Come winter season, tourists begin their annual exodus to the warmer, temperate regions of Asia, South America and the Caribbean in search of white, powdery beaches where they can frolic in the sand, while being kissed by the summer sun.
You can’t blame. Who doesn’t want a good summertime adventure right? However, people who shun winter, tend to miss the frozen delights the northern hemisphere can offer.
In freezing weather, I recently set out to explore the arctic Scandinavian region in search of a winter adventure unlike any other. And in my wanderings, I found myself in the cold. but charming city of Helsinki.
Located right above the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is a mega city of 1.4 million that’s steeped in history, culture and tradition. Its architectural landscape was molded by its long periods of conquest by Sweden, Russia and its close relations to Estonia.
Helsinki doesn’t figure at the top of the world’s main tourist destinations, no thanks to the inhospitable weather in the north. I traveled in the middle of winter and the temperature was hovering between -10 to -15 degrees Celsius, a common occurrence for the people of the city, but a torture to visitors who hail from warmer lands.
Despite the weather, Helsinki boasts of several attractions that any self-respecting adventurer/tourist should check out at least once in their lives.
First and foremost among these attractions is the immaculate white Helsinki Cathedral that lords over the Senate Square. Acknowledged by most as the symbol of the city, the cathedral, previously known as St. Nicholas Church and the Great Cathedral, is a stunning neoclassical Evangelic Lutheran church. Built at the start of the 19th century, and completed in 1852, it is a masterpiece by architect Carl Ludwig Engel and is said to have been modeled after the Kazan Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Founded in 1748, Suomenlinna is one the biggest sea fortresses in the world. It is one of the greatest testaments to European military architecture that’s why it’s no wonder it was declared as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991. Walk around the fortress and you will frozen rivers, and lakes in the winter. Climb up the ramparts and see a spectacular view of the Baltic Sea. To get to the fortress, you can take a short city ferry ride from the Market Square.
Quarried out of the natural bedrock, Temppeliaukio Church is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist attractions. The interior walls are created naturally by the rock. The church was designed by architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and opened in 1969. Due to its excellent acoustics the church is a popular venue for concerts.
One modern addition to the Helsinki skyline is the 460-foot Finnair Skywheel located right beside the Katajanokka harbor near market square and a few steps away from Uspenski Cathedral. The giant observation wheel has 30 blue-and-white gondolas where visitors spend 15 minutes gazing at panoramic views of the city. There’s also a VIP cabin that serves Champagne and offers a more leisurely 25-minute ride. Tickets are at 12 euros for adults and 9 euros for children aged 3-11 years old.
One of the interesting landmarks in Helsinki is the Church of Silence or simply, Kamppi Chapel. It is also one of the newest attractions in the city in 2012 for the World Design Capital event. It is supposed to be a place of peace and tranquility in the middle of the one of the most busiest districts in the city. I purposely traveled to Narinkka Square in Kamppi to visit this church. As soon as I entered, I immediately knew that it was special. The place is really peaceful and visitors, both local and foreign alike, try to adhere to the place’s objective. Thanks to some awesome sound-proofing technology, barely a sound can be heard inside, even with the chaotic square outside.
Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral
Another remnant of Russian rule in Helsinki is the Uspenski Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. It was built in the early 19th century and was designed by Russian architect Aleksey Gornostayev. This Byzantine-Russian structure is located in the Katajanokka district of Helsinki.At the back of the church, there is a plaque commemorating Russian Emperor Alexander II who was the sovereign of the Grand Duchy of Finland when the construction of the church began. It is easily recognizable thanks to its golden cupolas and redbrick facade and is considered up to this day, one of the most important legacies of Russian impact on Finland.
Located in the South Harbor, the Market Square is a haven for good food and warm winter clothing. It was already 3pm when I reached the square and sunset was a mere hour away. This means the temperature was even colder, and the weather harsher. Thanks to the endless options of mittens, coats and fur hats available at the square, I was able to survive the city.