Backpacking in Helsinki
Helsinki is not a major backpacking destination like some other European capitals. However, there is much to recommend it. Helsinki is a city that has much to offer those on a backpacking holiday. It is safe, with very little crime, and Helsinki’s backpacking accommodation is clean, safe and though not dirt cheap represents good value for money. The city is also compact enough to explore easily, especially on a budget. The public transport system is inexpensive and efficient and even the most hard-up of backpacking holidaymakers in Helsinki should be able to afford a refundable 2 euro deposit for a free bike during the summer. Apart from its beauty, Helsinki is a lively place for backpackers to visit and is an excellent gateway to the other Scandinavian countries and Russia.
Beach in Helsinki
As a city surrounded on three sides by water and its own archipelago, Helsinki certainly has beaches for visitors to lounge on. The only issue might be the weather, which is not always what one might associate with beach holidays. Helsinki’s weather is temperate and mild, so although the mercury does sometimes hit 30C in the summer, it usually peaks at around 23C, which might be slightly cool for some beach bunnies. However, the weather is usually clear and sunny, so if the temperature suits you, there is a wealth of options.
The most popular beach for holidaymakers in Helsinki to visit is Hietaniemi Beach, Hietaniemenkatu. Known as Hietsu by the locals, this beach has volleyball, swimming and hosts events. It only takes 15 minutes to reach from the centre of town.
Of course, almost all the islands have beaches, but notable among the rest are Pihlajasaari Island (with two sandy swimming beaches, lovely cafes and a public sauna) and Seurasaari, Mustikkamaa and Munkkiniemi. It’s important to note that Seurasaari is also home to one of the two nudist beaches in Helsinki and is segregated by gender; the other nudist beach is on Pihlajasaari. The island of Uunisaari off the southern shore of Kaivopuisto Park also has sandy beaches and is great for families as it’s serviced by convenient ferries and has a lifeguard at the swimming areas.
Camping in Helsinki
Helsinki is a good destination for a camping holiday, despite the fact that there is only one official campsite, Rastila, located in the eastern suburb of Vuosaari. Rastila is one of the largest and most popular campsites in Finland, and has excellent facilities. These include saunas, a beach and kayaks and bicycles to rent. It is open both winter and summer, and in winter ice swimming is possible. It is inexpensive to camp there, costing 10 euros for a tent pitch, making it a good destination for those camping in Helsinki for the first time or those with families.
There are however, other places for holidaymakers to camp on Helsinki’s islands. These places will not have the facilities of Rastila, but for those whishing to hike and pitch temporarily, they will be ideal. Pihlajasaari Island has places for campers, as does Kaunissaari Island, which is extremely popular with Helsinki’s fishermen and campers alike.
City Breaks in Helsinki
Helsinki is an ideal destination for a city break holiday. A compact and easily navigable city, Helsinki can be explored in a short period of time (although you won’t find all of its secrets in one weekend) without it being too large to get to grips with or so small that it becomes dull. The varied arts, restaurant, music and outdoor scenes also means that there is a wealth of activity to be sampled on a short city break holiday in Helsinki and something for everyone.
Helsinki is also excellent as a city break destination because it is relatively accessible - a flight from London will take just under three hours, so you won’t spend all your time traveling. Helsinki is also just unusual enough as a destination that your city break photos of its gorgeous architecture and scenery will excite massive envy.
Corporate Weekend in Helsinki
If it’s bonding with your office team after a conference you’re after, the Helsinki might be the corporate weekend destination you’re looking for. After all, it has a world-class reputation as a conference host, and its hotels are pitched squarely at the business market.
Once the work is done, why not take the team out on the town to one of Helsinki’s many bars and restaurants? Or if wellbeing is more important, what could be a more bonding corporate exercise on a weekend in Helsinki than taking a sauna together and going ice swimming afterwards? Even a hike through Helsinki’s acres of forest and parkland might foster corporate goodwill on a weekend away.
Cruises in Helsinki
Helsinki would seem a good choice for a cruise holiday, being surrounded on three sides by water and with an extensive archipelago of islands to tour. Many cruise holidays make Helsinki a stopping place on their Scandinavian and Baltic routes. Day boat trips from the large cruise liners also take holidaymakers on mini-cruises around the Helsinki’s islands as well as making time for them to visit the city centre. One advantage of a cruise holiday to Helsinki is that you will have an expertly guided tour of Helsinki and the islands so you can be sure of seeing all the highlights. For those who prefer to explore a city alone, however, this might not be a plus point.
