Always rated highly in lists of the world's most liveable cities, Finland's waterfront capital is a joy to visit. Its proximity to the sea and the forests – the city is one-third green space – highlights how in tune with nature its residents are, but belies its status as a centre for innovation. With a well-educated population of just over 600,000 and a can-do policy guiding the city's urban planning, Helsinki is the envy of city planners around the world.
With Finland's independence in 1917, architects embraced the Nordic Classicism of the 1920s, before moving on to Functionalism over the ensuing years through the work of architects such as Alvar Aalto, who left a legacy of great architecture that's fully appreciated – and protected – by the city. Across the bay – sparking diamonds in summer, a slate of ice in winter – is a striking structure from further back in Helsinki's past, the former island fortress, Suomenlinna. Built in 1748, today it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site that features museums, gardens and parkland that buzz with people during summer.
While dining in Helsinki was never as interesting as the designer chair you were sitting on or the locally designed glassware you were sipping from (many pieces will be found in the Design Museum), Helsinki’s chefs have recently lifted their game. Taking advantage of Finland’s fresh produce and the dogma of the food movement of New Nordic Cuisine, Helsinki now has great markets such as the Eat & Joy farmers market and restaurants that know how to treat that great produce with respect. All of which makes perfect sense for Helsinki locals, with nature at every turn. You just have to look around the capital on a crisp sunny afternoon and see people fill the cafés and parks. This is a city that knows it has it good and knows when to take advantage of it.