Finland's capital city, founded on June 12, 1550, is a multi-faceted town that is unique in many ways and has much to offer any visitor.
Helsinki is set apart from other big historical cities by two factors: the great physical presence of nature and the very clear grid pattern used to design the city's streets. Most big cities have a limited number of parks. In Helsinki, parks can be found behind almost every corner. Even in the most densely-built districts of the city center, significant parks liven up the landscape. Both the overwhelming presence of nature and the network of straight, symmetrical and wide streets, which make finding any address a simple task, are the creation of the city's two main designers, Johan Albrecht Ehrenström and Carl Ludvig Engel.
Helsinki is formally divided into a total of 54 districts, but more commonly the city is merely divided into the center and the suburbs. The southern districts are older (some would say more revered), and they contain most of the city's main tourist attractions.
Eira, Ullanlinna & Kaivopuisto
These three respected districts are full of parks, historical buildings and statues. Eira is known for its Jugend-style (Art Nouveau) houses, parks and beautiful boulevards. Eira centers around Engel Square, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings, including the Chinese Embassy. Ullanlinna, with its marine panorama and densely-built historical buildings is popular among stylish young adults, interior designers and architects. Kaivopuisto's lovely
Punavuori & Kallio
Punavuori and the slightly more northern district of Kallio were traditionally working men's districts, though Punavuori has tried to improve its image in recent years. Punavuori is full of old buildings and popular among young graduates and a large international populace. Kallio is known for its waterways,
Töölö & Meilahti
The respectable district of Töölö is full of old apartment buildings, which are beautiful, densely packed and highly sought-after. Töölö also has many spectacular sights, including the
Katajanokka & Kruununhaka
Slightly cut off from the rest of the city, Katajanokka was known in the past for its ports and prison. Nowadays this architecturally significant, Jugend-style district is part of many sightseeing tours, and is populated by artists and journalists. It is also a political center. North of Katajanokka lies the peaceful and highly respected district of Kruununhaka, the neighbor of the historical center designed by Engel.
Kamppi & Kluuvi
A densely-populated district that stretches from the
In Helsinki, history and modern life, man and nature come together in harmony to create a city like no other.
The best hotels in Helsinki can be found in the center, but you might want to seek a truly Finnish experience by being close to nature. For this try the log cabins in Rastila, still not very far from central Helsinki. The city center is quite compact--everything you could ever need is there. The hotels in the center are pricey, but they are clean and usually include breakfast. In addition, all the hotels in Helsinki are honest, and you can always count on getting a good night's sleep.
City Center (Kaartinkaupunki, Punavuori & Kamppi)
The areas of the city center of Kaartinkaupunki, Punavuori and Kamppi are full of first class hotels with plenty of local flavor. The city center has luxurious hotels such as Hotel Kämp, located next to Esplanade Park, near both Stockmann and the Market Square. Also a good business choice, Hotel Marski, located across the street from Stockmann on Mannerheimintie, is popular among those who want to have all the services and comforts of the center and do not care how much a room costs. Another expensive hotel is Presidentti, located near the Parliament House. The hotel is conveniently situated and there is a casino and a cinema in the same building. Even though most hotels in the city center are very expensive, it is possible to get a reasonably priced room there. One of those hotels is Klaus K on the Bulevardi. It is in the middle of the city center, but in a surprisingly peaceful spot, and the rates there are slightly lower than in many other hotels in the area. If you want to get to know the more "normal" side of Helsinki but still stay near the city center, you can find a room in the Kamppi district, only a short distance from Mannerheimintie and the main railway station. There are lots of restaurants, bars, boutiques and important meeting places for business people in Kamppi, so it is suitable for both business travelers and tourists. There are luxurious hotels in Kamppi, such as Hotel Torni, the tallest building in the city, as well as Lordhotel, located on Lönnrotinkatu, a busy thoroughfare near Hietalahti Market Square. Near the same square, Hotel Haaga, with a sea view from most rooms, is popular among conference delegates.
