Friendly people, beautiful scenery, a treasure trove of historic and cultural attractions, excellent shopping for cutting-edge style, a full calendar of events and festivals…they all add up to make an ideal destination for Canadian travellers. And they’re all here in Finland, one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. Read on for just a few of the reasons you’ll want to put this Nordic nirvana on your radar.
Sophisticated and cosmopolitan, vibrant and fun, Finland’s capital is one of Europe’s most welcoming cities. From the best in modern design, shopping and entertainment to a host of world-class museums, galleries and historic sights that reflect the country’s rich past, Helsinki is truly one of Europe’s treasures.
Visit FinlandIt’s hardly surprising that a city dubbed “a living world of art” is home to beautiful architecture, a vibrant arts scene and a district devoted to unique Finnish design. A good place to start exploring is Senate Square, the historic centre of the city that houses the majestic blue-domed Lutheran Cathedral. Nearby is the Ateneum, the country’s national gallery, as well as the new Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma.Another must-see: the famous “Rock Church”, Temppeliaukio kirkko.
Next up: Helsinki’s Design District, a downtown neighbourhood filled with shops and boutiques offering all that is cool and contemporary in Finnish design. Also in the district: the Design Museum,the Museum of Finnish Architecture, and a host of trendy cafes and restaurants.
Helsinki boasts a lively performing arts schedule. Take in a concert by the Helsinki Philharmonic at Finlandia Hall, one of the city’s most famous buildings; or an opera or ballet at the Opera House. Free outdoor concerts – everything from jazz and pop to folk and classical – are held throughout the summer.
Visit FinlandFor the best view of the city, take a cruise and explore Finland’s beautiful archipelago; there are several islands mere minutes from Helsinki’s city centre. Among the favourites: Suomenlinna, home to an 18th-century fortress that is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site; and Seurasaari, an open-air museum with exhibits from the different regions of the country.
Follow The Kings
Step back in time and travel the same ancient road that kings and tsars once used between the old northern capitals of Oslo, Stockholm, Turku, Helsinki and St. Petersburg.
The Finnish portion of the road winds along the scenic coastline past castles, manor houses, taverns, inns and churches, and is ideal for a driving tour. There are two main driving routes, each starting in Helsinki.
The King’s Road West itinerary passes beautiful seaside towns and villages of historic interest, including Kirkkonummi, with its 13th-century church; Snappertuna, home to the ruins of Roseborg Castle; and Hanko, a hugely popular summer resort.
Elina Sirparanta/Visit FinlandTravellers are advised to spend at least a full day in Turku, Finland’s oldest city and former capital. Established in 1200, it is home to more than 50 museums, many with guides in traditional dress. Medieval Turku Castle, once home to the royal governor of Finland, now hosts medieval festivals and exhibitions. The city is a base for summertime archipelago cruises.
To the northwest of Turku is Rauma, named by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in recognition of the best-preserved wooded houses in Scandinavia. The medieval town, founded in 1442, is a must-visit for lovers of fine handicrafts: it is a world-renowned centre of traditional lace making. Like Turku, Rauma is also a base for summertime archipelago cruises.
Highlights of the King’s Road East itinerary include Finland’s second-oldest town, Porvoo, which dates back to 1346. The town’s charming cobblestone streets are wonderful to explore, and house a beautiful medieval cathedral and excellent museums, galleries and boutiques.
Eighty kilometres east of Helsinki, on the Gulf of Finland, is the small town of Loviisa, founded in 1745 as a frontier and fortress town. Travellers can visit the three historic fortresses built to protect the city. Outside the town, the Ruotsinpyhtää Iron Workshop, an open-air museum, is a must-see.
Sami Lettojarvi/Visit FinlandThe bustling lakeside city of Lahti is a cultural hub. It’s home to the famous Sibelius Hall, named after Finland’s most renowned classical composer, Jean Sibelius, whose home, Ainola, can be visited in nearby Jarvenpaa. Other architectural landmarks include the City Hall, completed in 1912; and the Church of the Cross, built in 1978.
If You Go
Getting There: Finnair offers year-round nonstop service to Helsinki from New York, and seasonal summer service from Toronto.
Entry Regulations: Canadian citizens require only a valid passport.
Getting Around: Finland has extensive domestic air, rail, and bus networks that make it easy to visit a wide variety of destinations. Car rental is another convenient option, as is public transportation in larger cities.
Language: Finnish and Swedish are the country’s official languages. English is widely spoken.