Blurring the boundaries between Scandinavian chic and Eastern European flair, Helsinki is unique among European capitals, let alone Baltic cities. Informed by its seaside location you’ll find excellent cuisine and architecture that takes its notes from across the globe.
Since shrugging off the shackles of the Russian empire, 20th century Helsinki has done much to carve out its own character. However, you’ll still find a central core whose neoclassicism is modelled on St. Petersburg. Look to the buildings around Senate Square for the best examples with the magnificent domes of the Helsinki Cathedral possibly the city’s most impressive sight. Since then, a movement towards National Romanticism – a Nordic design movement – has seen the city shape its own identity with last-century delights including the National Museum and the Parliament House.
From the centre, branching streets – plied by trams – take visitors to the city’s world-class museums including the superb Art-Nouveau Atenum art gallery. For a taste of Helsinki new, look to Kiasma; a curved bank of glass of steel, its contemporary art collection is as progressive as its design. Further afield, there’s Suomenlinna. Sited on one of the city’s many islands, this is the world’s largest sea fortress whose grass-covered starred walls are now home to a small collection of museums. You’ll also find a series of cutting edge design houses that continue to lead the way in modern sensibilities.
Food and drink
Helsinki is enjoying something of a foodie renaissance. Whether it’s a simple pea soup and rye bread brunch in a turn of the century café or a multi-course degustation feast in a fine dining restaurant, Helsinki delivers. Not surprisingly – considering its location – there’s been a movement to celebrate the city’s regional ingredients. Locavores will delight in locally sourced fruit and vegetables that complement fresh fish and meats. Think salmon and herring seasoned with cloudberries or, come winter, hearty casseroles served with glögi – mulled wine.