Next to the city center is also the Töölö district, a big and urban neighborhood known for its good access by public transport to all over Helsinki, as well as its artists and restaurants. Many of these have long traditions, and every year there seem to be new and better additions to Töölö's restaurant and bar scene. The district's best, biggest and most expensive hotels are SAS Seaside Hotel and Scandic Hotel Continental on Mannerheimintie, near the Opera House and Finlandia Hall. Also not far is Töölö's own market square and all kinds of neat little shops and mostly Functionalist houses. It is where many of Finland's celebrities spent their early years or live now, at the height of their fame. Near Kamppi metro station, there are cheaper alternatives, such as Hotel Helka and Stadion Hostel. When you are staying in Töölö during the summertime, it is good to remember that on its western side is the only real beach in town, Hietaranta. To the east are the Olympic Stadium, Linnanmäki amusement park and Taivallahti red clay tennis courts, where Finnish tennis championships are usually held in August.
Kaivopuisto, Ullanlinna, & Eira
Outside the city center, Kaivopuisto, Ullanlinna, and Eira are beautiful, wealthy and old neighborhoods, but it is quite difficult to find a hotel room in these districts. Palace Hotel, however, in the South Harbor, across the street from the Old Market Hall, is a big, high-quality hotel, located near Kaivopuisto Park and many other important places in the city centre. Also, the more reasonably priced Marttahotelli and Hotel Anna are near these districts, as well as Iso Roobertinkatu, the oldest pedestrian street in the city. Fredrikinkatu and Korkeavuorenkatu are both well-known shopping streets with high-quality products.
In close proximity to the Presidential Palace and the Market Square is Katajanokka Island, where the big ships to Sweden and Germany depart. It may not be a center for shopping sprees and drinking binges, but there are lots of beautiful houses, and it is easy to get to the center quickly by trams 2 and 4. If you're concerned about money, Hotel Skatta in the middle of the island is an alternative, right along the tram routes. The cheapest rooms can be found at Eurohostel, only a short distance from the Viking Ship Terminal.
Kallio district is an old neighborhood that used to be inhabited by the working classes. It still has lower prices than the city center, and the services are quite good. During the past few years it has grown into an international area where many artists, musicians, and students are fond of living and hanging out. There are lots of inexpensive restaurants, bars, and cafés in Kallio, but it also has its own market square, market hall and shops of all sizes, as well as the magnificent Kallio church. It is not far from the city center, and it has good transport links (bus, tram or metro) to the whole of Helsinki. You can walk into the city, especially if you live by Hakaniemi Market Square, for example in Hilton Helsinki Strand, one of the most expensive and best hotels in the city. On the other side of Kallio, near Linnanmäki amusement park, Töölö Bay, the Opera House, and the Olympic Stadium, is Hotel Aurora, a moderately priced hotel with good services. Next to a sports ground and a sports hall, is Cumulus Olympia, on Kallio's main street, Helsinginkatu. If you have a big group with you, or if you are planning to stay for a while, you can ask for a room or several big rooms from Fenno, a hotel on a peaceful spot along the route of trams 3b and 3t.
Munkkiniemi & Pasila
Hotel Kalastajantorppa is in the Munkkiniemi district by the seaside, about ten minutes away from the city center. There are many big and classy houses in this district, including one designed by Alvar Aalto, who lived there for decades (until his death in 1976). A very different district but also some ten minutes from the city center is Pasila. Only a short distance from Linnanmäki Amusement Park, this district is not near anything else of interest and it is quite tiresome to try to walk anywhere else from Pasila. Pasila has the second-biggest railway station in the area, though, as well as trams 7a and 7b and dozens of buses. Hotel Pasila is a reasonably priced place to stay in the western part of this district, as is the Holiday Inn Congress Centre on its eastern side. Both hotels are along tram routes.
Many people who were born and live in Käpylä district think of it as the best place to live in the world. There are lots of nice wooden houses here, as well as the northernmost tram stop in the world. Park Hotel is a peaceful, small hotel in the heart of Käpylä, about 15 minutes from the city center, and it's a reasonably priced alternative to large hotels, especially during the summer months. Hotel Haaga is also 15 minutes from the center, but in a district not quite as pleasant as Käpylä, although the hotel has good services and is moderately priced.
