Come Park Yourself Here
Most capital cities are jam-packed with buildings and businesses, with a few parcels of land set aside for parks. In Helsinki, nature livens up every corner of the landscape. There are 54 districts in Helsinki, and with the city's easy-to-navigate grid system, you'll easily find a spectacular spot to cop a squat.
In the Töölö district, you'll find some of Helsinki's most sought-after sights, including the Hietaniemi Cemetery, unusual for holding Lutheran, Orthodox, Jewish and Islamic graves. The Sibelius Monument honors national composer Jean Sibelius. And the Olympic Stadium, originally constructed for the 1940 games that were cancelled thanks to World War II. Today, it's a prime example of functionalist architecture.
The area of Kaivopuisto holds a beautiful park by the sea in the southernmost part of the city. In summer you might want to sit in one of the seaside terrassit, have a coffee and enjoy the view of sailboats. Esplanadi Park, located between Market Square (Kauppatori) and the two Esplanadi boulevards, is a small but stately park with a commanding position at the heart of the city. In the summer you'll find free concerts given by local artists.
Located northwest from the central railway station, Töölönlahti is a bay surrounded by parkland, dotted with attractions such as the Finlandia Concert Hall and the National Opera. Töölönlahti is partly in a natural state, which is quite rare in major cities.
To see the unofficial symbol of Helsinki, visit the Lutheran Cathedral, or Tuomiokirkko. This striking white church dominates the central Senate Square. Based on designs by Carl Ludvig Engel and completed in 1852, the cathedral has recently been refurbished and looks better than ever, with the 12 apostles on the roof once again looking down at the world below.
For a more modern take on the Holy, visit the Church in the Rock. Literally dug out of solid rock, from above it resembles a crashed UFO. Completed in 1969, this has become one of Helsinki's most popular attractions. Concerts are often held here thanks to the excellent acoustics.
There is one thing in Helsinki that outnumbers parks – and that's saunas. In fact, the word itself is Finnish. There are over two million saunas in the country – that's an average of one per household. For Finns, the sauna is a place to relax with family and friends, to unwind mentally and physically and one of life's necessities. Open up your pores with a birch twig at one of the city's many public saunas.
From Helsinki, take your Eurail Finland Pass two hours west to Turku. The city – Finland's 5th largest – will be a European Capital of Culture in 2011. What was once the country's capital and intellectual center, Turku is staging a comeback. Come before the crowds rediscover this gem on the Baltic.
Seek out the weird and wonderful? Finland is known for its eccentric competitions. In Sonkajärvi, you'll find the Wife Carrying World Championships. How about mosquito swatting? There's a contest for that too. And the not-to-be-missed Cattle Calling Championship in Alapitka.
Helsinki, founded in 1550, is a relatively young city compared to other European capitals. There aren't thousand-year-old relics but that's not why you'll visit. Here, you'll find cutting edge Scandinavian design, socially conscious locals and wannabe rock stars practicing pseudo strumming in one of Helsinki's 400 parks.
After all, they'll need to practice for the air-guitar championships – also in Finland.
Contributed by: Amiee, Affiliate Marketing Manager, has traveled to 15 countries and over 45 European cities by rail, including Warsaw, where she attempted to find relatives!