Culture and Arts in Helsinki
Helsinki is a truly excellent place to visit for a culture and arts holiday. Not only is the architecture free to look at and as varied a tour through neo classicism, art nouveau and functionalism as anyone could wish for, the museums and galleries are top notch. Helsinki is a city that has its very own, distinct cultural identity, which it blends with a wider European sensibility.
Thus music and art lovers holidaying in Helsinki will see examples of European and international work alongside the best contemporary Finnish work in galleries such as the three-part Finnish National Gallery or at the international new music festivals held frequently in Helsinki. In terms of festivals, Helsinki seems to have live music and events coming out of its ears, whether it’s music and craft markets at Christmas, a Summer Samba Festival, a heavy metal festival or semi-pagan midsummer celebrations. Theatre is also part of Helsinki’s cultural tapestry, whether it is in Finnish, Swedish or English, performed at the Finnish National Theatre, in the open air, at Suomenlinna sea fort or at the Swedish Theatre. For lovers of culture and the arts, Helsinki is a vibrant cultural and arts holiday destination.
Disabled Needs in Helsinki
disabled visitors. Information on facilities for the physically challenged and a brochure in English/German can be obtained from: Rullaten ry (Barrier free travelling) and the booklet ‘Accessible Helsinki’ is available online from the Helsinki City Planning Department, which created it with assistance from the Helsinki Disability Board and several disability organizations. The Accessible Finland - travel4all site is in also available in 8 languages.
If you are driving whilst on holiday in Helsinki and want to use disabled parking bays, then you must have an international license for disabled-parking. These can be applied for in any police station. Parking in Helsinki is generally in short supply, but there is, on the whole, good provision for the disabled. There are also quite a few taxi firms with wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
In terms of public transport, there are over 150 easily accessible low-floor buses in Helsinki. These are clearly marked in the schedules. Trams also have low floors and can be accessed from stops with platforms. There are no problems with accessibility on the metro: all stations have lifts and the platforms are level with the train floors. Braille timetables are also available.
Transport is, of course, not the only issue for disabled people on holiday in Helsinki. The city has a deadline of 2011 for maximising accessibility and movement for all citizens and visitors throughout the city. Museums, cinemas and other attractions already provide good wheelchair access in Helsinki.
Family Holiday in Helsinki
Helsinki is a fantastic place for a family holiday. With easy to use public transport, lots of outdoor activities, lively museums (including a Children’s Museum, part of the Helsinki City Museum), beaches and parks to explore it has everything you could wish for in one safe, clean and compact package. Exploring the sea fortress of Suomenlinna gives you the opportunity to give the kids some culture (museums, artists’ workshops, open air concerts and theatres anyone?) then run off any excess energy exploring the tunnels and ramparts.
The same goes for the outdoor museum at Seurasaari Island, with the added bonus of a beach. Helsinki Central Park also has all the facilities you could wish for, whether you want to introduce them to a new experience such as a sauna (this is a family activity in Finland), canoeing or just a walk in the forest. Families on holiday in Helsinki can also visit the ever-popular Sea Life Centre, where creatures of the deep can be observed, including their new shark exhibition. And if you’re visiting the Sea Life centre, then you’re right next to Linnanmäki, Helsinki’s amusement park. Linnanmäki offers all the rides and shows you could want from a family amusement park, but possibly the best bit is the original 1950s wooden rollercoaster that is still controlled by a ‘brakeman’ on the back of each set of cars. The ride varies depending on who your brakeman is and how fast he likes to take the drops (brakemen get quite famous during the season that the ride is open – each has his own picture profile on the wall of the ride).
All in all, Helsinki offers families a great holiday destination, and the wide availability of serviced apartments as well as the camping facilities at Rastila means that accommodation needn’t be expensive or restrictive.
Gay and Lesbian in Helsinki
Although Finland was slow to come up to date with the acceptance of gay culture (homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1971) they have now raced ahead of countries such as the UK, passing partnership laws in 2002.