A good place to stay when you arrive in Helsinki is the area around Helsinki-Vantaa airport. The many hotels there are especially suitable for those who are staying in the city for only one night. The distance to the city center is covered in about 20 minutes, via motorways, and there are several hotels to choose from. Holiday Inn Garden Court is a big hotel three kilometers from the airport. Sokos Hotel Vantaa is located five kilometers from the airport, only about a hundred meters from both train and bus stops. From there you can quickly make a trip into the city. The hotels usually have free shuttles running to and from the airport and many of them also run buses into the city center.
As the 21st Century is already well under way, Helsinki has gotten off to an excellent start in renovating and renewing itself as a cultural center. Museums, galleries, cafes, and restaurants have multiplied and sprung up throughout the center of the capital like a garden. What many foreigners don't automatically understand is the size of Helsinki. The truth is that there are only five million Finns, with only about 500,000 in the Helsinki area. Therefore, when you compare Helsinki to Europe's other capital cities, it might seem very small and dull. This might have been the general opinion a decade ago, but the effort and work done in the past few years have left their mark. Today Helsinki's wining and dining scene is remarkably diverse, with enough bars and restaurants within about a three kilometer (1.8 mile) radius of the Central Railway Station to satisfy anyone from anywhere. A major advantage of Helsinki is that you can walk almost anywhere!
Near the Botanical Gardens, is the historic and much-loved Restaurant Kaisaniemi a good place for a light lunch or just a drink to kill your thirst. This area is marked by cheap pubs and bars on every other street corner. Ethnic restaurants are also popular, but are not always of the best quality. In Kallio, try some Thai at Lemon Grass, or for vegetarian cuisine, Silvoplee. Coming back towards town from Hakaniemi over Hakaniemi Bridge we get to Kruununhaka.
This area is popular for that peaceful lunch or dinner, and quite a few restaurants have opened around these few blocks. Stroll to Meritullinkatu to find Zinnkeller, a western European kitchen serving original German Bratwurst and beer. Two or three blocks south you will find many more restaurants, including the Russian Kasakka. Also in this area you can find a Wild West saloon at Colorado Mountains, or Caribbean cuisine at Copacabana. Other restaurants in the area are Kuurna and Hamlet.
Continuing this circle around the center of Helsinki we stroll the Pohjoisranta to get to the beautiful part of town that is Katajanokka. If you are looking for ethnic food in the area, the Nepalese restaurant Everest on Luotsinkatu is the place to go. In Esplanadi Park, you'll find numerous cafes as well as Samrat, the best Indian in town. Also located in the area are Makasiini (in the Hotel Grand Marina), Piccolo Piazza and Sipuli. Go south from there, staying by the sea. When you pass the Silja Line boat terminals and you will soon reach the more expensive area of Kaivopuisto.
Kaivopuisto Park is a lovely place to spend some time, after which you can stop for a cappuccino at the peaceful Cafe Ursula. Stroll to the opening at the corner of Neitsytpolku and Merisatamanranta, take a ferry to the nearby Uunisaari island and enjoy a modern lunch here. Another cafe down by the shore is Cafe Carusel, where the interior decor and style are as post-modern as they come. Other options in the area include La Petite Maison and Kaivohuone.
Come back toward town through the Eira neighborhood and take pleasure in the beautiful houses all around you. Have the best steak or pizza of your life at Nerone, located on Perämiehenkatu. Sepänkatu, Merimiehenkatu and Punavuorenkatu all have pubs and small restaurants scattered here and there. By now your journey has brought you back towards the center. A famous street for drinking and dining has always been Iso Roobertinkatu. Practically the whole street is covered with pubs and restaurants. Nearby Kynsilaukka Garlic is for garlic lovers.
Still staying away from the immediate surroundings of the Central Railway Station, we continue on Fredrikinkatu towards the metro station of Kamppi. This is the main area for drinkers and diners between the ages of 18 and 20. Eerikinkatu is also packed with all sorts of places. In this area a short strip of Annankatu is full of small pubs and ethnic food spots, including the promising Maithai, hailed as the best Japanese restaurant in Helsinki. Kabuki is also close by, on Lapinlahdenkatu. The Kamppi area also features such eateries as Rivoli Cheri, Helmi, and Toula.
