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Helsinki, Finland


As the center of Finnish commerce and culture, as well as the nation's capital, Helsinki is a cosmopolitan city second to none. The skyline features a dramatic blend of classical architecture and clean modernism, with influences of Russian and Swedish throughout, and its parks are studded with eye-catching statues and monuments. Much more than simply the nation where saunas originated, Finland and Helsinki in particular delight visitors with a vital sense of heritage as well as enthusiasm for the future.

Senate Square is a fine example of Helsinki's intriguing architectural blend, as is evidenced by the ornate Government Palace and the impressive Lutheran Cathedral, which stand in harmony with the more recent Helsinki University, Town Hall and acclaimed Bank of Finland building. A variety of former merchant homes, some of which are wooden structures that survived the great fire of 1808, have been converted into elegant stores and restaurants. If they seem familiar, it's because many scenes from the film "Reds" were shot here.

You'll discover numerous beloved buildings and monuments throughout Helsinki, from the Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, built in 1868 and renown for its glistening onion domes and ornate interior, to the Havis Amanda Statue and Fountain, in which the brass centerpiece -- a mermaid on a rock surrounded by seals -- is the symbol of Helsinki. Temppeliaukio Church, blasted and carved from solid granite and topped with a huge copper dome, is one of the most unique structures in the world. Also impressive is the huge stainless steel monument in Sibelius Park, which commemorates the nation's famed composer and whose music is featured regularly at Finlandia Hall, the marble masterpiece of architect Alvar Alto.

Famed and historic, the art-deco Olympic Stadium was originally built to host the 1940 Games, but the breakout of war made that impossible. Instead, a dozen years passed before it was to achieve its place in history as the site of the Winter Games of 1952.

The colorful and lively Kauppatori (Market Square) is where everyone comes to buy very fresh fish, fruits, vegetables and flowers, and where you'll find every conceivable local handicraft and souvenir for sale. Browse the stalls and stores, take in Helsinki's first monument, the Czarina's Stone, and enjoy the people watching -- it's a national pastime!

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