City guide: Helsinki, Finland | Private jet charter
When you think of Finland, and Helsinki in particular, what springs to mind? Perhaps bright open spaces, fresh air or even a touch of Nordic noir. Set apart in northern Europe it’s easy to imagine that Finland lacks some of the hipness of its central European counterparts. But that assumption is quite wrong and if you’re looking for a destination that combines the familiarity of Europe with the unique quirkiness that only Finland can offer, Helsinki is your new go-to. Cool design, a commitment to the environment that surpasses so many of its neighbours and island-hopping nightlife that’s second to none, welcome to Finland.
Helsinki airport is the largest in the country and is operated by state-owned company Finavia. In 2018, the airport handled almost 21 million passengers departing and arriving from more than 160 destinations across the globe, including around 35 charter destinations.
With 50 operators offering flights, travelling options to Helsinki are plentiful and in operation on a year-round basis.
The airport itself is 10 miles away from the city centre and is easily accessible by public transport. Both buses and trains run from the airport and tickets can be bought from machines in the arrivals area, at several shops, the tourist information stand or online.
Taxis and ride-sharing cars can be found at the dedicated pickup points near the airport’s two terminals.
Things to do and places to go
A city with a formidable history, having swapped ownership several times, Helsinki has a fascinating past well worth exploring. Hop across to the surrounding islands or immerse yourself in the rich and vibrant offer on the mainland, whatever you love about a holiday you’ll find it in a city that’s a melting pot of its past lives.
With work starting in 1748, this island was to be the naval base and fortress that would help see off the Russian threat and help maintain Swedish ownership of Finland. But by 1808 the fortress and Finland had fallen to the Russians, where they remained until Finnish independence in 1917.
Today the fortress is accessible by a short ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square or by water bus in the summer months. Those with private boats can moor in the visitors’ harbour.
As a Unesco World Heritage Site, there is no charge for visiting the island, aside from the cost of the ferry or water bus, but there is plenty to do with guided walks and museums to visit. Oh, and it has its own island brewery.
Nuuksio Canoe and Hike Adventure
One of the best ways to see Helsinki’s green jewel of a national park, this is a trip that’s so much more about seeing the natural beauty of the park and less about getting a cardio fix.
You’ll glide through Hawk Lake in your canoe before embarking on a short hike up into the park for a breath-taking view of the 150 hectares of forest and lake. You might even spot a moose or fox on this guided four-and-a-half-hour adventure, which includes a snack and drink.
Where the traditional Finnish sauna meets modern sensibilities. In times gone by when apartments did not come with bathrooms, there was a sauna or two found on every street. The sauna is part of Finnish heritage and there are, allegedly, some 3.3 million saunas still in existence across the country, though the numbers of public saunas have dropped dramatically.
Here you’ll find the culture of the sauna taken to the next level, with fine dining and beautiful terraces overlooking the Baltic Sea. A unique and extremely Finnish experience.
Oodi Helsinki Central Library, Töölönlahdenkatu, 4
Why would you visit a library? Just one look at the stunning modernist architecture of this building will tell you why. It’s a vast construction of steel and wood set over three floors and home to cafes, study areas, meeting and games rooms and of course, a library.
Locals come to work, visitors come to enjoy the art and interact with a building that has become the calling card for Finnish architecture.
Where to eat and drink
This is a city that is built around the sea and as you might expect fish and seafood features frequently on the menus of many cafes and restaurants across the city. But Helsinki is a place of many cultural influences and draws from the culinary reference points of its past.
Like many modern, buzzing European hangouts you’ll find what your tastebuds are craving be that the latest vegan eatery, trendy cocktail bar or something altogether more Russian.
Ŝaŝlik, Neitsytpolku 12
Embrace the glorious opulence of a bygone age with this stunning Russian restaurant, found right next to the Russian Embassy for almost 50 years.
The decadent surroundings and serving of Russian classics such as bear meat, blini and kasha are what drive locals and visitors alike to this famous restaurant, along with the extensive wine, champagne and of course vodka list. Booking is highly recommended and private rooms are available for larger groups.
Goldfish, Korkeavuorenkatu 21e
This intimate 45-seater bar is where cocktail aficionados will find a true slice of paradise. The list is to die for but the decent wine list will also keep non-cocktail types happy too. With full table service there is also a great selection of food, that has a distinctly Italian theme to it, the perfect accompaniment to the perfect Negroni.
Classy, snug and open until 2am. This is the place where bar hopping ends and you’ll want to settle in for the night.
Savotta, Aleksanterinkatu 22
This cosy restaurant is everything Finnish. The interior reflects the country’s natural beauty and innate connection to the lakes and forests surrounding Helsinki. Gaze out across the Cathedral Square as you tuck into reindeer and elk sausages, lingonberry pie and a variety of seafood, all sourced locally.
There are packages available for larger groups and booking is recommended.
