This post was created as a commercial collaboration between Don’t Forget To Move and Helsinki Marketing, as part of the Influence Sustainably program. As always all opinions are our own.
Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, travelers are relying more and more on a new type of way to see the world – virtual travel. During a time when borders are closed and flights are nonexistent, people with an interest in learning about new cultures are now able to indulge their passion online.
One city that has been focusing on virtual travel long before Coronavirus was a household name is Finland’s capital, Helsinki. This coastal city has been developing their Virtual Helsinki travel experience for the past two years. Much like cities across the world have “twin” cities, Virtual Helsinki is considered the digital twin of Finland’s capital city. The city has teamed up with local design studio Zoan to create an interactive virtual experience. Since we’re unable to travel to Helsinki at the moment, we’re taking advantage of the technology to explore the city’s most famous landmarks. While we’re stranded at home we’re enjoying the ability to get to know Helsinki before our (hopefully!) upcoming visit.
Photo credit: Jussi Hellstein
Why Virtual Travel?
Beside the obvious current predicament that travelers find themselves in with COVID-19, there are plenty of other reasons that virtual travel is the way of the future. Virtual Helsinki gives everyone with an internet connection the opportunity to experience this incredible metropolis.
Let’s face it, travel is a privilege. Challenges like budget, time, physical ability or obligations back home often restrict would-be travelers from seeing the world. With virtual travel, these obstacles won’t stand in your way. Maybe you have a full time job and can’t take time off to fly across the world for a holiday, or perhaps you’re a bit strapped on cash.
Virtual Helsinki allows you to experience the culture, architecture and events of the city without having to quit your job and sell all your belongings. It is also the only completely sustainable form of travel. Helsinki is committed to sustainability, with goals to become completely carbon neutral by 2035 and cut greenhouse emissions by 60% by 2030. Creating more virtual experiences will help make this green city even greener.
Virtual Helsinki is also an amazing way to learn more about the city before visiting in person. We’ve loved getting a sneak preview of the city before our big trip. Not only did it make us more excited to visit, but it also gave us new ideas of attractions to add to our itinerary. It also gave us a better sense of what Helsinki embodies- beautiful architecture, impeccable design and rustic natural landscapes. We’re more excited to visit than ever!
If you don’t have a VR headset, no worries! You can experience Virtual Helsinki without VR equipment. You can watch the experience on YouTube 360, as well as on HTC VIVE, VIVE Cosmos, VIVE Pro & Oculus Rift.
Visit Helsinki’s Sights Virtually
Our online tour of Helsinki experience starts at the city’s famous Senate Square. This square is home to the city’s oldest stone buildings and is a popular first stop for tourists. From here we can see the statue of Tsar Alexander II standing in the middle of the square. The surrounding buildings are equally important to the history of the city – the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki, the National Library of Finland and the photogenic Helsinki Cathedral.
The Helsinki virtual tour shows us the square on a beautiful evening with the setting sun reflecting pink light across the clouds. We can hear the whirring of the tram in the background giving us that extra element of reality. Soft music plays in the background and a light display dances through the square. The result is a perfect combination of visuals that place us right in the middle of Senate Square, mixed with poetic sights and sounds that bring a magical element to the experience.
The next stop on the Virtual Helsinki tour is the home of world famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. We had always heard about Scandinavian interior design, but had no idea Finland was such a hub for design aficionados! Aalto is considered the father of modern architecture and has designed more than 10 prominent buildings around Helsinki. This is a perfect virtual stop to make before coming to Helsinki in person, as we’ll be able to recognize Aalto’s designs all around the city when we can visit in person. Not only did Aalto design the architecture for these buildings, but also the interior – right down to the door handles!
The Aalto house is normally 22 Euros to enter, and must be visited on a guided tour with limited availability. One of the advantages of the Virtual Helsinki experience, besides being completely free, is that it allows tourists to come and move freely around the house.
We were able to explore at our own pace and return as we please. The virtual experience shows the practical and stylish interior that Alvar Aalto was known. This peek inside his home is a treat considering what an impact Aalto had on Finnish design, as well as design around the world. We were able to see his home office where he created some of his most lauded work.
The video shows the Aalto’s yard and takes us through the seasons from the bright sun of Helsinki’s summer to autumn’s golden leaves and finally a heavy snowfall.
Before this experience we didn’t really think of islands when we thought of Helsinki, but there are over 300 around the city! We can’t wait to visit and see these natural landmarks for ourself. Through the Virtual Helsinki we were able to visit the archipelago island of Lonna. Lonna is a unique experience for visitors where they can eat delicious locally sourced foods, relax in the sauna, hear live music and catch up with friends. Lonna island is just a 10 minute ferry ride from Helsinki’s Market Square, and even closer through Virtual Helsinki… right in your living room! Through Virtual Helsinki we rae able to stand by the dock on Lonna Island and look out over the water as the seasons change and the sun sets on a beautiful day in Helsinki.
Virtual Helsinki Events
Another cool feature of the Virtual Helsinki experience is watching live streamed events. Helsinki is a truly vibrant city with a seemingly endless amount of things to do during every season. Spring is a particularly lively time in the city, with Helsinki’s beloved Vappu festival. Vappu takes place on May Day Eve & May Day. Vappu is a huge carnival that takes place all over the country. In the capital city, the festival is celebrated with big gatherings, quirky traditions like placing a cap on the statue of Havis Amanda in the Helsinki market square, and a huge picnic on May 1st to eat, drink and be merry.
Photo credit: Lauri Rotko
This year May Day is going all virtual. Virtual Helsinki is pulling out all the stops for this beloved celebration. The city will be creating the first ever virtual May Day festival, with live performances by bands like JVG, one of Finland’s most popular musical acts, and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. There will be a children’s May Day livestream to entertain the kiddies, and even a virtual crowning of Havis Amanda. You can check out all of the Helsinki virtual May Day festivities here.
Streaming events online through Virtual Helsinki is also an awesome way for everyone around to world to participate in Finish culture! We had never heard of Vappu or knew about the Finnish celebration of May Day, but loved experiencing the May Day concert and Vappu traditions through the platform.
More Virtual Helsinki Travel To Come
More beloved Helsinki destinations and landmarks will be added to Virtual Helsinki over the next few months. One anticipated favorite is Vallisaari Island, a beautiful natural island that was only opened to the public in 2016. We’ll be able to check out its stunning views and hiking trails.
It’s no doubt that the future of travel will involve some sort of virtual element and we love seeing cities like Helsinki ahead of the game. Now excuse us while we get back to scoping out Avar Aalto’s house!
Photo credit: Jussi Hellsten