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A lot of people include visiting Lapland or seeing the Northern Lights on their bucket list. But the city of Helsinki on the opposite end of Finland has many must-see sites and highly desired experiences too. These are just a few of them.
Owning a private island is a popular bucket list item, but one that is usually viewed as unattainable. In Southern Finland, it may be somewhat within reach. The many islands making up the Helsinki Archipelago can be rented out or even bought for a much cheaper price than a tropical island. The advantage of these islands is that they are remote enough for peace and quiet but close enough to the city for shopping, socialising, and travel. Even if you only wish to rent an island for the summer months, or need a getaway for the warmer half of the year, it is still one way to cross a seemingly impossible item off your bucket list.
Saunas are also usually seen as something only for the very rich, but not in Finland. Everyone, from the richest to the poorest, has access to a sauna, even in their own home. Finland isn’t afraid to brag about being the best place in the world for the real sauna experience, and Helsinki has choices ranging from luxury spa breaks to public saunas with local character.
In the summer, the sea surrounding Helsinki is full of cruise ships and recreational boaters. In the winter, much of it is covered in ice, which is so thick in some places you can walk, skate, or even drive upon it. Not only is walking on solid sea ice a rare and unique experience, it is also a highly different way of seeing the city. The popular sport of ice fishing can also turn up some tasty, locally caught fish that are safe to eat. If you do plan to walk on the ice, it is best to do so with a local expert to prevent falling through thin ice.
There is a huge range of live music to hear in Helsinki. It is also the global capital of the heavy metal music scene. The country’s biggest heavy metal festival, Tuska, plays in Helsinki every year and has previously featured artists such as Alice Cooper, Sabaton, and Megadeth. The Hartwall ice hockey arena also regularly has concerts for big names such as Iron Maiden and Metallica. Metal bars and small concert venues also provide exposure for new up-and-coming bands, and are a great way to engage with the local metal scene.
On the opposite end of the music spectrum, Helsinki is also a great city for classical music. Live musicians can often be heard at the Sibelius Monument and there are regular concerts at unique venues such as the Rock Church.
Finland’s diverse cultural and artistic background can be seen in its artwork as well. There are several art museums for both classical and contemporary art, the most famous being the Ateneum Art Museum, housed in a highly distinctive Victorian-era building in the city centre. Street art can also be seen on Kallio’s graffiti wall. Finland likes to support its artists, so you can pick up art by locals from the many craft fairs, flea markets, and private galleries.
A great way to cross both Helsinki and Lapland off your bucket list on the same holiday is to rent a car or camper van for a road trip and see all that Finland has to offer in between. You can tour the cities or spend long days in the wilderness far from civilisation. For the adventurous, you can also extend your road trip to the neighbouring countries of Sweden, Estonia, and perhaps even Russia, as St Petersburg is only about five hours away by road.
You may not have heard of many of the historical sites in Helsinki, but with one look you will want to see them. Suomenlinna Fortress is one of Finland’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with a huge variety of historic forts and war memorabilia to see. The magnificent, white Lutheran Cathedral also serves as the city’s icon and the Art Nouveau buildings in the city centre surrounding it are equally fascinating. Best of all, Helsinki’s small size means that all of these sites can be seen within a single day without causing aching feet.