Helsinki, a jewel of art and design, cultural capital and city where it makes good strolls along the sea by taking advantage of the sun, because yes, even in Finland you can tan in summer.
Starting from the clock of the Stockmann department store, the most frequent meeting point for its inhabitants, head towards Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki's shopping street, and take a look at the statue of the three blacksmiths, opposite Stockmann. A walk along the Esplanade towards Senaatintori, an opportunity to visit the Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki,Tuomiokirkko. At the top of the church steps, enjoy the splendid view of the centre of the port city, with on your right the main building of the University of Helsinki and on your left the Palace of the Council of State. In front of you is the statue of Alexander II of Russia, who was also Grand Duke of Finland in the 19th century. Make an incursion into the small street in front of the square: Sofiankatu does not pay a mine, and yet, this street paved with stones from three different periods is steeped in history: 1800, the end of the 19th century and 1930 thus left their mark on the city. Head towards Kauppatori, where you can see the Presidential Palace as you pass. Visit of the Orthodox cathedral Uspenski. It is now time to eat: the market square is full of stalls where you can taste kalakeitto, a creamy salmon and potato soup with dill and pink berries. While enjoying your meal, you can observe the comings and goings of the large ferries that operate daily from Helsinki to its maritime neighbours such as Tallinn and Stockholm. Follow the shoreline to the south and enter Vanha Kauppahalli, the oldest halls in the city (don't hesitate to test local products and a piece of Finnish cheese!). Then walk along the Esplanade, where you can pose in front of Havis Amanda, the capital's iconic statue. In summer, have ice cream in the adjacent small park. In winter, push the door of the Aschan Cafe Jugend, one of Helsinki's classic places, where you can enjoy local pastries such as the delicious cinnamon pulla (brioche). Heading towards Mannerheimintie: you are now allowed to do little crazy things in the Galeries Lafayette in Helsinki, Stockmann. For fans of contemporary art, Kiasma is a must: the entrance is in the square where the statue of the Finnish hero is located. For others, one option may be to take a tour through Parliament, open to the public during certain sessions, an ideal opportunity to make progress in Finnish!
Finish the day with a refreshing beer in Teerenpeli, followed by a good traditional dinner at the Zetor and a rock concert in Tavastia. The more traditional ones will book a ticket to Finlandia-Talo.
Departure in the morning for Suomenlinna, former fortress of the city. Enjoy exploring the various underground doors of the fortified island or enjoying the sun: you can tell jealous friends that yes, you bronze also in the Gulf of Finland! Lunch break in Suomenlinnan Panimo: taste the reindeer sauté with its cranberries and mashed potatoes, typical Sami dish. After afternoon, enjoy the sun and a Baltic bath, take a coffee in Valimo, in an old arms factory converted into a bar. Back on the mainland, go to Torni, the (tiny) Eiffel Tower in Helsinki, which offers a magnificent view over the roofs of the city. Next to the tower, possibility of dinner at the Kosmos, famous for its fish dishes. Finish the day with a drink at Sling In or, if you want to guincher all night, go to Apollo.
Departure from Café Carusel, below the beautiful Kaivopuisto park, for a breakfast by the sea. Walk north of the city and start the tour of Helsinki churches: from the Mikael Agricola church (the first translator of the Finnish Bible!) to Vanhakirkko via Johanneskirkko. Start a walk in the main street of Iso-Roobertinkatu, full of shops and pleasant bars. Lunch break in one of them, the Llamas, where you can sip your drink and enjoy your meal on a swing chair. Mexican atmosphere guaranteed! Visit the Amos Anderson Museum or the Ateneum in the early afternoon. Coming back to the centre, pass in front of Forum and enter Kamppi, a large shopping centre and bus station in the direction of the other regions of Finland. Settle down for a short break at Café Rouge before visiting (outside) the Silence Chapel. Continue the day with a visit to Temppeliaukion kirkko, then enter Sibelius Park to admire the monument dedicated to the great composer of the Romantic era. If you want to extend the visit, take a walk around Hietaniemi Cemetery: Finnish cemeteries are peaceful and relaxing places to walk. A break is required at the lilliputian and cute Cafe Regatta.
End the day at the new music centre, Musiikkitalo. On the way out, don't forget to eat at Manala, near Finlandia-talo. And for insomniacs, continue your night life at St Urho's pub.
