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 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.
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 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.