HELSINKI (Reuters) - Don’t let sub-zero temperatures and darkness put you off visiting Finland’s capital city in the winter, when its Art Nouveau and modernist buildings are covered in a layer of snow.
Finns know how to make the best of wintry weather, keeping warm with saunas and strong drinks or enjoying music and art indoors when they are not out cross-country skiing.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you to get the most out of a two-day stay in Helsinki during the winter.
6 p.m. - Drop off your luggage and head to fashionable Liberty or Death for an inventive cocktail and an introduction to Finns’ quirky sense of humor.
The menu, which changes monthly, includes “This isn’t the drink you were looking for” — a drink based on Finlandia vodka mixed with tomato, coriander, beer and chili. The bar describes it as a “cocktail nobody will probably like, ever.”
8 p.m. - For more traditional Finnish fare, have dinner at restaurant Sea Horse in Ullanlinna. National favorites such as fried herring and Vorschmack are served in a dining room that looks little changed from the 1930s.
9 a.m. - Head for Senaatintori square and have breakfast at Cafe Engel, located in one of the oldest houses in Helsinki. Window-side seats offer breathtaking views of the Helsinki Cathedral’s green dome.
10 a.m.- Take tram 7B to the Hakaniemi market in the working-class but increasingly gentrified Kallio neighborhood. The two-storey indoor market offers everything from reindeer rugs to vintage Finnish glass by Kaj Franck and Tapio Wirkkala.
12 p.m. - The market’s soup restaurant is popular for its delicious bouillabaisse, but can get crowded. For an alternative, try Weeruska, a restaurant near the Linnanmaki amusement park serving goatcheese-beetroot patties and reindeer stew.
1 p.m. - No visit to Finland is complete without a visit to a sauna.
Sweat it out at Kotiharju, one of the last remaining public saunas with a real, wood-burning stove. There are separate saunas for men and women.
The uppermost benches are the hottest, so try the lower rungs if you prefer gentler steam.
3 p.m. - See Finland’s largest classical art collection at the neo-Renaissance Ateneum museum, situated on the railway station square Rautatientori. Don’t miss the works of national epic Kalevala’s illustrator Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Helene Schjerfbeck’s poignant self-portraits.
5 p.m. - Round off the day with classical music at the new Musiikkitalo concert hall or the opera house, both near Toolo bay. Finland is known for its love of classical music, as seen by the number of top Finnish conductors including Sakari Oramo and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The opera house this season will show works by Giuseppe Verdi, including Rigoletto featuring world-class baritone Paolo Gavanelli.
For a different kind of passion, go see an ice-hockey match. HIFK and Jokerit are Helsinki’s arch-rivals and tickets are available on www.lippupalvelu.fi.
9 p.m. Have dinner at Muru, one of the most popular restaurants in the city for its relaxed atmosphere and fusion of French and Finnish cooking.
10 p.m. Check out the Finnish rock scene at Tavastia, known as Helsinki’s equivalent of CBGB. Unlike the New York club, the Tavastia is still alive with “Suomirock” bands and visiting acts.
10 a.m. - Go cross-country skiing at Paloheina recreational park in the northern part of the city. The park offers rental equipment including skis and snowshoes, and its well-maintained skiing tracks include those for beginners.
12 p.m. - Reward yourself with meatballs in brandy sauce at Tori, a restaurant in the Punavuori design district. The portions are generous.
1 p.m. - Had too much? Burn off the calories with a swim at the Yrjonkatu swimming hall, housed in a beautiful art deco building.
Bathing suits are optional and were in fact prohibited until 2001. Women and men have separate hours, so check ahead. tinyurl.com/69pp4m
Finish by relaxing in their wood-burning sauna and a glass of sparkling wine on the second floor.
3 p.m. - Check out the best of Finnish design at the Design Museum, including the iconic works of Finland’s most famous designers including Alvar Aalto and Ilmari Tapiovaara.
5 p.m. - Shop for gifts at Stockmann, a landmark department store. Finns say that if you can’t find it at Stockmann, you don’t need it.
Both book lovers and design aficionados should check out the adjacent Akateeminen book store designed by Aalto.
Reporting by Terhi Kinnunen, Ritsuko Ando and Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Paul Casciato