Helsinki, with 532,000 inhabitants is the capital of Finland. The city is situated in front of the Esthonian coast, on a peninsula of the Gulf of Finland. The city and its port are protected from the open sea by an archipelago of 315 islands.
Finland, one of the most important ports on the Baltic sea, is the site of flourishing commercial activity and possesses notable cultural importance. The city is of relatively modest proportions and if compared with other Scandinavian capitals, could be said to be very tranquil almost provincial. However Helsinki, is formed from a fusion of various cultures which renders it unique. Helsinki has the largest foreign community in the whole country and the Swedish and Russian influence is very evident in the architecture, food and language. Characterized by a mild climate with respect to the rest of the Finnish territory, Helsinki is a lively place, with pleasant and friendly inhabitants, clean streets and plenty of parks and open spaces.
The city centre houses the 19th century buildings, designed by the German architect Carl Engel and give the zone the feel of a miniature Saint Petersburg. The centre is built up around the Etelasatama port and has as its focal point the Kauppatori (Fish Market), which is located along the sea-front between the ferry gang planks and surrounded by elegant 18th century buildings. These fine buildings fortunately survived the Russian bombardments during the Second World War. The 'Havis Amanda', the fountain with the statue of the ' Sea maiden', symbol of the city, is located a short distance away.
The Pohjoisesplanadi is the site of the Presidential Palace, residence of the President of the Finnish Republic. The island of Katajanokka, in the zone of Kauppatori, is the site of Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, interesting for the icons which decorate the interior. The role of cultural crossroads between the east and west, so typical of Helsinki, is perfectly synthesized in the contrast between the gold, onion shaped dome of the Uspenski Cathedral, a building that would not be out of place in a Moscow square and the essential lines of architecture of Finland Hall, one of the finest representation of the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, one of the fathers of Modernism and Functionalism.
Finland Hall is located in Mannerheimintie, the widest street in Helsinki and home to the Parliament Palace, built in 1931. Guided tours to view the Palace's interior are organised during the summer months and are free of charge.
The Lutheran Tuomiokirkko Cathedral is located in the important Senaatintori, the Senate Square, the neoclassic heart of the city. Completed in 1852 by Carl Engel, the Lutheran Cathedral is notable for its blue dome and for the fantastic views that it offers. The best views over the city, however, are to be had from the top of the Stadium, a 72 metre high tower, located in the Olympic Stadium. The tower is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 8pm weekdays and from 9am to 6pm at the week-ends. The Sibelius Park is located a little further to the west and is the site of the impressive iron-tube sculpture dedicated to the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Hotels and lodging
- One of the greatest attractions in Helsinki is the Temppeliaukio Church, dug out of solid rock and topped with a copper dome. The church is also the site of numerous musical presentations and is open from 10am to 8pm weekdays, from 10am to 6pm on Saturdays and from 12 until 1:45pm and from 3:30pm to 5:45pm on Sundays.
- Helsinki, an important artistic and cultural centre, boasts a large number of museums. Its museums of art include the Atheneum, the Sinebrychoff Museum of Foreign Art and the recently inaugurated Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The Atheneum, situated in Kaivokkatu 2, houses an important collection of Finnish art from the 17th century through to the 1950s. Kiasma is the home to a collection of contemporary Finnish and international art. Both museums are open Tuesday and Friday from 9am to 6pm, Wednesday and Thursday from 9am to 8pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
- The Sinebrychoff, in Bulevardi 40, is dedicated to foreign art and is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9am to 5pm, Wednesday from 9am to 8pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.
- The Seurasaari open air museum is very interesting. It is situated on the island of the same name and allows visitors to view original 17th and 18th century Finnish houses, in a setting complete with local folklore and craftsmen displaying their skills. The museum is open every day in the summer from 11am to 5pm (Wednesdays until 7pm).
- The particularly inquisitive visitor can choose to visit the many other museums dedicated to a whole range of subjects including the Naval Museum, the Natural History Museum, The Post Museum, the Museum of Sport, the Military Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
- Suomenlinna, one of the many islands that surround Helsinki, has been declared a world heritage site by Unesco. Referred to as ' the Fortress of Finland', it was built in 1748 by the Swedish Emperor, to defend against Russian attacks from the east.
- It is formed from two islands, linked by a small bridge. Mustasaari and Susisaari islands are today the site of numerous interesting museums including the magical Toy and Doll Museum. A favoured tourist attraction in the summer, Suomenlinna also possesses a number of restaurants and bars. Ferries arrive here from Kauppatori, leaving every 35 minutes. The trip takes 15 minutes.
Maps and transportation
Getting to Helsinki
Helsingin Kaupungin Liikennelaitos operates the public transport system in Helsinki, which comprises bus, metropolitan and tram service together with a ferry to the island of Suomenlinna. The single fare on each type of transport costs Euro 1.50. Tickets can be purchased from newspaper stands, the metropolitan stations and the Tourist Office in Pohjoisesplanadi 19. The buses and trams run from 5:45am to midnight. The metropolitan functions from 6am to midnight.
Practical information and resources
Currency : Euro
Electric supply: 220V, 50 Hz
Climate : Helsinki, thanks to its position on the Baltic Sea and the light winds of the Gulf Current, enjoys a mild climate, compared with other places of the same latitude. However, in winter it is very cold, with average temperatures in January of -6 °C. The average summer temperatures can however reach 19 °C. The summer nights are short and never truly dark, while in winter daylight lasts only a few hours.
Language : Finnish and Swedish
Opening hours : shops are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday from 9am to 1pm.The large shops and shopping centres are open weekdays from 9am to 9pm and Saturday from 9am to 6pm. Offices are open from 8am to 5pm
Telephones : To call Finland from Italy it is necessary to dial one of the international access codes (999, 990, 994 or 00) followed by 0039, the area code and the private number.To call Italy from Finland dial 00358, followed by the area code without the initial zero and the private number. The national code for Helsinki is 09.
Finnish restaurants can be found throughout the city and offer game and fish specialities. There is also a wide choice of foreign cuisine. In particular the Russian restaurants, which have a fine reputation.
The Finns like to go out in the evenings and Helsinki is therefore a lively place throughout the week, although Sunday and Monday tend to be quieter. The most popular pubs, bars and clubs are located in a relatively small area, in the centre of the city and east in Mannerheimintie. Almost all of them close between 2 and 4am.
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