The average temperature in efficient, elegant Helsinki hovers around 43°F (6°C), but this does not mean visitors need expect a chilly welcome. The funky Finns, known for their hip and happening sense of style, design and association with high technology, know how to warm hearts and minds in their modern, cosmopolitan capital.
The city, spread across a cluster of promontories and peninsulas, is almost 500 years old. Its clean, wide avenues are lined with buildings echoing centuries of architectural excellence from Gothic through Art Deco to cutting-edge contemporary. It all fits together in total harmony with nature, which invades the urban environment with green spaces when it is not blanketed in snow. Trees, flowers, hares, squirrels, pheasants and even the odd elk are often spied in the myriad parks in the centre of the city. On the whole, the city is surrounded with crisp, unpolluted air and the bright blue waters of the Baltic Sea.
Despite the cold climate, the invigorating outdoors beckons in Helsinki even in the middle of winter. Recreation takes the form of ice skating, skiing, ice-fishing, sailing, cycling, soaking in saunas, or during the short-lived summer, sunbathing. After the action, sit tucked in a rug outside one of the many street-side bars sipping hot (spiced wine) and watch the wintry world go by. The city is also ideal for walking, with the sights all concentrated in the central area beneath the towering cathedrals.
The great outdoors is also the setting for Helsinki's numerous festivals and fairs, like the May Day Carnival, the Baltic Herring Festival, the Helsinki City Marathon, the annual Samba carnival and the midsummer festival, to name but a few. Events do move indoors when it comes to the city's rich cultural life, featuring some of the world's finest orchestras and choirs, rock concerts, film festivals, the Finnish National Opera and Ballet performances, and the output of countless theatre and dance troupes.
Whether visited as a snowy winter wonderland or scenic sun-splashed cityscape with almost permanent daylight, Helsinki is a unique destination that will delight the heart of any traveller.