Helsinki, Finland’s capital, is a lesser known European travel destination and so the devouring eyes of hungry tourists have not robbed its authenticity and charm.
It is undeniably Scandinavian, in style, in function and in form.
As a society, Finland leads the world for its all comprehensive and inclusive social services and progressive education system that focuses on learning and equality over competition and test taking.
This aside, there are a few good reasons why Helsinki is a special place for visitors (in the summer).
- Midnight sun and white nights in the summer
The trade off for the bitter Nordic winter is endless twilight in the summer. During midsummer in Helsinki, the sun doesn’t sun for about two weeks and you can really see the Finns compensating for the winter vitamin D deficiency. Parks are full of attractive, skimpily dressed bodies, beaches are frequented and the festivals, parties and park sauntering continues day and night.
- The Finns have style.
Hands down Helsinki is one of the most stylish cities in Europe I’ve been to. Partly this is an earnest attempt at trying to be so and partly a result of the minimalist, Nordic fusion of simplicity, elegance and function.
Even on a casual walk around the harbour you will notice immaculately groomed people in finely cut clothing, elegant footwear and designer sunglasses.
Practicality does not suffice in Helsinki unless it is subtly blended into a black, grey and white striped colour palette that makes you look like you’ve just stepped off the catwalk. It is not somewhere you can go unnoticed wearing croc sandals or a wide brimmed hat; tourist fashion is seen for the tragedy that it is.
The architecture and landscape are similarly stylish yet simplistic with a balanced blend of trees, open garden spaces and functional urban design that invites you to relax, play and meander effortlessly.
- Sauna culture
Saunas are to the Finns what pubs are to the Irish. It’s where people go to unwind, drink and cleanse their pores at the same time. Yes that’s right, I said drink. People can and do drink at Finnish saunas which certainly seems contradictory to the cleansing intent. This was the case at Helsinki’s newest and most modern sauna establishment, Loyly. It is the only sauna in town that is mixed sex so a couple of rule changes apply. Firstly, you wear swimsuits whereas the custom in saunas is to be nude (if you aren’t people will think you’re a pervert). Secondly, rather than getting under a cold shower straight after the sauna you can jump straight into the Baltic sea. By stimulating blood circulation, endorphins and replacing dead skin cells, sauna and sea dipping is a wonderfully healing activity.
While traditionally saunas are a quiet place for reflection and cleansing, if you attend Loyly on the weekend it will be more like a festival with large groups of people chatting, laughing and drinking in and between its two saunas (steam and smoke) and the outdoor patio area. If you are looking for peace and quiet I would suggest going on a weekday. And don’t forget to book ahead, it’s popular.