The exquisite Tuomiokirkko
A Neoclassical capital city
The huge Senate Square

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A young city – to be discovered

Instantly loveable, Helsinki is remarkably different from the other Scandinavian capitals, and closer both in mood and appearance to the major cities of Northern Europe.
Today, cruisers will find a youthful buzz on the streets, where the boulevards, outdoor cafés and trendy restaurants are crowded with Finns taking full advantage of the short summer.

Following a devastating fire in 1808, and the city’s designation as Finland’s capital in 1812, Helsinki was totally rebuilt in a style befitting its new status: a grid of wide streets and Neoclassical brick buildings modelled on the then Russian capital, St Petersburg.

Esplanadi, a wide, tree-lined boulevard across a mishmash of tramlines from the harbour, where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return, is Helsinki at its most charming. At its eastern end, the City Museum at Sofiankatu 4 offers a record of 450 years of Helsinki life in an impressive permanent exhibition called “Helsinki Horizons”.

To the north is Senate Square (Senattintori), dominated by the exquisite form of the Tuomiokirkko (Cathedral). After the elegance of the exterior, the spartan Lutheran interior comes as a disappointment; more impressive is the gloomily atmospheric crypt, now often used for exhibitions. About 50km east of Helsinki, Porvoo, one of the oldest towns on the south coast and one of Finland’s most charming, is just waiting to be discovered on an MSC Northern Europe excursion.

Its narrow cobbled streets, lined by small colourful wooden buildings, give a sense of Finnish life before the capital’s bold squares and Neoclassical geometry. The old town is built around the hill on the other side of Mannerheimkatu, crowned by the fifteenth-century Tuomiokirkko, where Alexander I proclaimed Finland a Russian Grand Duchy and convened the first Finnish Diet.

Must see places in Helsinki

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    Eccentricity and mystery
    Eccentricity and mystery

    Drawing strong cultural influences both from its easterly neighbour, Russia, and from the West, Finland remains one of Northern Europe’s most enigmatic countries.

    It’s a land best known for its laconic, pithy people with a penchant for kicking back in a sauna au naturel, and for its quirky and bizarre annual festivals – indeed its strangeness is a good part of the country’s charm. The Finnish landscape is mostly flat and punctuated by huge forests and lakes, but has wide regional variations. A cruise to Finland will take you to the south whose scenery may be least dramatic, but this is more than compensated by the capital, Helsinki, with its brilliant fin-de-siècle architecture and superb collections of late modern and contemporary artworks, as well as the former capital of Turku, with some great museums and nightlife.

    Stretching from the Russian border in the east to the industrial city of Tampere, the vast waters of the Lake Region provide a natural means of transport for the timber industry – indeed, water here is a more common sight than land, with many towns lying on narrow ridges between lakes. North of here, the gradually rising fells and forests of Lapland are Finland’s most alluring terrain and are home to the Sámi, semi-nomadic reindeer herders.