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Towns in Finland

Helsinki

Helsinki

The capital of Finland is Helsinki and it is sometimes referred to as the White Capital of the Baltic and the Daughter of the Baltic Sea. It is surrounded by sea and green forests and is set on a rocky promontory. It is not a great sprawling city as other capitals of the world. There are around one million inhabitants. Along with Espoo and Vantaa, Helsinki makes up the Greater Helsinki Area.

In 1812, Helsinki succeeded Turku as the capital of Finland, when Tsar Alexander decided to move the capital nearer to St. Petersburg and thus further from Sweden. The city burnt down in 1808 and destroyed virtually all the important public buildings. Immediate reconstruction took place, the results of which are the buildings you see today in the center of the town. There are many new and modern buildings which add to Helsinki’s rich variety of interesting architecture.

The cathedral dominates the quayside in Helsinki. Sailing boats are a common sight here, and one has even been converted into a restaurant serving delicious Finnish food.

There are plenty of museums to visit, most notably the Museum of Modern Art (Kiasma). There are some magnificent churches including one carved from rock (Temppeliaukion) and the beautiful Lutheran Cathedral. Parks abound. There is the Helsinki Zoo and the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress to visit just off the coast of Helsinki. The Opera House, the National Theatre and Finlandia Hall all draw many visitors to their performances.

From a Finnish reader, Hannu Sivonen: «When my wife and I talk to foreigners from faraway countries who plan to come to Finland in the summer, we suggest that they take a plane to Stockholm, see around them there, take a boat for Helsinki and watch the marvellous Stockholm Archipelago from the top of the ship. Then we also recommend to them, as extended sights of Helsinki, to visit Tallinn and St. Petersburg. So all these cities, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg can be viewed as sights of Helsinki.»

The first day of May is a great time to visit Helsinki. The May Day celebrations will be in full swing. May Day is actually a two-day event. The partying starts the night before at 6:00 pm when students ceremonially place a white student cap on the Havis Amanda statue on the edge of the Market Square. The rest of the evening is then spent wandering the town and joining in with the festivities. The next morning, May Day, it is essential to be at the mass picnic in Kaivopuisto Park. Arrive by 10:00 am at the latest. Here you will be greeted by the most extraordinary sight. The park will be filled to the brim with happy, partying picnickers wearing white student caps. May Day has gradually evolved from a working class celebration into a spring festival for all people. Whatever the weather, the Finns will be outside in the park enjoying themselves—for this is their first day of Spring.

The author recommends that you take the ferry from Helsinki to the Island of Suomenlinna. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, Suomenlinna is an artisan’s refuge and houses more than five museums.

In January and February, a huge church made completely of snow will stand on Senate Square. Built every year, this is a major attraction.

Turku

Turku

Turku has a cultural identity as Finland’s historical center as it was the largest city in the country for a very long time. In 2011, it will be the European Capital of Culture.

Turku Castle is an impressive gray stone castle dating back to 1280s. It is the largest surviving medieval building in Finland and one of the largest surviving medieval castles in Scandinavia. The castle was the center of the historical province of Finland Proper and the administrative center of all of Finland. Its strong walls and dungeons also served as the state prison for centuries. The castle’s heyday was in the mid-16th century during the reign of Duke John of Finland and Katarina Jagellonica. The castle is Finland’s most visited museum.

Luostarinmäki Handicrafts Musueum” is an outdoor museum with over 30 pre-industrialised workshops offering information and demonstrations of craft skills from 200 years ago. During the summer season, the museum’s workshops have craftspeople working there every day. The museum’s shops, postal office, and cafeteria serve customers around the year. The highlights of the year are the «Handicrafts Days» in August. It is the only part of Turku that survived the Great Fire of 1827.

The Christmas City: In 1996, the Turku City Board made the decision to declare Turku the Christmas City of Finland. It is a string of events taking place over a six week period. It begins on the first day of Advent and lasts until the day of St. Knut on 13 January. Over 100 event producers participate in planning and executing a total of approximately 400 Christmas City events.

Moomin World is the theme park dedicated to the children’s Moomin characters created by Tove Jansson. Located in nearby Naantali, on the island of Kailo, the blueberry colored Moomin House is the main attraction. Tourists are allowed to visit freely all the five stories. Hemulen’s yellow house is situated next door to the Moomin House. It is also possible to see Moominmama’s Doughnut Factory, Fire Station, Pancake Factory, Snufkin’s Camp, Moominpappa’s boat etc. in Moomin World. Visitors may also meet Moomin characters there or the Witch in her cottage.

