Whichever destinations might be on your 2019 to-do list, Helsinki should have a place – for the leisure traveller, or business traveller. For one, it’s a stunning city. Secondly, for investors and business, Helsinki is the latest startup hub.
The city suddenly leapt from 43rd place in 2017 to 28th in 2018 in high tech startup successes amongst Euro-Scand nations. The mega-conference for European tech startups, Slush, takes place here each December, gathering 20,000 of the best minds of their fields. And, one of Europe’s biggest startup campuses is about to be built in this city, at 70,000 square metres.
Among the disruptors in the tech scene include Leadfeeder (precise analytics of which companies are surfing your site), ContractZen (one-click-cloud contracts and meetings organizing), Smarp (employee shareable content hub), Utopia Analytics (artificial intelligence monitoring of online discussion) and Hoxhunt (high level online corporate security).
Helsinki’s a city where you can experience high adventure, or simply chill, by taking in the sites on an easygoing walking tour. Elements of bustling metropolis meld with the laxity of a rural town, depending on which turn you take.
The best part is that it is not a particularly large city, enabling the tourist to take in much of the core in a very short period of time.
It’s a treat for the eyes – modernity meets medieval, where whole city blocks are infused with colonial Swedish or Russian architecture, rich with history and stunning detail.
To take it slow, walk along Norra Esplanade from the waterfront, for a couple of kilometres onward, to enjoy a wide array of boutique shops, dining options, cafes, and the general feel of the city’s downtown shopping.
Stroll along Market Square, next to City Hall, to get a snapshot of local crafts and fare, at. By size probably comparable to Dundas Square in Toronto, it’s brimming with booths, kiosks and merchants peddling their wares. Drink freshly squeezed sea buckthorn juice (high in protein, vitamins C and E, and organic acids.) Bring home an array of tchotchkes, like handmade knitted slippers, hats and sweaters. Nosh on reindeer jerky. Check out the bookmarks made with reindeer hide, and keychains made with reindeer antlers.
Allas Sea Pool, next to the Market Square, is where locals go after work to take a load off.
At 14 Euro ($21CDN), it might seem a bit pricey for a swim party, but wait till you spend time wading through these waters. The Olympic-size outdoor pool is heated, having a calming effect on the body, while visually, the mist hovers at eye level as it collides with the cool air. Meanwhile, the “sea water pool” – filtered and treated with UV rays – is water straight from the ocean, chilly and punchy. Think of it like the famed “polar dive”. (So fellas, beware the sudden frosty sharp smack in that sensitive region.)
Want to tap the inner child in you? The grown-up playground (too difficult to spell, let alone pronounce) is a “sports acrobatics” centre with trampolines, bouncy air track, foam pits, sprung floor and more – for adults.
Arkadia International bookshop is a cultural icon in the city, featuring nightly concerts of every kind of musical genre, as well as a venue simply to enjoy a cuppa joe, play a board game or schmooze with friends.
Takeoff Simulation is where you can “fly” a commercial airliner, in a flight simulator the size of a real Airbus A320. It includes high-definition visual screens, real sounds, and a highly detailed cockpit.
Food and drink near the city centre are as ubiquitous as Times Square and as eclectic.
To fill your belly with homegrown fare, try Friends and Brgrs, burgers made from Finland’s local farmed livestock.
For fancier delights, visit Werner, said to be in the top 20 “hippest” eateries. Boasting “the biggest open-fire grill in town”, enjoy grilled whitefish, dry-aged entrecote, or craft-made sausages.
Within a ten-minute walking radius, hit up the likes of BrewDog, Liberty or Death, or Wallis Karaoke Bar – watering holes that have that “pub” feel, offering a variety of Finnish micro-brewed beverages.
National Museum of Finland: Until Feb., see the temporary exhibition of “10,000 years of design” where tools and furniture over the millennia are displayed. And permanent exhibitions, include “Prehistory”, a multisensory experience that is described as “Touch a genuine reindeer axe, bring a cave painting to life and see a mammoth move. The digital exhibits bring history to the present day.”
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, at just twenty years old, has some 8,000 works in the collections, and about a hundred are added annually. Here, you can get a great feel for Finnish artwork inside the building, as well as outside: this year renovations began, and the fence has been covered with various poster art.
If houses of worship architecture are of interest, within a twenty-minute walk, take in the Rock Church (no, nothing to do with Billboard’s Top 100), Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral and Helsinki Cathedral.
Build into rock foundation, Temppeliaukio Church (aka Rock Church) is a Lutheran church opened in 1969. The church hall is covered with a copper-lined dome, while the interior walls are of made of rugged rock.
Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral was built in the 1860s and sees a half million visitors each year. My tour guide said that some of the bricks used to build the church were from a Finnish military base blown up by Russians. Inside is decorated with ornate statues and icons.
One of Helsinki’s most popular attractions is grand-sized bone-white Helsinki Cathedral, built from 1830-1852 as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Built in the neo-classical style, it is the centrepiece of Senate Square, visited by about 350,000 people each year.
Good to Know:
– It’s a breeze to get from/to the airport, to/from the city centre, either via train (five Euros) or Finnair’s bus (six Euros and ninety cents, and includes free Wifi). Both take about a half hour.
– Helsinki is very much a Wifi friendly city. A short stroll in virtually any direction within the downtown core and you’re likely to nab a free signal.