Helsinki: 10 tips for visiting the capital of Finland

Sean Cunningham, CNNUpdated 12th June 2017
(CNN) — Finland celebrates its 100th anniversary of independence from neighboring Russia on December 6, 2017.
Helsinki, founded in 1550, is Finland's largest city and the capital, with over one million of the country's 5.5 million people living in the metropolitan area.
Why celebrate for a day, when a whole year is possible?
To mark the occasion appropriately, Helsinki has a full year of events for the centenary.
Here are 10 tips to help feel more like a local in Finland this year.

Pack appropriately

It's less a matter of comfort than survival.
In July, Helsinki temperatures average a pleasant 17 C (62 F). In February, it's minus 6 C (22 F).
Planning on heading north? Then the right clothes are crucial.
For those delivering Christmas letters to Santa in person, Lapland temperatures can plummet to minus 50 C (minus 58 F).
Arriving in Finland unprepared? Try one of Helsinki's 10 UFF secondhand stores, which support aid projects in Africa and India -- decidedly pricier options are also available, like Marimekko.

Seek out a sauna

Hot in Helsinki: Saunas.
Finns love saunas.
The nation claims to have about 3.5 million of them -- roughly one for every 1.6 people.
They come in various forms, including smoke saunas, electric saunas and mobile saunas.
Celebrated Helsinki offerings include Kotiharjun Sauna, which was built in 1928, and Löyly, which is located on the waterfront and offers a more modern feel. (For tips on handling a sauna Helsinki-style, click here.)
Kotiharjun Sauna, Harjutorinkatu 1, Helsinki 00500 Finland; +358 (9) 753 1535
Löyly, Hernesaarenranta 4, Helsinki 00150 Finland; +358 (9) 6128 6550

To outsiders, Finnish conversations can be cryptic

Finns do not like to interrupt: a typical chat includes healthy stretches of silence, ensuring no one's cut off prematurely.
At the same time, the Finnish language lacks the words for "please" or "excuse me."
The result is that what may seem to outsiders an awkward, borderline rude exchange is simply everyday conversing for Finnish folks.
A simple way to get more up-to-speed culturally is to head to Helsinki's tremendous Academic Bookstore, with its superb selection of books in a variety of languages.
Academic Bookstore, Keskuskatu 1 / Pohjoisesplanadi 39, Helsinki
Finland was once characterized as a nation of melancholics. These days it's seen as one of the happiest countries in Europe. Here are just some of the reasons Finns have to be cheerful.

Plunk down at the pub

Winter temperatures make Helsinki a place where a night out can easily turn into hypothermia, so bars tend to be conducive to hanging out -- witness the stacks of board games often found right next to the napkins.
So it's recommended to go for a lonkero (or long drink, usually consisting of gin and grapefruit soda) and an evening soaking in the atmosphere, ideally having conversations with the locals that feel brusque and stilted, which is a sign they're going swimmingly.
There's much to be said for just picking the first option that seems inviting, but Teerenpeli offers beer from its own brewery and for a great cocktail, there's Liberty or Death.
Teerenpeli, Olavinkatu 2, 00100 Helsinki; +358 424 925 260
Liberty or Death, Erottajankatu 5, 00130 Helsinki; +358 50 5424870

Devour local delicacies

Just avoid thinking of Rudolph while you eat.
Three standouts which shouldn't be missed in Finland include salmon stew, lingonberry pie and reindeer.
Lappi Restaurant is a fine place to try reindeer in various forms, from grilled fillets to carpaccio. (Only do this after sending Santa's letter.)
Another option is Savoy, which has been celebrated for decades both for its food and its design (see below) .
Lappi Restaurant, Annankatu 22, 00100 Helsinki; +358 9 645550
Savoy, Eteläesplanadi 14, 00130 Helsinki +358 9 6128 5300

Absorb the architecture, particularly by Alvar Aalto

Possibly because it has a strong influence from both Sweden and Russia, Finnish architecture in general has a distinctive look.
The Land of a Thousand Lakes was ruled for centuries by Sweden, before being controlled by Russia.
Nowadays, the nation's most revered architect and designer is Alvar Aalto, whose "human modernism" has brought him global recognition.
Tours are available for some of his most famous works in Helsinki, such as Finlandia Hall or the interiors he designed for the aforementioned Savoy.
Want to bring some Aalto home? His furniture can be purchased at Artek.
Finlandia Hall, Mannerheimintie 13e, 00100 Helsinki
Artek, Keskuskatu 1B, 00100 Helsinki; +358 (0)10 617 3480

See the Sibelius Monument

After experiencing the nation's most renowned architect, why not salute Finland's most celebrated composer too?
Located in Sibelius Park, this welded steel sculpture by Eila Hiltunen resembles a massive organ with more than 600 organ pipes.
It also includes a bust of Jean Sibelius himself, whose compositions include the beautiful-yet-spooky "Finlandia."

Take in art at the Ateneum

In addition to the interesting contemporary art works inside, Kiasma's exterior is also a beauty.
The Ateneum is where the most important artists of Finland can be discovered, including Hugo Simberg.
Not known for being upbeat, Simberg's masterpieces include "The Wounded Angel" and "The Garden of Death."
For those demanding something a bit more contemporary, check out the collection at Kiasma.
Ateneum, Kaivokatu 2, FI-00100 Helsinki; +358 (0)294 500 401
Kiasma, Mannerheiminaukio 2, FIN-00100 Helsinki; +358 (0)294 500 501

Dance

Specifically, tango.
The staple of Buenos Aires somehow connected deeply with the Finns.
Helsinki has the Tango Frostbite Festival but head a few hours north in Finland to experience tango's national zenith, the Tangomarkkinat festival each July in Seinäjoki.

Rock out

Apocalyptica: Cello interpretations of Metallica hits.
Notable groups include Apocalyptica (who came to prominence via all-cello covers of Metallica -- yes, they have actually performed with James Hetfield) and HIM (short for His Infernal Majesty -- having managed three top 20 albums in the US, they've just announced their final tour).
You can potentially hear the next band to cross the Atlantic at Helsinki's Tuska Open Air Metal Festival, which runs from June 30 to July 2.
Taking place at the old power plant site at Suvilahti, it bills itself as the "biggest metal music festival in the Nordic countries."
Other Helsinki venues include Nosturi, with a capacity of 900 and a knack for hosting artists with a variety of musical styles from all over the planet.

Hit the ice

Finland's had an oversized impact on the hockey world, winning a medal at six of the last eight Olympics. (Infuriatingly, they've yet to collect a gold while the Swedes have two.)
Native Helsinki stars include Jari Kurri, who became an NHL Hall of Famer while winning five Stanley Cups with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, and "The Finnish Flash" Teemu Ilmari Selänne, considered a lock to join Kurri in the Hall this year.
Either take in a hockey game, or head to one of Helsinki's seven artificial skating rinks, such as the Icepark in the heart of Helsinki, not to mention natural rinks as well.
Icepark, Rautatientori, 00100 Helsinki
If these 10 tips haven't piqued enough interest, here's a list of other Helsinki events during the centenary celebration.
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