A city with a difference
If you've never been to the capital of Finland before, you're in for a treat. You'll find all the things you're looking for in a great city in Helsinki.
What's more, you'll soon realise that Helsinki is a city with a difference. It embraces islands, parks, beaches, entertainment, homes and businesses - and it does all this in its own inimitable way. After all, where else would you find concerts held in an underground church chiselled from rock (Temppeliaukion kirkko), or drinks in a bar made entirely of ice (Arctic Icebar)?
One of the most striking differences about Helsinki is its islands. The most famous is a group of them called Suomenlinna, just 15 minutes by ferry from the city. Suomenlinna was formerly the most impressive of the Baltic Sea fortresses. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
When you go to the island, consider having a picnic. There are plenty of places you can settle down to eat on the ramparts or in the surrounding fields. Alternatively, use one of the restaurants or cafes and while away the time enjoying the wonderful views.
There are plenty of other islands that make up the archipelago that stretches round the centre of Helsinki. Among them are Seurasaari, where you can visit the museum and take relaxing walks, Pihlajasaari, an island popular with Helsinki residents, and Korkeasaari, where you'll find the Helsinki Zoo. Please note that most ferries run only in the summer season, although some islands are accessible by road bridges.
Festivals and parks
Festivals are common around the world, but those in Helsinki are especially worth taking part in. Among them are Vappu (Walpurgis Night) on 30 April-1 May, Helsinki-päivä (Helsinki Day) on 12 June, the city's birthday, and Taiteiden Yö (Night of the Arts) towards the end of August.
Helsinki's many parks offer less hectic entertainment. Esplanadin puisto, between the Swedish Theatre and Kauppatori, hosts free concerts during the summer. Elsewhere, south of the city and overlooking the sea, is Kaivopuisto. If you prefer your parks to be slightly wilder and less ornamental, try the 1000-hectare Keskuspuisto, or Central Park, north of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium.
Shopping in Helsinki is excellent. The main shopping area is Aleksanterinkatu. This starts at the Senate Square and continues on to Mannerheimintie. To find something out of the ordinary, try the Hietalahdentori market hall. You'll find a flea market here on summer evenings and weekends.
Most Helsinki residents can speak English. Staff at some of the major shops even wear badges with flags that indicate the languages they speak.
Public transport in Helsinki is very good. You have a choice of bus, train, tram, metro and ferry. A city ticket covers most of these within the Helsinki limits and is valid for an hour at a time.
A great way of exploring Helsinki is by cycling. You can easily hire a bike in the city. The Helsinki tourist information office is at the corner of Unioninkatu and Pohjoisesplanadi by the Market Square in the city centre.