The Sibelius Museum contains exhibits relating to the great composer, Jean Sibelius, and houses hundreds of musical instruments from all over the world. Live concerts are a regular feature of this museum of music.

«Ett Hem» Museum. In their will, Alfred and Hélène Jacobsson donated their home to a museum. They owned a two-storey house that was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel. It is a fine example of upper-class life in Turku at the turn of the 19th century.

Tampere

Tampere

Compact and lively, Tampere sits between two lakes joined by rapids and is renowned for its fresh, innovative cuisine, quirky museums and some of Europe’s most interesting conversions of industrial buildings.

Tampere’s Cathedral: The gray granite exterior was completed in 1907 and is one of the best examples of Romantic architecture in Finland. The frescoes of the Resurrection and the Garland of Life (depicting 12 naked boys), once considered controversial, are now regarded as masterpieces.

Pispala is a very colorful and unique housing district with small wooden houses built very close to each other. It was founded in the late 19th century as a neighborhood on a hillside. The area is now protected so that its unique character will be preserved for future generations. Pispala is no longer a workers» district but more famous for its artists, authors, and musicians. The plots are understandably very expensive here because of the magnificent views over lakes Nasijarvi and Pyhajarvi.

Särkänniemi Adventure Park has seven superb sites, the only one of its kind in Finland. This family destination offers the following attractions: Rides, Aquarium, Children´s Zoo, Dolphinarium, Planetarium, Näsinneula Observation Tower (tallest in Finland) and Sara Hilden´s art museum. It is open all year round—Rides and Children’s Zoo are open only in summer.

Vapriiki Musuem Centre is housed in what used to be the engineering works of Tampella Ltd, the old factory area. It exhibits 350,000 items from modern art and technology to handicrafts and nature.

The Spy Museum: The history of spying and present-day spying as well as famous spies and spying equipment— don’t miss its collection of lethal umbrellas!

The Excursion: A three-hour boat trip with Finnish Silverline passes tree-lined shores and pretty lakeside homes before reaching Lempäälä Lock, 12 miles north. A short walk from here is Villa Hakkari Manor Restaurant, a 200-year-old wooden house in which the young but skilled chef prepares excellent local dishes. In the grounds are half a dozen museums, including one dedicated to hairdressing, which features one of Wella’s first perming devices. From Lempäälä, catch bus 71 back to Tampere.

Tampere Film Festival takes place in the middle of March each year and outdoor concerts abound in the summer months.

Viikinsaari is a summer recreation island for the whole family, the only 20-minute boat trip away from the city center. Boats leave on the hour at the Laukontori quay. The western part of the island is a charming nature reserve, and various activities and events take place throughout the summer in the eastern part. Find playgrounds, swimming shores, gaming fields, summer theater, dance pavilion, small boat harbour and public campfire sites amongst many other fascinating objects of interest. You can borrow petanque, croquet, badminton, dart, football and volleyball.

Kuopio

Kuopio

Kuopio is located in the province of Eastern Finland and is surrounded by beautiful lakes and forests. A charming and lively place, there is lots to see and do. It’s a well-known venue for winter sports enthusiasts.

Puijo Hill and Tower: A vast panorama of an endless mosaic of blue lakes and green islands that can be seen from the Puijo Tower. It is a spectacle not to be missed by anybody visiting Kuopio. The tower, situated about 1.5 km from the city center, has a revolving panoramic restaurant that serves local specialties. The tower and the hostel at the foot of it are surrounded by a unique primeval forest.

Puijo Sports Centre: Especially well-known as a venue for winter sports events, including cross-country skiing, ski jumping, and downhill skiing. Top international ski jumpers train and compete at Puijo, and top-class cross-country ski events also take place at Puijo each year. The center has two downhill slopes, one for experienced and one for beginner skiers. The services in the area include equipment hire, a ski school, and a café.

The daily outdoor market in the Kuopio town square is a riot of colours in summer. The stalls sell summer-flowering plants which, once planted, grow quickly.

The Orthodox Church Museum: Most of the exhibits, which feature gold and silver objects, lavishly embroidered church clothes and other valuable icons, are from the monasteries and congregations of Karelia—a region in southeast Finland that was partially ceded to the Soviet Union in connection with World War II.