Departure in front of the icebreakers (they ensure the opening of the sea routes all winter long) from Katajanokka bearing the pretty names of Kontio, Otso, Voima, Urho and Sisu. Get on a tram towards the Halles de Hakaniemi, a guaranteed market day atmosphere. Walk past Ympyrätalo, a round building, a jewel of Finnish architectural inventiveness, and follow the shoreline to Linnunlaulu (literally "bird song": a pretty name for a district!), from where you have an excellent view of Töölö Bay. Return to the centre, and visit the church of Kallio, a former working-class district. Lunch break in Oluthuone William K. Take the tram to Puu-Vallila, a village in the city built in the 1910s and famous for its traditional colourful wooden houses. For the afternoon break, choose a table at the Porvoonkadun Baari, both coffee bar and exhibition gallery. For those who have not lost their childhood spirit, the Linnanmäki amusement park and its many ancient rides will awaken memories that have disappeared. Special mention should be made of the wooden roller coaster built in the 1950s and the Ferris wheel, a strategic observation point.
In the evening, enjoy pyttipannu (potatoes, sausages, onion, cream and egg), läskisoosi (pork and mashed potatoes) or silakat (Baltic herring) at Kolme Kruunua restaurant. For vegetarian gourmets, the ideal alternative is offered at Le Soi Soi, one of Helsinki's few vegetarian restaurants.
Morning rest by the sea. In summer, many shipping companies offer short cruises along the Helsinki coast. Have your lunch on board. Legend has it that some passengers have already seen Russian submarines! Back on land, take a tram to Seurasaari. In winter, it is even possible for the bravest to walk on the frozen sea, from Hietaniemi beach to Seurasaari island! (Before attempting the experiment, make sure that the ice is solid in advance.) Once on the island, visit the open-air museum, with a reconstruction of traditional Finnish life from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Coffee break at Café Antin Kaffeliiteri. If the sun is shining, sunbathing on the rocks by the sea. In the evening, taste the sapas (Suomi-Tapas), the Finnish tapas at the Juuri restaurant. Follow up with a concert at the Kulttuuritehdas Korjaamo Cultural Centre.
For this start of the day, the family exit at the Helsinki Zoo on the island of Korkeasaari (perched Island). The zoo was opened in the 1890 s and houses a wide variety of animals, tigers and leopards from snow to lizards and tropical insects. A special bus is chartered from the main station (also possible to take a boat from Kauppatori). Don't forget to take your picnic cart before landing on the island, the easiest and cheapest solution. From the bus terminal, walk along the pleasant island of Mustikkamaa (the land of the bilberries), before taking the bridge linking the island to the mainland. Welcome coffee or tea break at one of the zoo kiosks. Your intake of animals, you can consider returning to the city centre for a human observation dinner. Take a Russian meal at the Saslik, ideal for carnivores curious to test the bear! Fort of this good meal, a little dance at the Pavi in the outskirts of Vantaa is necessary. After waiting for 40 minutes in a bus taken at Rautatientori, you will finally have the opportunity to experience a real iskelmä and practise your tango!
Finland is known for its famous Nordic design. Start the day with a visit to the Design Museum, which traces the history of design in Finland and contains a palette representative of the creativity of the country's artists through relevant temporary exhibitions. Break at Aalto café, located in the academic bookshop of Missisquoi, designed by the best known Finnish architects, Alvar Aalto. Continue this design day with the visit of the legendary pottery manufacturer Arabia. You will be able to bring a few souvenirs through the shop, which offers a wide range of Arabia products. Back to the city centre, enjoy a lunch at Café Esplanad, before getting lost in the maze of the shops of Marimekko, Pentik, Aarikka, Iittala and Kalevala Koru (inspired by the motives of the Kalevala, the great mythological Finnish narrative). History to finish this week in Helsinki, dinner at Savoy, a restaurant of luxury, certainly but also imagined by Aalto! Ask for vorschmack, the favourite dish of Mannerheim (Finland marshal and politician, 1967-1951). For a more reasonable budget, book a table at Cella. Finnish ambiance guaranteed! For those who don't want to spend their last night in bed, take a drink at the Roska Helsinki, a bar decorated only with recycled material!
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette