Helsinki is the nature capital of the world
"The best thing about Helsinki is that you can experience restaurants, cultural activities and nature in a compact manner. You can reach a national park in just thirty minutes from the city centre. You can head to Nuuksio before noon and make your way back with public transport to catch a theatre show or visit a restaurant in the evening."
Antti Huttunen's love of nature stems from a childhood spent in Northern Savonia. He is the founder of the media and travel agency Retkipaikka and its English-language sister site Finland Naturally, which both specialise in the great outdoors, and he feels himself drawn to wide open spaces. Nevertheless, he naturally feels that Helsinki is the nature capital of the world. As a child, Huttunen only had to open the front door to be right in the middle of nature. "Helsinki is a city that I love to visit, but my place of residence needs to be one with no-one around. I'm a hermit socially, a hedonist who enjoys the outdoors."
Huttunen relocated to Helsinki from Northern Savonia in 2000 to study advertising and corporate communications. A year later he moved to Espoo, and thereafter to Vihti. Huttunen visits Helsinki weekly. He worked in the city's advertisement and digital agencies for 15 years, as well as at the national broadcaster Yle. Something was missing. "Nature was always a refuge for me. I wanted a job that I would be good at and where I could pursue my passion."
"There is plenty to discover everywhere"
In 2012, Huttunen became a full-time entrepreneur. Retkipaikka started as a travel blog and slowly expanded to become the biggest nature travel media in the country. The site attracts 1.8 million visitors yearly. The starting point for Retkipaikka and Finland, Naturally was the community, whose members include most of Huttunen's friends and acquaintances. Now 130 writers contribute to the site. During their free time, the community spends time in nature.
"When you encounter someone in the forest, it creates a distinct community feeling. It is easier to start a conversation with a stranger in the woods than in a shopping centre."
Huttunen likes to call Helsinki the nature capital of the world. A third of the city's surface area is forest. You can find a noteworthy natural zone anywhere within a 15-minute radius, and green space is never more than 300 metres away. "I have an aim to spend at least one day a week in the forest or elsewhere in nature. I use these days to, for instance, go check out the destinations I want to write about."
The most popular nature destinations tend to get busy. What is Huttunen's advice for exploring nearby nature? "There is plenty to discover everywhere. It is a good idea to start following a path, or to consult a map for a protected tree, stream or cliff. I recommend the Green Hearts website which lists all the parks found in Helsinki."
The first park destination I came across in Helsinki in the early 2000s. It was just a world of its own. I couldn't imagine that something like that could exist in Finland. The area is full of massive rhododendrons, alpine roses. When they bloom in mid-June, the experience is visually striking and an amazing scent is in the air.
Vallisaari is home to a very special place where nature is allowed to take its own course and live wildly among WW1-era military fortifications . The construction of the fortifications calcified the soil, and this keeps the fauna diverse. From atop the Alexander Battery you can see as far as the Helsinki Cathedral and downtown Helsinki.
The area surrounding the Vanhankaupunginlahti bay has the type of nature one does not come across in Northern Savonia. The duckboards take you through the reeds and black alders growing here and there. A magnificent place to admire during a sunset.
I enjoy botanical tree gardens. Even if the arboretum is manmade, there is a beautiful collection of different plants. A pleasant place to stroll around and find some calm.
Compared to the Meilahti Arboretum, this one is more forest-like and features tree types classified by continent. There are nice forest trails in between the trees. You can also make a visit to the Vantaanjoki from the arboretum.
I am fascinated by the ruggedness of the excavated fortress constructions and how elements built by humans and nature bind together so brutally. Nature has taken over what man once made.