Skirted by islands and skerries, Helsinki is a waterfront capital in commune with nature. In winter solid sheaths of ice stretch across the bay to the island fortress of Suomenlinna; in summer Helsinki Harbor and the Gulf of Finland glisten in near-perpetual sunlight. Scandinavian savoir-faire and Finnish style are showcased in the city's Design Museum, and the interactive displays and experimental exhibitions at the Kiasma museum of contemporary art inspire Helsinki's budding innovators.
Things to Do
Austere yet elegant, Helsinki's neoclassical core was modeled after the imposing grandeur of St. Petersburg. Hop on the 3B/3T tram to chug-a-lug cheaply past the main sights of this compact but thoroughly cosmopolitan city. Helsinki's Design Museum shows the Finnish finesse for style and creativity -- the city was even voted the 2012 World Design Capital. Once an island fortress, Suomenlinna's mighty stone walls encircle a collection of museums and galleries.
The intricately decorated, exquisitely finished ceramics and tableware sold at Arabia stores in Helsinki typify Finns' commitment to durable, desirable design. A stroll along Esplanadi Street in the city center reveals designer boutiques both elegant and expensive. Less rarefied is Market Square -- where the air is laced with the scent of salt and fleshy slabs of fresh bream; fragrant mounds of glossy blackberries and Arctic brambleberries lure passersby.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Constructed from Carrara marble, the gleaming Finlandia Hall is home to the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; the Finnish glitterati assemble there for regular premieres and concerts. Crafted entirely from ice, Yliopistonkatu's Arctic Ice Bar serves chilled vodka from iced tumblers throughout the year -- you'll be given a coat and gloves upon entry. Generally bohemian, occasionally boisterous, the local pubs of the former working-class district of Kallio attract students and creative types in search of late-night revelry.
Restaurants and Dining
Escape the bitterly cold Finnish winter with a steaming cup of coffee and just-baked pastry from the stone-clad cafes of Senate Square. Reputedly the oldest Russian restaurant outside of Russia, Bellevue, by Uspenski Cathedral, serves hearty servings of borscht stew. Carnivores can savor cuts of reindeer and elk at rustic, wood-paneled Lapp restaurants. In summer, intercept the catch of the day by dining alfresco at the harbor -- Baltic herring seasoned with juicy cloudberries is a local delicacy.