The Helsinki Festival, the largest of its kind in Finland, takes place in late August to early September every year. Now attended by more than a quarter of a million annual visitors, this celebration of music, dance, theatre and all the visual arts is a festival packed full of exciting events – many of them free.
The motto of the Helsinki Festival has become ‘Art belongs to everyone’ and this is reflected by the wide variety of offerings during this rich, diverse and always lively two weeks. As far back as 1951, Helsinki held an annual Sibelius Week but, by the end of the 1960s, this was beginning to attract fewer and fewer visitors. The new, expanded Helsinki Festival beagn in 1968 and, the following year, the students of the city’s Institute of Applied Arts persuaded the authorities to introduce street theatre, circus, cinema and more modern music. Since then, the festival has gone from strength to strength – attracting some of the world’s best musicians and performers to this beautiful city.
The Festival’s main venue, and one of its highlights, is the Huvila Festival Tent, a feature of the festival for many years. All kinds of world music are showcased here during the festival – with performances from leading folk, jazz, indie and classical musicians. Indie Rock is primarily highlighted during the FLOW Festival, using two outdoor and two indoor stages and giving the opportunity to both international and local talents. The Viapori Jazz Festival, on Suomenlinna Island, has a similar impact on jazz lovers.
Each year, the Festival Dance Programme and the Stage Helsinki Theatre Festival present packed programmes, featuring premiers of new works and well-established classics. As well as these, there will be sculpture exhibitions in the parks; open-air screenings of films in Lasipalatsi Square; the Poetry Moon celebrations; the Art goes Kapakka Festival in many of the city’s restaurants; music played in churches and parks; and dancers, jugglers and even orchestras performing on street corners. Last year, nineteen different venues played host to official Festival events – and many, many more were the scenes for the impromptu performances which delight festival-goers so much.
Children are well catered for at the Helsinki Festival, with a full programme of events specifically for them as well as the opportunity of being around so much artistic excellence. The Sulvilahti Big Top is the venue for some superb music, theatre and dance productions for children – and there are many workshops and exhibitions with them in mind.
One of the most eagerly awaited events of the festival each year is the Night of the Arts, introduced in 1989, when every gallery, museum and bookshop is open until midnight or later and the whole city becomes one giant performance and carnival venue.
Helsinki – the world’s second-most northerly capital – has been described as a ‘pocket-sized metropolis’ and is a friendly, fascinating and spacious city. Surrounded by spectacular scenery, in late summer it can be breathtakingly beautiful. Containing a lively student population, it has also gained a reputation as having a thriving night life. With plentiful accommodation to suit all budgets and with an excellent public transport system, although the taxis have fairly high fares, culture lovers should find plenty to their liking at the Helsinki Festival. You’ll find more details on their website.