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Helsinki City Breaks

Reference WW58050

Book your Helsinki city break and you'll soon be heading off to visit the capital and most populous city of Finland. 

The average temperature in Helsinki hovers around 43°F (6°C), but this does not mean visitors need to expect a chilly welcome. The funky Finns, known for their hip and happening sense of style, design and association with high technology, know how to warm hearts and minds in their modern, cosmopolitan capital.

The city, spread across a cluster of promontories and peninsulas, is almost 500 years old. Its clean, wide avenues are lined with buildings echoing centuries of architectural excellence from Gothic through Art Deco to cutting-edge contemporary. It all fits together in total harmony with nature, which invades the urban environment with green spaces when it is not blanketed in snow. Trees, flowers, hares, squirrels, pheasants and even the odd elk are often spied in the myriad parks in the centre of the city. On the whole, the city is surrounded with crisp, unpolluted air and the bright blue waters of the Baltic Sea.

Despite the cold climate, the invigorating outdoors beckons in Helsinki even in the middle of winter. Recreation takes the form of ice skating, skiing, ice-fishing, sailing, cycling, soaking in saunas, or during the short-lived summer, sunbathing. After the action, sit tucked in a rug outside one of the many street-side bars sipping hot (spiced wine) and watch the wintry world go by. The city is also ideal for walking, with the sights all concentrated in the central area beneath the towering cathedrals.

The great outdoors is also the setting for Helsinki's numerous festivals and fairs, like the May Day Carnival, the Baltic Herring Festival, the Helsinki City Marathon, the annual Samba carnival and the midsummer festival, to name but a few. Events do move indoors when it comes to the city's rich cultural life, featuring some of the world's finest orchestras and choirs, rock concerts, film festivals, the Finnish National Opera and Ballet performances, and the output of countless theatre and dance troupes.

Whether visiting as a snowy winter wonderland or scenic sun-splashed cityscape with almost permanent daylight, Helsinki is a unique destination that will delight the heart of any traveller.

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TOP 5 THINGS TO DO

Jump on a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus -It's a great way to get around and learn about the different areas of the city
Relax on a comfortable canal cruise for some sightseeing
Try some of the local Finnish cuisine
Have a wander round Market Square -a central square in Helsinki with stalls selling a variety of different goods.
Visit The National Museum of Finland featuring Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day

LOCATION

Helsinki has a simple and extremely efficient public transport system, rated one of the best in Europe, making it easy to hop onto trams, buses, the metro or a ferry with a single ticket purchased from the driver, ticket machines or even by SMS on a mobile phone. Special tourist tickets are available for visitors allowing for one, three or five days' unlimited use of the public transport system. There are also plenty of taxis available to be hailed, ordered by telephone or boarded at one of the many taxi ranks. A car in the easily navigable city of Helsinki poses no problems and it is easy to drive yourself around should you so desire. There are several car hire agencies available.

When the weather is good, why ride when you can walk? The city is compact and pleasant so that getting around on foot is an attractive option. Many of the most popular attractions are clumped together and can be easily navigated on foot. There are also many lovely parks to walk through. Alternatively, in summer make use of the hundreds of kilometres of bike trails by picking up a bicycle for a small coin deposit at one of the bike racks dotted around the city centre.

Helsinki may be cold, but the pulsating nightlife is enough to get this city hot and sweaty. With a number of trendy nightclubs, bars and pubs, visitors will have no problem making full use of the long, dark winter nights. Most of the nightlife in Helsinki is centred round Uudenmaankatu and Eerikinkatu, where bars and clubs abound and crossing from one to the other is a quick dash across the cold street. Finns love their tango music too so expect to find plenty of sultry dancing in restaurants, bars and even the streets during the summer months, with a few of the favourite outdoor dancing spots nearby the Vantaa area.

Head to the stylish bars in Uudenmaankatu 9 for a night out with the local trendoids and mingle with the ultra-hip, while sipping on designer beers and nibbling on tapas. Eerikinkatu 27 is the place to be seen working up a sweat to local techno music and a few bars here are synonymous with the gay scene of Helsinki. While in Simonkatu there are megaclubs, with some boasting up to three storeys, six bars and hundreds of Helsinki's hottest people partying the night away. For live music, Telakkakatu 8 is where some of Helsinki's hottest new bands showcase their talents, while Mikonkatu 15 is great for those looking for a heavy rock gig and a little moshing for good measure.

For a more cultured evening, head to Finlandia Hall for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and other concert performances (this is the home of Sibelius after all). The Finnish National Opera performs regularly, and Helsinki's thriving jazz scene is personified in the UMO Jazz Orchestra, which plays at various venues around town.

