Helsinki highlights

Helsinki -- Europe's youngest and northernmost capital city -- feels like an outpost of Europe. While it lacks the cutesy cobbles of Copenhagen, the aristocratic setting of Stockholm, or the futuristic vibe of Oslo, Helsinki holds its own among Nordic capitals with its creative spirit, zest for architecture and design and a steamy love of saunas.

Perhaps the best way to understand Helsinki's origins is to take the short ferry ride across the harbor to the island-fortress of Suomenlinna (now a popular park). Little Finland was long caught up in the superpower chess moves of its big neighbors, Sweden and Russia. The Swedes dominated the country from medieval times until 1809, when...