Helsinki, “The White City of the North”

Helsinki, “The White City of the North”

With just one short rainy and sunny August day in Helsinki, the northernmost European capital of Finland, you can’t miss a city by the sea with its 180,000 islands spread on a beautiful archipelago and its most important neo-classical and contemporary monuments as well as its all-year-round indoor winter wonderland.

Often called “the white city of the north” due to its many buildings that are constructed of locally produced light-coloured granite, Helsinki (Swedish: Helsinfors) is one of the coldest cities in the world as it does not receive sunshine for about 51 consecutive days during winter. Won’t this be a sufficient reason why Winnipegers need not complain about our frigid winters? Because we are not alone although our beloved city ranks first on the planet for the lowest average temperature in a year!

Our guided walking tour of this vibrant seaside metropolis commences from the Senate Square dominated by four buildings – the Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace (executive office of the national government), the main building of the University of Helsinki, and the National Library of Finland. Also on the square is the oldest stone house in the city, the historic Sederholm house built in 1757 owned by Helsinki’s then-richest merchant Johan Sederholm. Also known as St. Nicholas Church, the Helsinki Cathedral with its tall, green dome surrounded by four smaller domes is the most famous and most photographed building in Helsinki.

The tour continues on foot to the Market Place that provides a festive atmosphere along the city bay where we have free time for souvenir shopping and tasting local summer berries. Travelling through the city we enjoy seeing other unique monuments of Helsinki like the Uspenski Cathedral, the Parliament, Old Market Hall, the National Museum of Finland, the 1952 Summer Olympic Stadium, and the Central Railway Station. Helsinki is renowned not only for its romantic and classical buildings but also for its contemporary architecture of latest design innovations such as Finlandia Hall and the well-known Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art which has earned Helsinki the world design capital for 2012.

Under the heavy rain we trek to th famous Temppeliaukion Church (“Rock Church”), a unique circular church quarried out of solid granite rock, covered with a dome lined with copper and supported on the rock walls by concrete beams. Natural light pierces through the glasses between the dome and rock walls. The church is not only a Lutheran place of worship – it is also often used for concerts because of its excellent acoustics.

Not to be missed is the stainless steel sculpture resembling organ pipes, the Sibelius Monument, a monument to the world-famous composer Jean Sibelius located in a public park of the affluent Toolo district.

Last but not the least is the famous Suomenlinna Fortification Islands, a major monument of military architecture included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The sea fortress, a mecca for summer excursions by the locals, offers outdoor picnic, walking and swimming areas, a visitor centre, restaurants, and galleries.

TRIVIA: Helsinki has the highest cellphone-to-resident ratios in the world. The world’s leading manufacturer of cell phones, Nokia, is based in Finland.