The gay scene now flourishes in Helsinki, making it a good gay and lesbian holiday city. There’s a biannual pride parade, gay mag Voltti-magazine (widely available – it’s in Finnish, but the listings section is still helpful) and many gay and gay friendly establishments. For those who like to party no gay or lesbian holiday to Helsinki would be complete without a visit to northern Europe’s biggest gay and lesbian club, DTM (Don’t Tell Mamma).
If that’s not your style, then it’s helpful for the gay visitor to Helsinki to know that the hub of the gay scene lies around Eerikinkatu and the southern end of Mannerheimintie and is home to a variety of gay and gay friendly bars and clubs, some quiet, some definitely not. However, the savvy gay or lesbian holidaymaker knows that scenes evolve, so it’s always worth checking out forum sites such as http://ranneliike.net which will give you information in English on everything from sightseeing to the dates for Pride 2009. It also has a great English discussion board and good listings.
Honeymoon in Helsinki
The Finns are, as a rule, a reserved and undemonstrative race, so Helsinki may seem an odd choice for a romantic honeymoon destination. Wrong! Although it’s not a traditional honeymoon destination, Helsinki has a lot to offer honeymooning couples. With romantic cafes, beautiful streets to stroll through and gorgeous islands to explore, Helsinki can give any other major European city a run for its money in the romance stakes.
As many of the hotels in Helsinki are large chains, they are well prepared to meet the needs of honeymooning couples, and many offer packages which include everything from champagne to spa days. In addition, many cruise lines offer honeymoon cruises in the Baltic which take in Helsinki as a stop. Also, with so much excellent contemporary Finnish design around (think Marimekko homewares, Iittala glass or Alvar Aalto designed Artek furniture) a honeymoon in Helsinki is the perfect place to buy a souvenir that will stand the test of time.
Naturism in Helsinki
If you’re looking for a place to enjoy a naturism holiday, then Helsinki would seem the ideal place. With Finland’s sauna culture giving Finns a relaxed attitude towards nudity, Helsinki has a number of options for those wishing to practice nudism and naturism. Obviously, if you wish to spend any length of time naked in the great outdoors, then you’ll need to plan your naturist holiday to Helsinki in the summer. Assuming this is the case, then head for Pihlajasaari Island, a 15 minute ferry ride from central Helsinki. Pihlajasaari Island has a naturist area with a unisex naturist beach. This is a good place to sunbathe, although it’s too rocky for swimming. If you’re looking for swimming and sunbathing, then Seurasaari is the place for you. However, this is a gender-segregated beach, so not perfect if you want to go with your family or a friend of the opposite sex.
The other place for naturists visiting Helsinki to enjoy bathing naked is the ever-popular Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall. Located in the centre of Helsinki, Yrjönkatu was voted Europe’s third best indoor swimming experience 2006 and is a must-go destination for any holidaymaker with naturism or nudism in mind. Although it’s clothing optional rather than strictly nudist, bathing suits are an uncommon sight. It must be said, however, that there are no mixed-sex session at Yrjönkatu Swimming Hall so again it’s not ideal if you want to swim with someone of the opposite gender. There are plenty of other things to make up for that, however; the Swimming Hall has saunas, massage therapists and an impressive 1920s classical setting.
Couples Holiday in Helsinki
Helsinki is a good choice for a couples holiday. Whether you’re both into arts, design, sightseeing, outdoor exercise or just relaxing with a good cup of coffee, Helsinki has a great mix of things to do both romantic and just plain interesting. The best thing is that even if you don’t enjoy the same things, there’s a lot of room for compromise: if one of you enjoys hiking, head up to Helsinki Central Park for a morning of yomping along the trails and through the conservation areas, then spend the afternoon indulging your other half’s taste for modern art in the Kiasma Gallery (and there’s an excellent café there if all that compromising is too tiring). Or take a ferry out to the island fortress of Suomenlinna and explore singly or together the various museums, underground tunnels, ramparts and design studios.
Great for couples on holiday in Helsinki is spending time together is the Finnish sauna, a relaxing and refreshing experience. After all that, there is a host of great restaurants, bars and cafes just perfect for lingering in with the one you love. Basically, whatever you like to do and whether you like to do it together or just compare notes at the end of the day, Helsinki has something to offer couples looking for a holiday destination.
Golf Activity Holiday in Helsinki
Helsinki is quite well set up for a golfing holiday. With two 18-hole courses within Helsinki itself, one in Tali and the other in Vuosaari, dozens of others within driving distance, as well as two practice ranges located at Laajasalo and Paloheinä, Helsinki is a respectable destination for golf-lovers on holiday. Also, given the long hours of daylight during the summer, golf-lovers can play at almost any time of day or night.