We finally arrive the real center of the city. The number of places to eat and drink just a few steps away from the Central Railway Station is incredible. The building in front of the station includes some of the best places in town. Omenapuu is a great place for Sunday brunch. This same building includes many dance and drinking spots like Aladdin, but all places require you to be at least 22. Papa Giovanni, in the World Trade Centre, is one of the most formal Italian restaurants you will find. You definitely get your money's worth at the American-style Restaurant Amarillo on Mikonkatu. Party your night away next door at the Helsinki Club (24 and above). The exploding popularity of Mexican/American food has brought dozens of competitors into this central area, one of the best being Santa Fe, in the aforementioned World Trade Centre.
Before leaving the city, enjoy the renowned Finnish pastries served all around the cafes in town. These are available almost anywhere, but it is an accepted fact by most that the famous Fazer Cafe makes the best treats anywhere (in the world!). Be sure to visit, but go before it gets dark because it's not the easiest place to find a seat once people leave work.
We begin this tour at the seaside, at Fredrik Ursin Park. Far away on our right looms the Monument to the Seafarers with its undying flame. We follow Laivurinkatu Street until we reach the shore path, Merisatamaranta. We continue along this path to our left. The path then turns into Ehrenströmintie road, which signals our arrival in Kaivopuisto Park. After a short walk, we can see a path leading to the park on our left. We take this path until we meet a cliff face. On top of the cliff stand Ursa Observatory and the A.E. Nordenskiöld Memorial. We go on with the cliff on our right until we come to the end of the small clearing we have been following. Here, we turn to a path leading right. This path will lead us to the famed Kaivohuone. We continue onwards across the opening, over the Iso Puistotie road, passing the fountain Kalastava Karhu on the left. We climb up Kaivohuoneenrinne Street to the fine district on top of the hill, where we turn right to Itäinen Puistotie road. On our right stands the park's oldest existing villa at Itäinen Puistotie 7. We soon turn left to the curving road Kalliolinnantie, which passes both the Mannerheim Museum and the Cygnaeus Gallery. After taking the loop around this road we turn right to Itäinen Puistotie again, passing the glorious Marmoripalatsi (Marble Palace), designed by Eliel Saarinen and the Catholic St. Henry's Cathedral. We continue down the road to Ullankatu street and up to Tähtitorninvuori. We turn right at Tähtitorninkatu Street and walk on to the famous Statue of the Shipwrecked. After taking in the lovely scenery we turn back towards the park and walk over to the Observatory designed by C.L. Engel. The building stands on a site that provides the city's best view, a panorama of the whole city. We go down the hill and to the right, passing the German Church and the Memorial to the Habsburg Shipwreck. We then arrive at Eteläranta street and walk back down to the Old Market Hall where we started.
This tour starts in the middle of Senate Square, by the statue of Alexander II. The square is surrounded on all sides by stunning buildings. Right in front of us stands the elegant Lutheran Cathedral, on our left, the yellow University main building, and on our right, the Senate Building. When we turn our backs on the Lutheran Cathedral, we come face to face with a row of 18th-century houses, the most famous of which is the Kiseleff house, standing on the corner closest to the University. We now begin our tour by walking to our left toward one corner of the square and turn left to Aleksanterinkatu Street. On our right stands the blue Sederholm House, the oldest stone building in Helsinki. Right next to this is the dark auburn residence of the Mayor. After a short walk we can see a small park on the left side of the street, behind which stands the Gothic House of Nobility, a popular concert hall. After we have passed the park, we walk past several historic buildings until we reach the shoreline. On our right looms the majestic Uspenski Cathedral with its gilded domes. For a drink or snack to help unwind after all this sightseeing, stop into nearby Painobaari for international and local favorites in its comfortable atmosphere.
