Your Weekend Guide To Helsinki
Helsinki is the wonderfully cool capital of Finland, the land of a thousand lakes and islands. It is a perfect city for a short weekend break. Geographically speaking, Helsinki is one of the world’s northernmost capitals. It was founded by the Swedes in the 1550s and for a long time, it was quite a sleepy town. Now is a bustling hub that it is definitely worth a visit thanks to its many interesting buildings and sites.
About a third of Finland’s citizens live in Helsinki. Be sure to remember that Finland has very long nights during the winter and almost no darkness during the summer which is why it’s known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. The best time to visit Helsinki, therefore, is in April, May or June.
For centuries, Finland was part of a very large Swedish empire. It was conquered by the Russians in 1806, but, by then, Finnish nationalism had already started to grow. This became clear when in 1917, Finland became independent from the Russian Empire. Helsinki became the centre of a short civil war after Finland became a republic. Despite its independence, Russian and Swedish influences are still present in Finland. Most immigrants in Helsinki have Russian roots and Swedish is still the second most spoken language in Finland.
A great first stop would be the National Museum of Finland. The museum exhibits Finnish history from the prehistoric era all the way to the 19th century. It will tell you about the arctic culture of Finland and the influences it has received from other countries.
Near the National Museum, you can find the Temppeliaukio Church, known as the Church of the Rock. This Lutheran church was designed by Finnish architects in 1969 and built completely in solid rock. The windows in the ceiling allow natural light to fall in. There are often concerts held in this church because of the wonderful acoustics. The Temppeliaukio Church is visited by half a million people each year and it is therefore one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki.
From the Temppeliaukio Church, head to Helsinki’s Senate Square, where you can find some more impressive buildings. The Senate Square is one of the oldest areas in Finland’s capital. On the north side you will find a grand white cathedral with a beautiful green dome. This famous landmark was built in the early 1800s and in typical neoclassical style. In front of the church, there is a bronze statue of Russian Emperor Alexander II. On the west side of the Senate Square is one of the main university buildings and, on the east, you can see the Government Palace, which one of the oldest buildings of Helsinki’s city centre. Around the Senate Square there are some fantastic coffee places where you can enjoy a hot drink and the view.
In 1952, Helsinki hosted the Summer Olympics. It was the coldest city to host the Summer Olympics, as during the games Helsinki experienced an average temperatures of 6° C. Many of the Summer Olympic stadiums are accessible for the public today. The main stadium area even has a high watch tower you can climb which gives you a great view over the city.
Finland’s capital also houses over 150 animal species in the Helsinki Zoo. It is open all year around and it is located on one of the city’s islands. It is one of the oldest zoos in the world, having opened in 1889!
If you wish to get some discounts on Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions, you should consider investing in a Helsinki Card. It saves you a lot money and also allows you unlimited travel access to public transport.
When spending a couple of days in Helsinki for a weekend break, save some time for a bus trip outside of town. These are quite varied in distance and length, but there are some fantastic options. You could take a two- or three- day trip all the way to the north of Finland to experience the northern lights for example. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, you could take a day trip to Saint Petersburg in Russia. Many other options include visiting small fishing villages and many of the lakes found surrounding Helsinki.