Finland's capital is a city of islands and bays, with an astonishingly creative design industry and a thriving culinary scene that is seeing foodies flocking to its restaurants and markets.
On the surface, Helsinki seems like a historic city with the usual museums, galleries, churches, and fortresses to see. It certainly has those in abundance, but there's another side to this fascinating city.
You can see the latest furniture, fashion, or accessory designs at Helsinki's galleries and boutiques. Live music stretches from experimental jazz to classical music festivals, while elite eateries like Savoy show off what New Nordic chefs are capable of - and it's always delicious.
With the prospect of a relaxing sauna after every hectic day of sightseeing, it's hard to resist the charms of Helsinki.
Finland is one of the world's design hotspots, with furniture labels like Iittala and designers like Nurmi attracting a worldwide following. All of the leading brands have showrooms and stores, and the Design Museum is a must-see.
Helsinki has a beautiful setting on the Baltic Sea, with around 330 islands to explore and ferries serving every part of the seafront. The city has also embraced its maritime heritage, with plenty of ocean lovers to see, like the Sea Life Aquarium, island cruises, and kayak tours with the Natura Viva Center in Vuosaari.
Helsinki is very much a foodie capital, not just of Helsinki, but the whole Scandinavian region. If you like the idea of trying fresh game, hand-gathered mushrooms, foraged herbs, and stunning local seafood, restaurants like A21 Dining will be right up your alley.
Finland's capital is also an architectural marvel. Successive generations of neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and modernist architects put their unique stamp on the city center, resulting in a range of impressive structures. From the Russian-style Uspenski Cathedral and the ornate style of the Jugendsali Hall to the works of world famous modernist Alvar Aalto, every architecture fan will find something to adore.
There are the cutting-edge dance clubs of Kallio, the chance to rock out with your fellow metalheads at the Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, and jazz all year long at Storyville. September's Sibelius Festival draws classical music fans from all over the world.
If you want to see the sights, enjoy Helsinki's parks and visit the islands in comfort, summer is definitely the best time to visit. Between June and late August, the city warms up nicely. Don't expect Californian weather, but you'll be surprised by how pleasant beaches like Hietaranta become when the sun is at its brightest. Otherwise, May is a good time for pure sightseeing, with smaller crowds. Winter is dark, cold, and atmospheric, but it's not ideal for most visitors.
Helsinki Airport (HEL) is around 12 miles north of the city center and is served by a ring railway, which takes 30 minutes to reach Helsinki and costs EUR5.50. Alternatively, taxis from the airport will come to around EUR30.
Helsinki's Central Railway Station has links to Russian cities like St Petersburg and regional Finnish cities like Porvoo or Tampere, so it may be a convenient route into town for some visitors. The station is centrally located, with good tram and bus links to all parts of the city.
The best way to approach Helsinki from the west is via Finnish highway 51, while the E18 route runs from the Russian border. If you are driving from Vantaa, take highway 45 southbound. You'll find car rental outlets like Green Motion, Hertz, and Sixt at the airport.
If you are catching a bus from other Finnish cities to Helsinki, the best bet is to book an OnniBus service, who provide low-cost connections across the country. All intercity buses stop at the Central Bus Station in Kamppi. It's right next to a subway stop, so getting into town from there is simple.
If you want to stay in an immaculately designed boutique hotel, you're heading to the right destination. Helsinki hotels like the Glo Hotel Art mix turn-of-the-20th-century exteriors with stunning modern bedroom furnishings. If you are looking for an upmarket experience, the Hilton Helsinki Strand offers sauna facilities and harbor views. But there is high-quality accommodation for all price levels thanks to great hostels like CheapSleep Helsinki.
Designkortteli - a sign of how seriously Finns take design, the Designkortteli (Design District) stretches across west-central Helsinki. It's the kind of area that has a weekly design market featuring hundreds of local artisans, and is also studded with galleries, from small modernist places like the Forsblom to the far grander Design Museum.
Kallio - Helsinki's bohemian nightlife neighborhood, Kallio is a delight. Situated in the city's east, Kallio offers daytime attractions like Hakaniemi market, boutiques on Fleminginkatu, and endless second-hand stores like Kauppahuone Keko. At night, it's the place to be, with gig venues, bars, and all-night clubs aplenty.
Kamppi - a bustling central neighborhood, Kamppi is great for shoppers due to its huge shopping center and is conveniently located to visit attractions like the Finnish National Gallery, Alvar Aalto's Finlandia Hall, and the huge, welcoming Keskuspuisto (Central Park).
The most useful form of public transportation in Helsinki is the tram system, which runs all over town and costs EUR2.50 for a single ticket and EUR4 for a day pass. Buses and the limited subway network are a handy supplement, but you can rely on trams to reach most attractions. A good option is to buy a Helsinki Card (EUR41), which provides a day of travel and access to a range of leading attractions.
Getting around Helsinki by taxi isn't cheap, but it can be a useful option late at night. Fares are regulated by the government and include a EUR5.90 meter drop (weekdays) and EUR9 on Sundays and after 20:00. After that, the charge is around EUR2.50 per mile.
If you'd like to rent a car, you'll find rental companies like Sixt, Hertz, Europcar, and Avis represented in Helsinki. It's a good idea too. With a car, you can visit nearby cities like Porvoo or Espoo, or see the attractive coastal ports to the west. Expect to pay at least EUR20 per day.
Helsinki is paradise for lovers of quirky fashion, design, and modern art. If you want to find some typically Scandinavian household items or ornaments, the Design District is the place to go. If you're after second-hand vintage clothing or imaginative new designs, Kallio is brimming with stores, with Kaivarin Kanuuna probably the best among them. For more standard brands, head to Kamppi Shopping Center at the heart of town and you can't go wrong.
Helsinki isn't the cheapest place to buy groceries and essentials, but you can find affordable prices at stores like K-Supermarkets, Alepa, and Lidl. Expect a gallon of milk to come to about EUR3.70 and 12 eggs to cost about EUR2.
Diners in Helsinki could be forgiven for not knowing where to start. If you want to explore New Nordic Cuisine, try local favorites like Kuu, Juuri, Olo, and A21 Dining. But there are plenty of great Asian options too, including Farang and Gaijin. The standard of cooking is generally high, so explore the various neighborhoods - you'll almost certainly be well taken care of. Expect meals to cost at least EUR30 per person and over EUR50 at high-end restaurants.