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Overview to Helsinki: Travel Guide and Tourist Information

Helsinki's Skyline

As it swirls eastwards from Helsinki, the Gulf of Finland narrows before pointing like an outstretched finger towards St Petersburg. Fittingly, Helsinki's identity is layered in a range of influences from both the eastern and western sides of today's Europe.

The city's heart is marked by the grand 19th century Senate Square, overshadowed by the impressive shape of Tuomiokirkko. A huge Lutheran cathedral designed by Engels, it’s one of the most cherished symbols of the city.

Running away from the square are the main streets of Uudenmaankatu, Mannerheimintie and the Esplanadi (essential for getting your bearings). Sitting next to the South Harbor is Kauppatori, another charming square that’s home to the city’s market.

Just a short boat ride from the port is the UNESCO-protected island fortress of Suomenlinna. Its severe walls, green sprawling ramparts and pronounced feeling of isolation arguably make it Helsinki's must-see historical attraction.

Competing for this mantle is the Temppeliaukio Church. It’s no wonder that this has been such a popular tourist site since it opened in 1969; the church’s interior walls are natural rock faces quarried out of the bedrock and the overall effect is staggering.

But Helsinki is also a modern city overflowing with striking contemporary architecture: the railway station is, brilliantly, designed in the shape of an old wireless radio. The famous – if somewhat anachronistic – Olympic Stadium is another case in point.

Proud assertions of national heritage abound in the city’s many galleries and museums. Of these, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art on Mannerheiminaukio contains one of Europe's best modern art experiences with a range of innovative, and often puzzling, works.

The city also has numerous parks including the centrally-located Kaivohuisto Park and the Botanical Gardens (slightly to the north) and, a little further afield, some good city beaches. During the summer these open spaces spill over with sun-seeking locals.

When it comes to shopping, there are glitzy shops on and around the main Esplanadi, while the Stockmann Department Store (the biggest in the world) and the Tunneli shopping center have a dizzying array of different products to choose from.

Helsinki is undoubtedly something of an unknown quantity to many travelers and it carries with it more than just a touch of the exotic. And, though not a large city, it throbs with all manner of fascinating activity.

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