Along the way, hop off at the popular Sibelius Park for a look at the famous monument to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Eila Hiltunen’s modernist sculpture of organ pipes is said to resemble a forest of tree trunks, a nod to Sibelius’ love for Finland’s wooded hinterland. Conveniently on the same bus route is the intriguing Temppeliaukio (Church in the Rock). Carved out of the granite bedrock, with a ceiling lined with copper wire, the unusual architecture has made the church one of Helsinki’s most popular attractions.
Eating and drinking isn’t cheap in the Euro-zone, and especially not in Helsinki. And more’s the pity, as the city has some fantastic cuisine on offer... at a price. The harbour-front kauppatori is home to a vibrant marketplace in summer and is the place to head for if you’re on a budget, with lunchtime stalls offering a good plate of vendace and chips for around €8.
The fruit stalls overflowing with fresh strawberries and cherries are impossible to resist, while a few smoked herring bought fresh off the fishermen’s boats make a great waterfront snack as you watch the world go by.
If you’ve got a few euros to spend, the city is your culinary oyster, offering everything from international cuisine at Michelin-starred restaurants and Russian borscht at ‘Babushka’ to traditional Finnish dishes at the wood-panelled ‘Lappi’. Reindeer done rare with an elderberry sauce, washed down with berry vodka, is easily worth the price-tag so just forget about the exchange rate and enjoy!
For something a bit more off-the-wall, Zetor is an oddball bar and restaurant where diners sit on tractor stools surrounded by stuffed elks. Reindeer is also on offer here, along with traditional fish dishes like gravadlax (cured salmon) and salted cod.
Budget or not, the Fazer shop in Kluuvikatu is one place you can’t miss. It’s been in the same spot since 1891 (the self-same grandmother used to stop off there after her frozen sea crossing) and has become a Helsinki institution frequented by the capital’s great and good. The best cake and coffee in town shouldn’t set you back more than about €8, and the experience of living the Helsinki café life is a real highlight.
Time to go shopping
Want to stock up on souvenirs? As the birthplace of Nokia and Alvar Aalto it’s not surprising that Helsinki is home to some of Europe’s most stylish brands. From the bright colours and striking designs of Marimekko clothing to the chic glassware and home décor of Iittala there’s no shortage of stylish souvenirs to take home with you.
And the place to find them? Stockmann’s is the Harrod’s of Helsinki and the place to do some last-minute shopping for everything from groovy glassware to super-soft reindeer skins.
From high style to haute cuisine, Helsinki has it all. Combining modern culture with age-old customs, east with west, glorious summers with bitter winters and cutting-edge design with centuries-old traditions, it’s one of Europe’s most enticing capitals.