Helsinki is awash in seaside pleasures

Helsinki, known as “The Daughter of the Baltic,” is a city of the sea.

If it is true that water enhances a city, the capital of Finland is a peninsula of perfection dotted with islands that float just out of reach of her meandering shoreline. Situated at the extreme southern tip of the country, Helsinki seeps to her harbor on the Bay of Finland, whose waters compose nearly half of the city.

The city is equidistant from Stockholm, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia – a fact that has played a significant role in its history as a crossroads between east and west.

Helsinki has the virtue of compactness: a large city, yet not a metropolis. Though the population is about 1.1 million, Helsinki retains a small-town identity.

To walk a city is to understand it, to absorb it, to discover its charms and interact with its people. Because of its size, Helsinki is ideal for such exploration.

Despite Helsinki’s cosmopolitan charm and high standard of living, Finns basically retain a rural society. Their devotion to nature and the environment is immediately obvious. Finnish character is closely related to a reverence for their woodlands, lakes and – especially – the sea.

A visit to Helsinki eventually leads to the water. The city’s islands are diverse and unique. The zoo, for example, sits on an island, but while it is in the heart of the city, it gives a sense of being out in the country as well.

The fortress island of Suomenlinna is easily reached by ferry. “The Gibraltar of the North” is the first attraction you notice when you sail into Helsinki.

Another island, Seurasaari, is linked to the mainland by a lovely bridge. The open-air museum features houses transported from all over to Finland, and it’s an ideal spot to idle away the cares of the world.

Helsinki lies at the tip of one of the fingers of Scandinavia that extend, as Finnish writer Paavo Haavikko so aptly expressed, “like an open hand.” An open hand that points toward the eternal embrace of the sea.