$ PENNY PINCH
Helsinki is pricey, but plan carefully and you'll be right. Walk the town centre in the morning, taking in the city's notable art nouveau architecture, Lutheran Cathedral and elegant, cafe-lined Esplanadi. Sinebrychoff Art Museum is the city's finest (sinebrychoffintaidemuseo.fi; $14). Head down to waterfront Market Square where stalls sell food, reindeer skins, hand-knitted sweaters and souvenirs. Put together a picnic of smoked herring, salad and bread ($15) and hop on a ferry ($6 return; hsl.fi) to Suomenlinna (suomenlinna.fi; free), the city's World Heritage listed fortress island. It isn't only one of the world's largest maritime fortresses but has some 800 residents, lovely meadows and fine harbour views. For dinner, legendary Sea Horse (seahorse.fi; $23) has an old-fashioned decor but great Baltic herrings with mash and pickled beetroot. Stay at the YMCA-run Hotel Arthur ($101 including breakfast; hotelarthur.fi).
$$ EASY DOES IT
Set off to explore the city's Design District, which has nearly 200 fashion and homeware boutiques and art galleries that showcase the best of minimalist Scandinavian cool. You'll find classic designers such as Artek, Marimekko and Iittala as well as up-and-coming youngsters. Lunch on Finnish country produce at Juuri ($23 for mains; juuri.fi) before heading to the Design Museum ($14; designmuseum.fi) for exhibitions on textiles, architecture, clothes and furniture. Then take advantage of long summer days to head to the harbour-side Seurasaari Open-Air Museum (bus $6, entrance $12; nba.fi), which features fine historic buildings in a forest setting. Later, dine on salmon soup and reindeer fillet at Manala ($57; botta.fi), which also has a great late-night bar, and stay at cheerful Sokos Hotel Albert (from $205; sokoshotels.fi), right in the middle of the Design District.
$$$ SPLASH OUT
Take to the canals and roads on a combination bus-boat tour ($53; stromma.fi) with audio-guide that covers Helsinki's main sights and beautiful waterfront setting. Get your head around the experimental works at contemporary art museum Kiasma ($15; kiasma.fi) and shop at Suomen Kasityon Ystavat, where gorgeous Finnish handicrafts and textiles are top quality. After a classic Russian lunch at Bellevue ($40; restaurantbellevue.com), take a charter boat out to a private harbour island for a traditional, three-hour Finnish sauna experience ($360; cardinalmarine.fi). In the evening, catch a Sibelius performance from the excellent Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (from $43; hel.fi). Dine on a four-course Finnish menu at harbour-front Ravintola Nokka ($160 with matching wines, ravintolanokka.fi) and stay among the celebs and talking heads at opulent Hotel Kamp (from $350; hotelkamp.fi).
The writer travelled courtesy of Finnair and Visit Helsinki.