Home Holidays Bright lights, Big City in Helsinki

Bright lights, Big City in Helsinki

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What is it? A sojourn to one of Europe’s most modern, stylish cities.

Where? We spent four nights at Klaus K, a four-star “Design Hotel” located in the heart of the city’s design district.

Description: [port.jpg]Best known for its Nordic countryside, Finland is also home to one of Northern Europe’s most dynamic, modern cities. Delia Lloyd took her family to explore Helsinki over the Easter holidays

To explore Finland’s urban side.

After a stroll around the design district, have a pastry at Ekberg, Finland’s oldest bakery/cafe. Take the kids for lunch to Savotta, which provides traditional Finnish fare in a countryside-like setting, replete with wooden menus and a serving staff dressed in traditional garb. There’s also an aquarium (Sea Life), a zoo (Korkeasaari), a water park (Flamingo) and an adventure park for children (Flamingo Hoplop). If you’re interested in architecture, take a day trip out to Hvittrask, a set of three buildings designed by turn-of-the-century Finnish architects – including world-famous Eero Saarinen – set in a Finnish forest.

Perhaps because of its long, dark winter, Helsinki really comes alive at night. There are all sorts of night clubs, bars and a very active heavy metal scene. There are also three symphonies in Helsinki, and a national opera house. Grab the free, English-language Helsinki This Week for current listings. In recent years, Finland has also made an effort to promote cuisine as a signature part of its national identity, and it is well worth sampling contemporary Scandinavian fusion. I particularly recommend Ravintola Juuri for Finnish-style tapas. Klaus K hosts a wine-tasting at Restaurant Ilmatar roughly every three months, where you can sample wines from around the world. In the summer when it stays light until quite late, take the red tram around the city and enjoy a beer while you see the sights.

Although we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity, Klaus K was happy to book a sitter for us and other hotels can make similar arrangements.

Klaus K has its very own sauna as well as a small gym. You also have access to the luxurious Helsinki Day Spa (Finland’s oldest!) around the corner (same day bookings will get you a 5% discount).

Local activities: See above.

Wish we had known: How cold it would be in April. We knew before we left that it would be roughly 3 degrees Celsius during our stay, but failed to take into account the wind chill factor. Helsinki is located right on the water and the wind coming off the Gulf of Finland can be rather nippy.

Our top tip: Go in the summer (!) In addition to the weather, some of the more popular family-friendly destinations like Seurasaari are not open until mid-May.

Kids say: Isaac, eight: “This is a cross between Amsterdam and St. Petersburg!” (he’s never been to the latter). Allie, five: “What does reindeer taste like?”

Getting There: Most major European airlines fly from London to Helsinki, as does Easy Jet for as low as L30 pounds one way if you book in advance. Hotels in Helsinki come at all levels and prices. Klaus K has a weekend family package (double room, extra bed) that starts at 115 Euros per night, but check the website, www.klausk.com, for special offers.

About our stay: When most people think of Finland, they think of its rural beauty. For a country that is more than 75% forest and has nearly 200,000 lakes, that comes as no surprise. But the capital, Helsinki, is a modernist, high-tech hub with a rich variety of experiences to offer up to families. We stayed at the Klaus K hotel, located in the heart of Helsinki’s design district and walkable to many of the city’s major attractions. The family suite consists of two elegant adjoining rooms, which, like all rooms in this tasteful hotel, are artfully decorated to capture themes from the Finnish national epic. The restaurant boasts two restaurants and a night club. Be sure to sample the breakfast buffet at Ilmatar, which comes with ample amounts of fresh Finnish food, including white fish and reindeer meat as well as barley porridge and berry jams. The Italian restaurant downstairs – Toscanini – is fantastic (try the coffee!). Klaus K has a superb, knowledgeable staff which was more than willing to assist us with restaurant selections, directions and assorted outings. From the manager on down, this is a hotel that really puts the customer first. Although it has more of an adult feel, Klaus K makes a big effort to appeal to families with its selection of family videos/games (available at Reception), complimentary sled and hot cocoa at Sinebrychoff Park (Winter), and complimentary Klaus K Kruisers (bicycles) in the summer. Hidden bonus: a set of doughnut-shaped white chairs in the lobby which are sure to entertain your kids for hours as they practice getting in and out of them. [helsinki.jpg] Getting around Helsinki is easy, and almost everyone speaks fluent English. You can walk to many destinations in the city centre, and there are numerous ferries, buses, trams and metros which are clean, safe and easy to use. Be sure to purchase a Helsinki Card at a tourist office and/or news agents which are good for up to three days and give you free access to public transportation as well as most museums. We took the one and a half hour city bus tour sponsored by the Tourist office and thought it was well worth it (particularly in the cold weather!). The first stop for anyone with kids should be two islands that are within 15 minutes of the city centre. Suomenlinna is an old defense fort that played an important part in Finnish maritime history and is now a U.N. world historical site. Allow half a day to see the island’s museum (complete with informative 30-minute video), and then go explore the various tunnels, barricades and cannons. Seurasaari is an outdoor museum with many historic buildings – e.g., barns, granaries, long boats – which provide insight into Finnish country life. It is very child-friendly, with squirrels that are willing to practically eat from your hands. The city also boasts a number of indoor museums. There aren’t as many child-oriented workshops/activities as you find in London. But I would highly recommend the Natural History Museum, with its superb exhibit on Finnish wildlife – don’t miss the bird room in the back! The Science Centre, Heureka, also has a number of hands-on activities for people of all ages. Doll houses and medieval suits of armour are among the regular displays at the Finnish National Museum (which also has an “attic” filled with 22 interactive exhibits where you can stack bricks, harness a horse, etc). [isaac.jpg] Helsinki is world-famous for its designers and it’s well worth a stroll around the design district to view the latest products from companies like Marimekko (you know you’ve reached the height of modernity when even the McDonald’s has designer swivel chairs!). The Design Museum itself is small and manageable, with fascinating memorabilia for all ages. Improbable though it seems, the single best collection of large, active reptiles I’ve ever seen, anywhere, is at a place called Tropecario. Kaivopuisto park is also a great place to let the kids blow off some steam, replete with climbing rocks, playgrounds, sea views and ice cream vendors. In the colder weather, kids can go to one of many indoor play centres (see above). We went to Leikkiluloa on our last afternoon there, a hall filled with trampolines, bouncy castles and pinball machines. Our trip to Helsinki allowed us to explore some of the cultural gems that lie within this beautiful Northern city. Next time we’ll go back to rural Finland to search for reindeer and igloos! Delia Lloyd is a writer/journalist based in London. She has written for the International Herald Tribune, the Guardian Weekly and the Financial Times. She blogs atwww.realdelia.com.

Created: 2009-04-24 12:32:28.427

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