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Helsinki Travel Guide

About Helsinki

Stylish without being self-conscious and home to an eclectic mix of Scandinavian, Russian and Sami culture, loveable Helsinki is an accurate reflection of Finland itself.

Looking across the Gulf of Finland towards Estonia, the Finnish capital has always been a sea town and its harbour remains at its heart.

Helsinki has a character that perfectly reflects its geographical location - on the historical fault-line between the Swedish and Russian empires. Although the city is unmistakably Scandinavian, the architecture and the locals’ penchant for vodka show the clear influence of mother Russia.

Outweighing both, however, is the influence of the sea and the maritime history that comes with it. Unusually for a city of its size, Helsinki boasts 315 islands and close to 100km (60 miles) of coastline.

Many of the city’s main attractions are found by the water, from the UNESCO-listed Suomenlinna sea fortress to the gorgeous beaches of Pihlajasaari and Uunisaari islands. Helsinki’s seafood restaurants that are second to none too – try perch, whitefish, pike-perch or salmon served with new potatoes in summertime, while the legendary crayfish season starts in August.

The changing seasons, in particular the long dark days of winter, have also influenced the character of the city, not least in the cosy bars and restaurants that come into their own when it snows.

By contrast, the long sunny days of the summer months let you appreciate the unironically named Winter Garden, wander along Ruoholahti canal or dive into the Kumpula Outdoor Swimming Pool. Whatever the season, don’t miss a trip to the Kotiharju sauna, the oldest public wood sauna in the city.

There’s always plenty to do outside too, with fishing, cycling, golfing or a visit to the Finnish Nature Centre in nearby Nuuksio National Park among the summer highlights. In winter, try ice skating, skiing and snowboarding or go cross-country skiing on one of the city’s dedicated trails. It might be a bit dark in winter but Helsinki really is a year-round city.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel Helka

Housed in a building designed by architect Wivi Lönn in 1928 and furnished with furniture designed by Alvar Alto, this inexpensive and comfortable Helsinki hotel also scores points for its convenient location, just west of the centre. Refurbished throughout in 2006, Hotel Helka has 150 rooms, sauna facilities, a restaurant and bar. Limited parking spaces are available.

Hotel Arthur

Offering reasonably priced accommodation in the heart of Helsinki, Hotel Arthur is just a stone's throw from the railway station, the Kauppatori fish market, Esplanad Park and big department stores. There are 182 comfortable and well-appointed rooms with en-suite facilities, plus a large restaurant, a lobby bar and banqueting and conference facilities. Around 18 of its rooms are decorated in an art nouveau style following a refurb in 2012 to coincide with the city being awarded World Design Capital of the Year.

Klaus K

A designer hotel with influences that stray well beyond traditional Nordic design, the Klaus K opened in 2005, bringing the boutique hotel concept to Helsinki for the first time. The 137 rooms are named for the emotions they are intended to inspire - Mystical, Passion, Desire and Envy - and the hotel has two elegant restaurants and a thoroughly Modernist bar and club. Other facilities include a day spa, a gym and meeting space for 12 to 350 people.

Hotelli Seurahuone Helsinki

Established in 1833 as a seurahuone (meeting place for dignitaries), this is one of the most distinguished hotels in Helsinki. Amongst other landmark events, the hotel hosted the first opera performance in Finland in 1852, and the first film screening in 1896. Facing the train station, the hotel still offers a taste of 19th-century grandeur, though the 118 rooms have all the expected modern amenities. Facilities include wireless internet access and a grand restaurant and bar.

CheapSleep Helsinki

This hostel does what it says on the tin, offering affordable accommodation in a notoriously expensive city. The humorous tagline of its website sums it up: "Sleep cheap, stay rich". With 10 private rooms and 118 dorm beds, take your pick from this modern, comfortable and clean hostel, which benefitted from a refurb in 2012. There's free Wi-Fi throughout, a supermarket on the ground floor, kitchen, 24-hour reception and free lockers.

Crowne Plaza

The 349-room Crowne Plaza benefits from an excellent location opposite the Finnish National Opera on Mannerheimintie close to most of the attractions in Helsinki. The hotel offers wireless internet access in all areas. Creature comforts include saunas a spa and pool and a restaurant and bar.