Finland has long maintained a high profile in the world of international design. Spend a day wandering the streets of the capital, Helsinki and you'll soon see why.
With Helsinki due to play host to the World Design Capital celebrations in 2012, now's a great time to take a look at some of the city's most popular tourist attractions, shopping districts and hotels where design takes centre stage.
A trip to the UNESCO World Heritage listed, Suomenlinna Sea Fortress provides a fascinating insight into Helsinki's turbulent history and is only a ten minute ferry-ride from Kauppatori, Helsinki's Market Square. Suomenlinna is a renowned hot-spot for picnickers and a rocky jumping off point for an exhilarating dip in the Baltic Sea.
Esplanadi -- Helsinki's Champs d'Elysées -- is a Mecca for the design-savvy shopper. From Iittala to Marimekko and Artek, flagship stores for Finland's iconic design brands sit alongside their international counterparts. Esplanadi is at its best during Helsinki's long summer days when its cafes and restaurants do a roaring trade and bench space on its lush, tree-lined, centre strip is at a premium. To the east, Esplanadi filters down to Kappautori (Market Square) where you can sample some fresh-from-the-boat salmon and watch as colossal ferries set sail for Stockholm, St. Petersburg, Tallinn and beyond.
In a wide sweep south and west of Esplanadi is Helsinki's Design District; home to the highest concentration of players in Finland's contemporary design scene and the soon-to-be centerpiece of Helsinki's 2012 World Design Capital celebrations. Avant-garde bars mix with fine dining institutions - Chez Dominique, Grotesk and Juuri - while an eclectic range of art galleries and studios, fashion boutiques and interior-design stores make it Helsinki's most visited neighborhood.
Located at the top end of Esplanadi, Stockmann has been a Helsinki institution since it first opened its doors in 1930. Its International food hall features delicacies from near and wide, whilst the Alvar Aalto designed, Academic Bookstore arguably houses Scandinavia's finest selection of English language titles.
With its mix of Functionalist, Jugend and Art Deco influences, Hotel Torni perfectly captures Helsinki's design ethos. Head to the Ateljee Bar on the 14th floor for a Lonkero (a local, gin-based concoction invented for the 1952 Olympic Games) and uninterrupted views over the city centre (make sure you check out the view from the toilet, no...really). Cap off the night in true Finnish fashion by steaming up in one of Hotel Torni's four saunas.
Check out more of Paul's photos of Helsinki at 23 photos of Helsinki.