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Helsinki’s centrally located Esplanade Park is a gathering point for travelers and locals alike. (Photograph by Lauri Rotko, Getty Images)

Risto’s Helsinki

Avid traveler Risto Kuulasmaa has explored monasteries in Bhutan, trekked across deserts in the Middle East, hiked across Iceland, and then some. Despite his wanderlust, the Scandinavian television producer has proudly called the “hassle-free, pocket-size metropolis” of Helsinki home for the past 12 years. Here are a few of Risto’s favorite things about Finland’s capital city.

Follow Risto’s story on Flickr and Instagram.

Helsinki Is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is Ateljee Bar, a classic rooftop terrace located on the 14th floor of historical Hotel Torni.

August is the best time to visit my city because the warm summer nights are magical, people are in festive moods, and the city is bustling with a diverse array of events.

You can see my city best from a boat. Helsinki is built on a peninsula stretching out into the Baltic Sea.

Locals know to skip driving a car and to check out the city by bike instead.

Kaapelitehdas—a cultural center that hosts art fairs, markets, and design events—is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like composer Jean Sibelius, painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and military leader Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is Suomenlinna, a fortress complex built across six islands, because it offers a scenic window on Helsinki’s maritime history, both past and present.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to travel by kayak. You’ll find the peace of nature and plenty of urban tunnels and bridges to explore.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the Helsinki Archipelago. Charter a boat and check out the nearby islands.

My city really knows how to celebrate summer. On weekends, everyone flees to summer cottages, turning Helsinki into a ghost town. Take a bike ride through the empty streets in the white light of the night, and you’ll feel like you own the city.

You can tell if someone is from my city if he or she is very reluctant to use a car horn. We prefer silent politeness—even in the traffic jams.

For a fancy night out, I start with an appetizing drink at Hotel Kämp, followed by dinner at one of the city’s finest restaurants, such as Olo, Savoy, Muru, or Ateljé Finne.

Just outside my city, you can visit many small towns. My favorite road trip destinations are Porvoo, Fiskars, and picturesque Svartå Manor.

My city is known for being a bit introverted, but it’s really ready to offer adventure. Just ask locals to show you around their favorite places.

The best outdoor market in my city is Hietalahti Flea Market.

Café Ekberg is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Putte’s Bar and Pizza is the spot for late-night eats. 

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Visit Helsinki, or simply shut your laptop, go to a bar, and chat up a local.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I open my own pop-up restaurant and cook and serve my favorite food during Restaurant Day, another fine Helsinki-based invention.

To escape the crowds, I pull up the sails and head to the islands to take in a quiet sauna and bonfire.

Tavastia is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out the monthly Club Balkan Fever—a sweaty mix of locals and expats dancing ‘til they drop.

The illegal and infamous (yet highly anticipated and fun) annual beer float (Kaljakellunta in Finnish) could only happen in my city. 

In the spring you should go to Kulttuurisauna for a skinny-dip in the hole in the ice.

In the summer you should fill up your picnic baskets, pick up your guitar, and join the locals sitting in one of Helsinki’s many parks.

In the fall you should put on your dancing shoes and enjoy September’s bounty of events. Check out the Flow Festival, the Helsinki Festival, and the Art Goes Kapakka festival.

In the winter you should enjoy sunny (but cold) February by skiing or ice-skating on the ice-covered sea.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss searching for oft-reported elves that are said to inhabit the forests of Nuuksio National Park.

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