Is Helsinki IN?

When you live in a country as small, as isolated and with as unfriendly people as Finland, it can come as a surprise to realize that some people actually come here as tourists.

Yes, I know we are not the smallest country around if you measure it by square meters (Finland is about 338 km2, around the same as Italy or Poland), not even close, but when you count in also the amount of population (5.3 million people in the whole, for comparison Italy has 60 million inhabitants, Poland 38 million), we are definitely not on the big side either.

Yes, I know we are really not that isolated – we are a part of European Union, share the union currency euro and can catch a flight from our airports to any destinations (of course one almost always is forced to make a stopover somewhere else in Europe first) but when you think that our neighbors are Russia, Sweden and Norway and that we are surrounded by sea in the west and in the south and that the polar circle goes through our country, I think you could call us isolated.

And yes, Finns aren’t as unfriendly as sometimes described and as I just let you to believe. We are just slow to warm up to new things, not very talkative to strangers, not fans of small talk and very shy.

So imagine my surprise when I visited Helsinki in October 2011 and pumped into not only a group or two of tourists but masses of them and from tons of different countries. There were the usual Japanese with their cameras, Spaniards with their accents, loads of Russians (no surprise there), Germans enjoying their early lunches but also groups of foreign exchange students and even a group of Ukrainian people on a organized tour. What, is Helsinki suddenly cool?!?

Helsinki Cathedral in the fall of 2011 – the stairs covered with handmade quilts

Helsinki is a small capital. There are about 500 thousand people living in the city itself and another 500 thousand in the surrounding cities. That adds up to about one fifth of Finland’s population altogether, so Helsinki area is in Finland’s scale quite densely populated. It is also the center of economy, politics and government, even art, design and music of the country.

I personally regarded Helsinki quite ugly, self-centered and dull for a long time; I never had the itch to move there (that itch is pretty common amongst young people in Finland) and rarely visited without a special reason. But something changed in 2009. I went to see Madonna in a concert in Helsinki and all of the sudden the city revealed it’s beautiful old buildings and cosmopolitan people. After that, all of my visits have been a part of this new discovery – I think me and Helsinki are still in the “dating” stage of our love affair.


Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress, an island just outside of Helsinki

So I guess it’s no wonder that the tourists from all over have found this gorgeous city as well.  And maybe Helsinki has actually changed over the years, not just for me but also for the tourists. Helsinki really is worth a visit.

Read more about Helsinki.

Update 7th of January: Helsinki has just been listed as the number two place to visit 2012 by New York Times in the list of 45 places. WOW!

by Mari in Destinations

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