This is the year for Londoners to spend a long weekend in Helsinki, the 2012 World Design Capital — and, of course, the Finnish capital. The beautiful Baltic city has such exciting architecture — from wedding-cake churches and art deco public buildings to the modernist constructions of Alvar Aalto.
© Rex Features
Today Helsinki continues to be at the cutting edge of architecture: the award-winning Kamppi Chapel of Silence, an egg-shaped wooden structure by K2S Architects, opens in May and there are plans to redevelop the huge harbour.
The city is also a temple to culture, with modern art museums and opera houses standing next to a flourishing design district overflowing with small boutiques. Here you will find work by young Finnish designers, as well as the more established brands of Marimekko, Artek and iittala.
For the more serious minded, Helsinki’s naming as World Design Capital means a year of exhibitions, talks and events (visit www.wdchelsinki2012.fi), but for the rest of us it’s the perfect excuse to take in the sights.
With map in hand (download one from www.designdistrict.fi) you can cover most places worth seeing in two days, as they can be found within the same square mile.
If you have extra time, visit Fiskars Village, 90 minutes away, a community of more than 100 artisans, with shops and exhibition spaces. Visit fiskarsvillage.fi
WHERE TO SHOP
* Marimekko, Pojoisesplanadi 31; (www.marimekko.fi). The new flagship shop across two floors that sells it all.
* iittala, Pohjoisesplanadi 25; (www.iittala.com). For the best selection of iconic glass and ceramics.
* Pino, Fredrikinkatu, 22; (www.pino.fi).Boutique with a great selection of homeware and utility goods.
* Armas Design, Vuorimiehenkatu, 16; (www.armasdesign.fi). For recycled and modern accessories.
* Johanna Gullichsen, Fredrikinkatu, 18; (www.johannagullichsen.com). For woven textiles, cushions and accessories.
TOP SIGHTS TO SEE
* Alvar Aalto’s house, Riihitie 20; (www.alvaraalto.fi). The purest expression of the designer’s style with the originals in situ. By appointment only, and a 20-minute drive from the city centre.
* Yrjonkatu Swimming Hall, Designed by Vaino Vahakallion in the late Twenties. Men and women have different days — swimsuits optional.
* Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Mannerheiminaukio, 2; (www.kiasma.fi). A glittering edifice designed by Steven Holl.
© Rex Features
* Academic Bookstore, Pohjoisesplanadi 39; (www.akateeminenkirjakauppa.com). Breathtakingly large bookshop that contains the famous Alto café.
NEED TO KNOW
* How to get there: Finnair from Heathrow to Helsinki, from £180, and BA offers flights from £106 return. Visit www.finnair.com or www.ba.com
* Where to stay: the designer-friendly Klaus K Hotel (from £100 a night) is bang in the middle of the design district so makes a perfect base for getting around. Visit www.klauskhotel.com