Helsinki is a city with a variety of identities. Maybe it’s the Russian influence (St. Petersburg is a quick train ride away). Maybe it’s the strong appreciation of contemporary design — the capital of Finland is home to Marimekko, world-renowned for its boldly patterned textiles; Kalevala, known for distinctive bronze and silver jewelry; and Iittala, known for glassware. The city also might be associated with the dark, cold and snowy winters that last half the year (fortunately, most travelers choose not to visit then). Helsinki embraces a bit of oddball fun too. One annual festival features the tossing of Finnish-made Nokia cell phones, and another popular mainstay is a wife-carrying competition.
Finland differs from Nordic neighbors like Sweden and Norway because of its near-inexplicable language. (It originated as an oral language, rather than a written one, so it’s very difficult to follow; Swedish is also widely spoken.) The country itself is one of Europe’s newest; independence fromRussia was achieved in 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution.
Helsinki was founded in 1550 by Swedish King Gustav Vasa and offers monuments such as the Lutheran Cathedral (Lutheranism is one of the national religions), the onion-domed Uspenski Cathedral (Eastern Orthodox) and the neoclassical buildings in and around Senate Square. The city also features Kiasma, the avant-garde Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Design Museum.
Helsinki’s other major plus is that it’s bounded on three sides by the Baltic Sea. In summer, the city’s waterfront is the liveliest place in Finland — whether you’re soaking up the sun at a cafe, riding the ferry to the island housing the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress or taking a boat tour of surrounding waterways.