Preliminary warning: if you do not like cold weather, DO NOT GO to Helsinki in January! Temperatures can drop below -20°C and you hardly get any light. It is however an incredible experience as it completely changes the manner in which you approach your visit of the Finnish capital.
History and overview:
Helsinki was founded as a Swedish trading town in the mid 16th Century and remained a relatively diminutive trading post until the early 19th Century when the Russians annexed the city after having successfully besieged the fortress of Sveaborg (Suomenlinna). The Russian tsar established Helsinki as the new capital of Finland and relocated the country’s only university, Turku to Helsinki. This new academic and cultural importance led to continuous growth in tandem with the rapid industrialization of Russia.
In 1917, Finland became an independent country and Helsinki continued its path to a modern European capital.
SATO Hotelhome Kristianinkatu: a centrally located apartment is a priceworthy option and has all the facilites you need for a short stay in the Finnish capital.
Hotel Seurahuone Helsinki: a great hotel located right in the city centre with all the usual amenities
Cultural offer and activities:
National Museum of Finland: (Mannerheimintie 34) A great place to learn about the history and culture of Finland, especially considering the significant differences between the capital city and remote parts of the country such as Lapland.
Suomenlinna island: A Unesco world heritage sea fortress on a small island right off the coast. Unfortunately, the island is completely covered in snow during winter months and the fact that the place is completely deserted creates the brilliant illusion that it might just be a mirage, a fake sight where no fortress has ever existed.
Public or private sauna The most Finnish of Finnish traditions, an absolute must in Helsinki. Most apartment buildings have their own sauna but there are also public saunas all over the city.
My suggestion for a public sauna in the city centre would be: Kotiharjun Sauna (Harjutorinkatu 1)
Helsinki Art museum: (Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 8) A collection of more than 9000 works of art that will not disappoint any art enthusiast.
Old town & Cathedral: The charming old town contains the main Cathedral which is a brilliant piece of neoclassical architecture and therefore definitely worth a glance.
Wine & Dine:
Olo Ravintolo: (Pohjoisesplanadi 5) quite a pricey option but worth every cent. Serves traditional Scandinavian food and Finnish dishes, many of which are related to the restaurants’ extensive fish assortment.
Molly Malone’s Pub (Kaisaniemenkatu 1): My favourite pub in Helsinki. Nothing spectacular but a great place to warm up during the cold winter nights.
Milliklubi (Kaivokatu 12) The only club that was sort of buzzing during a Thursday night in January.
Note that the nightlife section in this guide is far from complete, this is due to the fact that I was in Helsinki midweek in … you guessed it… WINTER.
Helsinki is very expensive compared to most European countries. Not the most exciting city in Europe, a trip to Helsinki works well in combination with Tallinn, which can be reached on a short 2h boat trip. The boat ride is in itself an experience, especially in winter when it resembles more an icebreaker than a tourist ferry.