Good news: Finland is getting ready to open itself up to international travel again.
Under its new measures, travel restrictions will be eased to allow visitors from countries with fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants during the past fortnight. These include countries such as Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Germany, Australia, Canada and Japan.
“We are at the verge of a significant step forward in opening Finland for international travel. The recent mitigations, announced by the Finnish government, to Finland’s travel restrictions will enable traveling to Finland from key markets like Germany and Norway,” says Sanna Kärkkäinen, the Managing Director of Visit Rovaniemi.
Here’s what you can see, hear and do at the Nordic country.
A land of music
With a language that isn’t spoken outside its borders, Finland relies on its music as its cultural ambassador. And none is as well known as the works of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), the country’s most famous export and arguably, its greatest composer. Visit the Sibelius Monument, built in his honour, in Sibelius Park, and the Finlandia Talo Huset Hall on Töölönlahti Bay, a multipurpose venue named after a famous piece of his, and an inspiration for concert-hall design worldwide. For the best acoustics, check out concert venue and music centre Musiikkatalo. Most of its rooms are underground, with light bursting in from glass windows above.
Finnish by design
A visit to the 2012 World Design Capital, which pioneered Scandinavian design, calls for a little shopping. Look beyond Marimekko, famed for its bright, floral fabrics, chunky glassware, and cheery bags and clothing. Check out Artek for Alvar Aalto’s groundbreaking designs – think the plywood Aalto Chair – or shop the colourful, fashionable brim hats of éN Hats, a brand that combines contemporary style with minimal design and monochromatic colours.
Nature in the city
Get a feel of the countryside right in the capital of Finland; head to Korkeasaari, one of the low-lying islands dotting its harbour. There, you’ll find Helsinki Zoo. Founded in 1889, its conservation efforts have resulted in the birth of over 20 Amur leopard cubs and more than 100 snow leopard cubs.
The old town of Porvoo, known for its brightly painted wooden houses, is well worth a visit too. Lying 50km east of Helsinki, by the Porvoo river, it’s a gateway to the forest paths that inspired the legend of Tapio, the ancient forest spirit.
Identity in art and architecture
Art is an integral part of the Finnish national identity. For contemporary art, take a look around Kiasma. For the Art Nouveau architecture the city is known for, look no further than the National Museum of Finland and Central Station. The former, opened to the public in 1916, embodies the classic Finnish National Romantic style – considered a form of Art Nouveau – of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The latter, built in 1919, is guarded by four carved giants that look like warriors out of The Lord Of The Rings.
A history in three churches
Helsinki was a Swedish port before becoming Russian in 1808, then Finnish in 1917, and its intriguing mix of cultures is showcased perfectly by three churches, all within walking distance. Start at the Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square, a neoclassical building that dates from Swedish times. Then, move on to the Uspenski Cathedral with golden-tipped spires, which looks as if it’s been transplanted directly from Red Square in Moscow. For contrast, end with the Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church), which was carved into a rocky outcrop; its design ideas are radical – and very Finnish.
Stylish Nordic eats
Food is important in a city that spends many winter months indoors. Restaurant Spis is only open in the evenings and you’ll have to book. Distressed brickwork is the style here as it’s located in the Design District but the six-course Nordic tasting menu is well worth trekking out that far.
Ravintola Sunn is located inside a spacious 18th-century house with great views of the Helsinki Cathedral. The menu offers traditional Finnish fare alongside European dishes and a good international wine list.
For something different – and very popular locally – go to Toscanini, a Finnish take on what a modern Tuscan bistrot might look like. It’s located under the trendy Klaus K hotel with lots of white tiles, noise and pasta.
Helsinki is famed for its imaginative architecture. Visit the curved Kamppi Chapel of Silence built to launch Helsinki as Design Capital of Europe in 2012. It’s located not far from the Stockmann department store. Lit solely from above, the chapel emanates calm in these busy shopping streets.
Haltia is a nature centre opened in Espoo in 2013. It’s located 25km outside Helsinki, and was the first public building in Finland built wholly of wood. Haltia uses natural light and geothermal heating to create a low and sustainable architectural footprint.
Meanwhile, the Aalto House in the north of the city should not be missed. It was built by Alvar Aalto and his wife in 1936 but still looks remarkably modern. Not surprisingly, Aalto remains Finland’s most influential architect.
No visit to Helsinki is complete without a trip to Stockmann, the Finnish department store that opened in 1862 and moved to this impressive location at the top of Aleksanterinkatu in 1930. The Old Market Hall down by South Harbour on Eteläranta is a charming 19th-century red brick building full of small stalls and snack bars. It reopened recently after a year of renovation. Kämp Galleria occupies a whole city block behind the façade of Hotel Kamp. It’s cleverly designed to house 40 contemporary shops without spoiling the graceful line of Pohjoisesplanadi.
A sauna a day…
Sauna is one of Finland’s great gifts to the world. You can enjoy this healthy national pastime at Kaurilan in the west of the city. Today this rustic sauna retains all its 19th-century charm and still uses a wooden stove for the steam. Book well in advance.
Arlan Sauna opened in 1929 in Helsinki’s Kallio district. It has the ambience of an old public bath and still offers bunches of birch twigs which you beat against the skin to improve circulation.
M/S Sauna Ship is exactly what it sounds like – a modern floating sauna that tours the islands off the capital, while offering a wooden stove sauna for eight guests and a sauna lounge for 12. A standard tour departs Tammasaarenlaituri dock and lasts about two and a half hours.
Finland has countless lakes and their beauty has led many to build homes nearby. At Hvitträsk, influential architects Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen built their homes and an office in 1901.
Kaitalampi near Espoo is a narrow 1km-long lake, ringed by trees and popular with swimmers. It’s located 25 km from Helsinki and visitors can also enjoy its barbecue facilities and jogging trails.
Töölönlahti Bay looks like a lake in the middle of Helsinki but it’s actually a subtle inlet of the Baltic Sea. It’s a popular spot for joggers, who run around its 2.2km of paths. There are also some beautiful old wooden villas and a cafe around this urban “lake”.
For Covid-19 guidelines, please visit each establishment’s website. To learn more about Singapore Airlines flights, visit singaporeair.com. For updates and travel advisories, please visit Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
– TEXT BY ADRIAN MOURBY
PHOTOS: JUSSI HELLSTEN (PORVOO), 123RF.COM (USPENSKI CATHEDRAL), RAVIN TOLA SUNN FACEBOOK, FLICKR USER WOJTEK GURAK (KAMPPI CHAPEL OF SILENCE), GALLERIA ESPLANAD FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM
This article was originally published on 15 November 2017 by Singapore Press Holdings.