Standing at the end of Säästöpankinranta street, we see on our left the famous Ympyrätalo (Circular Building), and right in front of us the popular Hakaniemi Square and great Hakaniemi Hall. If we stand right at the edge of Siltasaarenkatu street, we can look left and see the fabulous Kallio church. You may even be able to hear the church bells playing their distinctive melody, a tune by Jean Sibelius. You can take a quick stroll to the church and back. We will then continue our tour around Eläintarha Bay. This area, Tokoinranta, is known not only for its architectural sights, such as the modern Helsinki City Theatre building, but also for its green park areas, which play host to a whole range of celebrations during the year. Most Helsinkians know Tokoinlahti nowadays by the tent that is erected there during the annual Helsinki Festival. The tent is the venue for a host of performances from top Finnish and international artists. Also located nearby is the Botanical Garden and its landmark greenhouse. For a bit of refueling, try some Czech specialties and beers at Vltava.
From Tokoinranta, you can follow Eläintarhantie to the bridge, over the railway tracks and then to another street, Linnunlauluntie. This way you can continue your walk and stroll through the parks surrounding Töölö Bay. The first things we see are the old villas at Linnunlaulu. These romantic wooden houses located in the shadow of mighty trees or on top of rocks set the mood for a nice stroll through the woods. A sandy walkway leads us to an open park, and continues onward right next to the bay. On the right, you can see the heavily-trafficked Helsinginkatu street, on the other side of which stands the City Winter Gardens. As you stroll along the footpath, you can stop to enjoy the sight of the fountain in Töölö Bay, to breathe in the fresh air that blows across the bay, or to admire the Opera House or Finlandia Hall, which loom on the other side of the bay. We now cross over the Helsingintie street and approach the winter gardens, which we pass on the left by taking Hammarskjöldintie street. When the Olympic Stadium appears in front of us through the trees, we turn to the path on our left. After a short stroll, the statue of famous athlete Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala can be seen on the left. We now leave the park and cross the square in front of the Olympic Stadium and head for the statues of Paavo Nurmi and Lasse Viren, two of Finland's most famous athletes. From here, we continue our walk on Paavo Nurmen Katu Street towards the National Opera. We go across Helsingintie street again, now facing the majestic National Opera building. Next, we turn left and then right at the corner of the building, ending up back by Töölö Bay.
As we pass the Finnish National Opera building with its mighty curving glass wall, the next thing we see is the gorgeous Hesperia Park. The park's footpath is lined with lovely willows. When we reach the other end of the park, we find a simply wonderful little artificial stream that flows down the rock face next to the Finlandia Hall. This brook flows down to a lighted pool, from where the water then flows to Töölö Bay. Right next to the park stands the mighty Finlandia Hall. Its white exterior befits the park as well as the open areas that start in the building's shadow. We walk around the hall by taking Karamzininkatu Street, and walk up to Mannerheimintie road. On our right is the Hakasalmen Huvila, an attractive old villa. On the left side is the castle-like National Museum, where you can also stop and take a break with a cup of coffee in their cafe. We face away from the villa to see the mighty granite Parliament Building on our right. We now follow Mannerheimintie road all the way to Mannerheiminaukio Square, passing as we go the glass Sanomatalo building on our left and a lovely small park on our right. On Mannerheiminaukio square stands the statue of Mannerheim and the art museum Kiasma. We turn left from the square, towards the Railway Station, which we walk through, and end up on Rautatientori (Railway Square). On the right stands Ateneum, the art museum, and on the left, the National Theatre building, toward which we begin walking. Passing the statue of Aleksis Kivi, we then turn to Itäinen Teatterikuja alley and end our tour in the lovely Kaisaniemen Puisto.
Helsinki Expert (+358 9 2288 1500 / http://www.helsinkiexpert.fi)
Helsinki Expert (+358 9 2288 1500 / http://www.helsinkiexpert.fi)
Royal Line (+358 20 711 8333 / http://www.royalline.fi)
Sun Lines (+358 20 741 8210 / http://www.sunlines.fi)
Archtours Ltd. (+358 9 477 7300 / http://www.archtours.fi/?page_id=6)
Nousujohde Promotion Oy (+358 50 572 4752 / http://www.nousujohde.fi/)
TTE – The Travel Experience (+358 9 622 9810 / http://www.travel-experience.net/)
Helsinki Expert (+358 9 2288 1500 / http://www.helsinkiexpert.fi)
Helsinki Card (+358 9 2288 1703 / http://www.helsinkicard.fi)