The Old Kuopio Museum: Consists of 11 old wooden houses which form an enclosed block. The oldest buildings date back to the 18th century and the most recent to the end of the 19th century. The interiors show homes and workshops of different kinds of families from the 19th century to the 1930s. There is a pharmacy museum in the block and a café for refreshments. There is also a display of photos of old Kuopio.

Kuopio Dance Festival: The oldest and longest-running dance festival in Finland. As well as several première performances, the festival hosts 30–40 dance courses and seminars for dance professionals, enthusiasts, and beginners, as well as a variety of events on the Market Square, a Festival Club, and many other fringe events. First-rate performances. Lots of participation from the audiences.

Nature/Bird Watching and Hiking: The Kuopio area is ideal for walking, hiking, moderate climbing, boating and generally being out in the peace and quiet of the surrounding countryside. Take a picnic. An ornithologist’s dream, there are many rare species to be spotted.

Finland regions

Lapland

Lapland

Lapland is the ancestral home of the Sami people. This is the land of the midnight sun. The area covers about one-third of the total land mass of Finland and almost all of it lies within the Arctic Circle. There are large expanses of tundra, rounded hills, silent lakes, flowing rivers and some isolated birch trees. Summers are short and from October to May, snow covers the ground. Reindeer are semi-domesticated and roam freely across the land. Reindeer farming has been the traditional livelihood of the Sami. However, other Sami are now involved within the tourist or forestry industry. I am told that one of the typical delicacies/traditions of the region is buying a coffee at a bar, along with a couple of hard boiled eggs.

Reindeer farming is still a means to make a living for many Sami (Lapps). Semi-domesticated animals, the reindeer are allowed to roam freely over vast acres of tundra.

Karelia

Karelia

Northern Karelia shares a border with Russia. As a consequence of World War II, the southern part of Karelia was ceded to the Soviets. Thus, Karelia is regarded as a symbol of national patriotism. The Orthodox Monastery of Valamo, which was founded 800 years ago on an island in Lake Ladoga, was transferred to within the Finnish territory of Karelia where it now stands. If Lapland is the land of the midnight sun, then Karelia is the land of song. The musical instrument kantele derives from this region. The capital of the region is Joensuu. Nearby, in the Kuusamo area is the beautiful National Park of Oulanka with Koli Hill as its highest peak.

The Lake District

The Lake District Finland

The main features of the central part of Finland are the thick, verdant forests and the thousands of lakes which make this part of the world unique. There are a variety and an abundance of waterways, rapids, and streams, where one can go canoeing, rafting, rapid-shooting, and sailing. Some of the most stunning national parks are located in this region.

Savonlinna has the beautiful Castle of Olavinlinna dating from 1475 where one of the most famous of Finland’s summer events is held—the Savonlinna Opera Festival. Kuopio is an important commercial town in this area and is located in some spectacular wooded lakeland scenery. This can be enjoyed best on an evening cruise on a restaurant boat. The best view of the town can be seen from the top of the revolving tower on Puijo Hill, which is open as a restaurant during the summer months (read more below under Kuopio).

Southern Finland

Southern Finland

This is the most populated area of the country. There are many historical reminders of this area’s past and its rich cultural diversity. Here you will find castles, fortresses, churches and historical cities, including Turku, the original capital of Finland (read more below under Turku). The cathedral in Turku is the country’s only medieval cathedral. It is a national shrine which has been rebuilt many times after fires and enemy attacks and has had great significance in the formation of a Finnish identity. Rauma, a 500-year-old village near Pori, is a world heritage site. The countryside is very gentle in this part of the country.

The restaurant at the top of the revolving tower on Puijo Hill in Kuopio offers fantastic views of the surrounding countryside, even at 11:00 pm.

Hotels and lodgings in Finland

Hotels and lodgings in Finland

It is difficult to make comparisons of Finnish hotels with international star ratings. Star ratings have to be taken into context and what is one country’s 4-star may be another country’s 3-star. Therefore, the comments that are made in the next few lines are very subjective and are my opinion, and not necessarily the «official line» printed elsewhere. My observations are biased towards comparing star ratings within the UK and traveling within Europe.

