Esplanadi Boulevard, Esplanade Park… However it’s called, everyone agrees that this section of Helsinki near the center of town is a tourist delight.
A hundred years ago, and for the hundred years before that, Finland struggled for identity. Long a province of Sweden, then later of Russia, with Lapland in the north, it is a land of many cultures. Nowhere is that better reflected than in this historic section of Helsinki.
On the north side of the main avenue (Pohjoisesplanadi) walked those who advocated retaining Finland’s Swedish roots as a guide. Those who argued for breaking away toward the future separated themselves onto the south side of Etelaesplanadi.
Today, all that is long forgotten except for the occasional reminders one can see in sculpture, shops, and restaurants of the area.
Planned in the early 19th century, many of those shops, restaurants, architecture and parks, date from that period. Whether you’re interested in luxury shopping or just some people watching, this is the place to go.
In one of Helsinki’s pleasant summers, visitors can enjoy a concert in the park at the bandstand. Check out the Fish Boys and Water Nymphs fountains and sculpture. In winter, you can shop for a fur coat. At any time of year, you’ll see lovely buildings and streets crowded with activity.
Stretching from Kauppatori westwards to Mannerheimintie Street, a walk down this boulevard will convince even the most prejudiced that Paris and New York are not the only great cities in the world. Running from the harbor all the way to the Swedish Theatre, this gravel-lined street is festooned with trees, foliage, and flowers.
From Finland’s most expensive and luxurious hotel, the Kämp Hotel, to the free-to-all view of the statue of J.L. Runeberg (1804-1877), Finland’s national poet, this is the place to be. Check out Stockman’s, Scandinavia’s largest department store. Don’t miss the Moomin Shop. Even if you don’t buy anything the goods and architecture make the stroll well worth the effort.
Already had lunch at the Savoy? Go for dinner at the historic Kappeli. Offering fine dining since 1837, the cafe offers desserts and coffee for those who want to stave off hunger between the two meals. But don’t spoil your appetite. You’ll want to be a little hungry to savor the traditional Finnish dishes in the main section. Top it off with a native beer from the on-premises brewery.
After dinner, take a stroll down the lovely avenue illuminated by historic street lamps. You’ll be joined by thousands of tourists and natives alike who come to enjoy this essential part of Helsinki. Step into the Teatteri nightclub and have an after-dinner drink and listen to some music.
No visit to Helsinki can be considered complete with a visit to The Esplanade. Within an easy walk of Market Square, you won’t be sorry you did.