This year marks the centenary of Finnish independence from Russia, on December 6th, 1917.
With a year of celebrations now underway, Eleanor Hawkins here visits capital Helsinki to see how the occasion is being marked.
Entering the Finish capital after a convenient half-hour train ride from Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, I am greeted by Eliel Saarinen’s huge globe-carrying, art nouveau statues at the entrance to his 1919 Grand Central Station.
The journey itself sets the tone for my trip to Helsinki - efficient, chic, and quirky, yet down to earth.
The Finns kicked off their centenary celebrations earlier this month with a huge New Year’s Eve party featuring Lux Helsinki – a festival of light staged during the darkest days of the year that saw brilliant installations projected onto famous landmarks across the city.
The 2012 Design Capital of the World, Helsinki has a reputation for practical, stylish architecture, interior design and fashion.
This can be seen with a stroll through the lofty art nouveau residential districts like Eira, right down to the Marimekko design onboard Finnair flights.
The imposing entrance to Helsinki Central railway station
During my whirlwind visit I stayed at Hotel Lilla Roberts, a boutique property from the Kamp group.
With properties centrally located across the city, this one, in a disused police station, now makes for an elegant, comfortable stay.
Nearby the Modern Life exhibition at Helsinki Art Museum will take place in the spring and will be a celebration of Finish design to mark the centenary.
Portraying nascent Finnish modernism and its national and international success stories in the years 1917-1968, the exhibition will showcase the fast-paced societal development during the period.
Further afield, a walk through Helsinki’s Design District gives a real sense of East-meets-West and this is a great place to purchase a piece of the Finn’s iconic style.
Or alternatively just browse for some inspiration - as most pieces come with a hefty Scandinavian price tag.
Internationally famous designers like Artek and Iittala can be found here, sitting alongside thriving antique and second hand shops.
Helsinki is surrounded by an archipelago of hundreds of islands
Finland has some of the world’s cleanest air and Finns are proud of their harmonious connection to nature.
They will eagerly tell you about their ‘every-man law’ where all citizens are welcome to forage the vast national forests for edible mushrooms and berries.
To mark the centenary the nation’s 40th national park will be inaugurated in Hossa, north-east Finland.
Here some 11,000 acres of government land has been designated for the project.
Nature is also an important part of city life in Helsinki.
An archipelago of 315 islands surrounds the city, some of which can be visited by boat including the historic Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress.
A walk along the duckboards at Vanhankaupunginselkä is a calming place to spot birds and ice fishers, or get a feel for just how closely entwined Finnish life is with the natural world.
Nature is also being celebrated in the country’s latest international tourism marketing campaign – Nature Days.
Finland is celebrating its centenary in 2017
During 2017 Helsinki will play host to a medley of sporting and culture events to mark the anniversary of independence from Russia.
From death-metal and indie-rock music festivals, to the figure skating world championships and basketball, there will be something for everybody.
Activities will reach a crescendo on Helsinki’s birthday (June 12th) with over 100 events across the city.
After a day taking in the sights in subzero temperatures and a lackluster viewing of the Northern Light, I found there is no better way to warm up than with the famous Finnish pastime (and possibly only Finnish word to be used to the world over) - a sauna.
Löyly - an urban oasis occupying a stretch of beautiful Helsinki waterfront is the perfect place to indulge.
Crafted from sustainable wood, it houses two saunas, a bar, restaurant, and a large terrace which stays open late into the summer evenings.
Swelter in the steam sauna then take a plunge into the freezing Finnish Gulf for instant revitalisation, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
Life in Finland
On February 28th Finland will celebrate its Culture Day (or Kalevala) and this year it’s all about food.
In keeping with this theme, nearly 50,000 Finns voted on the country’s first national food.
Rye bread was the clear winner - enjoyed across the length of the country it beat local favorites like Karekuab hotpot, fish soup, and the controversial pizza to the top-spot.
Rye featured heavily in many of the meals I ate while in Helsinki - from fresh baked loafs at breakfast to the exquisite blueberry, rye and, goats milk desert at Jurri restaurant.
A stone’s throw from the Design Museum, Jurri serves highly innovative cuisine using traditional Finnish ingredients.
With centenary celebrations packed into the next 12 months, this year is a great time to visit Helsinki.
Interested guests can for stay their whole trip or take advantage of Finnair’s Stop Over promotion, staying for up to five days in the country before heading on a long-haul destination.
There is more on visiting the country on the official website.