Salutorget, Pohjoisesplanadi 15
For a smorgasbord of Nordic cooking, head to Salutorget in the heart of historic Helsinki. The large dining room pays tribute to its former state as a bank building with a beautiful stained-glass window dominating the interior.
The a la carte menu offers dishes that reflect its heritage but with a distinctly modern twist. Try the Nordic forest gin cured salmon to start, followed by reindeer sirloin and tongue. You’ll also find an impressive champagne and wine list, making this a fabulous dining option. Book in advance.
Trillby & Chadwick Detective Agency, Katariinankatu
If you feel like working for your drinks, then put on your sleuthing hat and head down to this short street where you’ll find an unmarked wooden door. Find the door, and behind it you’ll find a telephone, ask for an appointment with Trillby and you might, just might find your way into this super speakeasy.
All that hard work will pay off with a fabulous selection of drinks and the knowledge that you’re in on the secret.
Where to stay
No one could accuse Helsinki of being a budget destination and your choice of accommodation is only limited by the budget you’ve set. There are some stunning hotels in this ancient city but there are also some equally stunning apartments to rent for the short-stay visitor.
Hotel Kämp, Pohjoisesplanadi 29
Impossible to leave off any Helsinki hotel list, this grande dame is the last word in luxury and timeless elegance. Built in 1887, prepare to be seriously impressed with the interior grandeur and comfort that has rightfully awarded this hotel its five stars.
You’ll find rooms ranging from standard doubles all the way up to luxury suites, a restaurant, brasserie with impeccable French cuisine, bar and lounge area. In terms of facilities, there is any number of meeting rooms, a wellness spa, sauna and gym all available to guests.
Aside from the obvious decadence the hotel also benefits from its city centre location near the Esplanade Park, harbour and shopping area.
GLO Hotel Art, Lönnrotinkatu 29
Art Nouveau castle? Check. Located in trendy design district? Check. If you’re looking for a unique stay in a not-so-ancient castle, then this attractive hotel is the perfect venue. With 170 rooms, the castle and its hotel annexe offer guests comfortable accommodation, meeting facilities and a casual restaurant and bar to relax in.
Nearby you’ll find the popular Hietalahti flea market, the Helsinki Art Museum and many independent shops and galleries to explore as well as a buzzing nightlife.
Koti Helsinki Boutique Apartments, Ullanlinna
A stone’s throw from the shopping district and cathedral, these apartments are a home away from home. Perfect for couples, each apartment comes equipped with a large double bed, free wifi, terrace or garden and modern kitchen facilities. Additional beds are available on request. With a concierge to greet you and sauna facilities available to rent, you’ll be all set to explore the great surrounding area.
Hotel Hanaholmen, Hanasaarenranta 5
For those looking to enjoy Helsinki’s rugged natural beauty try this hotel on for size. Located ten minutes’ out from the city centre, Hotel Hanaholmen is where Swedish and Finnish cultures meet to offer guests spectacular sea views, beautiful art and the chance to experience some exciting outdoor activities.
Each room offers flat-screen TVs, free wifi and guests are free to use the sauna facilities on site. Nordic walking poles are available for those wanting to explore the scenic trails found nearby and bikes can also be rented out.
Helsinki’s public transport is a dream. With a well-integrated bus, metro and tram services, plus a ferry travelling between islands. With these options, it’s entirely possible to get around the city and beyond without any need to hire a car. In fact, using public transport is the perfect opportunity to see so much more of this fascinating location at a decent price.
Day tickets are your best bet and can be bought from train station ticket machines, the tourist information centres or at the airport. They can last between one and seven days and will give you options to buy a ticket covering all four or fewer of the four zones dividing the city.
Cycling is also a popular way of getting around, with around 1,200 kilometres of cycle and walking paths in Helsinki. Rent a bike for the week or use a bike share option found in multiple locations.
Best time to visit
Despite a reputation as one of the colder parts of Europe, Finland has a milder climate thanks to its abundance of lakes and because of the Gulf Stream blowing in warmer air. June, July and August are the warmer summer months and arguably the best and certainly the warmest times to visit.
But Autumn too has its attractions. The days are still long and the surrounding nature offers a stunning display, prices are lower and there are plenty of deals to be had. Snow and sauna fans are better off going in the very cold winter months, a good time to snap up off-season deals.
Far from being an ice-cold tundra, wrapped in Nordic noir, Helsinki is a buzzing, vibrant city with a thriving art scene and a sense of history that has shaped everything from its food to its architecture.
Its people are welcoming and friendly and won’t expect you to know any more than a handful of Finnish phrases, though trying is always appreciated.
Visit in the Autumn when nature puts on its best performance and some of the stranger Finnish festivals take place or bask on the beaches and saunas during the warmer Summer months, this is a city that’s confident in itself and in what it can offer visitors just like you.