For updated concert listings and gig guides, pick up a copy of the Helsinki Guide, available for free at most hotels and tourist centres.

Home to bustling market places, luxury boutiques and enormous department stores, shopping in Helsinki has its fair share of opportunities. They may not always be cheap, but the quality of the goods makes them worth their sometimes hefty price tags. Best buys in Helsinki include reindeer furs, Nordic wool, traditional wooden kitchen utensils and jewellery made out of Finland's national gemstone, spectrolite, which captures the magnificent blues and greens of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). You can also find liquors made from locally-grown cloudberries, cranberries, and Arctic brambleberries that make unique and special Helsinki souvenirs. Head to Itis in East Helsinki, one of the biggest shopping centres in Finland, where nearly 150 shops selling everything from clothing and shoes to sports equipment and cameras will keep you on your toes. The Sello shopping centre in Espoo in the west of the city provides a slightly less exhausting day of spending. The Stockmann department store on the Aleksanterinkatu, which has become somewhat of an institution in Helsinki, sells everything from electrical goods and clothing to makeup and teddy bears. Shopping streets in Helsinki include Aleksanterinkatu, Eerikinkatu, Fredrikinkatu and Uudenmaankatu where boutiques and specialist stores can be found. Market Square at the eastern end of Esplanadi is undoubtedly one of Helsinki's most popular tourist attractions and a great place to scoop up some souvenirs, especially during the spring and autumn months when vendors selling fresh Finnish produce, souvenirs and trinkets abound and the mix of Finns and international visitors make this vibrant market electric. Petrolheads should visit the market on the first Friday of the month when a display of old American cars lines the seaside square, while October brings much excitement as the annual herring market festival takes place. Shops in Helsinki are generally open from 9 am to 5.30 pm from Monday to Friday while on Saturdays stores only stay open until 2 pm and remain closed on Sundays.

Straddling islands and lapped by the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is a uniquely attractive and interesting city to visit. Many travellers choose to enjoy the sea air and enjoy the walk along the seaside which covers around four miles (7 km), taking visitors along Lapinlahti Bay past sights like the Sibelius Monument, Seurasaari Open-Air Museum, Hietaniemi Beach, a mini-golf course and Mäntyniemi, one of the official residences of the President of Finland. The best time to enjoy this stretch of coastline is on a warm summer's day.

Visit the old Swedish fortress of Suomenlinna, admire the engineering genius of the Temppeliaukio Church (Church in the rock), have your picture taken in front of the Uspenski Cathedral or sip on a cup of coffee while you watch the world go by in neoclassical Senate Square. More active visitors should hire a bike and make their way around this picturesque city as it has an impressive network of bicycle routes.

There are many things for kids to do in Helsinki, including visiting the Helsinki Zoo on Korkeasaari Island or the interactive Heureka Science Centre. There are many parks in Helsinki that offer space to run around in, with Sinebrychoff Park being popular in the wintertime for sledding. Pihlajasaari Recreational Park has a nice beach, but look carefully where you go, as some areas are designated for nudists.

Travellers should look into buying the Helsinki Card which entitles the bearer to unlimited free travel on public transport within the Helsinki area, free admission to a number of the city's attractions, and provides discounts on restaurants and other activities around Helsinki. Helsinki Cards are available for 24, 48 or 72 hours and prices start from EUR 46 for adults.

With more than 800 restaurants to choose from, it is possible to find many international cuisines as well as places to sample tasty local food when eating out in Helsinki. Various restaurants on offer include steak houses, bistros, cafes, up-market gourmet establishments and fast food joints. Whatever else you may want to try though, the traditional Finnish food is a must.

Finnish food is generally quite healthy and simple with an emphasis on fresh produce and some influence from Russian and Scandinavian cooking traditions. The local cuisine centres on seafood and many of the trademark meals are fish dishes. Fresh berries are also common on menus in Helsinki, often served with ice-cream or pastry. Lapland has its own distinct cuisine and its most famous staples are reindeer steak and snow grouse. The most common drink in Finland is vodka but in Helsinki, it is also wonderful to sample the hot spiced wine called gloggi, especially in the winter.

The best areas to find restaurants in Helsinki include the central areas of Katajanokka and Kruununhaka as well as the city's main boulevard, the Esplanadi. The Hietalahti area is good for those eating on a budget, and the Kallio quarter is a fun clubbing area with cheap ethnic food and some good bars.

WHEN TO VISIT

  • Jan
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  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Currency Euro (€)
  • Flying time from the UK Flights from London to Helsinki, Finland is 2 hours 50 minutes
  • Language Finnish is the official language
  • Passport & Visas If you are a British passport holder you do not need a visa to enter Finland & your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay.