Helsinki: Finland’s cool capital is surrounded by sea and a vast archipelago, creating a city that blends Nordic urban chic with outstanding natural beauty
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Why Helsinki/Finland? It’s a young country (independent since 1917) and has a real buzz. The Finns celebrate their traditions – saunas, summers spent in the country – while still embracing modern technology and finding their place on the world stage – the home of Nokia, Presidency of the European Union, hosts of the World Athletic Championships and winners of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Stay: if you can’t stay with a mate for free like I did, there are good deals for accommodation in the centre. The excellent tram and underground network in the city mean you are never far from where the action is.
Eat: the former French President Jacques Chirac once said that the Finns had the worst food in Europe. Gastronomically speaking they haven’t found a food they haven’t pickled but that aside it’s all good fresh seasonal produce.
A mix of Swedish and Russian influences inherited from their previous rulers means a typical choice of meatballs, reindeer, boar, herring, bread, cheese, beetroot, potatoes and berries, especially lingonberry, dominate the menu.
Veggie’s will have limited choices but Finland’s Fazers chocolate is to die for and a trip to the Fazer Art Deco restaurant and shop in the centre of town offers a range of sweet and savoury treats.
Don’t Miss: if you want to experience ‘hick chic’ go to the popular Zetors Restaurant where you can sit in tractors and eat their famous meatballs. The Ice Bar offers visitors the chance to drink in an arctic environment; protective clothing and drinks are included in the entry fee. A day trip to Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, to see the untouched medieval city and enjoy the fruit ciders is worth the effort.
Do Miss: it gets so cold from November to April that the sea freezes, so avoid that time of year if you are not a fan of snow. If you don’t like heavy metal or loud rock music you may struggle to find a radio station to listen to or festival to attend – Finns like their music loud!
Top Tip: go in June to see the summer solstice fire festivals or in December travel north to Lapland to visit Santa. Get a Helsinki Card to get unlimited travel and discounts on galleries, shopping and tours.
Fly to Helsinki from: London Gatwick, London Heathrow, or Manchester
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