A Place in the Sun: Midsummer in Helsinki, Finland

A Place in the Sun: Midsummer in Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a city defined by its wealth of culture. Yet in the long, diffuse light of summer, Finland’s capital enjoys a natural environment at its most bountiful.

At the peak of summer,
delights in 19 hours of daylight, an almost infinite
light which comes with a position a mere five degrees south of the
Arctic Circle. Approaching the city centre along Mannerheimintie –
Helsinki’s grand museum avenue – the air is clean and crisp, as if
draughted from a remote mountaintop. Before long, the sea sidles
into view – Helsinki is, after all, a peninsula, afloat with 130km
of coastline and 300 islands. Yet the unerring presence of water
belies a gravitas far weightier than other Scandinavian centres.
The city has an urban fabric dense with architectural clout, from
its historic sea fortresses to the hulking art nouveau Helsinki
Central Station. Still, there is levity and poise at every turn.
Few cities achieve such poeticism in face of grey grids of
modernism. It is simply the elusive charm of Helsinki.

In these summer months, there is also, of course, warmth. Cafés
spill onto the streets, waterfront terraces soak up the long
evenings, bathers sink with ease into the glistening sea, and
promenaders take to the Töölö Bay – presided by the breathtaking
Finlandia Hall, its trompe l’oeil design by the Finish
icon of architecture, Alvar Aalto. In the Kallio district, the
Hakaniemi Market hums with a summer bounty of
fragrant strawberries, zingy sea buckthorn berries and
kaleidoscopic flower stalls. Unlike much of Europe, whose local
charm seeps out during the summer months, Helsinki sees the return
of ordinary routines come August.
Schools restart and the city welcomes its new cultural season with
the Night of the Arts – a beloved annual event in which the streets
throng with local choirs and the buzz of exhibition openings. In
summer 2020, the country will host the first contemporary art
Helsinki Biennial on the nearby island of Vallisaari,
a haven of abundant wildlife and soon-to-be a treasure island of

At every turn, Helsinki is a place of artists, a city defining
itself through culture. Museums abound and their spaces astound,
from the soaring Kiasma museum with its cascading central atrium, to
the lauded Amos Rex, a unique site burrowed beneath the iconic 30s
Lasipalatsi building. The new Oodi library, inaugurated only
in December
2018, is a breathtaking wing-like gesture, more akin to a serene
architect’s sketch than a public facility. Then it is the turn for
religion to startle: with the jewel-like Kamppi Chapel and the
Temppeliaukio Church, carved into the solid rock. Nowhere escapes;
nordic design excellence feeds into restaurants and bookshops,
fashion and typography, a moreish melting pot of Russian and
Japanese aesthetics.

Scratch the creative surface, however, and you will find that it
is nature, more than culture, which flows deep. It’s
all-encompassing force for some of the city’s residents, and a
gentle background hum for others. Summer for a Helsinkian is a
symphony of island hopping, foraging, natural saunas and summer
houses. It is picnics of the freshest salmon and malty rye bread.
There are wild raspberries in the thickets, swallows circling
overhead. Evenings are spent dashing from steam to sea as the
shadows lengthen and sunlight envelops the shore with a pink

The prowess of Helsinki’s natural environment and the wealth of
its culture has never eluded the city. Summertime, with its
generosity of spirit and brilliance of light, simply brings a
unique clarity to its charms.

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Helsinki, Finland