There are luxury hotels, but they are few. In Helsinki, the most luxurious are probably Hotel Kamp, opened originally in 1887 to bring a taste of great European cities to Helsinki; it has recently had a faithful restoration. Most hotels are geared towards catering for business people and belong to a few national chains of hotels: Scandic, Sokos, and Cumulus. I would tend to put these into a lower 4-star bracket. Generally speaking, these will have a swimming pool and saunas, restaurants and nightclubs (which may well be the most popular in the vicinity). Do be warned that Finnish hotel swimming pools are freezing! Don’t do as I did on my first visit and plunge into the pool expecting to have a nice leisurely swim. The swimming pools are there for people to plunge into straight from the sauna to cool themselves down. Of course, the other reason for their existence is to amuse the Finns when foreigners like me jump in and scream from the shock!

There is a group of independently owned hotels called the Finlandia Group. In reality, these are equivalent to 2/3-star accommodation elsewhere. Sometimes, first impressions may not be too good, but do not under any circumstances let this put you off. In my experience, the bedrooms are always more than adequate, and of course being Finnish, everything is immaculately clean. These hotels are modestly priced, and whilst they may not have many public facilities, they will have a restaurant. My friend Leena owns The Amado Hotel in Pori, a member of this Finlandia group, and she stakes the reputation of her hotel on the food she serves. Her restaurant has been voted the best restaurant in town three years running and the National Sales Representatives Association has just awarded the hotel ‘the Best Value for Money in Finland» accolade.

Towards the end of the summer, hotels rates are reduced quite heavily. This also applies to the weekends, Friday night through to Sunday.

Breakfast in Finland is always a buffet consisting of cheese, ham, boiled eggs, pickled fish, fresh salad vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, cereal, oats, and porridge. Quite often, there is a hot choice which will be a Finnish version of scrambled egg and either meatballs or tiny cocktail-sized frankfurters. Finnish bread is tasty and of multiple varieties and the butter is delicious. Being Finland, there is always a large dish of natural yogurt around and hot porridge.

A Word about Curtains…

Because Finnish buildings are triple glazed, there is no need to have thick curtains at the windows to stop heat loss such as in the UK. Also, because Finland hasn’t been used to having many foreigners, there has been no custom of having thick curtains to shut out the light during the summer (the Finns are used to this). It is still extremely common to go into a hotel bedroom and find very thin cotton curtains hanging at the window. Nowadays, Helsinki hotels and the better hotels have recognised the need to provide more sumptuous and plush soft-furnishings. These hotels hang heavy curtains and behind them they have metallic drapes or blinds, such as they have in Spain, to create total darkness.

When checking into a hotel, you will always be asked whether you want a smoking or non-smoking room. The Finns are very fastidious about this. If you want a bath in your hotel room, you will have to request it. All rooms have showers, but very few have baths. A carpet in a hotel bedroom is a real rarity, so it is advisable to take slippers with you to wear. From experience, I would say that the temperature in Finnish hotel bedrooms is not as high as you might imagine and it is easy to get cold just sitting around. The secret of being warm in Finland is not to allow yourself to get cold. The quilts on the bed are extremely lightweight and at first do not seem at all cozy or warm. However, once you and the bed have warmed up, you»ll be as warm as toast. I always take a hot water bottle with me.

Although I have the first-hand experience of all sorts of hotels throughout Finland, I have no experience of either the hostels or guesthouses. However, perhaps the following information will provide guidelines for anyone wishing to stay at these establishments. The Finnish youth hostel associations own the majority of hostels. You will be required to bring your own sheets and pillowcases, but there are occasions to rent them if you haven’t got any. Quite often, there are special family size rooms that can be rented. Breakfast will not be included in the price of the room. Guesthouses should always be inspected before you decide to stay. These tend to be found in town centers and near train stations. If you are in one of Finland’s old villages, you might find that the guesthouse is an old wooden house.

If you are visiting Finland during the summer, consider renting a Finnish summer cottage. This will be the true way to experience Finland. A summer cottage will normally be located near a lake and comes supplied with the compulsory rowing boat and a sauna. Apart from that, many rental cottages come fully equipped with cooking utensils, a fridge, television, and telephone. You will have to check carefully because not all of them will have electricity and running water. If you fancy experiencing the tranquillity of the countryside, these summer cottages can be booked through regional tourist offices.

Traditional Lappish dwellings are either log cabins or tents made from reindeer skins. They are sturdy and heated by a central open fire.

Other possibilities are to stay at farmhouses, rented accommodation or even in wilderness huts while out trekking. Further information about these can be obtained from regional tourist offices.