Helsinki (Photo:Scanrail1/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Helsinki

Helsinki is a city with a variety of identities. Maybe it's the Russian influence (St. Petersburg is a quick train ride away). Maybe it's the strong appreciation of contemporary design -- the capital of Finland is home to Marimekko, world-renowned for its boldly patterned textiles; Kalevala, known for distinctive bronze and silver jewelry; and Iittala, known for glassware. The city also might be associated with the dark, cold and snowy winters that last half the year (fortunately, this is not the season for cruising). Helsinki embraces a bit of oddball fun, too. One annual festival features the tossing of Finnish-made Nokia cellphones, and another popular mainstay is a wife-carrying competition.

About Helsinki


Pro

The city features a lively waterfront, with various markets, cafes and access to ferries and boats

Con

Helsinki is a bustling city and as such, there's the usual risk of petty crime to watch out for

Bottom Line

This port is full of character and personality, and it's a lovely destination for a summer day


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Finland differs from Nordic neighbors like Sweden and Norway because of its near-inexplicable language. (It originated as an oral language, rather than a written one, so it's very difficult to follow; Swedish is also widely spoken.) The country itself is one of Europe's newest; independence from Russia was achieved in 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution.

Helsinki was founded in 1550 by Swedish King Gustav Vasa and offers monuments such as the Lutheran Cathedral (Lutheranism is one of the national religions), the onion-domed Uspenski Cathedral (Eastern Orthodox) and the neo-classical buildings in and around Senate Square. The city also features Kiasma, the avant-garde Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Design Museum.

Helsinki's other major plus is that it's bounded on three sides by the Baltic Sea. In summer, the city's waterfront is the liveliest place in Finland -- whether you're soaking up the sun at a cafe, riding the ferry to the island housing the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, or taking a boat tour of surrounding waterways.

Where You're Docked

There are two harbors in Helsinki. South Harbour is right in the center of the city, where ships tie up opposite the Presidential Palace. There is room for three ships (on Olympia Quay and Pakkahuone Quay) around this pretty, natural bay.

Located outside the city, West Harbour has been created for larger ships. Melkki Quay is located at the south end of West Harbour, 15 minutes by taxi to the city center. Katajanokka Quay is located slightly closer (10 minutes by taxi).

Good to Know

Helsinki is a safe city where traditional Lutheran values mean that people have always looked after each other, but this does not mean the city is free of pickpockets. Take care of your money and your valuables in crowded places like the Market Hall or Market Square.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The euro has been the currency of Finland since 1999. For currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. ATMs are located throughout the city center and around South Harbour.

Language

Finnish and Swedish are the two official languages of Helsinki, but you'll find most shop assistants and waitstaff in Helsinki speak English (the Finns find using English useful as the only language similar to theirs is Hungarian). A few Finnish phrases always help, of course.

Hei: Hello

Nakemiin: Goodbye

Kiitos: Thank you

Shopping

If you dock at the South Harbour, you're within walking distance of Esplanadi where there are flagship stores of three great Finnish designers. You'll find the bright fabrics of Marimekko (Pohjoisesplanadi 33), the colorful glassware by Iittala (Pohjoisesplanadi 25) and the design classics of Alvar Aalto marketed at the shop he founded, Artek (Etelaesplanadi 18).

Best Cocktail

Finland is a country with a great enthusiasm for food and drink, and no one personifies the its love of spirits better than Carl Gustaf Mannerheim. Field Marshal Mannerheim saved Finland from a Communist Revolution in 1918 and from Soviet invasion in 1940, going on to become president. Marskin Ryypy (literally, the Marshal's Drink) was invented for Mannerheim, a heavy drinker, during World War II. It's a powerful shot of vodka and gin and several other ingredients. Ask for it at the bar of Hotel Kamp. (Pohjoisesplanadi 29)