Of Helsinki’s golf courses, the Helsinki Golf Club’s course at Tali is the most well-known. Helsinki Golf Club is the oldest and most prestigious golf course in Finland and was founded in 1932. It’s only 6 kms from the centre of Helsinki, and is set in the rather lovely grounds of Tali manor. The 19th century mansion itself serves as the clubhouse and has a charming restaurant and terrace looking down to the 18th green. The course has hosted more championships than any other club in Finland and for the last three years it has also hosted Ladies European Tour competition.
Green fees are 60 euros for adults (although this drops to 30 euros if you are with a member) and 30 euros for juniors.
An hour’s drive from Helsinki is the Nordcentre Golf and Country Club, a 36-hole championship facility. Even closer to Helsinki is the St Laurence Golf Club, Considered one of Finland’s best courses and just half and hour’s drive from the city centre. These are just some of the courses that make a golf holiday in Helsinki an exciting prospect, added to which is the natural advantage of fabulous scenery in which to play.
Skiing - Snow Boarding in Helsinki
Although most of the real skiing peaks are located in Northern Finland, Helsinki is still a very decent option for a skiing or snowboarding holiday. This is due to two factors. Firstly, cross-country skiing is a favourite activity of the Finns, and Helsinki’s Central Park has the Paloheinä Recreational Centre (Pakilantie 124), the most popular cross-country skiing centre in Helsinki, with miles of well-maintained trails. It’s possible to ski here from December until as late as April.
It’s a good facility, with most of the trails well illuminated until late in the evening, and a rental shop to fulfill your skiing needs. Secondly, there are several slopes for downhill skiing and snowboarding around Helsinki, including Serena Ski in Espoo and Talma in Sipoo. With all of this and the centre of Helsinki easily accessible, Helsinki makes a god choice of destination for a skiing or snowboarding holiday.
Sailing Activity Holiday in Helsinki
Finland is known for its lakes, but Helsinki is surely the nation’s premier sailing destination. Surrounded on three sides by water and with an archipelago of islands providing a tempting playground for those on a sailing holiday, Helsinki is a perfect choice for sailors.
Companies such as Finlandia Sailing offer crewed charters, bare boat rentals and a sailing school, making the most of the waters in and around Helsinki. Their prices vary depending on the time of year you wish to sail, the type of boat and whether or not it is crewed, but start from around 850 euros for a week in low season.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, then why not contact The Helsinki Sailing Ships Office. This company arranges sailing tours around Helsinki’s waters on old-time sailing ships which last from a couple of hours to a few days. This costs from 1000 euros upwards depending on the ship you choose, how long you wish to sail for and whether or not you would like meals provided. It’s certainly an option that will attract sailors holidaying in Helsinki who are in search of something beyond even the beautiful views of the archipelago.
Scuba Diving Activity Holiday in Helsinki
Given its waterbound nature, it’s no surprise that a scuba diving holiday in Helsinki offers some interesting opportunities. It’s not the most popular sport in Helsinki, but there is certainly the possibility of renting gear and being taken on guided dives. In fact, wreck diving in Helsinki is particularly interesting from some of the islands in the archipelago. Off the coast of Lauttassari Island, for example, is the Swedish wreck the Crown Prince Gustav Adolf sunk in 1788. The wreck was re-discovered in 1995 and became Finland’s first underwater park. You can dive there during day time in the summer with no special permit, but dive centres also take groups there.
The most high profile scuba dive centres in Helsinki are Live and Let Dive and Oxygene (formerly Divemaster, but the Oxygene group have now taken it over). Prices vary according to the types of equipment you need to hire (if any), how many people you’re diving with and where you end up exploring – contact the dive shops directly for a quote.
Hiking Activity Holiday in Helsinki
Helsinki is ideal for a hiking holiday, whether you prefer the traditional method or the traditional Finnish winter sport of snowshoe hiking. Helsinki Central Park has 100kms of hiking trails as well as a hiking lodge with sauna. If that’s not enough for you, then neighbouring city Espoo (a short drive from Helsinki) is home to Nuuksio National Park. Offering hikers and outdoor enthusiasts marked trails, cooking shelters and camping areas, Nuuksio is perfect for hikers on holiday in Helsinki.
