Mike Butler's Guide to Helsinki

Where to go, what to drive, how to get there, where to stay, what to do, how much to spend.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How to get there
British Airways and Finnair both fly three times a day from Heathrow. The flight is just over two and a half hours, and Helsinki is two hours ahead of the UK.

Airport to town
I take a taxi, which takes 25 minutes and costs Eu20. The Finnair Airport bus takes 30 minutes and costs about Eu5.

Best hotel 
I change hotel every couple of months because even great hotels can get boring. Two of my favourites are the Radisson SAS Royal (Runeberginkatu 2, tel: 00 358 20 1234 700, http://helsinki.radissonsas.com) and the Radisson SAS Plaza (Mikonkatu 23, tel and website as SAS Royal). Both are in the town centre, and each has decent conference rooms and good restaurants. The Royal is a modern-looking glass building, while the Plaza is housed in a much older building.

Best rooms
Try to get a room on a higher floor, away from road noise. This is particularly important in the winter, when it is snowing and the snowploughs get going during the night.

Best business restaurant
The Savoy (Eteläesplanadi 14, tel: 00 358 9 684 4020) has fantastic food, and because it's on the top floor it has a great view across the Helsinki rooftops. There are many restaurants serving Finnish specialities, typically lots of different fish dishes. Reindeer is also on the menu a lot, more so than beef or lamb. Not much business is done over meals in Helsinki. Restaurants tend to be more family-orientated.

Best bars
There are loads of bars to choose from, especially in summer when the sun hardly sets. There's also a strong café culture. Molly Malone's (Kaisaniemenkatu 1C) is an Irish bar where you can get a nice pint of Guinness. For a typical Finnish bar, try St Urho's Pub (Museokatu 10). Another good bar is the Spårakoff Beer Tram (from Mikonkatu tram stop, near Central Railway Station). It's a big red tram that trundles round the city, and is popular with tourists and locals alike.

A few hours to kill?
In the summer, it's worth wandering around the city and down to the harbour, where you can see the monstrous ferries that cross the Baltic. Two museums I like are contemporary art museum Kiasma (Mannerheiminaukio 2, tel: 00 358 9 1733 6501) and the Heureka Finnish Science Centre (Tikkurila, Vantaa, www.heureka.fi). Heureka has some good hands-on exhibitions. It's in Helsinki's Vantaa suburb, so you need to get a bus there. As Helsinki is right on the coast, there are some great islands nearby. The Suomenlinna islands house an attractive old fortress and have some nice restaurants.

Business etiquette
Don't be scared if a big bloke asks you to join him in the sauna. It's a big part of Helsinki culture and once you get past the initial discomfort, it becomes quite normal. Almost every business will have a sauna in it, used for meetings or by employees. Also worth knowing is that the Finns are very happy to allow gaps in the conversation; they're not uncomfortable with it. They're very smart and punctual, though the atmosphere relaxes once you get to know them. Although they're friendly, you're unlikely to get invited to someone's home, but you might be invited on a day out.

Secrets of the jet set
I usually try to get a late evening flight to Helsinki, so I can maximise my working day in the UK. On the way back, you don't need to allow too much time to get to the airport. More generally, I'd advise against wearing leather-soled shoes in winter. There is ice everywhere and you will fall over.

Mike Butler is director, strategy and business development, Imaging Business Unit, Nokia

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