Helsinki will in most cases be the place international travelers get into when visiting Finland. The capital city is located in the comparatively densely populated southern half of the country, far away from the scenic attractions of the polar circle areas in the north. That however doesn’t mean that the region around Helsinki isn’t worth seeing, too. Helsinki has the country’s most important airport, is Finland’s only major metropolitan area and its center of commerce, politics and culture.
- Helsinki, Finland
- Traveled there: early April 2015
- Stayed at: Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Runeberginkatu 2
You probably can’t really expect the weather to be like Miami in August when you travel to Scandinavia in early April and really, the fact that it pretty much stayed chilly and grey during our entire stay didn’t bother us.
Our hotel was located in the central area of Helsinki, within walking distance from the downtown shopping area and major attractions such as the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace or the ferry to Soumenlinna. The latter is a sea fortress located on six islands across from downtown Helsinki and is a must-see for visitors. Even if you’re not much into history, spending time on the islands is great fun and you’ll get amazing views of the city. Photographers, bring your tripods! The world heritage site invites for walks and kids will enjoy climbing over the boulders at the waterfront.
Back on the mainland, we found that it is good to have a rental car at your disposal, because despite the fact that there is a lot to discover in Helsinki, Finland gets even more interesting once you leave the city, for kids and adults alike. The southern parts of the country have hundreds of lakes, many of them very scenic. City residents have their cabins on the shores of these lakes, which they call “mökki” and to which they retreat for the summer or for long weekends. For tourists, there is plenty of hiking through undisturbed nature.
The farther north you get, the more sparsely populated are the regions you pass through. Finland is a country full of natural beauty, with said lakes, endless forests and a lot of wildlife. Going by car, you will feel the need to pull off the street many times and actually you should do just that.
One easy day trip destination I can recommend is Porvoo, roughly one hour east of Helsinki. The mid-sized town has Swedish, Russian and Finnish elements in its history and traces its roots back to medieval times. Greeted by a colorful row of wooden houses along the bank of the river, visitors will enjoy the cobblestoned streets of the old town area, seamed by more wooden houses. Taking one of the small county roads further south from Porvoo will bring you to the coast along the Gulf of Finland. Although there are hundreds of miles of prime waterfront here, almost all of the area is undeveloped and again offers great opportunities for hiking, biking, boating and fishing.
Finland is a country so beautiful it would be a shame not to have it on your bucket list. Helsinki is a great place to start, but if you really want to become acquainted with Finland, schedule in a few more days so you have the opportunity to leave the city behind and to dive into the natural beauty of the country.