A Day in Helsinki

A Day in Helsinki photo

During the summer months cruise ships from all over the world ply the calm waters of the Baltic Sea. Nordic capital cities such as Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki are all located on her shores and are popular ports of call for many of the major cruise lines.

Once you've sorted your travel insurance policy for a cruise, take in the long summer days on deck and prepare to make the most of your time at port.

Helsinki, the Finnish capital is a wonderfully compact and accessible city with and a thousand things to do. It's the ideal size for the day or short-stay visitor.

If you're arriving by sea on the short hop from Tallinn or on an overnight cruise from either Stockholm or St. Petersburg you'll make land at one of four ports close to the Helsinki City Centre. If you're not met by a bus, from there you can make the short walk or take a tram ride into town to begin your exploration.

During the summer months, Helsinki's Market Square (Kauppatori) bustles with food vendors and local artisans selling their wares. It's often the first point of call, especially for independant travellers arriving from Tallinn or Stockholm aboard the Viking Line or Silja Line Ferries. Grab a coffee and a munkki (a local sugar coated donut) from one of the cafe tents and take in the scene. If the weather's on song, it's a great place to linger. But with so much to do close by, you can be forgiven for forgoing that second cup.

It's from the Kauppatori that you can access the ferry to the UNESCO World Heritage listed, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress (a must see site and Helsinki's most popular tourist destination) or the Helsinki Zoo. Round-trip cruises through the Helsinki Archipelago also leave from the Market Square.

To get a bird's eye view of the city, head for the nearby Helsinki Skywheel. Those with reason to celebrate can upgrade to the VIP package and take a prolonged ride in a cabin with a glass floor, leather seats, music and climate control. Oh, and a bottle of bubbly to boot.

A short stroll up the hill from the Skywheel is the golden, onion-domed, Uspenski Cathedral. It is the largest orthodox church in Western Europe and a reminder of the Russian impact on Finnish history.

Adjacent to the Market Square sits the newly-renovated Old Market Hall (Vanha Kauppahalli). Stock up on Finnish delicacies from reindeer to smoked salmon. You can usually score a free sample or two if you ask nicely and follow it up with a kittos! (thank you). The Kauppahalli also features cheese shops, fruit and vegetable stores, a sushi bar and restaurants and cafes serving more traditional Finnish fare.

From the Kauppahalli, take a wander up Esplanadi, the capital's premier shopping street. From Iittala to Marimekko and Artek, flagship stores for Finland's iconic design brands sit alongside their international counterparts.

At the top end of Esplanadi, poke your head into the Alvar Aalto designed, Academic Bookstore. It's home to one of Scandinavia's finest selection of English-language books, but it's the architecture that is the draw for most who visit.

In the summer, the tree-lined strip that divides Esplanadi comes to life as buskers provide the soundtrack and locals soak up the long sunny days with friends on the lawns. Grab a Lonkero or two (a Finnish gin and grapefruit concoction invented for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics) from a local R-Kioski and join them.

If you find yourself parked up on Esplanadi in July, take in some fine Finnish jazz on the Kappeli terrace during Jazz Espa—a month long series of free open-air jazz concerts.

At the top end of Esplanadi throw a left and head for the Helsinki Design District—Helsinki's hippest neighbourhood. It's a quarter of art galleries and studios, fashion boutiques and interior-design houses mixed with Avant-garde bars and fine dining institutions.