With easyJet’s new flight route from Manchester to Helsinki soon to depart on 28th March, Northerners now have the perfect excuse to embark on a stylish city break to Helsinki or venture further afield to discover the ancient town of Porvoo, the Ekenäs Archipelago or enjoy the last of the snowfall in Lapland.
Set on the sea, Helsinki is an exciting and dynamic capital offering the best in design, museums, history, culture and chic sophistication. In winter, landing in Helsinki is a spectacular sight with the ice-covered harbour playing host to Nordic walkers with poles in hand darting across the frozen waters. In summer, there is a happy outdoor culture with leafy promenades and sunny open spaces that can be enjoyed in almost 24 hours of sunlight.
Helsinki has recently been voted the third World Design Capital for 2012 and design aficionados will not be left disappointed. Helsinki’s Design District is a creative hub in the centre of the city spreading over 25 streets and featuring over 170 points of design interest from fashion boutiques such as the well known Marimekko to heavyweight furniture and design emporiums including Artek and national glass designer Iittala.
For maritime buffs or water lovers, Suomenlinna is one of the world’s largest historical maritime fortresses built on six islands in the 1700’s to protect the Eastern part of the empire against Russian attack. Today Suomenlinna is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is just a fifteen minute ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square. Once there, guided walking tours are available but many Finns prefer to simply pack up a picnic and find a quiet spot on one of the islands from which to enjoy.
Before jumping on the ferry, visitors should not miss the Historic Market Hall or Kauppatori located just a stroll away from the Market Square. This famous indoor market offers an impressive range of seasonal produce such as berries and mushrooms as well as makkara (sausages), fresh fish and some tourist gimmicks like bear in a can. Back on the harbour’s edge, an emblematic orange tent can be found that serves up hot coffee and sweet doughnuts which throughout the winter months is a welcome refuge from the cold.
Guests that decide to stay for a couple of days can explore the lesser known Porvoo located 50km east of Helsinki. Porvoo’s Old Town dates back to before 1346, making it the second oldest town in Finland (after Turku) and offering winding cobblestone alleys, brightly coloured wooden houses and a range of boutique craft and antique shops. Visitors come to Porvoo to admire the unique buildings and ambience of the town as well as the iconic red shore houses that line the riverside.
Visitors keen to explore some of Finland’s many islands should take time out to visit the Ekenäs Archipelago National Park which lies just 96 kilometres southwest of Helsinki and can be reached by bus or by train (approximately 1 ½ hours). The Ekenäs Archipelago offers a scattered maze of around 1300 islands which are well connected by a sophisticated network of local ferries and boats departing from Ekenäs harbour. In the summer months, there is also the option to stay for a night in some of the lakeside cottages or camping grounds.
Helsinki is well connected to a number of regional airports throughout Finland so is a great option for a twin-centre break combining city and culture with nature and activity. For winter enthusiasts, there is still time to enjoy some of the last snowfalls with the skiing season in Northern Finland running from late November all the way through to late May. With slightly warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours, April and May are great months to visit Lapland for a late ski or winter break. The top five ski resorts are Levi, Ruka, Pyhä and Luosto and Ylläs, all of which can be reached via internal connections from Helsinki.
Whilst in Finland, no visit would be complete without a visit to the sauna which is an important element of Finnish culture and part of the Finnish way of life. Practically all Finns have access to a sauna, most of which are located in private homes. Around Finland, pretty much every hotel will offer guests use of their sauna but there are also public saunas which are well worth a visit. In Helsinki, the Kotiharju sauna opened in 1928 and is the only remaining traditional log-heated public sauna in Helsinki. Here separate wood-burning saunas are offered for men, women, families and groups. For more information visit www.kotiharjunsauna.fi
Finally to make the most of any visit to Helsinki, the Helsinki Card is a must! The cost of €33 for an adult and €13 for a child entitles holders to free, unlimited travel on Helsinki City Transport (HKL) and the municipal ferry, as well as free admission to over 60 museums and sites. It also entitles holders to a free Audio City Tour (normally €25), discounts on Finnair airport bus, restaurants, concerts, shopping, bowling, saunas and much more.
The new EasyJet route from Manchester to Helsinki will operate four times a week on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and is priced from £19.99 each way including tax. For more information or to book, visit www.easyjet.com. For more information on Helsinki, please visit www.visithelsinki.fi and more information on Finland, please visit www.visitfinland.com/uk