestra, which plays at variousvenues around town.
For updated concert listings and gig guides, pick up a copy ofthe Helsinki Guide, available for free at most hotels and touristcentres.
Home to bustling market places, luxury boutiques and enormousdepartment stores, shopping in Helsinki has its fair share ofopportunities. They may not always be cheap, but the quality of thegoods makes them worth their sometimes hefty price tags. Best buysin Helsinki include reindeer furs, Nordic wool, traditional woodenkitchen utensils and jewellery made out of Finland's nationalgemstone, spectrolite, which captures the magnificent blues andgreens of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). You can also findliquors made from locally-grown cloudberries, cranberries, andArctic brambleberries that make unique and special Helsinkisouvenirs. Head to Itis in East Helsinki, one of the biggestshopping centres in Finland, where nearly 150 shops sellingeverything from clothing and shoes to sports equipment and cameraswill keep you on your toes. The Sello shopping centre in Espoo inthe west of the city provides a slightly less exhausting day ofspending. The Stockmann department store on the Aleksanterinkatu,which has become somewhat of an institution in Helsinki, sellseverything from electrical goods and clothing to make up and teddybears. Shopping streets in Helsinki include Aleksanterinkatu,Eerikinkatu, Fredrikinkatu and Uudenmaankatu where boutiques andspecialist stores can be found. Market Square at the eastern end ofEsplanadi is undoubtedly one of Helsinki's most popular touristattractions and a great place to scoop up some souvenirs,especially during the spring and autumn months when vendors sellingfresh Finnish produce, souvenirs and trinkets abound and the mix ofFinns and international visitors make this vibrant market electric.Petrolheads should visit the market on the first Friday of themonth when a display of old American cars lines the seaside square,while October brings much excitement as the annual herring marketfestival takes place. Shops in Helsinki are generally open from 9amto 5.30pm from Monday to Friday while on Saturdays stores only stayopen until 2pm and remain closed on Sundays.
Helsinki has a simple and extremely efficient public transportsystem, rated one of the best in Europe, making it easy to hop ontotrams, buses, the metro or a ferry with a single ticket purchasedfrom the driver, ticket machines or even by SMS on a mobile phone.Special tourist tickets are available for visitors allowing forone, three or five days' unlimited use of the public transportsystem. There are also plenty of taxis available to be hailed,ordered by telephone or boarded at one of the many taxi ranks. Acar in the easily navigable city of Helsinki poses no problems andit is easy to drive yourself around should you so desire. There areseveral car hire agencies available.
The city is compact and pleasant so that getting around on footis an attractive option. Many of the most popular attractions areclumped together and can be easily navigated on foot. There arealso many lovely parks to walk through. Alternatively, in summermake use of the hundreds of kilometres of bike trails by picking upa bicycle for a small coin deposit at one of the bike racks dottedaround the city centre.
Straddling islands and lapped by the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is auniquely attractive and interesting city to visit. Many travellerschoose to enjoy the sea air and enjoy the walk along the seasidewhich covers around four miles (7 km), taking visitors alongLapinlahti Bay past sights like the Sibelius Monument, SeurasaariOpen-Air Museum, Hietaniemi Beach, a mini golf course andMäntyniemi, one of the official residences of the President ofFinland. The best time to enjoy this stretch of coastline is on awarm summer's day.
Visit the old Swedish fortress of Suomenlinna, admire theengineering genius of the Temppeliaukio Church (Church in therock), have your picture taken in front of the Uspenski Cathedralor sip on a cup of coffee while you watch the world go by inneoclassical Senate Square. More active visitors should hire a bikeand make their way around this picturesque city as it has animpressive network of bicycle routes.
There are many things for kids to do in Helsinki, includingvisiting the Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari Island or the interactiveHeureka Science Centre. There are many parks in Helsinki that offerspace to run around in, with Sinebrychoff Park being popular in thewintertime for sledding. Pihlajasaari Recreational Park has a nicebeach, but look carefully where you go, as some areas aredesignated for nudists.
Travellers should look into buying the Helsinki Card whichentitles the bearer to unlimited free travel on public transportwithin the Helsinki area, free admission to a number of the city'sattractions, and provides discounts on restaurants and otheractivities around Helsinki. Helsinki Cards are available for 24, 48or 72 hours and prices start from EUR 46 for adults.