Helsinki, Finland's capital, is one of Europe's most interesting and enjoyable cities. Many first-time visitors associate Finland with extreme cold, but the summers—especially in the south—can be magically warm and flooded with light. Even in the depths of winter, daylight is short but present. Although sometimes the skies may be overcast, there are clear, sunny days when the city is illuminated by the sparkle of snow and the dazzling, frozen Baltic Sea.
In recent decades, many inhabitants of Finland's rural regions have migrated to the Helsinki metropolitan area, which has been growing at an amazing rate since the mid-1990s. Helsinki's citizens may have close ties to their rural roots, but they also have fallen in step with the urban beat. Their sense of style, innovation and design is evident throughout the city.
Visitors can stroll through any local park or square and will probably stumble upon an impressive piece of contemporary sculpture. Helsinki's sparkling nightlife and lively cafe culture add much to its travel appeal. Its terrace cafes are often packed with Finns and visitors alike.
Although not generally a city that wears its history on its sleeve, Helsinki offers fine examples of neoclassical architecture in the historic center around Senate Square. Although the city was founded in the 16th century, most of its architecture dates from the 19th century or later. The Helsinki skyline is still evolving as striking buildings emerge downtown.
Helsinki's bold architecture mirrors a national willingness to adopt new technologies and innovations. The head office of Nokia, the mobile-communications giant, is housed in a gleaming glass palace in Espoo, just west of Helsinki. But Finland's traditional roots are never far away. Finns, including Helsinki residents, regard cell phones and other wireless-based technologies simply as what they are: tools.
For relaxation, Helsinki residents and visitors turn to cross-country skiing, ice fishing, sailing and relaxing in the sun by the lake. Finns love fresh air and, even in winter, can be found stepping briskly through Helsinki's parks, around the islands and across the frozen harbor and lakes.
And after a brisk walk, what could be better than a hot gloggi (spiced wine) in one of the city's many bars? (Some even provide blankets for customers who wish to sit outdoors, though it is more common to find propane heaters—especially as smoking is not allowed indoors.)
Visitors to Helsinki shouldn't miss out on the national pastime—a sauna. It is usually followed by a jump into a nearby (chilly) lake to help keep the blood flowing.
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