Many of the islands in Helsinki’s archipelago are suitable for day hikes, again with marked trails. Some also have camping spots, such as the popular Kaunissaari Island. As mentioned before, snowshoe hiking is a winter alternative to traditional hiking in Helsinki. Unlike skiing, it doesn’t rely on machine-made trails and snowshoes are easy to use (again, there’s no comparison with skiing). Pretty much anyone can snowshoe hike, regardless of age or physical condition. If you do fancy trying out this hiking variation, equipment is available for rental at the Paloheinä recreational centre in Helsinki Central Park.
Cycling Activity Holiday in Helsinki
Helsinki is possibly the best city for a cycling holiday outside of Amsterdam. A compact and environmentally aware city, Helsinki is perfect for cycling around in any season except winter (December to February). Helsinki has great facilities for cyclists on holiday, including over 1,120 kms of good cycle track, 750 kms of which are paved and meticulously maintained – which is just as well as you mustn’t cycle on the pavement. With such extensive cycle coverage, cycling in Helsinki can be one of the best ways to see the city, and to help you, a free biking map is available from Tourist Information (Pohjoisesplanadi 19). The map is available in Finnish, English and German and as well as being a map of the cycleways of Helsinki, also gives descriptions of sights along the way.
If you haven’t brought your own, bikes are easy to come by if you decide to take a cycling holiday in Helsinki. If you visit during the summer months, Helsinki City Transport offers free bikes, which are yours to cycle around on for a two euro deposit, which opens the lock. The bikes are basic and don’t have any gears, but are not to be sniffed at if you’re on a budget. Bikes can be picked up at racks located throughout the city in places such as Market Square and at the Central Railway Station. You can borrow a cycle helmet from the Tourist Information.
If you want something a little fancier, bicycles can be easily hired in Helsinki from companies in the city centre such as Greenbike or Ecobike. One day’s rental will cost you between 15 and 25 euros depending on the type of bike you choose. You’ll need to leave a piece of ID as a deposit as well. Greenbike asks that you phone to reserve in advance. There are also around 20 guided bike tours of Helsinki.
Shopping Holiday in Helsinki
Although perhaps not the place for the budget-conscious or the bargain-hungry, a shopping holiday in Helsinki is a rewarding experience at any time of year. During the summer strolling through the pleasant boulevards with a shopping bag is as good an activity as any, and the cosy winter Christmas markets in the main shopping streets are a seasonal treat not to be missed.
The main shopping streets likely to attract the attention of a serious shopper on holiday in Helsinki are Mannerheimintie, Aleksanterinkatu, both sides of the Esplanade, Korkeavuorenkatu, Fredrikinkatu and Bulevardi. Each of these streets has its own character and dominant shop type. Aleksanterinkatu is home to an array of Finnish and international chains of clothing and shoe shops as well as high-end jewellery shops. If Finnish design is your passion (and if it isn’t before you visit Helsinki, it will be by the time you leave), then head to Esplanade. Here you’ll find many famous Finnish design outlets including Arabia/Iittala, Finlayson, Pentik, Annikki Karvinen, Marimekko and Artek. Smaller design and interior decorating boutiques are especially concentrated along Fredrikinkatu and Korkeavuorenkatu. If art and antiques are your passion, then a trip along Bulevardi is highly recommended.
Helsinki also has a number of department stores and shopping centres. No shopping holiday in Helsinki would be complete without a visit to the legendary Stockman (if you can’t find it here then it probably doesn’t exist) found on Mannerheimintie along with Sokos and Forum.
Of course, if you prefer all your shops in one place, or the weather is less than friendly, then shopping centres are the place to head and Helsinki certainly has a few of those. To begin with, investigate Kamppi shopping centre, a new complex where the shops are arranged by theme. If your tastes veer toward designer goods and luxury, then head to Kämp Galleria in the business centre of Helsinki. This is a luxury shopping centre housed together with the five-star Hotel Kämp, where the boutiques sell designer goods under a graceful glass roof.
However, for sheer size, try Itäkeskus in eastern Helsinki. Itäkeskus is the largest shopping centre in the Nordic region, and boasts long promenades of boutiques and international chains. A shopping holiday in Helsinki has a lot to offer – just make sure your suitcase has room for everything you buy…