Capital: Excellent or first-rate, American Heritage Dictionary.
Yes, that undoubtedly describes Helsinki. Though the capital of Finland ‘only’ since 1809 when the Russians first took dominion of the city from Sweden, it was originally founded in 1550. It’s been one improvement after the next ever since.
One of the great cities of the world, Helsinki is a fascinating mixture of historical and ultra-modern. Like many Scandinavian cultures today, the city has a strong emphasis on high-tech. It happily embraces the best that modern science has to offer. At the same time, it retains many of the outstanding historical buildings and sights that provide this unique city with its particular ambiance.
The National Museum provides an excellent overview of that mix, which the Finns have perfected. The Helsinki Zoo shows how both the natural and the artificial can be perfectly blended together. And the Nuuksio National Park, opened in 1994, shows how nature preservation can work hand in hand with a thriving tourism industry to provide one of the best forested lake areas in the world.
The old and new theme is continued with many of Helsinki’s other first rate attractions.
The Suomenlinna Island fortresses give a great view of Helsinki’s past as a military outpost for both Sweden and Russia. This series of interconnected islands provides a great picnic area while giving visitors a delightful look at some of the battered battlements of Finland’s glorious past.
But Helsinki’s present is superb, as well. Both Market Square and the Esplanade give shoppers and diners everything they could wish for. Whether it’s fresh berries and coffee in the morning, or an outstanding dinner at the world-class Kappeli, you’ll never walk away unsatisfied. Market Square (Kauppatori) has been offering fresh fish for over 200 years and Kappeli has been serving the finest cuisine and diners since 1837. But both are the favorites of the most modern Finn or tourist.
Another view of Helsinki’s 19th century roots can be seen in The Lutheran Cathedral known locally as Tuomiokirkko. This neo-classical building is a superlative example of the architecture that makes Senate Square one of the city’s biggest attractions.
Another major religious building in Helsinki, the Uspenski Cathedral, provides a decidedly different, but equally praiseworthy, place to go in Finland’s capital. With its distinctive red-brick facade, this onion-domed Orthodox church is a must-see when visiting the city.
Outside the city there are other attractions besides the Nuuksio National Park. The medieval village of Porvoo, a 30-minute bus ride to the suburbs, will take you back to a period before the city was even founded. This four-hour tour of small houses and churches from the Middle Ages is one of the most popular destinations in this northern metropolis.
But don’t leave Helsinki without spending at least a little time walking around the Linnanmäki Amusement Park. Though ‘only’ 57 years old, it provides plenty of nostalgia for those who miss the ‘good old days’ of bumper cars and wooden roller coasters.
Of course, in Helsinki, the ‘good old days’ is something that defies definition.